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Learn about the rich history of our home. 

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2023: A Year In Review

2023: A Year In Review

by Rachel Dworkin When people ask me what I do, I tell them I am an archivist. When they stare at me blankly, I explain that it’s a subspecies of librarian. The job of a librarian is to collect, catalog, and share the information patrons need for their education and entertainment. Keeping these goals in mind, let’s take a look at how well I did this year. 1. Collecting Here at the Chemung County Historical Society, we collect items specifically related to Chemung County history

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A Brief History Of Abortion In Chemung County

A Brief History Of Abortion In Chemung County

by Rachel Dworkin Earlier this month, the FDA finalized a regulation allowing Americans to obtain a prescription for milepristone-misoprostol, also known as the abortion pill, at a pharmacy. Back during the 1890s, Elmirans could get abortion pills at their pharmacies too. In 1892, the Elmira Advertiser ran a series of ads for Chickester’s English Diamond Brand Pennyroyal Pills, which promised to provide safe and reliable relief for women, but never flat out said what kind of relief. Pennyro

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Fascination, Salvation, Procrastination And Damnation: The Infamous Corners Of Lake & Church

Fascination, Salvation, Procrastination And Damnation: The Infamous Corners Of Lake & Church

by Monica Groth  While leading one of our Historic Downtown Walking Tours last month, I learned some fascinating history from our knowledgeable trolley-master Mark Delgrosso. Mark brought to my attention that the four buildings that existed on the corners of the intersection of Lake and Church streets at the end of the nineteenth century bore very interesting nicknames which tell us a little about their histories. No longer standing, the opulent Reynolds Mansion once graced the interse

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You've Got Mail!

You've Got Mail!

by Rachel Dworkin   Notice anything funny about this envelope?  Letter for William Beers, 1862 Let me give you a clue: there’s no street address (and no zip code, but that’s another story). How then, you might ask, was the letter supposed to be delivered? It wasn’t. When the first Elmira post office opened in January 1801, there was no home delivery. People from all over Chemung County had to visit the small office located at the foot of Fox street in order to pick

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The Luck of The Irish

by Susan Zehnder Currently events around the world are being reevaluated as preventative measures against spreading this year's coronavirus. Cities like Boston and Chicago have canceled popular St. Patrick's Day activities to avoid drawing crowds. Locally officials have canceled the thirteenth annual Horseheads St. Patrick's Day parade, and postponed the gathering attempt to break last year's record for the largest human shamrock.  Horseheads parade from the past St. Patrick

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One Foot In Front Of The Other

One Foot In Front Of The Other

by Susan Zehnder Runners in the Finger Lakes welcome the arrival of autumn—temperatures are cooler, the humidity is less oppressive, and the colors in the hills can be stunning. Although the Wine Glass Marathon (held since 1981) was virtual last year, this year it returned in person, attracting male and female competitors from more than 41 states. Today we take for granted that both women and men can participate in the event, but a look back at the history of long-distance running shows tha

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Delivering Christmas With The Arctic League

Delivering Christmas With The Arctic League

by Rachel Dworkin This year, despite the pandemic, the Arctic League will deliver Christmas to the poor children of Chemung County, just as they have done every year since 1912, come hell or (literal) high water. Interestingly, the Arctic League didn’t start out as a charity. The League began as an amateur baseball league and social club which played nearly year-round and hung out at the Lagonegro cigar shop at 157 Lake Street. The men of the League were best known around town for playing i

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Chemung County Melting Pot: The Native American Edition

Chemung County Melting Pot: The Native American Edition

by Rachel Dworkin  It should come as a surprise to no one that the earliest settlers of Chemung County were Native Americans.  They left their mark in place names, arrowheads and pottery shards.  The people who settled this region were not a monolithic group.  They were different peoples from different parts of the northeast, they came in waves and they did not always get along. Pre-contact, and for quite some time post-contact, the Haudenosaunee, whom we call the Iroquois, were the do

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Fashion Shows At Rosenbaum's

Fashion Shows At Rosenbaum's

by Erin Doane For 125 years, Rosenbaum’s was the place in Elmira to get the latest specialty fashions for women and children. From the early 20th century until it closed in 1989, the business put the newest styles on display for the shopping public in seasonal fashion shows at the store and other locations throughout the community. Rosenbaum’s fashion show participants, Star-Gazette, October 3, 1933 Rosenbaum’s opened on East Water Street in 1864, just one day before Elmi

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Alsace S. Blandford: Painter By Trade And For Art

Alsace S. Blandford: Painter By Trade And For Art

by Erin Doane  I had never heard of local Elmira folk artist Alsace S. Blandford until recently which is not surprising.  The ex-slave painted during most of his life but few of his works seem to have survived.  The museum has three paintings donated by his son in 1966.  Our own archives only has a slim folder of information about him.  The few sources available provided just a tiny glimpse into his long life. Alsace S. Blandford was born a slave on March 17, 1858 in Maryland.  H

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The McAnn Boulder

The McAnn Boulder

by Erin Doane  On January 17, 1881, an enormous boulder was moved from the towpath on the east side of the former Chemung Canal near Latta Brook, down Lake Street, and over to Woodlawn Cemetery where it was placed on the plot owned by George S. McCann. Nine teams of horses and six yokes of oxen were used to move the immense stone. George wanted the boulder to mark his final resting place because he thought “an object formed by the hand of nature” was far more suitable as a monument for the

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A Private Woman: The Lucy Diven Diaries

A Private Woman: The Lucy Diven Diaries

by Rachel Dworkin As an avid diarist, I would be horrified if someone read my diary without my permission. As a historian and archivist, I really love reading other people’s diaries. Luckily, the Chemung County Historical Society has dozens to choose from. They range in date from the 1830s through the 1990s. Their authors are school children, soldiers, farmers, housewives, railroad workers, police officers, secretaries, carpenters, and laborers. Some are rich with detail and some are, well,

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Beer Returns To Chemung County

Beer Returns To Chemung County

by Erin Doane  It was 88 years ago this week that people in Elmira and surrounding towns tasted beer again after years of Prohibition. Nationally, Prohibition began on January 17, 1920 but Elmira had gone dry 15 months earlier on October 1, 1918. Between then and April 7, 1933, not a single drop of alcohol passed the lips of anyone in the county. Okay, that’s not true at all. Throughout the entirety of Prohibition, illegal beer and hard liquor had been available (click here to re

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A Shot In The Arm

A Shot In The Arm

by Rachel Dworkin The first mass inoculation in North America occurred in Boston during an outbreak of smallpox in 1721. The inoculation campaign was spearheaded by Cotton Mather and Zabdiel Boylston, using a technique known as variolation which had been taught to Mather by an enslaved man named Onesiumus. Variolation, as practiced in Onesiumus’s native West Africa, involved rubbing dried pus from smallpox scabs into shallow cuts in a patient’s arm. They would then develop a relatively mild

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Lost And Found: The Labrador Duck

Lost And Found: The Labrador Duck

by Susan Zehnder Sculpture in Brand Park  There’s a story in my family that once I was trying to tell them about a duck I’d seen and after denying their many suggestions, I blurted out in frustration, “it was a special duck!” which of course made no sense. Located in Brand Park near the banks of the Chemung River there is a real special duck, or at least a statue of one recognizing the Labrador Duck. The statue is part of the Lost Bird Project, and is located at what is thought to

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The Maki Family On Rumsey Hill

The Maki Family On Rumsey Hill

When photographer Jack Delano from the Farm Security Administration came to Rumsey Hill in northern Chemung County in 1940, he photographed nearly a dozen families living there. I wrote about his documentary project here on January 4, 2021. As I mentioned in that post, I wasn’t able to find out much about most of the people he photographed, but I did learn a lot about Urho Maki and his family. Mr. Urho Maki, September 1940 Urho Maki was a Finnish immigrant and farmer in the area o

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Spooks In Wellsburg

Spooks In Wellsburg

by Erin Doane The death of Miss Mabel Evans in Wellsburg was a great mystery. How did the beautiful young lady die, and why was she quietly buried at midnight? Thomas McGraw was sitting peacefully at home, thinking about Miss Evans when a strange impulse prompted him to rise and go to the door. Outside, he was astonished to see the graceful figure of a shrouded woman, floating through the darkness several feet above the ground. As he watched, she slowly drifted away and vanished into the ni

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The Chemung Speedrome

The Chemung Speedrome

by Susan Zehnder   In 1950, while visiting an auto mechanic in Ithaca for repair work on his car, a Chemung County farmer was asked, “Do you have any land on your farm where a small quarter-mile dirt track could be built?” The auto mechanic, Karl “Blue Eyes” Beilou, was a driver and member of the Finger Lakes Racing Association, and his group was looking for a new place to race. The farmer he asked was Eli H. Bodine, a fan of auto races, operator of one of the largest poultry farms in Ne

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