Monday, November 12, 2018

Stough It!

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

On New Year’s Eve 1912, a new preacher rolled into town and he was looking to stir things up. Dr. Reverend H.W. Stough was a traveling revivalist with a serious beef against the alcohol industry. He settled into a specially-built tabernacle on the corner of William and Clinton Streets and got to work. Right away Stough made his goals clear.  “I am here,” he said at a dinner held in his honor by the Elmira Businessmen’s Association, “to awaken the moral conscience in your city.”   Almost at once he got down to the business of antagonizing the brewing industry and its allies.  “I want to serve briefs on the brewery, the stockholders, the saloon, the bartender, the thieves and the liars,” he announced in his first sermon. “The fight is on.”  

Dr. Rev. H.W. Stough

 In the early 1910s, the City of Elmira was awash with sin and alcohol. In a city with a population of 37,176 there were 93 saloons, or one for every 400 residents.  People could also drink at any one of the 33 hotels or 9 billiard halls with a liquor license and even buy hard liquor for ‘medicinal’ purposes at one of the city’s 27 drug stores.  The alcohol trade was highly profitable.  One hotel manager estimated in 1913 that he sold $37,620 worth of beer and liquor annually which amounts to approximately $887,315 in today’s dollars.  In addition to monies made from alcohol, saloons and billiard halls often made additional revenue from illegal card games or making book on baseball games while hotels cashed in on prostitution.  Despite the widespread criminal activity, there were rarely any arrests made.  In fact, Briggs Brewery would frequently send a car around to warn saloon owners in advance of a police raid.    

Stough was having none of it. Throughout the month of January, Stough claimed the saloons were violating the statewide ban on Sunday liquor sales; accused the police of rampant corruption and called for the resignation of Police Chief Frank Cassada; called Mayor Daniel Sheehan a lackey of the brewers; and promised to personally root out evidence of criminal behavior.  On the night of Saturday, January 25th, he led a parade of followers through the red light district around Railroad Avenue at midnight to make sure saloons were closing for Sunday during. Stough’s antics made him more popular by the day.  At the start of the month there were only several hundred in attendance but on the 25th there were so many people packed into the tabernacle they had to turn over 2,000 people away.  

Stough's specially built tabernacle
Stough was, in short, a threat to the city’s breweries and their allies in the saloons, police station and mayor’s office.  Forced to actually close on Sunday, January 26th, the saloons and the breweries which supplied them lost money.  Stough managed to collect and publically preach about evidence of illegal doings by one Railroad Avenue saloonkeeper and the man was forced to flee the city to avoid arrest. During the 1880s, two muckraking preachers had been murdered by saloon owners in Sioux City, Iowa and Jackson, Mississippi for doing exactly the same thing as Stough. The Reverend himself had been threatened and was nearly assaulted during the January 25th parade. His followers were harassed by the police, his lodgings were broken into and a lawsuit for slander was filed by Briggs Brewery, but none of it was enough to make him stop.

The city’s alcohol interests did the only thing they could do: frame two of the Stough campaign members for adultery. Yes, adultery. It was literally a crime in those days. On the night of February 10, they arrested Hester Cartwright, a choir singer, in the room of Duncan Spooner, the campaign’s music director, and, by February 19, the case was in court. The city’s brewing interests hoped the case would drag Stough’s name through the mud and drive him from town, but they were sadly mistaken.  

Hester Cartwright

Duncan Spooner
The following morning over 6,000 supporters showed up at the tabernacle to protest the arrests and raise a legal defense fund.  Throughout February, local pastors including those from First Baptist Church, Park Church and the Episcopalian churches threw their support behind Stough.  Both the Elmira Star-Gazette and the Elmira Advertiser came out in favor of real reform.  The trial was over and the couple acquitted by mid-April, but it didn’t stop the formation of several civic improvement leagues, a police commission investigation into Police Chief Frank Cassada or Mayor Sheehan being voted out of office in November.  During the trial, Briggs Brewery manager J. John Hassett said that the frame up was a matter of good business policy but clearly it was anything but. Briggs Brewery’s efforts to silence Dr. Stough in the winter of 1913 ultimately cost them hundreds of dollars in lost revenue, their ally in the mayor’s office and their good name.  Public sentiment had turned against them and in April 1916 the city voted itself bone dry, shutting down the saloons and hotels Briggs had fought so hard to keep open.

Monday, November 5, 2018

“Clothes of Charm” - The Gorton Coy

by Erin Doane, Curator
The Gorton Coy, northeast corner of Main and Water Streets, 1949
For 56 years, the Gorton Coy was Elmira’s leading specialty shop. Women of discerning taste shopped there for all of their fashion needs. On July 3, 1916, Warren A. Gorton of Batavia purchased E. N. Crandall’s store, a small shop at 127 West Water Street in Elmira. Within days of the purchase, Gorton announced he would be selling off all of Crandall’s stock in order to make way for the new Gorton Company fashions. Gorton’s partner and co-owner of the store, Morris A. Black, was president of the Lindner Company of Cleveland and the manufacturer of “Wooltex” clothing. Their store in Elmira became the area’s exclusive seller of the Wooltex line. In 1917, they moved the store to 107 East Water Street.

Elmira Star-Gazette, July 10, 1916
George H. Danzig became manager of the store in 1919 and worked to transform it into a fashion center for the city. He had a second floor added to the single-story building and brought in a shoe department and a millinery department, the Charm Hat Shop. He built the store’s reputation among fashionable, discriminating women in the 1920s by stocking exclusive brands.  He was also the one who decided that the company’s name would be abbreviated to the Gorton Co’y, as was common in England. A sign painter, not understanding the abbreviation, produced a sign for the store that simply read “Gorton Coy” and the name stuck. In 1923, Danzig purchased 51 percent of stock in the company and took effective control of the business. Six years later, when his health began to fail, he sold his share of the store to Morris Black.

Elmira Star-Gazette, September 19, 1928
In the late 1920s, plans started being made to move the Gorton Coy to a new, larger building. A desirable location at the corner of Main and Water Streets was selected and a lease was secured. Then, the work began on building the store’s new home. On June 13, 1930, as excavation at the site was just nearing completion, tragedy struck. A wooden walkway that had been constructed along the west side of the work area collapsed under more than twenty pedestrians. Eleven-year-old Maria Smolka died in the accident and Effie W. Corey died the next day from her injuries after spending 45 minutes pinned in the wreckage. Nineteen others were sent to the hospital. Twenty lawsuits were subsequently filed against the Lowman Construction Company, which was in charge of the building project.

Building site after the walkway’s collapse, June 1930
The project continued, however, and on March 12, 1931 at 9:30am the new Gorton Coy store opened for business. The building was one of the last projects designed by Pierce and Bickford and is one of the only known examples of Art Deco architecture associated with the firm. The building’s three floors were filled with fashion, from coats and dresses to sportswear and undergarments. There was a beauty salon conducted by M. Henri of Paris on the third floor and a modern tearoom with two private dining rooms. The general offices were also on the third floor and the building was plumbed with a pneumatic tube system for transporting paperwork.

Pneumatic tube carrier used at the Gorton Coy
In 1938, Richard G. Raitt moved to Elmira to work as manager of the Gorton Coy. In 1941, he purchased the company outright and became the sole owner. In the mid-1940s, a department with electrical appliances for the home was added, the beauty salon was renovated and enlarged, and five toddler, child, and teen departments were combined to form Gorton’s Youth Center. Two new stores were also opened in Penn Yan and Geneva.

Electric City shop at Gorton Coy, 1946
Younger Set Shop at Gorton Coy, 1950
In 1967, Lane Bryant Inc. purchased Gorton Coy. Two years later, $250,000 was spent on a modernization program to make improvements to the entire store. Two new departments catering to tall women and larger women were added and one of the two manual elevators was replaced by a self-service elevator.

Buttons from one of the Gorton Coy’s manual elevators
Gorton Coy hatboxes, c. 1940s-1960s
The flood of June 1972 did considerable damage to the basement and first floor of the Gorton Coy. As a result, the store closed and its forty employees were laid off. In September of that year, Lane Bryant announced that the store was closing for good. In October, Luckey-Platt & Co. purchased the company and continued operating the store with marginal success under the Gorton Coy name until 1975 when it finally closed its doors for the last time. In 1988, the words “Gorton Coy” were removed from the building and in April 1991, the building was renamed the Komer Center.

Elmira Star-Gazette, November 6, 1972