Friday, July 01, 2011

Take a seat and learn about Elmira s rich history!

Trolley into to Mark Twain Country” begins today! We hopped aboard and discovered many fascinating pieces of history about Elmira. The one-hour narrated tour took us to several Mark Twain, Civil War, Underground Railroad, and sports historical sites, along with passing by many architectural gems.

The last trolley service was in 1912. “The Elmiran,” is an authentic reproduction of one of the earlier trolleys that rode the rails in the Queen City.

The one-hour tour is narrated by Mark Delgrosso… quite literally a walking, talking Encyclopedia on Elmira’s history.

There are many places in Elmira registered as part of the Underground Railroad, including the First Baptist Church.

A student representative explains that in 1952, the Mark Twain Octagonal Study was moved from Quarry Farm, located on the east hill of Elmira, to its current location on the Elmira College campus. The study was a gift to Twain from his sister-in-law, Suzie Crane. For Twain, the study was strictly a place to work… even his daughters were not to disturb him or had to make an appointment to visit while he was writing.


Outside of the study is a horse-watering trough that includes the name of Twain’s daughter, Clara L Clemens, and her birth year, 1874. Other troughs bearing the names of Twain’s other daughters, are still located on Quarry Farm.

The wrought-iron fence bordering the study, originally surrounded the Langdon mansion. The mansion once stood south of the Elmira College campus on Main Street. The Langdon Shopping Center now stands were the house once stood.

In 1844, John Jones escaped from slavery and started a small farm in Elmira. He went on to help 800 others find their way to freedom. During the Civil War, Jones buried around 3,000 Confederate soldiers who died at Elmira’s prison camp. Their gravestones in Woodlawn Cemetery were made possible by the Daughter’s of the Confederacy. The gravestones of Union soldiers surround the Confederate graves.

Today, there are over 80,000 graves in Woodlawn Cemetery, including Mark Twain and his family, John Jones, Hal Roach, Ernie Davis, several governors, senators, and congress people.

One of the Civil War’s worst Prisoner of War camps was located in Elmira… or Hellmira as some called it. From 1864-65, nearly 12,000 Confederate soldiers were held captive here, and around 3,000 died of malaria, small pox, and malnutrition. Today, an Elmira Water Board facility sits on the site of the prison camp. One of the flag poles in front of the building is original to the camp.

The Chemung Valley History Museum building was erected in 1834, and originally served as a bank; one that Mark Twain used to visit.

Several grand Victorian homes line Maple Avenue, including the Brand family home and The Christmas House gift shop. Many of these beautiful painted ladies were built during the 1870s to early 1900s.

The Brand Park pool was one of nearly 90 that share its unique design… only a handful still exists. The design was inspired by an upside-down gentleman’s hat and fully utilized the footprint of its land space.

The first New York State Fair was held near the site of Dunn Field. The baseball field has a rich sports history of its own. In 1902, it’s believed the first pro football night game was held here between a Philadelphia team and the Elmira Algonquians. Plus during the 1930s, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth played at Dunn Field during Barn Storming exhibitions. Teams that have played here have been affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox to name a few. Today's team, the Elmira Pioneers, is a member of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.

There were several more fascinating bits of historical trivia that were shared on today’s Trolley tour. You’ll have to plan your own trip to experience these.

Sign-ups for the trolley tour and ticket sales are at the Elmira Holiday Inn reservation desk, (607) 734-4211. Tickets are $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 12 and younger when accompanied by a parent or guardian. For more information about the trolley, visit or call the Chamber at (607) 734-5137.

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