Friday, November 30, 2018

The Country Club and The City Club

by Erin Doane, Curator
"The Country Mouse and the City Mouse" by Scott Gustafson, c.2010
During the late 1800s, businessmen in Elmira were looking for places where they could socialize and recreate with people of the same class. From this desire, came the formation of a City Club and a Country Club.

The Elmira City Club

The idea of forming a city club in Elmira was first bandied about by a group of young businessmen who were socializing at Klapproth’s Saloon. They wanted a private place of their own where they could meet after a long day of work to just relax, rest, and share in good fellowship. So, on October 26, 1889, the Elmira City Club was incorporated with 45 charter members. The first membership list included significant names in local history; Charles J. Langdon, George M. Diven, J. Sloat Fassett, and John H. Arnot, to name just a few.

Their first clubhouse was the Flood residence at the corner of Lake and East Second Streets. After significant renovations, it opened on January 11, 1890. A steward and two waiters were hired to see to the needs of the club members and no tipping was allowed. On New Year’s Day 1894, they opened a new clubhouse at the corner of East Church and Lake Streets. The building was designed by Rochester architects Crandall & Otis and was built specifically for the club. The two-story brick building contained club rooms, a cafĂ©, reading and billiards rooms, and a ladies’ dining room. This building is still home to the City Club today.

The Elmira City Club, c. 1900
Fun Facts about the City Club:
  • The club restricts its membership to 200 resident members (those who lived or had businesses in Chemung County) and 40 non-resident members.
  • A roof garden was opened at the clubhouse in 1901 where people could have meals and socialize. It closed in 1914 due to the high cost of operations and because some parties on the roof were very noisy and things like food and bottles were sometimes dropped onto pedestrians below.
  • In 1935, George W. Emory, steward at the club for ten years, disappeared. His wife later received a letter in the mail telling her he was gone for good. Only a small amount of cash could not be accounted for at the club.
  • Women were not admitted as members of the club until 1986. Before that, they could be guests but had to enter the clubhouse through a side entrance.
  • The City Club’s building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

The Elmira Country Club

During the early 1890s, some local businessmen were introduced to the sport of golf. J. Sloat Fassett fell in love with golf during a trip to Scotland and he shared his love for the game with his friends back home. The Elmira Country Club was incorporated on October 21, 1897 to provide a space for these men to play. The club began with 317 charter members. It reached its peak membership in the 1970s with some 700 members.

The Country Club’s first clubhouse was built in 1898 on Underwood Avenue with a 9-hole golf course designed by Willie Dunn. In 1909, a new clubhouse was built on West Church Street. That building was sold in 1920 and a third clubhouse was built to accommodate the growing membership. It included formal and casual dining rooms and men’s and women’s locker rooms. Outside were a swimming pool and tennis courts. A second nine holes were added to the golf course in 1922. In 2000, the Country Club’s main building was torn down and a new $6.5 million facility was built on the site.

The Elmira Country Club, c. 1920s
Fun Facts about the Country Club:
  • When J. Sloat Fassett first returned from Scotland, he created a three-hole golf course around his home, Strathmont. It is said that as more and more people came over to play, his wife told him to get all those people off her yard, thus spurring him to found the Country Club.
  • In the early days of the Country Club, people would ride the trolley to the base of Underwood Avenue and then take a horse-drawn taxi up to the clubhouse. Some younger folks would walk up the hill.
  • The first clubhouse on Underwood Avenue became a Tuberculosis Sanatorium after the club moved into its second clubhouse in 1909
  • The site of the second clubhouse on West Church Street became the home of the Dominican Monastery.
  •  In 1935, in a time of nationwide financial turmoil, the Elmira Savings Bank foreclosed on the Country Club’s mortgage and purchased it at a sheriff’s sale. Seymour Lowman, president of the bank, commented that they would “plow up the golf course and plant it with potatoes.” John E. Sullivan headed a committee that formed the Elmira Golf Corp., which then purchased the property and continued operating the club.
Golfing at the Country Club, c. 1905

Monday, November 26, 2018

Iszard's Holiday Parade

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

In case you missed it, last Friday was Elmira’s annual holiday parade. The beloved community tradition began life as a crass marketing ploy. In 1957, the S.F. Iszard Company was looking to boost their pre-Christmas sales, and decided to borrow the idea behind the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For the next 31 years, Iszard’s hosted their annual holiday extravaganza on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Second Iszard's Holiday Parade, 1958
Preparation for the parade began months in advance and nearly every Iszard’s employee was involved in one way or another. Float construction began in the spring. The team from the display department would design and construct the floats at the company’s warehouse on Sullivan Street. Bill Warner, the display department manager, and Leonor Strauss, merchandise manager for ladies’ clothing, were in charge of selecting character costumes and recruiting staff and volunteers to wear them. Every parade had to feature recurring favorites like Santa, Santa’s elves, and popular cartoons like Mickey Mouse, but Warner and Strauss tried to keep it fresh, adding in new characters from the latest cartoon craze. New costumes and alterations were handled by the tailors and seamstresses of the clothing departments. 
Al Viele works on the story book float for the 1974 parade

 The day of the parade, staff would arrive hours in advance to get everyone into their costumes and in proper marching order. The whole procession was divided up into segments and, in turn, each one was overseen by a supervisor whose job it was to keep the whole thing flowing smoothly. The parade route varied from year to year, but the ending was always the same. Santa’s float at the tail end of the parade would stop at Iszard’s front door. Santa would dismount and take up his throne in the 4th floor Christmas Court. During the late-1970s, they changed things up. Under the original system, children were so eager to visit Santa that they would often swarm him, packing themselves into his elevator, creating a safety hazard. Under the new system, the parade Santa would be helped down from his float and whisked into the Mark Twain Building where he could change back into his street clothes, while a second Santa would be waiting in the store to greet his adoring public.

Santa parade float, 1969

The Iszard’s Annual Holiday Parade was an instant success. An average of 15,000 people attended each year, lining the parade route and flocking to the store. Coupled with an extravagant Toyland display featuring a Christmas Court and giant Lionel model train set up, Iszard’s was the place to shop for Christmas in the Twin Tiers.

Start of the Iszard's Holiday Parade, 1973

The last Iszard’s parade was in 1988, but the tradition continued. In 1989, the Elmira Business Association took over as the parade’s sponsor. All of the old parade floats and supplies were transferred to the old LeValley McLeod building where volunteers could work on them.  Despite changing sponsor’s multiple times since 1988, the parade is still going strong. Community Bank N.A. is currently the parade’s lead corporate sponsor.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Trolley Card Game: Look Out For It!

by Erin Doane, Curator

In 1904, the Snyder Bros. of Elmira put out a new card game called Trolley. It was marketed as “Society’s Card Game for 1904,” and it seemed to have sold fairly well. In 1906, according to Geyer’s Stationer (a trade publication), while sales of new card games of any kind had been down for the past two seasons, Trolley was having very good success. After 1907, however, the game seems to disappear into the mists of history.

Trolley card game made by Snyder Bros. of Elmira
Brothers Claude and William Snyder established the Snyder Bros. Printing Company in 1893 in a small building at 405 Baldwin Street. Both brothers had gotten their start in printing in the 1880s working at the Elmira Telegram. Among other things, their company printed the programs for the Lyceum Theater. The company was successful from early on and quickly expanded. Just a year after its founding, it moved into a larger space at 109 N. Main Street. It moved again in 1898 to the Wyckoff Building on West Water Street. Finally, in 1910, the brothers decided to build their own building for the company at 111-114 North Main Street. Snyder Bros. stayed there until 1948 when it finally closed. At the time of its closing, it was one of the oldest businesses in Elmira.

Arrow indicates the Snyder Building on North
Main Street shortly after it was built in 1910
In 1904, the brothers decided to go into the game business. Their Trolley game was made up of a deck of 60 cards divided into six categories – Car, Conductor, Motorman, Passenger, Fare, and Transfer.

The six categories of Trolley cards
Three different games could be played with the deck. “Trolley” involved trick-taking to accumulate point-scoring sets. “Transfer” was a game of passing cards to the opponents until one player has a hand consisting of six identical cards. “Matchem” was a game of matching cards in hand with face-up cards on the table. The game sold for 40 cents per pack at retailers in Elmira and throughout the region, as far as Buffalo and Binghamton.

Trolley game advertisement, Star-Gazette, April 15, 1904
CCHS has several sets of Trolley cards. One set without a box is interesting because both sides of the cards are covered in advertisements. The backs of the cards are all the same, advertising Vilas bookcases manufactured by Vilas-Diven Co. of Elmira. The faces of the cards each have two different advertisers ranging from grocery stores and pharmacies to heating businesses and law firms. All of the other sets of Trolley cards in our collection have an image of a trolley on the back (some decks are orange, some red) and no advertising on the faces.

Two versions of Trolley cards in CCHS’s collection
The bottom cards have advertising on both sides
I am not sure which set of cards came first but I suspect that the set with the advertising was the earlier version. The advertising would almost guarantee that Snyder Bros. wouldn’t lose money on the venture. Once the game had caught on, a set without advertising could be sold. In December 1904, Snyder Bros. promoted a new edition of the Trolley game. Perhaps that was when the advertising was removed from the cards.

Trolley game advertisement, American Stationer, December 10, 1904
In September 1905, the company, now going by the name Snyder Bros. Game Co., release another new version of Trolley. This version included new, simpler instructions. Anyone who owned the older version of the game could get the new version in exchange for their old deck plus 15 cents.

CCHS has two versions of Trolley with different instructions.
Snyder Bros. Game Co. is listed on the larger box, so it may
be the newer version of the game, though the instructions did
not seem that much simpler to me.
The last mention of the Trolley game that I could find in local newspapers was in a Star-Gazette from December 1907. S.F. Iszard Co. was advertising a holiday sale that included games. Trolley was on sale for 10 cents, marked down from its usual 98 cent price. I could not find out what happened to the game after that. Today, you can occasionally still find an antique deck of Trolley cards for sale on an auction website, in case anyone is interested in trying this locally-produced game.

Trolley advertisement, Buffalo Courier, October 14, 1904