History of Chemung County 1892 - Towner
Chemung County NY
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Church Street, Elmira ca 1908 sent in by Bruce Preston
Our County and its People
A History of the Valley and County of Chemung
by Ausburn Towner, 1892





An Elmira Town as well as an Elmira City - Some interesting and important Localities formerly within its Limits - Carr's Corners - The Reformatory-Eldridge Lake -Some of its distinguished Citizens - Gen. A. S. Diven, judge Hiram Gray, the Guinnips, Carrs, McCanns, and Others - Dr. Gleason's Water Cure - Mark Twain's summer Home -East Elmira Postoffice and its Postmasters -The Junction Canal - Early official records of the Town lost or Destroyed.

THERE is an organization of the town of Elmira separate and distinct from the city of the same name, but the history and records of the two are so commingled and united that up to within a little over a quarter of a century they are the same. Most of the inhabitants of the town are intimately connected, socially, in a business way, and religiously, with the city, their separate organization showing only when they vote. The town surrounds the city on all sides except at the South, and except in the extreme east has not even a postoffice peculiarly its own. Until the spring of 1890 it had within its limits some of the most important and most attractive features that are now within the city limits, and its thickest settled spot which in any other locality than in the immediate neighborhood of a large town would have aspired and with justice to the rank of a village. This latter described place has long been known as Carr's Corners, and is made somewhat memorable from the fact that there the Elmira Farmers Club, whose career was extraordinary, originated. In April, 1890, this with El


dridge Park and the State Reformatory were taken out of the jurisdiction of the town and were comprised within the newly enlarged city limits, But little else than broad fields, a few steep hills, an elegant home here and there, farm-houses, and barns remain to the township. 

Postmarked Nov 12 1923, this Post Card was sent to Joyce's Great Grandmother, Cora SMITH Tice by niece Lena Hakes.

Yet within its limits live some of the most distinguished men of the county, and there also have resided those who have given a widespread reputation to the name the town bears. Most of these have already received or will hereafter receive the attention that they and their careers deserve. Gen. A. S. Diven has had his home in one spot within the borders of the town for nearly half a century ; the homestead of the Hon. Hiram Gray, built of cobblestones gathered from the fields and standing invitingly on a slight eminence a little north of the river road and west of the city, has enlivened the landscape of the town for almost sixty years. Dr. Rulandus Bancroft, one of the favorite physicians of the valley, went to the farm lying on the road between the reformatory and Carr's Corners half a century ago, where he lived with his family to a good old age. W. A. Armstrong, springing to State and national prominence through his newspaper, the Husbandman, and the work of the Grange, lived for a generation on the hill road running west from Carr's Corners. Near his home in what was what might have been called a deep and wide ravine is located the great storing reservoir of the Water Works Company.

Samuel M. Carr's ancestors came very early to this same neighborhood and gave their name to the locality. The locality may become the Eighth, Ninth, or Tenth ward of Elmira, but it will never lose the name it has borne for so many years no more than will Harlem or Murray Hill be forgotten in the more general name of New York. Samuel M. Carr has always maintained a conspicuous position In his town as a farmer and politician. He has repeatedly been a justice of the peace and occupied other positions of honor and responsibility.

There are the McCanns of the same neighborhood, the original one, John, having come from Belfast, Ireland, to the town in 1809. Eleven years afterward also came his brother, Thomas, who, however, remained only a few years, removing to Erin farther north, where he lived to be ninety-two years of age. The sons of John McCann, George and James, have been among the best of the citizens, not only of the town,


but of the County, both of them serving repeatedly as the member of the Board of Supervisors from their locality.

There are the Guinnips and the Dininny family in the southwestern part of the town and the Fosters still farther east on the river road.

Over on the east side upon the hill lives the Rev. T. K. Beecher, a resident of the spot he occupies for many years. Opposite him is the water cure standing on one of the most conspicuous sites in the valley. Seeing its beautiful Situation now and the tasteful arrangement of its surroundings it would be hard to believe what a bare, bleak field was there when the institution was opened just forty years ago next June. It was an enterprise then undertaken by Dr. S. 0. Gleason and Fox Holden at a time when the health-giving properties of water had for some reason or other suddenly had such a boom that those who practiced it had dignified Such system or practice into a " pathy." The institution has grown and prospered, and has had among its patrons and patients some of the best known persons in the country. One lookout from the broad porch of the building, taking in a view of the valley and the city of Elmira on a summer evening, would seem almost enough in itself to restore one to health unless he was far gone. Mrs. Dr. Gleason is one of the most eminent women in her profession, is known far and wide through her books and her successful practice, and has given a reputation to the cure that places it almost alongside in reputation if not in situation with the leading spas and baths in Europe. The daughter, M. Adele Gleason, promises to be to the generation of women to which she belongs what her mother was to those who preceded her. Just north of the cure is a glen which in the village days of Elmira was a favorite picnic place. It was long and deep with cool shadows and many romantic nooks. What tales the place could tell if it could speak of merry parties gathered within its shadows ! 

Postmarked May 14, 1909, this Postal Card was sent to Miss Mildred Mudge "From your friend Mr. Ruhl M. Dann" Fans of the Tri-County Genealogy Sites of Joyce M. Tice can be glad that Mr. Lee D. Tice became a better friend of Miss Mudge than Mr. Dann. Mildred and Lee were my grandparents.

Up the steep bank and over the fields from the far end of this glen you come upon "Quarry Farm," the summer home of Samuel L. Clemens, " Mark Twain." It is a rural spot hidden away from the world, although from a slight rise, on which stands a peculiar bark-constructed, arbor-like building, a portion of the busy valley beneath may be seen. Mr. Clemens with his family spends the greater part of the summer months in this retired place when he is in the country.


The postoffice I have named is called East Elmira. Charles H. Kilmer, appointed September 1 1, 187 1, was the first postmaster. He was Succeeded by James H. Cooper, October 6, 1871 ; Charles H. Kilmer, May 25, 1877; Leroy A. Churchill, March 5, 1880; Mrs. Belle Churchill, February 27, 1890.

In connection with this town there was an enterprise, almost forgotten now, that had much to do with it during its construction and life. This was the junction Canal that flowed largely through the limits of the town at the time. The Erie Railroad was not finished to Elmira until 1849, and before that the transportation of large volumes of lumber, salt, and merchandise had been effected by means of the Chemung Canal, Seneca Lake, the Erie Canal, and Hudson River. As a reminiscence of this method of communication there may be remembered the pioneer " laker " Nary Jane, a boat built and owned by Isaac Reynolds and sons more than fifty years ago.

At the time named the feasibility of a canal or slack water navigation to connect with the southern terminus of the Chemung Canal and open to this section the coal fields of Northern Pennsylvania became vividly apparent. The ideas of the several men interested in the project came to practical issue in the spring of 1846. On May 1 1 th of that year the legislature passed an act incorporating the J junction Canal Company, giving it the power to survey, build, construct, and operate a canal or slack water navigation, build locks, dams, and sluices, and erect bridges over the same, from a point on the north connecting with the Chemung Canal to a point on the south at or about the Pennsylvania State line connecting with the north branch of the Susquehanna Canal. The first ground was broken under the supervision of David Shearer at a point about three miles southeast of Elmira in March, 1853. Simultaneously work was begun all along the line and toward the fall of the year the canal began to assume its form. The main portion of the work was completed on January 14, 1854, but the canal was not in practical operation until the autumn of that year. The waterway began at a place near the site of the present rolling-mill and extended through the valley, part of the time in the river, a distance of eighteen miles, to the State line about two miles below Johnny Cake. There were eleven locks and three dams, the latter used for feeders.


Mr. Shearer, who was the superintendent of the canal throughout its construction and its twenty years of active operation, is still a resident of Elmira and is seventy-six years of age. He is a native of Pennsylvania, and had many years of practical experience on the Juniatta and Susquehanna Canals in that State. He is yet hale and hearty and attends daily to active business. To give an idea of the amount of traffic done on the canal during its busy days Mr. Shearer asserts that the record kept for one day showed that ninety-nine boats passed lock No. 6 during the space of twenty-four hours, all of which were either laden with coal or were going down empty to receive fresh cargoes.

For a score of years this artificial waterway served its purpose and its owners with unbounded success and gratifying returns. In 1872 its usefulness had diminished, railways had usurped the business of its patrons, and the canal was gradually abandoned. After the water had been drawn off it was found that two nearly new boats were thereby grounded at a point near the southern terminus. To allow these boats to regain live waters the president of the company consented to filling the canal again. This was done and the water allowed to remain long enough to enable these boats to float to their destination, when the water was drawn off for the last time, and for nearly twenty years no boats have traversed' the course over which millions of dollars worth of coal, plaster, and salt were slowly towed along.

In 1873 Mr. Shearer, who had been present during the birth, life, and death of the canal, was engaged to demolish much of its form and shape by filling in roadways, tearing out locks and feeders, and removing articles and material of value. Under section 6, chapter 194, laws of 1846, is found the following Stipulation as to the running of boats on the canal :

" It shall be the duty of the master or com in an der of any boat, ark, raft, vessel, or instrument, or vehicle for transportation, passing through said navigation, when he shall arrive within one-fourth of a mile from any lock erected in said navigation, to blow a trumpet or horn, whereupon the keeper of such lock shall attend for the purpose of opening the gate or sluice to let the said boat, ark, raft, or other vessel pass without unnecessary delay and in safety; and if, when said canal is in navigable order, any boat, ark, raft, or other vessel shall be prevented from passing up or down any of said locks or sluices by reason of the lock not being raised or opened for more than thirty minutes, on any day except Sunday, the said corporation shall, on conviction thereof before any justice of the peace of the proper county, forfeit and pay to the person hin-


dered thesum ) of one dollar for every thirty minutes beyond the said time that he shall be so prevented, and in the same proportion for any longer or shorter time."

The canal company is still in active existence, although the name was changed sometime since by a special act of the legislature to the Junction Canal and Railroad Company. This was done to enable the company to construct a railway if desirable. The first directors of the company were John Arnot, president; William Maxwell, secretary; F. F. Fairman, treasurer; William R. Judson, John Laporte,, Charles 1". Welles, jr., and Robert Covell. The present officers are M. H. Arnot, president; Platt V. Bryan, secretary and treasurer ; directors, F. C. Hewett, Platt V. Bryan, John C. Greves, S. T. Reynolds, M. H. Arnot, A. McClintock, and John 11. Arnot. The capital stock is $400,000.

The records of the town of Elmira from its earliest organization to 1854 were destroyed or lost. The town clerks, in whose hands such property is vested while in office, never had any permanent offices and often purchased the books in which they were kept with their own funds. It was natural for them to suppose that the books became their own personal property, and their successors did n't want to be burthened with them anyhow. Their usefulness was ended and their contents Supposed to be valueless, recording merely matters of the most temporary and fleeting nature. I have seen books of this character, interesting and valuable from their age if for nothing else, used as scrap books with leaves torn out here and there, and others the first few pages of which were devoted to the proceedings of town meetings and the remainder used for keeping the accounts of a large farm ! Such thoughtlessness, for it is only that, throws a cloud of doubt and obscurity over the past of any locality, and makes the work of one who would preserve the names and careers of those gone before for the future one of uncertainty and great labor. We do things much differently these days.

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