Monday, August 29, 2016

Behind the Walls

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

 This Thursday we will be installing our latest exhibit, Behind the Walls: Architectural Plans and Drawings, in the Education Room.  As the name implies, the exhibit will feature a selection of architectural drawings from our collections.  Here at CCHS, we have blueprints and concept drawings for a wide array of public buildings including schools, churches, stores, factories, hospitals, banks, and government buildings. Here is a little taste of what we’ll be showcasing in the exhibit.

 First Baptist Church

Concept drawing for the First Baptist Church, 1892
Elmira’s First Baptist Church was established in 1829. There have been three successive Baptist churches at the Wisner Park site. The third structure was built in 1892.  Designed by local architects Joseph H. Pierce (1855-1932) and Otis Dockstader (1851-1929), it was intended to be both a house of worship and a community center equipped with concert spaces, classrooms, and even a basketball court.

 
Longitudinal section of the First Baptist Church, 1892 

Chemung County Jail

 The Chemung County Jail was constructed in 1872 by J. & S.M. Clark. It originally served both as a prison and as a residence for the sheriff.  In 1906, the Seneca Engineering Company of Watkins Glen designed a series of improvements to the holding cells. The original jail was demolished in 1941 to make way for its replacement which still stands today.

  
Improvements to the cell block, 1906

Mark Twain Hotel

The Mark Twain Hotel was built at the tail end of Elmira’s 1920s construction boom. It was designed by New York City architectural firm George B. Post & Son with help from the local firm Considine & Haskell. At the time, the hotel was considered state-of-the-art with fireproof construction and a bathroom for every bedroom.  It also had several conference and dinning rooms as well as shops on the first floor. 

Plan of the first floor of the Mark Twain Hotel, 1929

Monday, August 22, 2016

Paper Dolls in Paper Dresses

by Erin Doane, curator

Paper dolls have been around for hundreds of years but they were first manufactured for sale in the early 1810s. By the end of the 19th century, there were multiple companies around the country and world producing a wide variety of highly-detailed paper dolls. Many companies used color lithography to create dolls and clothing in vivid colors. These two-dimensional playthings were popular with children and adults alike because of their variety and details and because they were less expensive than cloth or porcelain dolls.

Unmarked paper doll and dress, early 20th century
Selchow and Righter was a game manufacturing company founded in the late 19th century that also produced paper dolls. In 1895, they introduced several new lines of dolls including “Tiny Ladies.” These 9-inch tall paper dolls came with three costumes and three hats. They were lithographed in the brightest colors and came already cut out and ready for use.

Lady Alice produced by Selchow and Righter
Lady Alice's outfits
The Dennison Manufacturing Company brought three-dimensionality to paper dolls in the 1880s when they added crepe paper clothing. The museum has a booklet entitled Art & Decoration in Crepe & Tissue Paper published by the Dennison Manufacturing Company in 1896 that showcases their line of crepe and tissue. The booklet contains instructions for using their paper to create all sorts of accessories for the home including lamp shades and table decorations. There is also a section on making paper doll clothing. The booklet provides some basic instructions on making the clothing at home  and also includes a price list for people to purchase fully-made dresses and dolls.

Art & Decoration in Crepe & Tissue Paper booklet, 1896
Dennison's imported tissue paper samples inside booklet
Paper doll clothing made from crepe paper had wonderful depth and texture not found in typical printed paper doll outfits. It was possible to create very detailed outfits with pleats and trim from the brightly-colored paper. Some of the outfits even included petticoats. I’m not sure if the crepe paper clothes in the museum’s collection were handmade or purchased pre-made but they are beautiful little pieces.
Dennison paper doll with jointed arms and legs, 1890s
Two-piece crepe paper dress, 1890s
Green crepe paper dress, 1890s
Dennison paper doll in crepe paper dress, 1890s
Paper dolls were not always simply sold as toys. They were also used for advertising a wide range of products from food and drinks to cars and soap. One example of this is a set of paper doll dresses distributed by Dr. Miles’ Medical Company. The company was founded in 1884 and began filling orders by mail in the 1890s. One of its most famous products was Dr. Miles’ Nervine which corrected “all disordered conditions of the nervous system.” Sometime around the turn of the century, they ran a promotion with paper dolls. If a customer sent one wrapper of any Dr. Miles’ Remedies and five 2 cent stamps, they would receive a beautiful paper doll and three complete outfits. The museum has two sets of these outfits for dolls named Edith and Grace but, unfortunately, does not have the dolls themselves.
Edith's outfits
Grace's outfits
Reverse of one of Grace's outfits

One of the appeals of paper dolls was, and still is, that they could be easily be made at home. All a child needed was paper, a pencil, and a pair of scissors to create her own paper dolls.

Homemade fashion paper doll and outfits, 1914
Homemade doll and clothing made with paper and pencil, c. 1910s



Monday, August 15, 2016

Ted Huntley: An Elmira Olympian

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

Last week, we all cheered on Elmira's own Molly Huddle when she broke the American record in the Women's 10,000 Meters at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Congratulations, Molly! Molly's success got me thinking about other Elmirans with ties to the Olympic games, and I discovered Clarence "Ted" Huntley, an alternate for the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium. Like Molly, Ted competed in track and field, but his specialties were pole vault and javelin.

Ted graduated from Elmira Free Academy, where he was a standout athlete. He attended Syracuse University, where he was the president of the track team and was viewed as one of the best pole vaulters. He previously spent two years in the Navy during World War I, and afterwards, trained and competed with other Navy veterans.

During the Olympic trials, Ted qualified as an alternate for the team. He did attend the games in Antwerp, but he didn't get to compete. Still, the 1920 games were important, especially for veterans, because the war had greatly impacted the Olympics. The 1916 games in Berlin were cancelled and some countries, like Germany and Austria, were barred from competing in 1920. Ted returned from Antwerp on October 7, 1920.
Huntley pole vaulting at Syracuse University's stadium
After the Games, he turned down offers to play professional baseball and instead went to work in investment banking, opening his own firm in Elmira in 1926. He worked as a consultant for commercial banks and later, became president of the Central Railroad of Tennessee.

Ted believed that athletics were crucial and he supported local sports teams and endeavors. In a speech at the YWCA in 1930, he said, "Success in any kind of endeavor cannot be obtained without the necessary strength given by a fine physical development; neither can the goal of success be realized unless one is trained in the ideals of fair play, honesty, integrity, and loyalty as taught in athletics." He died in Washington, D.C. in 1961.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Who Put the ‘Free’ in Elmira Free Academy?

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

Why is there a ‘free’ in Elmira Free Academy? The short answer is because students could attend for free, but the longer answer is much more interesting. Settle in for the exciting history of education in early America!

The earliest schools in America were not public schools; they were private ‘dame’ schools. These dame schools were run by educated women (often widowed or unmarried) and hosted within their homes. The curriculum focused on the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Even after public schools began appearing in the late 1790s, dame schools remained popular. As late as the 1840s, there were dozens of dame schools in Elmira alone.  Several even lasted until the turn of the century. Some of the more famous area teachers from this period include Eliza Hills, Miss Chalmers, Clarissa Thurston, and the Cleves sisters.
In 1795, New York State established a fund to support a system of common schools. By 1814, every county in the state was home to dozens of tiny school districts with a one-room school house funded by a mix of state aid and local property taxes. The problem was that, like today, no one actually liked paying those property taxes and so voters kept them really, really low.  In order to make up the difference between income and expenses, students were charged tuition. This meant that poorer children could simply not afford to attend school.

Old Time-y school house, ca. 1800
 
Both the dame schools and the common schools taught only the basics. If you wanted to learn more, you attended a private ‘academy’ or ‘seminary’.  By the 1850s, there were 165 private academies throughout the state.  Elmira was home to the Elmira Academy.  The Academy was a boarding and day school which accepted both male and female students from throughout the Twin Tiers.  Courses included English, French, German, Greek, Latin, advanced mathematics, astronomy, botany, history, geography, logic, rhetoric, surveying, book keeping, philosophy, chemistry, agricultural chemistry, science of government, art, and music.  Tuition ranged from $200 to $400 per term (depending on course of study) with an additional $200 or so dollars for boarding. Elmira’s best families educated their children there, but most couldn’t afford it.
Elmira Academy student literary magazine, 1848
In 1859, voters in the city of Elmira established the Elmira School District.  It was a consolidation of 5 existing common school districts and was the first in the county to offer a truly free public education.  At the time, there were 700 students enrolled in Elmira’s public schools, while 1,000 attended private schools. The vast majority of school-age children didn’t attend school at all. In addition to operating 5 grammar schools, the city also established Elmira Free Academy as a cheaper (free!) alternative to the Elmira Academy.  For the first time, Elmira’s working class families could actually afford to give their kids a decent education! 

Original EFA building, 1861
 

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Wellsburg Oil Find

by Erin Doane, curator

Drilling for natural gas may seem like a modern issue in this region, but oil and gas exploration and drilling have been going on here for well over a century. On June 11, 1891 the Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press reported on oil being discovered in Wellsburg. “Everybody who owns a piece of real estate in the village is laboring under a fever of excitement,” wrote the reporter. “Real estate here is going up like a balloon to-day.” The strike was entirely unexpected and did not herald a major boom as some had hoped, but it is a fascinating bit of history.

Headline from Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press, June 11, 1891
Charles E. Van Buskirk moved to Wellsburg in 1879 where he went into business as a furniture dealer and undertaker. His home was behind the Exchange Hotel located on Front and Main Streets in the village. He needed a water well for his property and hired T.J. Bardeen, an old well digger, to do the job. On June 11, Bardeen started drilling. When Hiram W. Young had a new well drilled on his property just two years earlier, they reached water at less than one hundred feet. Young’s well was famous for being one of the finest artesian wells in the county. Van Buskirk was perhaps hoping for similar results.

Exchange Hotel, Wellsburg, c. 1906
At 130 feet the drill began bringing up black and gray colored pigments that smelled oily. Then, a dark colored substance that looked like crude oil, but smelled like lubricating oil was bailed off. They had struck oil! Word of the discovery spread quickly through the small village. A crowd gathered around the well and started debating the find. The Gazette reported that the substance in the well was, unmistakably, genuine crude oil. As the drilling continued to a depth of 140 feet, oil was still coming up with the refuse from the well. This convinced more than half the men in the village that the well was a winner.

At 5:30pm that evening, however, drilling came to a halt. Van Buskirk informed the gathered crowd that he could not afford to have the well drilled any deeper. It cost $10 a day to keep drilling and, as it was, the oil had already spoiled his water well. He was not going to invest any more time or money into the well unless the townspeople provided some additional financial support. Bardeen, who had been drilling the well, informed Van Buskirk that he had to pack up and leave. If they came up with the money, Bardeen was willing to come back, rig up a derrick, and work the well, but in the meantime he had other wells to drill in Pine City.

There was some skepticism about the oil find from the very beginning. Some people believed that someone had dumped oil down the well to make it look like a genuine strike. The Elmira Telegram published a small paragraph about the well on June 14, 1891 on the same page as funeral, ice cream social, and personal travel notices. The somewhat snarky report reads in part:
There are some people who think the hole was greased and others who think the wind blew through the drillers whiskers. The TELEGRAM hopes the discovery may prove genuine, but still there’s reasonable ground for doubts. If someone will pull the hole up and send it to an oil expert for examination, the TELEGRAM will publish the report in full.
Steve Herman, one of Wellsburg’s solid citizens, however, was said to have been keeping a close watch on the well the entire time and was sure that no funny business had taken place.

Article from Elmira Telegram, June 14, 1891
Despite the controversy, $50 was raised and drilling continued. At a depth of 187 feet, a small amount of natural gas was detected. The flow began to steadily increase and Van Buskirk fired the well. The flame was several feet high and gave off a brilliant illumination. It burned for a number of days before water suddenly flooded the well and extinguished the flame. They resumed drilling and another volume of gas was found. This one was stronger and steadier than the first. Mr. Crane, an expert from the oil region who came to Wellsburg on news of the discovery said that the well was unusually strong, with a pressure of at least 200 pounds of gas.

Near the end of August, a meeting was held to form a stock company to finance putting down another well. Local merchants and farmers gathered at Hiram Young’s hall. The group elected an executive committee made up of R.M. Losie, E.M. Lowman, H.W. Young, A.G. Hillman, Charles E. Van Buskirk, S.D. Herman, and A.C. Wright and also appointed a sub-committee to draft a charter for the stock company. The intent was to raise $100,000 by issuing shares at $10 each.

I have not been able to find many more details about the company. It appears that the quantity of gas was not as huge as everyone had hoped. At least one more well was drilled but the combined production was very low. Some gas was piped into local homes, including Van Buskirk’s, for heat and lighting. The natural gas was also used to fuel a street light in Wellsburg for about five years. While the 1891 discovery did not turn into a major boom, it did mark a beginning of oil and gas exploration in the region.

The image above of a gas well in Wellsburg is from Our Past Revisited in Pictures: Ashland Township, Lowman and Wellsburg by Sylvia Denton Smith published in 1999. The photo was provided by Martha E. Hanmer and Beverly Hanmer Parker for the book.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Gender Bending in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

Check out those bloomers!
We have a fantastic set of glass plate images in our collection of a group of friends or family in the early 20th century who seem to have been having a lot of fun swapping clothes. The men are dressed in skirts, women's hats, cloaks, accessories, and even some underpinnings. The women are in pants, men's hats, and even sport some fake facial hair. All in all, this group with their party scenes, complete with alcohol, counter some of people's preconceived notions about gender in the Gilded Age and Progressive eras. In a time we often assume is overrun with Victorian prudery, people played with gender norms and performance. The main way this manifested was in female impersonation. To be clear, this is not the same as our modern understanding of being transgender, gay, or a drag queen. Female impersonation, as discussed in this blog post, was a popular and respected theatrical specialization.
More from our glass plate negative collection


 The origins of men dressing as women in theater dates back centuries. Common in Shakespearean performances and in those by all-male troupes, female impersonation began, in part, as a necessity. Fast forward to the 19th century, and female impersonation was a staple of traveling minstrel troupes, which again, were mostly male. These roles were often played for comedic value, and in the case of minstrel shows, they often upheld racial and gender stereotypes.  

By the early 1900s, Julian Eltinge was the most famous female impersonator. Known for his uncanny portrayal of a woman in Vaudeville, on Broadway, and later in film, Eltinge was a celebrity. Eltinge toured the world, and made appearances in Elmira.
From 1918
But there were other performers, too, even if they didn't match Eltinge's fame. In 1892, Elmirans Fred Gibson and Harry Graves found fame in Vaudeville. In one act, the did "a small dude song and dance, changing in full view of the audience to a female impersonation skirt dance." Elmiran Matt Lockwood, an actor and costumer, was known for his humorous female portrayals, especially of old women. A performance by the Elmira Free Academy minstrels in 1910 featured, as its main plot point, a female impersonator who infiltrated a fraternity house. The humor came when "he unmasks to the dismay of his amiable fraternity brothers who have accorded him the most flattering courtesies." That same year, the members of Company L enjoyed a performance by a female impersonator named "Lottie Duval." The performance was so "clever" that some of the men didn't know he was a man until he took off his wig.

In 1923, the Cornell Masques performed "Listen to Me" at the Lyceum Theater, which featured student Al Force in the role of Peggy Lang. We have a composite photograph of Force in both his street clothes and his Peggy costume. The next year, former Elmiran George Bracken worked with the Neil O'Brien Minstrels, performing twice per show as a female impersonator.

Al Force as Peggy Lang
Cross-dressing in the theater served many purposes. It was sometimes about trickery, but often the actors were not really trying too hard to disguise their actual gender. And while I've focused primarily on female impersonation in this blog, male impersonation was also a popular theatrical attraction in this period. Ultimately, impersonation was supposed to be fun entertainment, and we can see from photographs like those from our collection, how this spirit of lighthearted gender-bending bled into the lives of non-actors.  
More from our collection

Cheers!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sorry to Disappoint


by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

I’m sorry, we don’t have that.  Despite working in an amazing archive, I find myself having to say that with surprising frequency, especially to genealogists.  The sad truth is, as a private repository, we don’t have a lot of the official records genealogists are looking for.  So, where can people find records? 
Birth, Death & Marriage Records

We do not have any birth, death or marriage records for Chemung County. Those are held by the Chemung County Office of Vital Statistics, a division of the Chemung County Department of Health ( http://www.chemungcountyhealth.org/vital-records)

Form for registering live births from the O'Connor Private Hospital in Elmira, ca. 1920s
The State of New York only began collecting official birth, death and marriage records in 1880, so if you are looking for earlier ones they simply do not exist.  So, when trying to prove your ancestors existed and were related to each other, you might have to get creative.  Like they do today, old-timey newspapers often posted birth, death and marriage announcements.  Both the Chemung County Historical Society and the Steele Memorial Library have fairly good runs of 19th century newspapers from the 1850s on.  Despite the name, the website Fulton County Postcards (http://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html), has a searchable, on-line database of scanned newspapers from around New York state.
Religious institutions are another excellent source of records.  Most churches, synagogues, and pastors kept a log of services preformed including baptisms, from the First Baptist Church of Elmira and itinerant preacher Joseph L. Riggs.  If you know which denomination your ancestors were, and if the church/synagogue still exists, the chances are good that you can find the records. 

Military Records
A lot of people’s ancestors served in the military.  U.S. military records for all branches of service are held by the National Archives and can be requested via their website: https://www.archives.gov/veterans/

Wills
Wills and other probate records dealing with inheritance are held by the Chemung County Surrogate’s Court (https://www.nycourts.gov/courts/6jd/chemung/Surrogate.shtml) They cover from 1835 onwards and are available upon request.  Some records were lost or damaged by various area floods, so keep that in mind.

Prison Records
Elmira is home to the New York State Reformatory and over the years, quite a few people have been incarcerated there. Unfortunately, we do not have their records.  Those are held by the New York State Archives.  A finding aide to the records can be found here: http://www.nysa.nysed.gov/a/research/res_topics_gen_guide_prison.shtml.