Sunday, October 2, 2022

Take a Look: New in the Galleries

 by Susan Zehnder, Education Director

Everyone who has been to the museum has a favorite artifact or document that they remember long after they’ve visited. One of my personal favorites is not currently on display, but it's something I often share with groups. It is a connected series of iron links that make up an unassuming Victorian pot scrubber. Because it's function is not immediately obvious, it can spark people's curiosity to look a little longer and look a little closer in order to discover more.

The object was used during the early 20th century to scrub pots clean, and I use it to prompt questions like these: Who used it? How did they use it? Why was it used? What was the user’s position in society? What limitations did the user have or not have when using it? Each question has the potential to reveal new information. The stories behind the answers can help us understand history in new ways.

A new resource is now available to help visitors connect with our museum objects and the stories behind them. Inspired by a comment from our office manager, Samantha Sallade, and a suggestion from our archivist Rachel Dworkin, our curator, Monica Groth, recently created the first of what will be many self-guided tours available for free at our front desk. These tours take you through the galleries on a scavenger hunt to discover new connections to the artifacts and documents on display. 

This is one way to check assumptions and appreciate the object for what it is while we consider its place in history. Of course many of our exhibits change throughout the year, and not everything we have is on view at all times. We have thousands of artifacts and documents in the collection that are available for research, but are not on display due to their condition, conservation concerns, or the fact that we simply do not have space for everything. It doesn’t mean that we value the items any less.

We share stories of Chemung County events, people, and places through our exhibits and frequently add to and update them in order to tell these stories more completely based on what we verify.  Sometimes visitors share information and sometimes we uncover new information that helps us reframe those stories. Our volunteers working on HistoryForge have put in many hours collecting and entering data to tell more complete stories of Chemung County’s past. They meet twice monthly, and if you'd like to get involved, contact coordinator Andrea Renshaw at for more information.

Self-guided tours that are currently available are "Black Stories of Chemung County" and "Women's Lives in Chemung County." We plan to update these pamphlets periodically and to create more based on different topics, as we work to keep our collections fresh, relevant, and inclusive of the history of Chemung County residents.

Tours like these can help visitors see documents and objects from different points of view. For example, in the "Women's Lives in Chemung County" self-guided tour, we highlight this photo of Jenny Dunmeyer on display in the Bank Gallery. Jenny was part of the Women's Ambulance Defense Corps (WADC) , a volunteer group of young women ages 18-45 who helped out during World War II.
Jenny Dunmeyer (center) wearing her WADC uniform

The WADC admitted women of every race and background except Japanese. What privileges did they have that Japanese women did not? As a Black woman, Jenny was included in this group during the war, but what were her experiences post-war? You can read more about her life in a previous blog on the Reid family, You can also view Jenny's story from another point of view since she is also included in the self-guided tour "Black Stories of Chemung County."

If you have a suggestion for a tour, mention it to our receptionists or write to me directly at And the next time you’re in the museum, pick up one of our self-guided tours for yourself. It’s a chance to see Chemung County history through different lenses, and the museum through fresh eyes.


Monday, September 19, 2022

The Library Project

By Rachel Dworkin, archivist


Sometimes visitors ask me what it is I do all day. Each day is different, but I currently have an interesting project I’m working on. In addition to the over a million manuscript items and 14,000+ photographs in our archival collections, the Booth Library here at the Chemung County Historical Society also contains over 2,000 books. They include government publications, local history books, genealogies of area families, works by local authors, and scholarly works about topics related to our other collections. Right now, I am in the midst of a project to assess and update our holdings. It will be a multi-stage process. 


All of our books are cataloged on the Southern Tier Library System’s (STLS) StarCat catalog. In recent years, I’d built up a bit of a backlog of new books which needed to be added. In August, catalogers from STLS came to catalog the new books and add them to their on-line system. They assigned each book an item ID and a call number based on the Dewey Decimal System. Call number are assigned based on their topic: 000 is computer and information science; 100 is philosophy and psychology; 200 is religion; 300 is social science; 400 is language; 500 is sciences like physics, chemistry, and biology; 600 is technology; 700 is arts and recreation; 800 is literature; and 900 is history and geography. This system is used by libraries throughout the world. Each topic then subdivides so, for example, a history book on Chemung County would be 974.779 plus the first three letters of the author’s surname. Once the call number had been assigned I created a label for each book.


The next step is shelving which involved quite a lot of shifting. I started at the very top in the 000 section, adding the new books and dusting as I went. I’m also weeding as I go. Shelf space in our library is at a premium and I want to make sure that every book we have is relevant to our mission and up-to-date in terms of scholarship. Our mission is to document and share the history of the Chemung Valley. We don’t need a history of Albany County or a list of the heads of households in the 1790 census for Connecticut. The Steele Memorial Library has agreed to take any discards, so I am putting together a box for them. Once I’ve selected which books to pull from the shelves, I’ll contact STLS so that they can transfer the catalog records to Steele when I bring them the books.

Once all of that is done, I’ll be bringing back the folks from STLS to do a shelf read. They’ll go through each shelf to confirm that everything on the shelf is also in the catalog and add anything that isn’t. I hope to have this last bit completed sometime in the coming year. And now you know at least a little bit about what I do all day!



Monday, September 5, 2022

From Our Interns:

As summer comes to an end and the start of the fall semester draws near, it is time for the two of us to say our goodbyes to the Chemung County Historical Society. We have spent the last few months interning here and as our last days approach we wanted to share with everyone what our experiences were like. Before we get into that, let us both introduce ourselves.

Hello! I am Phoenix Andrews. I am 21 years old and a senior history major at Alfred University. I transferred to Alfred University in the fall of 2021 after getting my Associates degree at Corning Community College. I plan to graduate in the spring of 2023 and am hoping to start Grad School the following semester.

Hi there! My name is Kevin Earley. I am 23, almost 24 years old, and going into my senior year as a history major at Alfred University! I transferred over from Alfred State last semester, after transferring from Corning Community College in the fall of 2020. I will graduate in the spring of 2023, and I hope to attend Grad School at some point. I am still working out my next steps, but I have all the faith in the world that the next chapter is going to be amazing!

The two of us grew up and live in Chemung County so having the opportunity to intern at our local historical society was something neither of us could pass by. During our time here, we got to work on many different projects with the amazing staff at the Chemung County Historical Society. Ahead we will be describing some of those projects, what our goals were, and anything we may have learned from that experience.

Updating Education Cases

Separately we worked on updating two of the cases available for schools to borrow.

Phoenix- I worked on the Westward Expansion case. Some material was outdated or contained things not as helpful in modern classrooms, like CDs. I proposed some changes that could be made to current activities and created a lesson plan for a new interactive activity. It was a nice experience creating something that I know might be used in classrooms at some point.

Kevin- I looked through our case on Pop Culture. I ensured that everything was accounted for and looked over the potential that the case had. The case has a lot of potential for lessons; however, nothing new has been set in stone.

Representing the Museum

We both had opportunities to get out into the community.

Phoenix- One of the first things I did as an intern was represent the museum at the Early-Childhood Education Fair held at the Arnot Mall. I, along with a museum volunteer, got to meet many local families. In addition, Kevin and I attended the Brand Park Tuesday market together to  help get the word out about new exhibits and the museum’s summer walking tours. Being able to work with the community and show children that museums can be interesting to them is one of my favorite parts of going to events.

Kevin- I had the opportunity to represent the museum at the Juneteenth Event. I heard many wonderful stories and appreciated being out in the community. Starting in June, I had the opportunity to be at Wisner Market weekly. Along with another volunteer, Bob, we represented the museum to the community.

Blog Posts

You may have noticed that this is not a first blog for either of us!

Phoenix researching in the archives
Phoenix- I wrote a blog titled “Helen Booth Sprecher,” which covered Booth’s time in the WAAC/WAC during WWII. It also accompanied a panel we created for The Moving Wall’s visit to Eldridge Park. This experience gave me the opportunity to use our archives to read documents related to her.    

Kevin- I wrote a blog on the history of hockey in the City of Elmira called “Our Town, Our Teams: Hockey in Elmira.” I wrote it based on statistics and newspaper articles from The Star Gazette. It ranges from the Elmira College teams to the professional teams that used to call our area home. I also wrote an article on the history of football at Notre Dame High School which is being considered for the Chemung Historical Journal.

Community Work

We’ve gone out into the community and documented local history.

Phoenix- When The Moving Wall was at Eldridge Park, I took our camera to take photos and document this event for our records. It was interesting doing something like this because in the future people can look back and see what took place.

Kevin- As the result of a research request that we had received, I visited the War Town Monument (Sullivan Expedition) to record and confirm that the information gathered was accurate.


Together, we worked with Monica, the Curator, to assist her with the installation of the new exhibit “Receding Waters: 50 Years After the Flood.” We de-installed the previous exhibit, returning objects to storage. We retrieved and helped prepare artifacts for the new exhibit. We worked in collections and became familiar with the software that organizes everything. We printed and assembled panels for the exhibit, and learned how to navigate various technical issues. It became an opportunity to improve our troubleshooting and creative problem-solving skills.

Smaller Projects

We had the chance to work on smaller projects too, things that are often overlooked or not thought about as much but showed us just how much goes into being a Curator or Archivist.

The two of us worked with Rachel to pre-catalog new and previously donated books for the collection.

Phoenix- Some of the other smaller projects I worked on included verifying dates for recently donated technology and artifacts to be included in the new exhibit. I also created a 1972 Flood Photo Album on Chemung County Historical Society’s Facebook page using photos from the archives.

Kevin- I assisted our archivist, Rachel, in clipping and filing newspapers. It has prompted me to start my own collection of magazines and articles that I receive to save for my own use.  


Kevin guiding 2nd graders
As a collective with the Museum staff, we hosted visitors from local elementary schools and summer cohesion groups. We gained a lot of experience working with children and confidence in how to improvise solutions; learning when it is okay to move on and scrap an idea that is not quite working out the way we previously planned.


The museum’s Director, Bruce Whitmarsh, took time to share how grant funding works. He walked us through the process of applying for grants and talked about the importance of grants in operations at a small institution.

Overall, as our time here comes to a close, we both want to express our gratitude for the opportunities we were given. We both were able to experience and learn so much in the few months we were here and none of that would have been possible if it were for the amazing people who work and volunteer here. Everyone accepted us with open arms, and we can both agree that we already miss interning at the Chemung County Historical Society. 

Phoenix Andrews and Kevin Earley



Monday, August 22, 2022

Fascination, Salvation, Damnation, and Procrastination: The Infamous Corners of Lake and Church

by Monica Groth, Curator

While leading one of our Historic Downtown Walking Tours last month, I learned some fascinating history from our knowledgeable trolley-master Mark Delgrosso. Mark brought to my attention that the four buildings that existed on the corners of the intersection of Lake and Church streets at the end of the nineteenth century bore very interesting nicknames which tell us a little about their histories.

No longer standing, the opulent Reynolds Mansion once graced the intersection where the Carnegie (Steele) Library later stood, and where a monument to adventurer Ross Marvin stands today (the southeast corner). This home was occupied by the family of Dr. Edwin Eldridge’s daughter Julia. Julia Eldridge married Lewis Stancliff in 1856. But Lewis died young in 1864, and Julia remarried, this time to Samuel “Tutt” Reynolds. Julia’s father built her the magnificent Victorian Mansion on Lake and Church Streets in 1869 to celebrate this new chapter in her life. The mansion was splendid – boasting mahogany panels, stained-glass windows, and velvet carpeting—and was overflowing with priceless works of art. Passerby gazed with wonder at its outdoor fountain, beech tree, and three entrances; it became known by the nickname “Fascination”.

Photograph of the Reynolds Mansion, c. 1905
 Portrait of Mrs. Julia Stancliff Reynolds c. 1905

The building dedicated in 1862 as the Second Presbyterian Church and later renamed the Lake Street Presbyterian Church earned the nickname “Salvation”. During the turmoil of the Civil War, a disagreement within the First Presbyterian Church believed to have arisen over the question of slavery caused the church to fracture. The followers of outspoken anti-slavery pastor, Rev. David Murdoch D.D., formed what became the Lake Street Presbyterian Church, dedicating the sanctuary on Lake Street on the anniversary of Murdoch’s death. Murdoch was a humorous and compassionate Scotsman renowned for his engaging sermons. Ausburn Towner’s 1892 History of Chemung County describes him as “one of the most remarkable men…ever to make the sun shine brighter”. By 1883, the Lake Street Presbyterian Church congregation had grown to around 500 members.

Lake St. Presbyterian Church

Plaque commemorating Reverend Murdoch in vestibule

The City Club, designed by Rochester-based architects Crandall and Otis as a refined social club for wealthy citizens, moved to its current site on the corner of Lake and E. Church streets on New Year’s Day, 1894. The building housed a reading room, club rooms, billiards room, and a café. A separate ladies dining room existed, and a separate entrance for women was on the Church Street side of the building (women were not accepted as members of the club until 1986). Despite the fact that early members of the club included respected gentlemen such as Charles J. Langdon, George M. Diven, J. Sloat Fassett, and John H. Arnot, the club was known to be a site of drinking and, it was rumored, carousing. The roof-top garden added to the club in 1901 was closed only a decade later because of loud noise and rogue food and bottles being thrown into the street. The City Club thus earned the appellation “Damnation”.

The City Club also hosted Lectures like this one, featuring a Stereopticon, or magic lantern projector

Finally, City Hall, elegantly designed in the Neo-Renaissance style by Joseph Pierce and Hiram Bickford in 1895, was termed “Procrastination”.  Pierce and Bickford’s fingerprints are found throughout Elmira’s historic district; the pair designed the Courthouse Complex and Hazlett Building as well as City Hall. The architects’ intended the structure to be a slow-burning building capable of resisting fire long enough to allow for safe evacuation. There was a fire on the upper floors in 1909, but the building lived up to its promise and the minimal damage was quickly repaired. Why would the citizens of Elmira associate city governance with procrastination in 1895? When it comes to government, it’s easy to say that any pace is perceived as too slow, but in the 1890s, city government was also rocked by corruption and scandal. Frank Bundy, who served as Assistant Chamberlain in 1892 and 1893, and then as Chamberlain from 1894 until 1900, “cooked” tax records for years before the City Council had cause to investigate. Chamberlain embezzled $84,495 in city funds (that’s close to $2.5 million today). He served four years in Auburn Penitentiary.

City Hall today, note the ornate decoration on City Hall’s Lake Street façade

These four buildings earned their names sometime at the close of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, when their individual characters appealed to the public imagination. It is a testament to both the creativity and diversity of the city of Elmira during this time that Fascination endured amidst Procrastination, and Salvation stood just across the street from Damnation.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Fifty Years

 by Susan Zehnder, Education Director

Two eight-year-olds were recently touring the museum looking at the exhibit When Waters Recede: 50 Years since the Flood of 1972. One was overheard to ask the other, "Were you alive during the flood?” to which the other responded “NOBODY was alive during the flood.” Of course, this was humbling to those of us that were alive fifty years ago.

What is history? History is anything that has happened and history museums like ours house collections to tell the stories. Artifacts in our collections could be from as recent as yesterday, from fifty years ago, or much longer - as in the case of our wooly mammoth tusk.

Rotary phone on display to use

The flood fifty years ago was a traumatic event that made huge changes in our area. Less obvious are some of the changes we’ve experienced since then. As part of our exhibit, we’ve put out a rotary phone, adding machine, and manual typewriter so visitors can experience what some technology was like back then.

The visiting elementary students recognized the purpose of the objects, but how to use them was not so clear. Faced with making a phone call, many of our young visitors were full of giggles. They noticed that compared to cell phones, a rotary phone has two parts the handset and the body of the phone to which it’s connected, called the dialer. They noticed it took much longer to dial a number. They noticed it was heavier, and many weren’t sure about where or how to hold the handset. They noticed phones were connected to the wall and they just wouldn’t fit in our pockets.

Adults who remember rotary phones also remember the party lines, and tripping over long cords - cords that were essential to ensure a private conversation. While this phone looked different to the students, they understood it was a phone. 

In 1892, the first patent for rotary phones was filed. In 1919, the American Bell Telephone Company had started national service for what they called user-controlled rotary dial phones. These look closer to what we have on display  commonly found in most households by the 1950s. The 1970s was the decade things transitioned to touch-tone buttons. Anyone remember sounding out tunes on the buttons? By the 1980s, most people had push-button phone dials.

Remington manual typewriter on display to use

The typewriter on display was more recognizable to the students. Its keyboard resembled computer keyboards they are familiar with. However, actually typing on this machine was a different experience for them. Manual typewriters are stiff and the action of the keys take more finger strength to engage. Computer keyboards tend to be much easier to press so it took time for students to get used to pushing the keys hard enough to strike the paper. They had no idea what to do when they typed to the end of the line. Having to manually move the carriage to start a new line was confusing.

Different versions of typewriters can be traced back to the 1700s. In the United States, the first commercial patent for a typewriter was issued in 1868, but different versions of typewriters had already been around for over one hundred years. The oldest typewriter in our collection is the No. 7 Franklin, pictured here, with a patent date of 12/09/1891. And frankly to me, it’s not clear how I should place my hands on the keyboard.

Many of us might recognize what it is, but how to use it is less obvious. This older artifact is not currently on display, but if you haven’t seen our exhibit yet, we invite you to drop by the museum and try your hand at typing, or bring back memories by picking up the phone’s handset and dialing your number. A lot has changed in fifty years.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Our Town, Our Teams: Hockey in Elmira

 by Kevin Earley, Alfred University intern

Hockey in Elmira has a storied history to it that most people wouldn’t really think about. From going to the domes in Pine Valley to watch the Elmira College teams play to weekend nights down at First Arena cheering on the professionals, there have been some memorable times for the sport in our neck of the woods.

Elmira College introduced the sport to its athletic program starting in the 1973-1974 season, and it was a very successful program in those early days. In six of their first 16 seasons, they made NCAA Tournament appearances and reached the finals twice, which is no small feat for any college program. In the entire history of the men’s ice hockey program, however, they have never been crowned National Champions despite having multiple years of success. In the 2001-2002 season, the women’s ice hockey program came into existence, and they started their history by winning back-to-back NCAA Division III National Championships in the first two years of the program. They have only missed the NCAA Tournament in 3 out of their 21 years, and they have been one of the most dominant powerhouses in Division III throughout their entire history.

Professional hockey officially came to Elmira in 2000, when the United Hockey League (UHL) awarded a franchise to the city that would be known as the Elmira Jackals. The brand new First Arena, then known as Coach USA Center, had just been completed with the Jackals beginning play in the 2000-2001 season. After an early exit in that year’s playoffs, the Jackals earned a spot in the Colonial Cup Finals in two of the next four seasons, losing both times. Eddy Lowe was a leading player on most of those playoff teams, and eventually got his number 26 retired by the Jackals in 2007, an honor that has not been given to any other professional player for any Elmira team. For their final few years in the UHL, the Jackals missed the playoffs, and never reached a championship series again.

The UHL began to struggle in the mid-2000s, and in April of 2007 the Jackals joined the ECHL, which is the league two levels down from the National Hockey League and is the NHL’s Double-A affiliate league. The Jackals enjoyed some early success in the ECHL, making the playoffs for their first six years in the league while serving as the primary AA affiliate of teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets, Anaheim Ducks, and Ottawa Senators of the NHL. There was a lot of instability, however, due to ownership changes and financial struggles for the team come 2013. In 2014, things seemed to be looking up when the Jackals became the ECHL affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, but those good vibes did not last long as most of Elmira’s talent didn’t really stick around long enough to create a solid team that could compete for a championship, let alone a playoff spot at all. Come 2017, they were owned by the Chemung County Industrial Development Agency (IDA), and as a result of low attendance and arena issues the Jackals folded after playing their final game on April 8th, 2017.

First Arena was pretty much closed throughout the 2017-2018 hockey season, with the exception of the youth hockey programs playing on the recreational rink. In the summer of 2018, it was announced that a new team would come in and play in a league called the Federal Prospects Hockey League, which is a level below the ECHL. The team, owned by Elmira Pioneers baseball team owner Robbie Nichols, became known as the Elmira Enforcers out of tribute to law enforcement. The 2018-2019 season was very good for the new team, but they failed to capture the league championship as they lost in the finals that year. 2019-2020 seemed to be going decently for the Enforcers until the COVID-19 Pandemic hit the United States, causing all sports leagues to shut down and ending the Enforcers’ quest for redemption. The following season was shortened because of the pandemic, and the Enforcers once again did not get the job done as they did not win the title. After the 2020-2021 season, it was announced that the Enforcers would not play in the upcoming season due to Nichols and the Chemung County IDA failing to come to an agreement on a new lease for the arena. The Elmira Enforcers effectively ceased to exist.

Once again, the future of hockey in Elmira was in a cloud of uncertainty. With an arena that had not been properly maintained and with a lack of consistent management, it looked as if professional hockey was done here. However, the arena was leased out and taken over by Steve Donner. It re-opened in December of 2021 under his management for public skating and recreational hockey and it was announced in April of this year that a new FPHL team, the Elmira Mammoth, will be beginning play this coming fall.

Elmira’s hockey history has had many great moments as well as moments that were not so great, and it’s very interesting to look at how much hockey has impacted Chemung County as a whole. It has given the community a lot of exciting memories from the thrilling fights and goals to simply being able to take the family out to the hockey game on a Friday or Saturday night. It’ll be very interesting to see what the future holds for the sport in Elmira.