Monday, March 25, 2013

The Birth of a Landmark

by Erin Doane, Curator

On March 23, 1929 the brand new Mark Twain Hotel opened at the corner of West Gray and North Main Streets in Elmira. The opening was a grand event with a gala reception, speeches, music and dancing that lasted until the small hours of the morning. Six hundred invited guests came to see the finest hotel between Buffalo and New York City. The local newspapers of the time were filled with stories of the hotel’s opening. The architecture, layout and d├ęcor of the building were described in fine detail as were the fashions worn by those attending the opening event.  The new hotel boasted 250 rooms (each with its own bath), five dining rooms, four restaurants, three elevators, convention facilities and a ballroom that could accommodate 350 guests.  The hotel’s Georgian architecture was praised for blending stately dignity with the air of hospitality. 

The hotel was designed by George Post who has been credited with developing the standard plan for modern hotels with double loaded corridors and a bath in every guest room.  While planning took nearly 25 years, Lowman Construction Co. of Elmira was able to build the hotel in less than a year at the cost of nearly $1 million.  It was named, obviously, after the writer Mark Twain. The names of various rooms referenced his life and literary works and were decorated to match the theme. The coffee shop, for example, was called the Mississippi and had murals of the river around the walls.  A riverboat’s pilot wheel decorated one dining room and a famous mural on the second floor depicted Huck Finn and Jim from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Mark Twain Hotel saw its golden era during WWII and in the post-war years. By the 1960s, though, travelers had come to prefer staying in motels and the hotel went into decline.  In 1973, after almost 45 years in business, it closed to the general public. Mark Twain Properties, Inc. purchased the building and converted it into apartments and office spaces.  Today, the Mark Twain Building keeps its connection to the past with a museum of artifacts and memorabilia on the second floor that celebrates the history of the hotel.

Menu Binder from Hotel Dining Room

Monday, March 18, 2013

History Day

On Saturday, March 16th, the CCHS hosted 61 area students at Southern Tier Regional History Day.  What is History Day? you might ask.  Well, History Day is a national competition that promotes interest and research in history.  Students start by selecting a topic based on the annual theme.  This year’s theme is Turning Points in History.  They then conduct primary and secondary research, analyze and interpret that research and produce a paper, documentary, exhibit or website.  The Southern Tier Regional is the first step for local students.  The best entries here go on to the State competition and then possibly on to the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest that will take place at the University of Maryland at College Park in June. 
This was our tenth year hosting the event and it is wonderful to see so many students and teachers involved.  Students presented papers, exhibits and documentaries to our volunteer judges.  The competition was fierce with so many high-quality entries but in the end 11 students were awarded medals and will be moving on to the next level of the competition.

Carrie Wang and CCHS Director Bruce Whitmarsh
Senior Paper:
1st – Carrie Wang – World War II and Women’s Role in Society: Integrating the Workforce
2nd – Brianna Zichettella – Scandal in Washington: Reform and Revolution Following Watergate
3rd – Alexandria Stryker – Charity to Philanthropy: Carnegie’s Benevolent Impact and Legacy
4th – Benjamin Morse – The Advent of Penicillin: A New Age in Medicine

Joelle Yu
Senior Individual Exhibit:
1st – Joelle Yu – The Meiji Restoration, the Rise of Modern Japan: Western Influence, Industrialization and Innovation
2nd – Madalyn Owen – Beneath the Veil: Women in the Iranian Revolution

Senior Individual Documentary:
1st – Jessica Rynders – Jonathan Letterman: Ambulance Corps
2nd – Daniel Anderson – An Act of Violence: Mao Zedong and the Communist Party’s Battle for China

Allyson Marshall, Caitlyn Kearney, Danielle Fuller-Sincock
Senior Group Documentary:
1stAllyson Marshall, Caitlyn Kearney, and Danielle Fuller-Sincock – The Changes Brought in a Time of Death: The Black Death in Italy
2nd – Makenzie Smith and Bhumi Patel – Little Boy’s Fury

Congratulations to the winning students and thank you to all the students, teachers, judges and volunteers who made History Day 2013 a great success!

History Day Judges

Monday, March 11, 2013

Airing our Dirty Laundry

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

“Washed in the forenoon and sowed till night then ironed the white clothes.  George a went to the Corners with Jacob Enat.”  - Kate Synder diary, February 4, 1880. 

Laundry.  It’s a dull but necessary task and one traditionally assigned to women.  In the days before electricity and washing machines (days still ongoing in many parts of the world) cleaning clothing was both time consuming and backbreaking.  Water had to be boiled and clothes had to be soaked, scrubbed, rinsed, wrung out, hung out to dry and, if you were feeling ambitious, ironed.  It was a process that could literally take all day and give a housewife muscles like a longshoreman. 

Of course, not all laundry was created equal.  A wealthy upper class woman was not doing her own wash.  Instead, she either paid domestic servants to do it in house or sent her washing out to a laundry service.  In 1890, there were 12 industrial laundries in the City of Elmira as well as an unknown number of poorer women who took in washing which they did in their homes.  For women with children, taking in laundry was the perfect job.  It allowed them to keep an eye on the younger kids, take advantage of the labor of the older ones and put food on the table.
Neighborhood House Laundry Class, 1905
The first electric washing machine hit the market in 1900, but it would be years before it really revolutionized the way people cleaned their clothes.  Early washing machines were expensive costing as much as $3.90, which was twice what the most expensive manual washers cost.  They also required electricity which was slow to spread across Chemung County.  While the City of Elmira was electrified in 1900, some of the more rural parts didn’t have power until the 1930s.  

Electric Washing Machine, c. 1910s

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Salute to Women

Come to the CCHS on Tuesday, March 5th, 6:30-8:30 pm and Salute Your Favorite Woman in History at the Festival of Women in the Arts Opening Reception.  The festival, which is coordinated and sponsored by the Cantata Singers, is a month-long celebration of Women's History Month. Visit for more information and a full schedule of events.

Our region is filled with women, both past and present, who deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments.  Dr. Frances Mabel Flood Heath, better known as Mabel, is one.  She was born in Elmira on April 6, 1884 to Thomas and Frances Miller Flood.  Her father, Thomas, was a local pharmacist and politician and her grandfather, uncle and cousin were all physicians.  In 1911, she followed family tradition and graduated from Buffalo Medical College.  After briefly working at a hospital in Buffalo, she returned to Elmira in 1912 and opened her own practice.

In 1917, the American Red Cross put out a call for female physicians to help with the war effort and Mabel, along with her cousin Dr. Regina Flood Keyes of Buffalo, answered the call.  The two women were posted in the Balkans where they established the American Women’s Hospital in Monastir, Serbia.  The hospital had 65 beds, saw nearly 3,000 out-patients a month and had a reputation of being the best hospital in the Balkans. Regina served as surgeon and commanding officer while Mabel oversaw the medical cases.  The two saw the hospital through the flu epidemic in 1918 and an epidemic of typhus in 1919 while still managing to educate young Serbians on basic medical care.  For their efforts, both women were awarded medals and honored by the governments of Serbia, France and the United States.

Mabel returned to the United States in 1920.  On the steamer ship back she met Alfred Heath of Liverpool, England, one of the ship’s officers, and the two were married on August 31, 1920.  The Heaths returned to Elmira where Mabel re-established her medical practice and Alfred went into the dry cleaning business.  The couple had a daughter Marjorie Louise in 1922.  Dr. Mabel Flood Heath died less than six months later on April 26, 1923 from complications following an operation for appendicitis.  On May 3, 1927 she was posthumously awarded the Order of St. Sava by King Alexander of Serbia which her daughter received on her behalf.