It’s that time of year when I start thinking about my summer getaway. This year I think I will spend some time on a lake in the Adirondacks. Getting out of the big city of Elmira and back to nature is not a thought unique to me. Around the turn of the 20th century, Elmirans went to Bohemia-on-the-Chemung for that type of experience. Just a short trip up the river, Bohemia provided a perfect location to enjoy cool breezes, fishing and camping. In the 1890s, small cottages began popping up along the river bank.
In 1895 members of the Pine Cliff Club, Elmira’s first outdoor organization, built their clubhouse in Bohemia-on-the-Chemung. Pine Cliff was an exclusive club made up of members of Elmira’s most prestigious and influential families. At the clubhouse, they enjoyed lobster roasts, clam bakes and venison dinners and swimming, fishing and boating parties. The club was known for entertaining many notable guests from theatrical, military, political and business circles.
|Members of the Pine Cliff Club, 1902|
Bohemia was a popular summer vacation spot but the idyllic location was not without danger. In July of 1914, the first rattlesnake of the year was killed on an island just west of Bohemia-on-the-Chemung. And there was always the danger of drowning on the river. A June 13, 1898 Elmira Daily Gazette article reported that “Bohemia Was All Excitement Last Night” when one of two boats taking a spin on the river capsized and two men went into the water. Drowning was averted, however, when the men realized that they were in only three feet of water.
One of the men in the boat that did not capsize that day in 1898 was Claude Eldridge Toles, an occasional visitor to Bohemia. Toles was an artist born in Elmira in 1875. His earliest job was as a clerk at Harris’s dry goods store but he had a passion for drawing. He was friends with Horseheads resident and cartoonist for Judge, Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman, who also served as a sort of mentor. Zim is thought to have helped Toles get his job as a cartoonist at the Elmira Telegram. Toles created article headers, illustrations for stories and political cartoons while there. He also sold cartoons to the Philadelphia Press, the New York Herald, the New York Journal and the Texas Sandwich, a comic periodical. Toles’ life was cut short in 1901 when he died at the age of 25.
I never knew when I started looking into Bohemia that I would “discover” another Elmira artist. I found two wonderful sites online with information about his life and works that I just have to pass along: