Sunday, February 18, 2018

One-Room Schoolhouses in Veteran

by Erin Doane, Curator

In 1876, the Town of Veteran had a population of around 2,300 and it had 15 schools. 15!? To modern eyes, that may seem like a lot, but the majority were small, one-room schoolhouses. This was typical of most rural towns in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nearly all of the students would have to walk to school, so the schoolhouses needed to be close to where they lived. Of the 867 school-age children who lived in Veteran in 1876, 717 were enrolled pupils. There were 12 male teachers and 21 female teachers and a library of 445 volumes shared across the schools.

Students at Veteran School No. 7 in Sullivanville 
with teacher Eugene Bush, c. 1880s
The Town of Veteran Historians have a wonderful collection of photographs and materials related to these early schools. While researching the Towns and Villages of Chemung County: Veteran exhibit, which is on display here at CCHS through July 2018, I got to look through their school files. All the images in this post are from the Veteran Historians’ collection.

Veteran School No. 14, Parrott Road, Sullivanville, January 11, 1932
Teacher Irma Miller with students Mark Cronkrite (11), 
Judd Parrott (9), Margaret Vondracek (10), unidentified dog, 
Robert Hovencamp (11), and Frank Vondracek
The first schoolhouse in the town of Veteran was built in the early 1800s just east of the village of Millport. Simeon Squires served as the first school teacher. By the middle of the century, more schoolhouses had been built in Sullivanville, Pine Valley, and more remote areas of the town.

Veteran School No. 12, Pine Valley
Millport’s famous octagon school was built in 1869. The two-story building had two rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs, where students in grades 1 through 8 were taught. This was one of the only schools that had more than one teacher. In 1888, the two teachers were a husband and wife team who made a combined salary of $750 a year.

Veteran School No. 8, octagon schoolhouse in Millport, late 1800s
The school was torn down in 1930 and replaced with a red brick schoolhouse.
The interiors of the one-room schoolhouses were fairly similar. Typically, there were wooden student desks facing a teacher’s desk and a blackboard in the front of the room. The early schools had no electricity and water had to be brought in from either a well with a pitcher pump outside or from a neighboring home. A wood or coal stove would provide heat for the building in the winter. Since nearly every student walked to school, some were able to go home for lunch. Those who stayed would bring their own lunches or, at some schools, the teacher or parents would provide hot soup for all the students. Outhouses, one for boys and one for girls, were nearby. Some schools had a swing outside or a teeter-totter that students could enjoy at recess.

Interior of Veteran School No. 13, Miller-Skinner School, 
located at Veteran Hill and Sutter Road, 1940s
Most of the schools had students from grades 1 through 8 all in the same room. The teacher would work with one grade at a time but everyone could hear the lessons. Because of that, younger students often learned what their older counterparts were being taught. It was not unusual for students in these one-room schoolhouses to pass tests to skip into higher grades. After 8th grade, students would go to high school in Horseheads.

Veteran School No. 5 on Middle Road, c. 1920s
One of the neatest things that I found in the Historians’ files were photocopies of yearbooks from Veteran School No. 10 from 1935 and 1936. The homemade yearbooks included class photos, drawings likely made by students, and even a class will. I wonder how many schools produced their own yearbooks like that.

Veteran School No. 10 yearbook cover and page of student photos, 1936
Pages from Veteran School No. 10 yearbook from 1935
Veteran’s rural schools were consolidated with the Horseheads Central School District in 1950 and the days of the one-room schoolhouse came to an end. Several of the schoolhouses were torn down but may more remain as private residences. For more photos and information about Veteran schools visit To see more photos of students and read stories from those who went to some of the one-room schoolhouses in Veteran visit

Veteran School No. 1, Terry Hill

Monday, February 12, 2018

Conspiracy in the Underground

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

During the 1850s, Elmira was home to a large criminal conspiracy known as the Underground Railroad. Conspirators used codes and railroad terms to describe their routes and roles and to protect their identities. While today the participants are rightly celebrated as heroes, they were all in violation of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Whites found to be working on the Underground Railroad could face a fine of $1,000 (approximately $29,000 in present-day) plus six months’ jail time, while Blacks could find themselves sold as slaves. Despite the risk, they persisted.

John W. Jones, Elmira Station conductor

The point man, or conductor as he was called, for the Elmira Station was John W. Jones. A freedom seeker himself, Jones had arrived in Elmira after fleeing slavery in 1844. He could have continued on to Canada, but decided to stay here and pay forward the help that had been given him. Assisting him were dozens of others who provided escaped slaves with food, clothing, shelter, employment, and forged identity papers. Some of these helpers are now well-known, including Jervis and Olivia Langdon, Ariel and Clarissa Thurston, John Arnot Sr., and Simeon Benjamin, but other’s names have been lost to history in no small part because of the illegal nature of their activities. Even forty years after the abolition of slavery, John Jones refused to share the name of their forger, a young mixed-race man, while corresponding with a historian on the subject.

Freedman's identity papers. Courtesy of

 Jones was, however, perfectly happy to explain how the Elmira Station worked. While sometimes freedom seekers would arrive unannounced, he would usually receive a letter from one of his contacts in Pennsylvania or Maryland, warning him to be on the lookout for some missing horses. Jones’ main contact in Pennsylvania was William Still, a conductor operating out of Philadelphia. Once they had arrived in Elmira, Jones would arrange for the fugitive slaves to be fed and sheltered until they could move on. Sometimes they would move on quickly, but other times they might stay for weeks, taking jobs so they might build up some savings. Once they were ready to move on, Jones would arrange for them to be smuggled to St. Catherines, Ontario in the baggage car of the 4 am train on the Northern Central Railroad. Much like the name of the Elmira Station’s forger, the names of the baggage handlers who helped hide the fugitives are unknown. While the exact numbers are lost to time, Jones and his team helped approximately 800 people escape to freedom.

William Still. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Monday, February 5, 2018

Knapp School of Music

by Erin Doane, Curator

For more than 110 years, Knapp School of Music has operated on College Avenue in Elmira. In all that time, the business has only had five different owners: Frederick H. Knapp and his wife Anna, Harl J. Robacher, Donald Hartman, and Robert Melnyk. 
Knapp School of Music, 104 College Ave., 2018

Frederick H. Knapp
Knapp’s Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra, 1904
Frederick Knapp seated front row center
 Frederick Knapp came to Elmira as a young man and began offering music lessons first at a studio on West Second Street near School #2 and then at a studio on North Main Street. The first instrument he had learned was the banjo, but he played and taught all types of stringed instruments – violin, mandolin, cello, and guitar. Various sources claim that Knapp founded his music school in 1901 but the earliest listing I found in the city directories for Knapp is as a musician in 1902. In the 1903 directory, he is listed as a music teacher at 117 Main Street. In 1905, he is listed as teaching at 110 College Ave. The earliest newspaper advertisements for Knapp School of Music appear in the Elmira Star-Gazette in 1911. By that time, the school had an established orchestra which all students could join in addition to taking individual lessons.

Advertisement for Knapp School of Music,
Elmira Star-Gazette, September 14, 1911
In 1915, the school moved to 112 College Avenue and was touted as a new type of music school set up for the benefit of those who could not normally afford music lessons. If boys or girls were interested in music instruction, showed talent, and it was shown that they could not afford the price of regular teachers, Knapp would enroll them in his school. He asked for just enough tuition to cover the expenses of keeping the doors of the school open. By September, there were 20 pupils enrolled.  Knapp taught violin, mandolin, guitar, and banjo. Two more instructors, Edward Unwin and Blanche Crandall, also taught violin and Florence Shaw taught piano.

On May 20, 1919, Knapp hosted A.A. Farland, the world’s greatest banjoist. Farland played a recital at the Park Church with Knapp’s 35-member mandolin orchestra serving as an opening act.  In the 1920s and the early 1930s, Knapp and students of the school played at events throughout the region. The school’s full orchestra played at the Knights of Columbus ball in 1920, its banjo sextet played at the Sons of Italy in 1927, and its 12-piece banjo band played an evening concerts at En-Joie Health Park in Endicott in 1930. At the park concert, the musicians dressed in Hawaiian costumes and were joined by ten tap dancers. There were also annual recitals by the students at the Hedding Church Annex.

At 10:30am on December 20, 1934, Frederick Knapp died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack at his home at 104 College Avenue. He was 56 years old. He had spent 35 years teaching music and was noted as one of the first local musicians to realize that “jazz” would become widely popular.

Anna A. Knapp
Advertisement from Elmira Star-Gazette, January 1, 1935
Just months before Frederick Knapp died, he had moved his studio from its longtime location at 112 College Avenue to 104 College Avenue where he had remodeled a house and equipped it with a series of modern studios. His wife, Anna, continued to run the school at that location. The annual recitals also continued with nearly 500 people attending the performance in 1935. In 1938, local newspapers started running advertisements for instruments for sale at the school. By 1943, Knapp’s was selling radios and phonographs as well as banjos, violins, saxophones, xylophones, and accordions.

Harl J. Robacher
Harl J. Robacher, Elmira Star-Gazette, June 22, 1953
Harl Robacher became proprietor and director of Knapp School of Music in 1944. He also operated the American Musical Institute in Syracuse and worked as a basketball promoter. He is credited as playing a key role in bringing professional basketball back to Elmira in 1946. He created the Knapp School of Music basketball team, made up of established sports stars, as a member of the semi-pro Pioneer League. During his time as director of the music school, students continued playing at banquets, balls, and recitals. Robacher ran the school until June 21, 1953 when, at 12:25pm, he died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack at his home at 104 College Avenue. He was 50 years old.

Donald Hartman
Donald Hartman at Knapp School of Music, 
Elmira Star-Gazette, July 23, 1963
Don Hartman remembered his father driving him to Knapp’s for banjo lessons when he was a child. When Frederick Knapp died in 1934, Hartman was hired as an instructor at the school. Eighteen years later he became manager and after Robacher’s passing, became owner of Knapp School of Music. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the school expanded with as many as 40 affiliated studios within a 75-mile radius of Elmira including in Owego, Corning, Ithaca, Bath, Canandaigua, and Hornell, as well as, Tunkhannock, Montrose, Williamsport, and Dushore, Pennsylvania. The school also had a weekly radio program on Saturdays on WENY.

By 1963, the “Eight Week Trail Plan” had been established at the school. The plan harkened back to Frederick Knapp’s early idea of giving all students a chance to learn music without having to make a large financial investment to start. Students paid for eight weeks of lessons and were given an instrument to use for free as a way to determine if they were really interested in serious instruction. After the trial period, they could purchase the instrument and continue with lessons.

Robert Melnyk
Robert Melnyk at the Knapp School of Music, 
Elmira Star-Gazette, January 25, 1966
Bob Melnyk, a student and instructor at the Knapp School since 1955, took over the business from Don Hartman in 1965 and still runs it today.

Advertisement for Knapp School of Music,
Elmira Star-Gazette, November 23, 1965

Monday, January 29, 2018

Bad Meat: Elmira’s Time in "The Jungle"

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator
I set out to write this week’s blog post about the history of vegetarianism in Chemung County, but I was having trouble finding a lot of sources that pointed me toward any specific local vegetarians or vegetarian organizations. Yes, there have been Seventh Day Adventists living here, and presumably adhering to a vegetarian diet. The newspapers ran vegetarian recipes and stories about how it was a healthy or unhealthy way of eating. When beef prices soared or when there was a meatpackers strike, reporters joked that vegetarianism was an attractive option. There was talk of vegetarianism being a patriotic sacrifice during World War I. There were also lots of jokes about vegetarians (some things never change).

But I was struggling to find a more concrete story. That is, until I got to 1906. Now, if you remember your high school history lessons, you’ll realize that this places us smack in the Progressive Era. Not only that, 1906 is also notable for the publication of Upton Sinclair’s famous meat-packing exposé The Jungle. As a result of the utter horrors of poor sanitation he described in the Chicago slaughterhouses, Congress passed the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration was also founded that year. 

An unidentified local meat market, late 19th/early 20th century. Note the sawdust floors. Still, this has nothing on the places in The Jungle
Locally, as well as across the country, The Jungle sparked a panic. People became afraid to eat meat. Now, naturally, this was a far larger problem in cities like Elmira, where through generations of urbanization, people had become further removed from the sources of their food than their rural counterparts. In other towns around the county, where people were more likely to have their own livestock, this would have been less of a crisis. But for Elmirans, the fear of adulterated meat was real. 

Friend & Metzger Meat Market, Elmira, 1903
A June 13, 1906 article in the Elmira Gazette and Free Press  reported that because of the “meat reports,” local butchers were seeing a significant reduction in their sales and grocers weren’t selling as much canned meat, either. The report claimed that many residents were considering turning to partial or full vegetarianism out of disgust and concern for their health. Who knows if any of these people stuck with it after the panic passed, however.

Friend & Metzger Meat Market, Elmira, 1903
The increased scrutiny lead to more inspections of Elmira’s butchers and slaughterhouses. On June 12, local health official Dr. Frank Flood and State Inspector A.P Ten Broeck inspected four local meat purveyors. Three were deemed “satisfactory” and one was shut down. 

Elmira Star-Gazette, June 11, 1906
That was enough to assuage people’s fears, or at least it was for a little while. However, on October 17, 1907, the Elmira Star-Gazette ran a front page headline that certainly made the stomachs of most Elmirans churn.

The slaughterhouse in question stood “at the foot of a hill 100 yards back from the state macadam, a mile from the end of the Franklin street car line.” It was described as “a miserable hovel, a one story, rotted, blood soaked, disease contaminated building, surrounded by a sea of filth, a conglomerate mass of mud and gore.” Yum. Even more horrifying, said slaughterhouse supposedly killed 10 tons of beef, veal, and pork a week for consumption by Elmirans. The article goes on to describe more horrors than I will burden you with here. 

Processing room at Friend & Metzger Meat Market, Elmira, 1902. As you can see, this was not the business described above.
With these scares, the city leaders met to try to prevent further instances of such grossness, which seemed to have mostly resulted in increased inspections. But, people continued to eat meat, in kind of a “Feed me contaminated meat once, shame on you. Feed me contaminated meat twice, oh well, I’m going to keep eating it anyway” kind of situation. Some people did recommend moderation at the least. In a letter to the Elmira Telegram in 1910, Dr. Thomas J. Allen declared that Americans were eating way too much meat, refuting the claim of Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, the first commissioner of the FDA, that a meat-free diet would create a “race of mollycoddles.”

Elmira Star-Gazette, May 25, 1909

Monday, January 22, 2018

Spanish Flu

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

Apparently, this year’s strain of flu is spreading faster than usual. Luckily for me, I’ve always made a point of getting a vaccine since I found out my maternal grandfather’s parents died of Spanish Flu in 1918. They were in good company. Nationwide, over a quarter of the population was infected while approximately 600,000 died. For comparison, the yearly average is somewhere around 20,000. There are no definite numbers due to poor recordkeeping, but somewhere between 20 and 100 million people died of Spanish Flu worldwide making it the second deadliest epidemic after the Black Death.

The Spanish Flu hit Chemung County in October of 1918 and it hit hard.  It started small, oddly enough, with an outbreak of what the City Health Department insisted was polio, despite the fact it didn’t fit the contingent model for the disease. By the start of October, Spanish Flu was killing 200 people a day in Boston, and Elmira officials were desperate to avoid a panic. On October 5th, the paper reported that ten Elmira College students were under quarantine for the flu, but City Health Officer, Dr. Dr. Reeve Howland, continued to insist there was no epidemic in the city. Five days later, there were over 100 people sick with the flu in Horseheads and the town had decided to shut down schools and churches in an ultimately fruitless attempt to contain the spread. The City of Elmira finally conceded to reality and followed suit on October 15th, shutting down schools, churches, theaters, and all public gatherings. 
Dr. Reeve Howland, City Health Officer. He tried.

It was too little, too late. Between the start of October 1918 and the new year, there were 3,549 reported cases of the flu in Elmira. That is to say that somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the city caught it. Approximately 150 Elmirans died of Spanish flu during the 1918-19 flu season. Over 100 of them died in October alone. The Elmira Herald reported that there were between six and ten deaths per day at the height of the epidemic. 

The city struggled to cope with the sheer number of sick people. Arnot-Ogden and St. Joseph’s both ran out of beds and the Elmira Board of Health created a make-shift overflow hospital at the Hotel Gotham on State Street. Families struggled to survive as parents fell sick. The entire Wilcox family of Pearl Place was stricken except for the eight-year-old daughter who eventually had to call the police to help take her parents to the hospital. The Red Cross established a kitchen at the Federation Building to feed children whose parents were too ill to cook. At the height of the epidemic, they feeding some thirty families. 
Hotel Gotham, 201-203 State Street, served as a make-shift hospital during the epidemic
By the time the war ended on November 11, 1918, the worst of the epidemic was over. Schools, churches, and theaters were re-opened on November 3rd. People were still falling ill (there were 12 new cases on November 12th) but that was way down from 60 new cases a day in October. The emergency hospital at Gotham Hotel was closed on November 15th and, just like that, the city was back to normal. Except, of course, for all the dead people.
Annual report of the Elmira Board of Health, 1918

Friday, January 12, 2018

Edwin Morris: Chemung County’s Last Civil War Veteran

by Erin Doane, Curator

In May 1943, Edwin Morris gave the welcome address at the annual Memorial Sunday service of Baldwin Post 6 G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) at the Centenary Methodist Church in Elmira. His wife Jane urged him to stay home instead of participating in the event. The 96-year-old Morris has suffered a heart attack a year earlier and had never fully recovered. In response to her concern he said, “It’s my duty to my dead comrades to take part in the service. If it causes my death, I will die in the line of duty.” Edwin Morris passed away less than 36 hours later on May 24, 1943 at his home at 356 Walnut Street in Elmira.

Elmira Star-Gazette, May 24, 1943 (from
Edwin Morris was born on January 2, 1847 in Athens Township, Pennsylvania. In November 1863, he enlisted in the Union Army. He was 16 years old at the time and signed up despite his father’s objects. He joined Co. D of the 179th New York Volunteer Infantry. He fought at Petersburg and in all the Army of the Potomac engagements including the Wilderness Campaign, Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor, and Richmond. He was at Appomattox Courthouse when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. He was reportedly just 20 feet away from the pair when Lee passed his saber to Grant.

After the war, Morris returned to Athens where he worked on his father’s farm for 20 years. He worked in the lumber business in Pine Creek, Pennsylvania for many years after that. In 1902, at the age of 55, he married Jane Currier of Waverly, New York. The two had met in 1901 at a G.A.R. encampment in East Towanda, Pennsylvania where she was caring for wounded soldiers. They moved to Elmira sometime in the early 1900s. Morris was one of the founding members of the Chemung County Historical Society in 1923.

Edwin Morris (second from left) with charter members of the
Chemung County Historical Society at July 4, 1923 pageant
Morris was an active member of the G.A.R. There were several G.A.R. posts in the county including Baldwin Post 6 which was organized on June 11, 1868 and named after local Civil War veteran Col. Lathrop Baldwin. Other posts were named after L. Edgar Fitch, Col. H.C. Hoffman, and Gen. A.S. Diven. Around the turn of the century, the Baldwin post had about 200 members. Morris served as commander of A.S. Diven Post 623 in the late 1920s. That post, as well as the others in the county dissolved after a time until Baldwin was the only one remaining. Morris became commander of the Baldwin Post in 1938. Upon his death in 1943, the post dissolved. Its charter and other materials from the organization are now in CCHS’s collection.

This G.A.R. hat worn by Edwin Morris is
one of many items that came to the Chemung
County Historical Society from his estate.
Morris was not only involved with the G.A.R. locally. He also held statewide offices in the organization. In 1938 and 1939 he served as Junior Vice Department Commander of the New York State Department G.A.R. and in 1940 he was elected Senior Vice Department Commander. Finally, in June 1941, he was elected Commander at the annual encampment at Lake Placid. He had been asked for several years to be the commander of the state organization but had always declined because he wanted others older than he to have the honor of the position before they passed away. He was 94 when he accepted. At the next year’s encampment in Utica, he was one of the first of nearly 1,000 guests to arrive, despite having suffered a heart attack just two months early on Appomattox Day. At that encampment, he was appointed Department Patriotic Instructor.

Ribbon from the 1942 G.A.R. encampment
Morris also participated in Elmira’s annual Memorial Day commemorations as early as the 1920s. He and the other few remaining Civil War veterans were honored during the events throughout the 1930s.  In 1938, he served as honorary marshal of the parade. At that time, only four veterans remained: Morris, Bowman Jack, Edgar Houghton, and Thomas A. Dawes. When Jack passed away in 1940, Morris was left as the last surviving veteran of the Civil War in Chemung County.

Memorial Day, 1935, from the Elmira Sunday Telegram, May 30, 1943
The last time Morris participated in Memorial Day activities was in 1942. His health was failing but organizers wanted to include him in the commemorations. Col. James Riffe, a World War I veteran, suggested that the parade route be changed that year so it would pass Morris’s Walnut Street residence. While the Chemung County Veterans’ Council agreed to the reroute, plans were abandoned when Morris’s health improved enough for him to ride in the parade.

Edwin Morris riding in the Elmira Memorial Day Parade
On June 17, 1943, an article reporting the passing of Edwin Morris appeared in the National Tribune: Washington, D.C. The final paragraph of the article illustrated Morris’s devotion to his country and fellow soldiers:
In December, 1941, when volunteers were being registered [for service in World War II], a card bearing his name was found among a stack of enrollments; it said, “Will gladly cooperate in advisory capacity or shoulder a gun if necessary.”