Monday, January 26, 2015

What Really Went on in Those Church Meetings??

by volunteer Kristen Goble

This summer, archivist Rachel Dworkin, assigned me the task of sorting and cataloging the United Baptist Church Collection.  While sorting the collection I came across the First Baptist Church Meeting Minutes for the years 1829-1859.  Although the book looked ancient,  once I got past my fear of touching it and having to explain to the staff how exactly the book turned into a pile of dust on the research table, I became completely engrossed.  The detailed accounts of every meeting, written out in beautiful penmanship, going back to the early days of settlement in the Chemung Valley were by far my favorite part of the collection. 

Page from the First Baptist Church Ledger

For me, the most interesting meetings dealt with problem members of First Baptist Church.  Members of the newly formed church were expected to abide by a strict moral code of conduct.  As in any community though, there were a few rebellious types who neglected to uphold the church imposed standards of the day.  In the records, I came across members who were accused of heresy, using foul language, and a certain female supposedly dressed in men’s clothing and attended a gentlemen’s lecture (shocking!).

These rebellious members were all paid a visit by a committee of elders and, if the offense was bad enough, faced exclusion from the church.  It seems the offender, or her husband, was usually given a chance to publically apologize to the church and ask forgiveness for their behavior.  If the church elders felt an honest apology was made, the member would be allowed to resume their relationship with the church.  I did come across an occasion when a female church member was denied reacceptance because her apology was deemed insincere.  Regardless of the outcome, the church always prayed for the offender’s soul.

The early First Baptist Church was also quite charitable.  If any church family was in need, the elders would discuss it at the church meeting.  From there, a delegate from the church would pay a visit to the head of the family to determine why they were experiencing hardship.  Were they just down on their luck, or was there a misappropriation of money?  From there, the delegate would report back to the church at the next meeting.  If the family was deemed to have a legitimate need, the church would provide them with financial assistance.  If the need was due to gambling… well, see the previous paragraph… Once the family had regained financial security, repayment of the money was expected.

This book was just one of many treasures I found in the United Baptist Church Collection.  After scouring it, I became completely enamored with the project and learned more than I ever imagined about First Baptist Church and Southside Baptist Church.  I am very grateful to Rachel for her help and the opportunity to work with this incredible collection.

Original First Baptist Church


Monday, January 19, 2015

The Holding Point and POWs

by Erin Doane, curator

During WWII the United States Army established the Holding and Reconsignment Point in Horseheads.  It was used to collect and store military supplies and equipment like tanks and weapons that were shipped overseas for the war effort.  Horseheads was one of ten sites around the United States that served the army in this capacity during the war and was chosen because of the area’s extensive railroad network. The facility was built in 1942 at the cost of $8,228,000.  The nearly-700-acre plot had 1.5 million feet of open or ground storage, spacious warehouses, and 37 miles of railroad tracks.  The Holding Point was staffed by thirty officers and men from the Army Transportation Corps as well as nearly 500 civilian men and women.
Aerial view of the Holding Point in Horseheads
With so many men serving in the military and the increased demand for workers in factories that had ramped up production for the war effort, the area was suffering from a labor shortage. One source of additional workers was prisoners-of-war.  In August 1944, around 200 German POWs went to work at the Holding Point.  The enemy soldiers had been captured in the Normandy battles and sent to the former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in Van Etten.  In 1933, Cornell University made arrangements with the US government to build a CCC camp in the Arnot Forest.  The camp operated from November 1933 through May 1937 and again from October 1939 to October 1941.  In the early summer of 1944, the Army began converting the CCC camp into a POW camp.  In August, the first German POWs arrived.  They were transported to the Holding Point daily to work and then returned each night to the camp.  They were there for only two weeks before being sent to the Sodus Point area to work in privately owned farms and orchards.

Civilian Conservation Camp, Arnot Forest, Van Etten, 1934
The 146th Italian Service Unit arrived to work at the Holding Point on August 23, 1944.  Italian Service Units were made up of captured Italian soldiers who volunteered to serve with the US military.  Many of the 50,000 Italian prisoners captured in North Africa joined the units when they were shipped to the United States.  The prisoners were carefully screened for Nazi and Fascist leanings before being accepted into the units.  They wore regular US Army uniforms with a green patch that read “Italy.”  Around 400 men from two Italian Service Units, the 146th and the 134th, were stationed at the Holding Point.  They lived in tents on wooden platforms set up in the northeast section of the facility.  Each tent had six army cots, rails for hanging clothing, a coal or wood stove, and electric lights.  There was a mess tent and an army field kitchen.  Prisoners were paid 80 cents a day for their work repairing trucks and loading war materials for shipment. 

Tanks, trucks, and other equipment at the Holding Point
Members of the Service Units were granted “Limited Liberty” which meant that they could not go out alone but groups with an MP as guard could leave the facility to go shopping or attend church.  They could not visit private homes but they could receive visitors at the Holding Point.  On August 27, a group of the Italian prisoners was taken on a bus tour of Watkins Glen, Cornell, Enfield, and Elmira.  They visited St. Anthony’s Hall at the end of their tour.  Upon hearing about the trip, locals became angry at the “coddling” of the enemy prisoners and said they being treated “better than our boys.”

Model church made by an Italian prisoner and
given to an Elmira boy as a confirmation gift

After the war, the Holding Point was sold to Webster Industries for $1,260,000.  It became an important industrial site and now is the location of the Horseheads Industrial Center.