Monday, June 28, 2021

Orange-Crush: The Delectable Refreshment

by Erin Doane, Curator

For about 50 years, the world-famous soft drink Orange-Crush was bottled in Chemung County. In 1915, a Californian chemist named Neil C. Ward developed a unique formula for the orange drink. A year later, he partnered with Clayton J. Howel and they created the Orange Crush Company. By 1924, there were nearly 1,200 bottlers of Orange-Crush throughout the United States and Canada. The Gardner Bottling Co. located at 226 William Street in Elmira began bottling the carbonated citrus beverage around 1919.

Orange-Crush advertisement, Star-Gazette, August 14, 1919
By the time Orange-Crush was being bottled in Elmira, the drink was already widely popular. The Orange Crush Company contracted with Norman Rockwell in the early 1920s to create 12 different paintings to use in advertisements for their three flavors of Crush – Orange, Lemon, and Lime. Rockwell was paid $300 (about $4,000 today) for each work which appeared in a variety of magazines including Collier’s, The Youth’s Companion, Life, The Literary Digest, and The Christian Herald.

Advertisement for Lime-Crush by Norman Rockwell, Life, May 26, 1921

What made Orange-Crush different from other orange flavored soft drinks was that it was made with real oranges. At first, it was just oil from the peels that was added to enhance the orange flavor, but later actual pulp was added to the lightly fizzy drink. In 1933, the manufacturer claimed that each bottle contained the equivalent of two oranges in nourishment.

Orange-Crush advertisement listing its natural ingredients: orange juice, flavor from the peel, fruit acid, U.S. Certified food color, carbonated water, and pure cane sugar, Star-Gazette, July 29, 1926

In 1922, the Elmira bottling operation moved to 207 Sullivan Street and a year after that Louis Rubin began running the business under the name the Orange Crush Bottling Company. Around that time, the specially designed and patented “crinkly” bottle was introduced. Not only did the bottle somehow ensure “the purity, quality and deliciousness which have made the ‘Crushes’ the largest selling fruit-flavored drinks in the world,” it also helped customers easily find “genuine Crushes” in stores.

Orange-Crush advertisement, Star-Gazette, July 19, 1922 and "crinkly" bottle from CCHS collection

The Orange Crush Bottling Company relocated again around 1926 to the corner of Sheridan Avenue and 11th Street in Elmira Heights. By then, the company was bottling 12 different soft drinks including Orange-, Lemon-, and Lime-Crush, and Bob-O-Link Ginger Ale. When the prohibition on the production and sale of beer came to an end in 1933 (you can read all about that by clicking here), the bottling company began distributing Wehle ale, porter, and lager as well.

Orange Crush Bottling Co, advertisement for Wehle beer, Star-Gazette, October 26, 1933

Sometime in the early 1960s, the Pepsi-Cola Elmira Bottling Company, Inc. took over the bottling of Orange-Crush locally. A short time later, the drink stopped being bottled in Elmira. Changes were also taking place at that time with the Orange Crush brand itself, which was purchased by Charles E. Hires, Co. in 1962. Proctor & Gamble bought the brand in 1980 and then sold it to Cadbury Schweppes in 1989. Today, Crush is owned by Keurig Dr Pepper and the fruity soft drinks are still available in local stores.

Orange-Crush advertisement, Star-Gazette, December 18, 1966


Monday, June 21, 2021

Drew "Lefty" Rader

 by Susan Zehnder, Education Director

Wouldn’t it be great to travel back in time to find out the missing part of a story? A case in point involves "Lefty" Rader, a local baseball star, whose 1921 foray into the major leagues lasted two innings of one game.

"Lefty" was born Drew Leon Rader in 1901 to parents James Benjamin Franklin Rader and Ida May Vanatta Rader of Elmira. His father was a fire fighter then worked as an engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Rader was the couple's only child. They lived on Jefferson Street, later moving to Pennsylvania Avenue to live above the Red Brick Food Mart, a small neighborhood grocery they owned and operated. 

Former Red Brick Food Mart

Young  Rader attended Grammar School Number 9 and finished 8th grade in 1914. He entered Elmira Free Academy that fall. In the EFA yearbook for 1920, it notes that senior Rader was “slow and steady” in his academic pursuits, which may account for why he shows up as a sophomore in the 1916, 1917, and 1918 yearbooks. He graduated when he was 20 years old in 1920.

Grammar School, No. 9

A 21st century lens suggests World War I, the 1918 flu pandemic, or lack of academic skills may have slowed his progress, but there’s no evidence for this. There is evidence that he had athletic and management skills. As a sophomore, Rader played on, and was team captain, for the varsity basketball team, something he repeated as a junior when the team had a championship season. As a sophomore, junior, and senior, he competed in the high jump for the track team. As a junior he was manager for the varsity baseball team and served on the school’s Athletic Council. And in his senior year, in addition to athletics, Rader served on the Athletic Council, sang second tenor in the Senior Glee club, and helped organize the Senior Reception, a large formal event. Outside of school he was Captain of Company B 10th regiment Military training commission. The wide range of his activities looks familiar to any current student applying to college. The description next to his senior portrait says that despite taking his time with academics “(h)e intends, however, to go to college…” which he did.  He enrolled and graduated from Syracuse University. So if Rader was the baseball manager, but didn't play for the school’s baseball team how was it he earned a berth as a pitcher for the 1921 Pittsburgh Pirates?

Apparently Rader showed such athletic promise and pitching prowess, he'd been been recruited and played for the Arctic League, a local semi-pro team. Articles in the Elmira Star Gazette praised his pitching, cool headedness, and overall potential for success in the game. The reporter also wrote of comments his father made that nothing would interfere with his son’s college aspirations.

Rader was 6’ 2” and 185 lbs.  Described as “husky” for his time, it was his left-handed pitching that earned him his nickname. Crowds would gather to watch him pitch. It was also his powerful southpaw style that brought in major league recruiters. Impressed, they offered Rader a spot on the 1921 Pittsburgh Pirates team. The 1921 season was notable for another reason. It was the year professional games were broadcast using the new medium of radio, and the  Pirates' games were among the first to hit the airwaves. 

When the twenty-year old joined the team, he proved in practice he could hit and throw with both hands. Things looked very promising. On July 18th, 1921, Rader made his debut in the seventh inning of a game against the New York Giants. He gave up two hits but kept the Giants scoreless. The Pirates went on to win the game that night. Later, two of his teammates and two of his opponents from that game were inducted into the Hall of Fame. In October the Giants won the 1921 World Series against the New York Yankees.

In February of 1922, Rader was traded to the Minneapolis Millers, a minor league team for “more schooling.” He never played for Millers, apparently unhappy with how he was treated. The feeling must have been mutual since he was placed on a voluntary retired list that May. He approached the Arctics about playing in Elmira again, but was turned down by the manager when his salary request was deemed “too high.”

In the fall of 1921 Rader entered Syracuse University. His affiliation with a professional team however came with restrictions. He was prohibited to play with the university baseball team. He studied business administration, was active in the Square and Compass club, manager of the Boar’s Head Dramatic Society, and a member of Beta Theta Pi, an honorary accounting fraternity. When he was a junior he was appointed team manager. 

Rader graduated from Syracuse in 1926 and in 1931, he married twenty-six year old Annette J. Cullen from a suburb of New York City. Rader worked for the New York Telephone Company and they lived in Rockville Center, on Long Island, NY. The last reference to him playing ball shows up in a small article that mentions him playing for the 1931 Red Stars, a team sponsored by Macy’s. 

Here the trail ends. Rader died in 1975 with no obituary printed in the newspapers. An online search brings up a picture of him wearing a Pirates ball cap. This picture was added just a few years ago.

What circumstances stopped him from excelling as a ball player? Was he able to pursue his interests in managing and leadership the rest of his life? And what advice would he give to young players today? One can only dream.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Revisiting Juneteenth

by Susan Zehnder, Education Director

(This is an updated repost of something published last year)


Juneteenth is a celebration and things will be even more festive at this year’s Juneteenth festivals. Not only does it fall on a Saturday, and we are coming out of pandemic restrictions, but days ago it was officially recognized as the country’s 11th Federally observed holiday. It passed with bipartisan support. Because of this, I chose to update a blog I did last year and post this quick recap of the holiday's origins. 

The holiday name refers to the day it happened. On June 19th in 1865, two months after the last significant battles of the Civil War ended, Union General Gordon Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston, Texas.

In two months, the men had traveled 460 miles coming from Mobile, Alabama. They covered eight miles a day. Usually, troops covered 15-30 miles per day, so it was a slow journey. The news they brought to Galveston quickly changed lives and history, giving cause for celebration. For two months earlier the Confederate leader of the Army of Northern Virginia had surrendered, the American Civil War was now over, and all enslaved people were to be freed.

Two years before this, Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Under his presidential order, “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are and henceforth shall be free” and the proclamation encouraged all rebellious states to rejoin the Union. Lincoln intended to win the war while preserving the Union. In the end, no southern states joined the Union, and his proclamation did not actually free any enslaved people at the time. It still allowed slave-holding states, fighting on the side of the Union, to retain slaves. It also did not require areas held by the Union to free enslaved people. However, it did allow freed slaves to join the Union army, an army desperately short of soldiers.

The importance of the Emancipation Proclamation is how it became a catalyst in changing the US Constitution. It was instrumental in passing the 13th (1865), 14th (1868), and 15th (1870) Constitutional amendments. These amendments address the abolishment of slavery; the granting of citizenship to former slaves; and prohibition of states from denying citizenship to former slaves.

In 1861, Texas had declared secession from the United States and joined the Rebel cause. Soldiers wanting to fight for Texas, headed east, and almost no battles were fought on Texas soil. The two-year gap between Lincoln’s proclamation and Granger’s delivery of the news in 1865 brought little change to the institution of slavery in Texas. By the time the official word arrived in Galveston, new restrictions had already been put in place. These included forbidding formerly enslaved people to “travel on public thoroughfares unless they had passes or permits from their employers.” Despite these restrictions, and facing possible fines, Black people gathered and celebrated.

Juneteenth is sometimes called Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and Cel-Liberation Day. Since 1865 it has been celebrated in various communities throughout the nation. Now it’s a national holiday. 

In Chemung County, Juneteenth celebrations started being observed in 1993, and have been observed ever since. Last year the event was virtual, so this year’s theme, “Devoted to Unity” is all about being a community. To find out more about this year’s event highlights and performers, visit the Juneteenth facebook page. Celebrations will take place in Elmira’s Ernie Davis Park with a central stage for musical acts and performances. There will be vendors and lots of food. Past celebrations have included prayers led by Black ministers, patriotic demonstrations, Juneteenth history, and exhibitions by local groups. This year the event is adding a pop-up vaccination site, something we hope will be gone in the future.

The news that arrived in Galveston more than 155 years ago is part of our nation’s complicated history. Being reminded that the past informs the future can sometimes be worth a second read.



Monday, June 14, 2021

The Optimist Club

 By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

On the evening of June 22, 1972, the Elmira Pioneers were supposed to play Three Rivers at Dunn Field. Hurricane Agnes had other plans. She rained out the game and then flooded out the stadium. By the time her floodwaters receded, Dunn Field was a mess and the Elmira Pioneers were homeless. The last time that had happened in 1946, it was well over a month before the Pioneers were able to play there again. This time, though, they made it home in record time thanks to the help of five special women.

1972 had already been a bit of a rough year for the Pioneers. Years of falling attendance had lead the Kansas City Royals to drop them as a farm team. The new owners set the ambitious goal of 100,000 fans in attendance for the season, painting “100,000 or bust” on the back fence. Agnes’s floodwaters washed away portions of the fences in left and right field leaving only “000 or bust” behind. In the aftermath, eight inches of silt covered the field and mud coated much of the stadium seating. The concession stand was filled with mud and rotted food and the clubhouse wasn’t much better.  Much of the team’s equipment was ruined too. Some 60 dozen balls were lost, along with all the team’s gloves and most of the bats. On the plus side, team manager Len Johnson and his wife Alice were able to salvage and wash the team’s uniforms. They also temporarily housed players Carl Richardson, Dennis Queen, and Harry Shaughnessy whose homes had been destroyed by the flood.

Surveying the damage, team owners Kip Horsburgh and Carl Fazio didn’t have much hope in getting back into Dunn Field before August. They hadn’t counted on Alice Johnson and her friends. As the team played away game after away game, Alice Johnson, Jan Kern, Vicki Detter, Cathy Eldridge, and Marianne Relic did everything they could to bring the team home. Johnson, Kern, Detter, and Eldridge all had husbands on the team and they wanted them back. Marianne Relic worked as a secretary for Horsburgh and Fazio, but was no less determined. The team owners dubbed them The Optimist Club. Together, the five of them hosed down the seating, scrubbed bathrooms, and cleaned just about everything. They had help from the Elmira Parks Department, which worked on clearing and replanting the field, and some prisoners from the Elmira Correctional Facility, who helped with some of the heavy lifting.  In an interview, Alice Johnson claimed that her babysitter had put in 160 hours of work minding her kids while she and the other ladies cleaned. 

The Optimists at work, courtesy of the Elmira Star-Gazette

 All their hard work paid off. On July 18, the Elmira Pioneers returned to Dunn Field for their first home game in weeks. They played a double header against the Reading Phillies before a crowd of 1,177 fans. It was the highest turn out of the season thus far. They won the first game and lost the second. In between the two, the team honored the Optimist Club with special jackets and a round of applause. 

Detter, Relic, Eldridge, & Johnson, courtesy of the Elmira Star-Gazette


Monday, June 7, 2021

Hotel Rathbun

by Erin Doane, Curator

The northwest corner of Baldwin and Water Streets in Elmira, where the Chemung Canal Trust Company now sits, was once the site of Hotel Rathbun. In its heyday in the early 1900s, the hotel was considered one of the finest between New York City and Buffalo. It had hundreds of luxurious rooms (65 with their own bathrooms), richly furnished parlors, a gentlemen’s café, and a billiard room, which was frequented by Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain).

Hotel Rathbun, c. 1900
In 1833, Abraham Riker built the Eagle Tavern – the precursor to Hotel Rathbun – where Isaac Baldwin’s house had once stood. The new brick building was three-stories tall with a domed cupola on top and tall columns at the Water Street entrance. It had one of the largest meeting rooms in the village, which made it a popular gathering spot.

Image of the eagle that once graced the Eagle Tavern, Elmira Telegram, October 19, 1924
In 1841, the owner at that time, a Mr. Webb, was swayed by that year’s temperance campaign and banished all liquors from the tavern. The business, inevitably, failed and Silas Haight took over ownership. In 1844, Haight became owner of the Mansion House on Lake and Market Streets and E.R. Brainard took over the Eagle Tavern. After the tavern burned in 1849, Brainard rebuilt and reopened the business as the Brainard House.

Brainard House, c. 1850s

Brainard died in 1851 and John T. Rathbun took over ownership of the hotel. He changed its name to Hotel Rathbun during the Civil War. Just a few years later, in 1868, the hotel underwent extensive renovations. A new building was erected in the rear of the hotel where the old kitchen had been. It included an elegant billiard room, parlors, offices, and additional guest rooms. Existing rooms were repaired, painted and papered, and refurnished. A new, spacious entrance was added on Water Street as well as an iron porch with a balcony on the second floor. The hotel could accommodate 500-600 overnight guests and seat up to 400 in the dining room at one time.

John T. Rathbun leased the hotel to a series of different proprietors over the years. Coleman and Pike were the first to operate the property, followed by Enos Blossom, then Slater, Abbott, and Hayt. In 1898, Col. David C. Robinson bought the land and building from Rathbun and John W. Kennedy and Edward M. Tierney took over as proprietors. Under the new owner and managers, the hotel underwent another major renovation. The building was completely modernized, including the addition of ensuite bathrooms and electric lighting. An elegant new gentlemen’s café and barroom was added with a billiard room off the back. The new design also included storefronts and offices on the first floor.

Hotel Rathbun lobby, 1899

Hotel Rathbun billiard room, a favorite hang-out of Samuel Clemens, which had shrimp pink walls, 1899

Hotel Rathbun barroom, 1899
Hotel Rathbun’s grand reopening in 1899 marked the start of the its golden age. The hotel became known throughout the East for its hospitality and cuisine. The dining room, bar, and grill were enjoyed by both travelers and Elmirans. Samuel Clemens was said to have been a regular visitor to the billiard room in the years he summered in the city. Until the Mark Twain Hotel opened in 1929, Hotel Rathbun was the area’s most modern, luxurious hotel. The front desk clerk had to turn guests away nightly because the rooms were always filled.

Hotel Rathbun, c. 1920s

In 1934, Hotel Rathbun was taken over by the Knott Hotels Crop. Then around 1940, the American Hotels Corp. took up the lease. The hotel had gone into decline, likely from age, the economics of the time, and growing competition from other hotels and motels. Up until June 10, 1941, there were advertisements in the newspaper offering accommodations at $7.00 a week for permanent residents, but that wasn’t enough to keep the business afloat. On June 12, residents were served with notices to vacate and the hotel’s demolition began on August 1. Hotel Rathbun was completely razed by October 1941.

Hotel Rathbun’s entrance, 1940