Friday, June 3, 2016

The Life, Death and Rebirth of Clinton Island

The Life, Death and Rebirth of Clinton Island
by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

The river giveth, and the river taketh away.  Back during the early 1800s, the Chemung River gave Elmira Clinton Island, a true beauty spot of the Southern Tier.  Located between Lake Street and College Avenue, the 2,600 foot long island was covered shade trees including maple, elm, butternut, and sycamore.  The Lake Street Bridge was constructed with several of its legs actually built into the island, and there was a flight of stairs leading down from the bridge to it.  During the summer, it was a favorite spot for picnics and was the site of an annual 4th of July celebration featuring music and rousing political speeches. 

Postcard of Clinton Island, ca. 1900
Eventually all good things must come to an end, and the end of Clinton Island came on March 17, 1865.  Caused by heavy rains, the Saint Patrick’s Day Flood devastated the island and swamped much of the city’s low-lying areas.  The flood waters knocked down trees and completely washed away the island’s charming bandstand.  The whole Lake Street Bridge was destroyed, along with the stairs to the island.  Following the flood, the island was sold to a local contractor who removed what was left of the trees and left it a dilapidated wasteland.

But then, the river gave the island back, or at least S.G.H. Turner did.  On July 8, 1921, he held a grand opening of his new island playground on Clinton Island.  He brought in his friends from the Elks Club to help him clear the island of brush and debris in what was no doubt an exhausting, and not so fun-fueled day, featuring free food for anyone who came to work.  In short order, he constructed a playground, changing house, and a refreshment stand to once again make Clinton Island a summer fun destination.  At the time, a reporter for the paper cynically suggested that readers visit as soon as possible because the whole thing was likely to wash away in the next spring flood.  Turns out, of course, he was right. 

Clinton Island, ca. 1920s


  1. thanks for sharing this informative article, never knew or heard of Clinton Island till now.

  2. Well how about that!? Great bit of history and information, greatly enjoy reading your blog!