Monday, April 25, 2022

Curating Chemung County's Cool Collection

 By Monica Groth, Curator

The job of a Museum Curator is to safely handle, document, and house an institution’s object collection and design exhibits through which those objects can educate and inspire visitors. I am extremely excited to be joining the dedicated staff at the Chemung County Historical Society as I fulfill this role and I write now to introduce myself to you all!

I come to Chemung County from Aurora, New York, a small village in Cayuga County where I spent my summers finding shards of pottery, rusty nails, and fossils in the lake, gorges, and cemetery by my home. Many years ago, while thinking myself a true archaeologist and with treasures in hand, I visited my local Historical Society at a young age to proudly present my finds. This is when I discovered the purpose and promise of Historical Societies and Museums: to preserve the history of our lives and our homes—the everyday and the unique things that make us who we are and our county what it is to us.

One of my main tasks here at the Museum has been processing new donations whilst exploring the Museum collections. In doing this work I’ve discovered that much of the collection was donated by people very like the younger me. A 16-pound Civil War cannonball donated by Thomas Mallow was found by his father, Glenn Mallow Jr., while digging a WWII victory garden on the site of the Prison Camp. An Eagle Bottling Works Bottle, donated by Elaine Harrington, actually dates to the 1880’s and bears a newspaper clipping suggesting it was unearthed by a curious boy in the town of Chemung.

The donors to our Museum have given many fascinating objects that memorialize the lived experiences of themselves, their families, and their homes. Anne Beattie donated the clothes her parents wore on their wedding in 1939. Larry Bowman donated a collection of gifts received from Horsehead’s sister-city, Bato-Machi, Japan by the 1993 delegation. Betty Clauss donated her husband’s 1960-1964 US Air Force Uniform.

All these donations and more help the Historical Society fulfill its mission, and those donated in 2021 will be on display in the “New to the Vault” exhibit this summer!

A peek into the diverse collections: telephones, typewriters, assorted ladies' fan, shoes, and hats!

I love working as a curator because it allows me to get up close with these historical artifacts and the stories surrounding them. Before working here in Chemung County, I studied at the Mystic Seaport Museum, Connecticut and the National Museum of Bermuda. Some of the coolest maritime objects I studied at these Museums include a whaling harpoon-gun, used on the island of Bermuda; a 200-yr-old figurehead, once mounted on the bow of a ship; and a barometer which used shark liver oil to predict the weather!

I am looking forward to the many interesting objects and stories I’ll be showcasing here at the Chemung Valley History Museum. Visitors are always welcome and I’m eager to meet the community whose stories I’m now privileged to know. Keep exploring. And if you are willing to donate, come on down to the History Museum and add to the amazing collection!

This exhibit case, the newest addition to the Mark Twain's Elmira exhibit, features Mark Twain's quill pen, an c.1890 inkwell, and his thoughts on the area in his own words

Monday, April 11, 2022

Mamie Wood: Horseman's Pride of Elmira

 by Ellen Williams, Guest Blogger

Thomas Schmeck Flood (1844-1908) was a member of the prominent family of Floods whose homes occupied the East Water Street block between DeWitt and Madison Avenues in Elmira. His father and brothers were doctors, and Flood augmented the medical tradition in the family with his drug store on East Water Street. Flood went to medical school like his father and brothers but instead of practicing medicine he chose pharmacy as his career.

Hon. Thomas S. Flood

He had a strong affinity for horses, and he soon had a barn full in the city. In 1870 he married Frances Miller, for whose family Miller Street on the south side of the city was named. Shortly after, her uncle John E. DuBois recruited Flood into his plans for the lumber trade. DuBois, the younger, (son of the Williamsport lumber baron by the same name for whom the Duboistown neighborhood of that city was named) had purchased more than thirty thousand acres of timber, mostly white pine, in western Pennsylvania. It was then a veritable wilderness.

DuBois engaged Flood to move out to Clearfield County, PA, and help manage the lumber takings: mills, railroad lines, labor force, housing, post office and the like. There were few constraints on industry in that era, and the settlement was part of the ever-moving western line of America’s woodlands which at the time appeared to have no end. The town became known as DuBois. White pine was cash, and Flood’s wealth was secured during that decade, by 1880.-(Elmira Advertiser, Oct. 29, 1908) With his wife Frances, young son Chester, and his contingent of horses, Flood returned to the family seat in Elmira. 

Letter to John DuBois, 1884

Flood resumed his drugstore business and ran for city alderman in 1882, and surprised everyone when he won as a Republican in a Democratic ward. He also got involved with showing and racing his horses in the Chemung County Agricultural Society, the predecessor to the Chemung County Fair. Holding office with the Society, Flood applied his business acumen to his political and horse racing pursuits. A popular guy, he was known to be fair in the show ring and fast on the track.

Flood sent his favorite mare, Mary Ann, to Joseph Wood’s farm in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1883. Wood owned an expensive Hambletonian trotting stallion whose reputation as a sire of record-breaking race horses was well established. Drawn by the Grand Circuit horse racing success of that stallion’s other colts during the previous years, Flood was seeking a race horse of his own.

The next year, Flood’s mare Mary Ann gave birth to a fine filly. Flood named the young filly “Mamie Wood” in tribute to her sire’s pedigree. Her parentage and her older siblings were well known, and Flood had big expectations for Mamie. It was an exciting year for the Floods, as they had a new baby girl born as well. They named their new daughter Frances Mabel, after her mother, but called her Mabel. Their son, Chester, was now about seven years old.

Mamie started her training in harness during the year of 1885-1886, under the hand of Flood’s trainer, John Ryan. Flood was very pleased with her prospects. According to his plans, she was to make her debut as a two-year-old in the New York State Breeders’ Association meet in September of 1886. Just to get some experience, Mamie trotted an exhibition at the Maple Avenue Driving Park in Elmira on June 3rd, going one mile alone against the stopwatch in 2:44½.

Mamie Wood became a star on the race track when she was two years old, making a record of trotting a mile hitched to a two-wheeled sulky in the time of two minutes, twenty-seven and a quarter seconds at Rochester, NY:

…The event of the day was Mamie Woods’ endeavor to break the best two-year-old record of 2:29. She was first sent a slow mile, finishing in 2:43¼.  When she came on the track again she was accompanied by a pacer.  Both came under the wire together, but Mamie began to go ahead, the pacer not seeming to follow her pace.  The first quarter was made in 37¾.  On she sped, without a skip or break….Then she began to go faster, and reached the three-quarter pole in 1:50½.  Everybody who had a watch had it out and was anxiously watching the filly.  On she came, as steady as clockwork.  The pacer began to draw up on her and she trotted faster every moment.  When she passed under the wire the watches said 2:27¼, and the track was instantly filled with a shouting crowd of enthusiasts who wanted to hug the little roan.  This is the fastest mile ever trotted by a two-year-old outside of California. Truly a wonderful performance for a two-year-old.  This closed the sport… Every member is enthusiastic over the meet and particularly so over Mamie Wood’s performance.”-(Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Friday, Sep. 10, 1886,

Spirit of the Times, Dec. 18, 1886, p. 632,

Thomas S. Flood’s life, career, and adventures with harness racing horses illuminate the city of Elmira during the Gilded Age, when Mark Twain spent summers drafting “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” at Quarry Farm and the Langdons’ wealth set the tone for gracious living. For more of the story of Flood’s life, legacy, and the adventures of Mamie Wood who traveled by rail and raced in Grand Circuit venues all across the nation, read the complete version in Out of the Woods: From Deerfield to the Grand Circuit by Ellen Williams, published by Palmetto in 2019.

[This blog is an excerpt from Chapter 5, Mamie Wood: Pride and Politics, Out of the Woods, (Williams, 2019)]