Monday, April 22, 2019

Elmira’s Fire Stations

by Erin Doane, Curator

The first volunteer fire company in Elmira was created in 1830. Over the next 30 years, half a dozen more companies were organized and each company established their own fire houses. In 1867, the city built a new, large fire station on Market Street. The station housed Torrent Fire Company No.1 and Fire Company No. 2, known as Neptune Company. When the city created a professional fire department in 1878, the station became its headquarters.

Elmira Volunteer Fire Station on Market Street, c. 1870s
In 1890, the station was torn down and a new central fire station was built on East Market Street opposite Exchange Place. The new building cost $33,000 to construct, or just under $1 million in today’s dollars. The station housed firefighters and their equipment, including steamers, hose wagons, a ladder truck, a chemical engine, and ten horses.

Central Fire Station, c. 1911
In 1964, the Fire Department’s headquarters was moved to a new building at 101 West Second Street. This was the city’s first new fire station built in 52 years.

Elmira Fire Headquarters, April 2019
Shortly after the Central Fire Station was built in 1890, more stations were established throughout the city. In 1892, Station No. 2 was built at the foot of College Avenue on West Water Street. The station closed in 1935 and the building now houses the Elmira Water Board.

Station No. 2, c. 1910
Station No. 3 was also built in 1892 at the western intersection of South Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Station No. 3, c. 1900
The station was torn down in 1979 when a new one was built on West Miller Street.

New Station No. 3, April 2019
Station No. 4 was built at Maxwell Place and Grand Central Avenue in 1897 on land given to the city by the Diven Family. It was designed by local architects Pierce and Bickford. The station closed in 1986 and in 2014, the building was added to the Preservation League of New York State’s Seven to Save Endangered Properties list.

Station No. 4, March 1897
In 1911, Station No. 5 was built on Roe Avenue. It is still being used today and is the oldest active fire station in Chemung County.
Station No. 5, 2017

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Last Cartoon

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivists

Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman’s last finished cartoon arrived at the offices of the Elmira Telegram on the morning of his death on March 26, 1935. 

Zim's last published cartoon, courtesy of the Horseheads Historical Society

He had begun his career as a political cartoonist in 1883 working for the satirical magazine, Puck. He jumped ship for rival publication Judge in exchange for higher pay in 1885. Judge was decidedly pro-Republican and for the next 28 years Zim made his money lampooning Democrats. Even after he retired, he continued to draw political cartoons for local and national publications.

Judge, January 28, 1899

At the time of his death, he still had a partially finished drawing of a political cartoon sitting on his easel. The drawing shows Uncle Sam being upset by the discordant stylings of Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and “Johnson.” By their nature, political cartoons are incredibly timely. If you don’t know the people in it, you won’t get the joke and, if you’re anything like my coworkers and I, you probably don’t get this one. 

Zim's last unfinished work, courtesy of the Horseheads Historical Society

Knowing the players is key. Huey Long Jr. (1893-1935), also known as “The Kingfish” was a Democratic senator and former governor from Louisiana. As part of a presidential bid, he proposed a series of radical populist plans to redistribute the nation’s wealth. He was assassinated on September 10, 1935, several months after Zim drew his cartoon.

Father Charles Coughlin (1891-1979) was an influential radio personality and Catholic priests whose listeners numbered upwards of 30 million. Although initially supportive of the New Deal, by 1935 he regularly railed against it and painted Roosevelt as a tool of the banks. His populist rants were anti-Semitic, anti-capitalist, anti-communist, and pro-fascist. He is widely considered the father of talk radio.

Even after an hour’s research, I could not figure out which Johnson the one in Zim’s cartoon is supposed to be. Still, I think we can make an educated guess about what Zim was getting at: populism bad. I wonder what he’d say about today’s politics.


Zim’s final cartoon and other works will be on display at the museum from April through October 2019 as part of the exhibit From Pencil to Page: Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman’s Creative Process. Come check it out!

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Clean Sweep

by Susan Zehnder, Education Director

Spring seems to be arriving at last. Things are looking greener, and there’s new interest in tidiness sparked by recent books and television programs on organizing. I’ve been wondering about cleaning tools, take brooms for instance. 
Ladies with push broom, April 1903
The word broom comes from the Anglo-Saxon for thorny shrub, and early brooms were just that, hand-made from twigs gathered together and tied to a stick. 
Early broom examples
 As a cleaning tool, similar brooms have shown up around the world. In parts of Asia, Han Chinese recognize Tomb Sweeping Day in early April. This 2,500-year-old holiday involves ritual cleaning as a sign of ancestral respect. Another sweeping tradition comes from Africa, where various cultures continue to sweep fenced-in areas in front of their homes as a proud sign of ownership. Having a well-swept yard invites good will and neighbors to visit. Bringing this tradition with them to the United States, enslaved Africans continued the practice. It’s a tradition that fit easily into the warmer southern parts of our country. Sweeping created an inviting outdoor space for people who had very little to call their own. A swept yard also eliminated worry of weeds and eliminated the impracticality of caring for a lawn. Patterns left in the dirt by sweeping, besides looking nice, were a helpful way to see if any snakes or undesirable elements had disturbed the area. 

Inside houses, smaller versions of brooms were regularly used to sweep ash, embers and debris near fireplaces. Benjamin Franklin brought sorghum to the new colonies in 1757 intending to use it to make better brooms. Sorghum corn is now called broom corn and while technically edible, it’s really a grass not a variety of corn.
Sorghum also known as broom corn
Forty years later, a Massachusetts farmer named Levi Dickinson made changes which improved the quality of brooms. Wanting a gift for his wife, he bundled just the tops of sorghum tassels and attached them to a long-handled stick.  With her new broom, Mrs. Dickinson could sweep cleaner. Word of her cleaning tool’s success spread and created demand for bundled sorghum brooms. Understandably, these finer brooms didn’t last, falling apart easily. Dickinson addressed this by inventing the foot-treadle broom machine, a device letting him make brooms faster. In less than ten years, Dickinson and his son were selling hundreds of similar brooms around the country. 

This broom from our collection would be a similar to Dickinson's broom. The brush strands have been gathered into a bundle and tied to a stick.
Broom from our collection, n.d.

One of the last big changes in broom design occurred before the turn of the 19th century. The Shakers, a religious sect known for their beautiful craftsmanship and practical design of everyday items, started adding wire to secure the bristles creating a sturdier broom. They also invented a broom vise to flatten the brush. Up to this point, all brooms had been round. Using these flat brooms look familiar to us today. Sweeping with this kind of broom, a user was able to sweep those pesky hard to reach places. This kind of broom was also easier to store because it took up less space. 

By the 1830s there were over three hundred U.S. broom manufacturers producing close to 60,000 brooms a year. Less than twenty years later over a thousand broom manufacturing businesses were thriving and located throughout the Eastern United States. By the beginning of the twentieth century, motorized vacuums began to be popular. The broom boom subsided, and by the 1960s most of the country’s broom manufacturers closed. Now most brooms are imported and made from synthetic materials. There is a new interest in heritage craft broom making and these brooms cost more. Brooms are something everyone seems to have at least one of, somewhere. 
Clean up after 1972 Flood
This last picture from our collection, shows how handy brooms can be. Time to find mine.