Friday, June 24, 2022

Helen Booth Sprecher

By Phoenix Andrews, Alfred University Intern

Helen Booth Sprecher was born in Spangler, Pennsylvania in 1913. She attended Slippery Rock State Teachers College (now Slippery Rock University) where she got her Bachelors of Science and then the University of Pittsburg where she got her Masters of Education. She pursued a career in teaching Physical Education. However, after America entered World War II, she was determined to help in any way she could.

 In June 1942, Booth took the exam to enter the Officer Candidate School for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). In August, she was accepted and sent to Fort Des Moines where she would complete her training. At that time, her rank was Third Officer, the equivalent of a 2nd Lieutenant in the regular army. 

 During her time in the WAAC, she was stationed in various locations in California, Iowa, Florida, and Georgia. In July 1943, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps became the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). While WAAC members could only serve stateside, WAC members could be posted overseas. Booth was sent to serve in both in Australia and the Philippines.

Booth held many positions during her service. She had worked as a Unit Commander in the United States and overseas holding the position as Assisting Commanding Officer of the WAAC Headquarters. She worked as a Personnel Officer in the United States. She also received addition training and became an Administration Inspector and WAAC Inspector in both the United States and overseas. Booth had occupational specialty as Non-Tactical Unit Officer and Administrative Inspection.

 Booth would continue to rise in the ranks. While stationed in Santa Maria, California she would become 1st Lieutenant. Later, while stationed overseas in Australia, Booth’s commanding officers would request that she be given temporary rank as Captain, which would be granted and later given to her permanently.

Her time in the WAC would end in January of 1946, four months after then end of the war. She was award the American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, Philippine Liberation Ribbon, and the WAAC Service Medal. After the war ended, Booth taught Physical Education at one of the California naval bases where she would meet her future husband, James Sprecher.


Together they moved to Elmira, New York so Booth could live closer to her family in Pennsylvania. She worked as a Physical Education teacher for the Elmira City School District. In 1950, she joined the Air Force Reserves. In 1996, at the age of 82, Booth died at her home in Elmira.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Half a Century of Computing Technology

 By Monica Groth, Curator

The coming exhibit, When Waters Recede: 50 Years Since the Flood of 1972, will remind visitors how much communications and computing technology has progressed in the past fifty years. When Hurricane Agnes struck Chemung County in 1972, the first commercially available handheld cellphone was still a decade away, and families waited months to hear from loved ones whose telephone lines were down. That year, the new PDP-8F “minicomputer” (which actually weighed 57 lbs.) could process information at a rate of only 0.667 megahertz – 5000 times slower than the computer I’m writing on today.

Technological advancements since then have certainly made monitoring and warning systems more effective, equipping people with accurate tools needed to predict danger and readily communicate emergency plans. Fifteen years after the flood, a system of electronic river level gauges and rain gauges fed data directly to the county’s Emergency Operation Centers through telephone lines and radio transmitters. The data was read by computers, which also received figures from surrounding counties and the National Weather Service. In 1987,
Civil Defense coordinator Gary Angus told the Star Gazette that the communication and computer equipment made it “easier for us to detect and forecast how storms will affect the county”. Flood Warning Service Operations Director Gregory Clark was pleased to announce data was the result of “real-time reporting. Meaning the information is current when called in,” adding that you can “never have enough information”.

Or can you? The computers of 1987 were still hundreds of times slower than they are today, with only a small fraction of the memory of a modern processor. The importance of real-time reporting and enough information storage was widely recognized and over time computer scientists engineered machines with the ability to store and analyze more information faster and more efficiently.

Computers bridging the years from 1972 to 2013 have been generously donated to our collection for the upcoming exhibit. Take a peek at what will be on display. Consider the computers’ specifications to compare their memory (measured as RAM, or short-term data storage in megabytes) and speed (measured as clock-speed, or number of processor cycles/second in megahertz).

PDP-8F  1972 
(This unit, which includes a punch card system and monitor is 5.5 ft tall, 22 in wide, and 30 in. deep)

                                           Memory: 0.000512 MB   

                                             Speed: 0.667 MHz 

Timex 1000  1982

                                      Memory: 0.002 MB (0.0036 MB maximum)

                                          Speed: 3.25 MHz

Compaq LTE Lite/25  1992

                                                   Memory: 2 MB (18 MB maximum)

                                                       Speed: 25 MHz

Compaq C140  1997

                                               Memory: 4 MB (6 MB maximum)

                                                   Speed: 40 MHz

HP Pavilion N3210  2000

                                               Memory: 32 MB (256 MB maximum)

                                                   Speed: 475 MHz

HP Chromebook 14-q010dx  2013

                                                   Memory: 2000 MB

                                                      Speed: 1400 MHz

Monday, June 6, 2022

John M. Diven

 by Susan Zehnder, Education Director

In Chemung County the Diven name is associated with state and local politics, the Civil War, and education, but one Diven received national recognition for his work with water. Fifty years after his death, John Malvina Diven was inducted into the National Water Industry Hall of Fame for his contributions to the field of water management. He had worked in the field for more than half a century despite having no formal engineering training.

John M. Diven

The Divens first arrived in Chemung County in the 1830s, when Alexander S. Diven moved to Elmira to practice law and married a local girl, Amanda Malvina Beers. Among his many accomplishments, he was an officer in the Civil War; Elmira’s 11th mayor; a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York’s 27th District; an elected member of the New York Senate; and a board member for various educational institutions and companies. The community and his family were important to him.

When Alexander was 43 years old, his eighth and youngest child, John, was born. It was 1852. Six years later, Alexander and his oldest son, George, made an investment that would change John’s life. They invested in the county’s first water supply system, operated privately by a company known as the Elmira Water Company (EWC) and located at the corner of Baldwin and Water Streets.

The EWC system delivered water to Southside homes and businesses near the Chemung River. In mid-19th century America, there were only 83 public water supply systems in existence. Like Elmira’s, 50 of these were privately operated. It wasn’t that the idea of a reliable water system was new - its importance had been known since Roman times. It was a question of who had responsibility for delivering that water.

The Elmira Water Company had been chartered in 1859, when the NYS legislature incorporated the company allowing them to raise capital. The area’s population was growing, and its 7,000 residents were expecting reliable water. The EWC system relied on gravity to draw water directly from nearby Seeley Creek, using state-of-the-art wooden pipes from Wyckoff Bros. (later Wyckoff & Son’s), a company, based on Water Street in Elmira.

Arcalous Wyckoff, owner, engineer, and founder of the successful pipe company, held patents for a specialized boring machine used to make wooden pipes. He was also an initial investor in the water company and lived with his family in an imposing mansion on the Southside. His home is gone now, but is the current location of Fagan Engineers & Land Surveying, a civil engineering company.

Despite public interest and popularity, the water company faltered. Determined it would succeed, investors including the Diven family then formed the Elmira Water Works Company in 1869. They added another system to supply the city’s Northside and downtown area that would draw water from a Chemung River reservoir near Hoffman Street.

The Diven family bought out other investors and became major stakeholders in the company. They built a 100-million-gallon reservoir on Upper Hoffman Street and added a pumping line down Water Street to assist during dry spells. John had been working at the company, and though he didn’t have training in civil engineering, he was appointed water superintendent in 1875. Under his leadership the company installed a water pumping station and filter plant.

In 1886, hoping the city would take over operations, the Divens offered the water company to the City of Elmira for $400,000. The city turned them down.

Six years later the Municipal Improvement Co. purchased stock in the company and took over operations. John was kept on as superintendent.

In 1896, the Elmira community battled a terrible typhoid outbreak which resulted in 46 deaths. To prevent future outbreaks, the water company added one of the country’s first mechanical filtration plants, locating it next to the reservoir. It included 18 units of rapid sand filters. This barrier process, newly discovered in the 1890s, helped protect municipal water supplies from contamination and avoided spreading waterborne illnesses. It also required less land for operations.

In 1904, all the utilities in the Elmira area were consolidated into the Elmira Water, Light, & Railroad Company. John Diven continued to serve as water superintendent until 1905, when he left Elmira to take a similar position in Charleston, South Carolina. He was there for several years before moving to manage the water system of Troy, New York, for another seven years. During this time, the family suffered the loss of two infant children. Sadly, after moving to New York City to take a break, Susan died in 1921. John married Charlotte Sophia Edgley in 1922 and they returned to Troy, where he managed the water system until a year before he died in 1925.

In addition to being water superintendent, Diven owned a furniture company and was a member of the New York State assembly. He was a founding member of the American Water Works Association and served in leadership positions until 1924.

In 1973, the National Water Industry Hall of Fame, also known as the Water Utility Hall of Fame, honored John M. Diven as the 15th American to make significant contributions to the field of public water. 

A plaque, accepted by his son, was given to the Elmira Water Board to hang in their offices. Today the John M. Diven award from the American Water Works Association is presented yearly to a New York member for outstanding services.

John M. Diven has two headstones. One is part of the family plot located at nearby Woodlawn Cemetery. This stone is next to his first wife, Susan, and infant daughters. A second headstone is in Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, NY, where his second wife Charlotte is buried. She outlived him by 25 years.