Monday, July 27, 2015

Sue Your Way to Freedom

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

When the Fugitive Slave Act was signed into law in 1850 it angered many northerners.  The law required that all law enforcement officials throughout the country (even in free states) arrest anyone accused of being a runaway slave and imposed a $1,000 fine (approximately $28,000 in present-day value) for any who refused to do so.  Suspected slaves received no trails and had no recourse for appeals, putting free-born blacks in serious danger of being kidnapped and taken south under false pretenses.  Any civilians who aided escaped slaves could face 6 months in prison and a $1,000 fine.  There was, however, a loophole: it only applied to slaves who entered free states and territories without their masters’ permission. 

On August 11, 1853, Jervis Langdon, Jared Arnold, and their attorney Mr. Woods petitioned the court of behalf of Miss Juda Barber, a 20-year-old slave.  Miss Barber was owned by a Mr. Barber of Missouri and had been lent to a Mr. Warner to act as a lady’s maid for his wife on their trip to Horseheads, New York.  Before they left, she had promised her master that she would return, but once she was here she decided to seek her freedom.  Woods argued that New York was a free state and Miss Barber was being illegally held against her will.  After hearing the case, Judge Arial Thurston, an avowed abolitionist and Underground Railroad supporter, declared her a free woman.  Miss Barber left the courtroom with Sandy Brandt and John Jones and vanished into history.

Jervis Langdon was an abolitionist and financial supporter of the Underground Railroad.  He helped to pay for Miss Barber's lawsuit.
Judge Arial Thurston was a personal friend of Underground Railroad conductor John Jones and had sheltered fugitives in his own home.  His ruling in the Barber case was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
The interesting thing about the case is that it was neither the first nor the last time a slave transported to a free state sued for freedom.  The last such case was, in fact, the famous Dred Scott v. Sandford heard by the Supreme Court in 1857.  Like Juda Barber, the slave Dred Scott had been transported by his master to a free state and sued for his freedom.  Scott lost his initial case and appealed to the higher court which not only upheld the lower court’s ruling but also held that blacks, whether slave or free, could not be citizens and thus had no right to sue at all.  The ruling was later nullified by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution which granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States.  Today the Dred Scott decision is widely regarded as the worst decision ever made by the Supreme Court. 
Dred Scott unsuccessfully sued for his freedom along with that of his wife and 2 daughters in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857).  The ruling against him is widely regarded as the worst Supreme Court decision ever. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

How Did a Lake Disappear?

by Erin Doane, Curator

On the morning of April 7, 1990, the Chemung County Sheriff’s Department received an odd telephone call. They were told that the lake behind the Sullivanville Dam had disappeared. They thought it was an April fool’s joke until they saw that the 26-acre lake was, indeed, dry. This strange occurrence brought up a whole host of questions. How was the lake drained? Who emptied it? Why did they do it? And, most importantly, would the lake be refilled by May 26 when the $4.7 million dam project was scheduled to be dedicated?

Panorama of Sullivanville Dam, July 15, 2015
 The Sullivanville Dam was a highly debated project that suffered many delays before its eventual construction. In the late 1960s, Chemung County, the federal government, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) began plans for flood control in the Newtown-Hoffman Creek Watershed. The project included the Marsh Dam east of Breesport, the Park Station Dam in Erin, the Hoffman Dam on Elmira’s north side, and the Sullivanville Dam in Horseheads. The Sullivanville Dam is the largest in the Newtown-Hoffman network. The earthen dam is 70 feet high, 450-feet wide, and 2,400-feet long with a 26-acre surface area. It reduced the risk of flooding in Horseheads and the east side of Elmira by an estimated 80 percent and provided protection to 530 people, 151 homes, and 73 commercial, industrial and public buildings when it was completed in 1988. But it was almost never built.

In 1979 the U.S. Soil Conservation Service declared that no more flood control projects in the Newtown-Hoffman Creek Watershed program should be built because the cost of the projects, including the Sullivanville Dam, could not be justified by flood control benefits. While it was estimated that the Sullivanville Dam would significantly reduce flooding in Elmira and Horseheads, the $4.5 million cost would only result in an estimated benefit of $3.3 million.

There was also local opposition to the Sullivanville Dam. When the project moved forward again in 1984 local legislators argued that it was not cost-effective. For the project, Chemung County had to acquire a total of 230 acres of private land made up of 32 properties in the towns of Horseheads and Veteran including eight family homes. Several homeowner did not want to give up their homes and land, delaying the project further. Even as the bulldozers were starting to move earth in 1988, protesters were seeking a federal court injunction to stop construction. The project also forced a portion of Route 13 to be rerouted.

On May 31, 1988, after nearly 25 years of arguments and delays, a contingent of local, state, and federal officials ceremoniously dug the first shovelfuls of dirt. The U.S. Soil Conservation Service designed the dam and paid the Cold Spring Construction Co. of Akron, New York $4.73 million to construct it. Less than two years later, the dam was finished. Its official dedication was held on May 26, 1990 and, yes, the lake had refilled with water by then. Natural runoff and snow in the watershed refilled the lake in less than a week.

Sullivanvilled Dam when it was completed, 1990
It took at least two strong people to break into the valve mechanism on top of the dam to drain the lake. They used a hacksaw to cut the lock on the manhole and a pry bar to lift the lid and access the valves. Fortunately, whoever perpetrated this prank/crime did not damage the valves. Once opened, the valves released a slow but steady stream of water from the lake. It is thought that the valves may have been opened on Thursday night or Friday morning and that the water level dropped so slowly that no one noticed until Saturday morning.

Manhole on the top of the dam
I never found a report of who emptied the lake or even if anyone had been caught. For some time before the Dam’s dedication there had been requests for the sheriff to increase patrols of the area. Neighbors had complained of cars drag racing on the closed stretch of Route 13 and people holding wild parties. Perhaps it was thoughtless vandals who opened the dam’s valves. Perhaps it was done as a continued protest against the construction of the dam.

July 15, 2015
Today, you can fish and hike at the Sullivanville Dam. It is one of 73 parks within Chemung County. This summer CCHS is celebrating public green spaces, like the Sullivanville Dam, with the exhibit Parks and Recreation and the Parks and Recreation Contest. By offering prizes like wristbands and backpacks, we hope to encourage people to visit all parts of the county and enjoy some of the wide variety of parks this area has to offer. Click here for more information about the contest

Monday, July 13, 2015

Chemung County's Famous Train and Trolley-Riding Dogs

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

I spent part of this last week putting together a conference proposal about Railroad Jack, a train-riding dog based out of Albany, NY, who was nationally famous in the 1880s and 1890s.  When I'm not busy researching Chemung County for our exhibits, blog posts, and programs, my work focuses on the rise of canine celebrity in the late 19th century.  Fortunately, these two intersect occasionally and I can sometimes write about famous Chemung County dogs.  In this post, I'll tell you about some of Chemung County's trolley and train dogs.

In the late 19th century, there was a trend of dogs gaining recognition for their train-riding prowess.  The most famous example is the United States Post Office's Owney, a terrier mutt who road the mail trains out of Albany.  He is still remembered today and his taxidermied body is on display at the US Postal Museum.  However, Owney was only one of many dogs who lived in rail yards, road trains, and befriended rail workers.   The exploits of train dogs, even those who were less famous, were published in newspapers and magazines throughout the country.  These tales are often heavily embellished, but still indicate that many dogs closely associated themselves with trains.  This is likely for several reasons: strays found attention and food at rail yards and stations and some dogs probably enjoyed the movement of trains (like dogs in cars today).

Chemung County played host to travelling dogs, including Railroad Jack.  In 1890, Jack came to Elmira and the railroad workers brought him to the Elmira Telegram office to have a play date with the newspaper's famous dog mascot, Colonel.  
Drawing of Railroad Jack clipped from a newspaper.  This is in our collection in the scrapbook of Elmira Police Chief Levi Little.  The scrapbook is primarily clippings about crimes, but Little clipped an occasional pop culture piece.  Railroad Jack was one of those few non-crime stories that Little cared enough about to add to his scrapbook.
But the county's homegrown travelling dogs are pretty interesting, too. For example, in 1894, the papers reported that an Erie yard switchman brought his black and tan dog with him to work.  The dog reportedly was fond of quickly ducking under and out from moving train cars, riding on the steps of the engine and in the cab, chasing off tramps and other dogs, and then eating his dinner in the switch shanty.

Elmira also had trolley dogs.  The image below shows a trolley line car, probably in the late 19th century.  If you look closely at the road on the far right side of the image, you'll see a small, fuzzy image of a collie.  On the back of the image, someone noted that the dog always followed the line cars. 
The dog is on the far right side of the image.  On an unrelated note, I'm glad I didn't have to use that rickety-looking line car!
Elmira even had its own Railroad Jack (this was an exceptionally common name for rail dogs).  In the early 1900s, a bulldog named Jack gained local fame for chasing the trolley from Horseheads and Elmira Heights down the line to Elmira.  He did this, reportedly, everyday for years, earning the admiration of the linemen.  In August of 1906, he was falsely reported to have been killed in a trolley accident, but it evidently had been an "imposter."  In September of 1906, however, Jack retired.  One day he was chasing the trolley as usual, but he became tired around the Reformatory and stopped to lay down by the tracks.  This was the first time Jack ever stopped chasing the moving trolley.  He walked over to the nearby Stearns silk mill where the employees fed him.  Apparently he decided this was a more favorable arrangement, and he was adopted as the Stearns mascot.  Jack's trolley-chasing job was apparently taken over by a deaf dog named Dummy.  However, the train workers didn't respect him as much because he would ride the trolley when he got tired, which was something Jack wouldn't do.
Train dogs still got some attention a few decades later, but the late 19th and early 20th centuries were the height of the train dog craze.  In 1937, a dog named Jack the Bum, who was based out of Scranton, PA, was shot and killed.  Jack was famous for riding the trains on the Lackawanna line and was a frequent visitor to Elmira.  George E. Griffis, an engineer from Elmira who took many trips with Jack in the engine, memorialized him in the newspaper.  He said that he would ride with his head out of the windows and "that dog would brush cinders from his eyes with his paws, same as any man."

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Farewell Archie Kieffer

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

Back when I first started working here, County Historian Archie Kieffer was the only man in an office full of women.  None of us ladies were locals so any time we had a question we just went down the hall to his office because he always knew the answer.  Archie was free with hugs and life advice too.  He called us his girls.  We called him our grandpa and we loved him.
Archie and his 'girls': Casey Lewis, Amy Wilson, Archie Kieffer, Rachel Dworkin, Kerry Lippincott & Peggy Malorzo

J. Arthur Kieffer (1921-2015) was born and raised in Elmira.  In his youth, Archie was a ladies’ man and dance hall Romeo who seriously considered a career as a pro-golfer before his father set him straight.  During World War II, he served first as a dog trainer on Long Island and then in as a tail gunner in the 459 Bomb Group in the U.S. Army Air Corp.  It was while he was serving on Long Island that he met his wife Sophie at a USO dance.  After the war, Archie worked for Streeter Associates as a mason foreman and then as superintendent of County Buildings and Grounds from 1966 to 1983.  We used to joke that there wasn’t anything built after 1950 that he hadn’t had a hand in.
Archie and his WWII B24 bomber crew.  Archie is the one posing front and center.
While construction was his work, history was his passion, or at least one of them (the other being dahlias).  He served as the chairman of the Chemung County Bicentennial Commission in 1976.  He became Chemung County Historian in 1991 and served until his retirement in 2013.  Archie was the author of The Junction Canal as well as his own autobiography.  He also penned dozens of lectures and articles in the Chemung Historical Journal.   
Archie as chairman of the Chemung County Bicentennial Commission, 1976
During his 94 years, Archie touched a lot of lives.  He served on the Chemung County Board of Supervisors and was actively involved in every club and association from the American Legion to the Veteran Historical Society.  He was the sort of man who made friends where ever he went.  Archie was my friend and I will miss him.

Archie and me

Monday, June 29, 2015

Lubricators and Puns

by Erin Doane, curator

The other day I came across an odd item in collections storage. That in itself is not unusual. With over 20,000 historic objects here at the museum, I’m bound to find things I haven’t seen before. This item is a group of 50 advertising cards for The Swift Lubricator Co. of Elmira. A small picture is glued to the back of each card with a number written in pencil above it and a word or phrase below – Bird or Fowl, Animal, Vegetable, Flower, or Composer of Music. The pictures themselves show a wide variety of things, from a teacher in front of a classroom to children in a field to a goat crashing into a mug. The whole pack of cards was a mystery and I decided to investigate.

Advertisement on one side of the card
Game on the other side
The Swift Lubricator Co. was started by Allen W. Swift around 1885. Swift first appears in the Elmira city directories in 1877. He is listed first as a steam engine manufacturer and then as a lubricator manufacturer. In 1882 he was granted a patent for a steam engine lubricator that he had invented. An October 3, 1884 Commercial World & United States Exporter article describes how Swift’s lubricator worked. “…the steam passes it [the lubricator] on its way to the cylinder, a small portion of the live steam carries with it into the valve chest and through this into the cylinder, a constant succession of drops of oil which it reduces to the condition of vapor, so finely are its particles divided. The oil vapor enters with the steam into every part of the valve, chest and cylinder and secures them a perfect lubrication.” Railroads including the New York, West Shore and Buffalo Railroad and the Chicago and Alton Railroad used these lubricators on their locomotives. Over 200 of them were sold in June 1884.
Swift's lubricator patent
So, what does all that have to do with the pile of cards I found? Not much, really. The cards were obviously used to advertise the Swift Lubricator Co. but I think the pictures on the back were added later and have little to nothing to do with the company. My guess is that someone repurposed leftover cards. When the cards were produced, the company was located on 730 W. 1st Street. Around 1900, the business moved to 729-731 W. 2nd Street. The cards with the old address then became useless. Someone, perhaps a member of the Swift family, perhaps not, took fifty of the cards, added pictures to the backs and created a game. Fortunately, someone included a numbered list with the cards so we can understand how the game was played. Each picture represents a bird, an animal, a flower, etc. as indicated by the category written below it in pencil. You have to guess what the picture is. For example, the picture of the teacher at the blackboard I included above is from the vegetable category and represents peas. Got it? Here’s some more to try with the answers at the bottom of this post.

Answers: 1: pheasant; 10: robin; 14: woodchuck; 21: tomatoes; 32: hollyhock; 40: buttercup; 41: Schumann

Click here for a pdf with all 50 cards and the answer key. Disclaimer: a couple of the images are racist. There’s no other way to say it. The game is a product of its time and CCHS does not endorse any such cultural depictions.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Gangs and Juvenile Delinquency in Elmira Parks in the Early 20th Century

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

"Kids these days are so violent/rude/illiterate/destructive/terrible!" “Things were so much better in the past than they are today.” As historians (and just in regular daily life), we hear these statements all the time and, frankly, they drive me crazy.  They’re ahistorical, false, and colored by the romantic and nostalgic idea that there was some bygone “simpler” time.  The story of juvenile delinquency in Elmira’s parks around the turn of the 20th century helps illustrate the falsehood (or at least the persistence) of the “kids these days” myth.
From about 1906 through the 1910s, the local newspapers were in a tizzy reporting about the youth gangs that used Elmira’s parks as the home base for their illegal behaviors.  Two gangs gained the most notoriety:  the Grove Park Angels and the Eldridge Park Gang.  The Grove Park Angels were primarily ethnically Irish, young school drop-outs who drank and harassed anyone in the park after dark.  In 1909, the city resolved to deal with the Angels because they were receiving increased complaints about their use of profanity, loudness, and attacks on people in the neighborhood.  In one incident, the Angels “insulted two women and whipped their husbands when the latter resented the insult to their wives.” The problem grew so dire that the police department stationed an officer at the park specifically to deal with the gang activity.
It wouldn't have been safe for these "respectable" park-goers to be in Grove Park at night.
Boys in Grove Park around the time the gang was active (although their behavior doesn't look too delinquent).
Police intervention in Grove Park seemed to have some impact on decreasing gang activity.  By 1911, there was a baseball team named the Grove Park Angels, but I’m unsure if there was any affiliation between the gang and the team.  Still, the gang didn’t disappear, and in 1913, the newspapers complained that the gang persisted because their delinquency was being passed down from generation to generation.
The Eldridge Park Gang appears to have been even fiercer than the Grove Park Angels. In 1907, their crimes were reported to “rival those of Dime Novel Desperados” (see, we’ve always blamed pop culture for youth violence!).   In that year, they threw eggs at women, stole from trains, and put gravel on the tracks of Lackawanna Railroad.  In their most daring act, they confiscated a Lackawanna caboose, ransacked it, shot out of windows, and then set it on fire.  In 1912, a 16 year old was arrested for stealing a handcar from the railroad and taking it for a joyride.  The next year, gang members were arrested for throwing stones at the police officer stationed in the park.  The gang was notorious for threatening to throw police “into de lake.”  The gang also attacked an automobile driver, breaking his car’s left lamp. 
In the early 1920s, Elmira came up with a novel idea to help curb juvenile delinquency in the parks: they would use the parks themselves as a force for urban renewal.  The Elmira City Recreation Commission formed on February 26, 1921 and was soon recognized by the National Recreation Association as one of best recreation organizations in the country.  The Commission reclaimed unused or derelict city land for parks: Washington Park was built on an old rolling mill property and dumping ground; Sly Park was formerly a swamp; Eastside playgrounds replaced dilapidated old buildings.  According to the Commission, Elmira had only one public tennis court in 1921, but that number jumped to 21 by 1931.

Mayor George Peck helps build Patch Park in August 1921.

Patch Park was one of the many new parks built in the 1920s.
City recreation programs were created to teach children to be good citizens.  A variety of clubs and sports teams met regularly in the city parks.  The Commission believed that its work was directly responsible for a decrease in rates of juvenile delinquency through the 1920s.  According to the city Recorder, there were 247 cases of juvenile delinquency in 1918, but only 29 in 1928.  He believed that playgrounds were successfully attracting children who would “otherwise go to the streets.”
A play performed by children in a City Recreation program in Grove Park, 1928.
Clearly, the Elmira City Recreation Commission didn’t solve the problem of juvenile delinquency, but its work does illustrate some of the ways that adults can work proactively with kids.  Things change from generation to generation, but in reality, nothing is really ever that different. 


Monday, June 15, 2015

A Man A Plan A Canal Panama

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

             In 1907, Moses Goldstein got bored.  The 22-year-old Elmiran was an active man, an athlete, who played football, boxed and was a member of the Kanaweola Bicycle Club.  Since graduating high school he’d been stuck working as a clerk in his father’s Water Street clothing store.  So he did what any bored 22-year-old man would do: run away from home to go work on the Panama Canal.

Postcard of the Canal Commission headquarters, 1907
            The French began working on a canal across Panama in 1884, but didn’t make it very far on account of engineering difficulties and rampant tropical diseases.  America took over in 1904 and spent the next ten years working to complete the project.  When it was finally opened for shipping on August 15, 1914, it drastically cut down on the time and expense of shipping from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and vise versa). 

Moses Goldstein's Canal Commission employee ID
         In June of 1907, Goldstein was hired by the Isthmian Canal Commission to work as a guard and policeman.  It was a fairly good-paying job ($75 a month) but, once again, he got bored and instead took a position as a track foreman overseeing a team laying rail lines to move construction supplies.  He traveled extensively in the Caribbean during his time off and enjoyed every minute of it.  “You would be surprised to see how were treated,” he wrote to his family on April 22, 1908 after a trip to Costa Rica.  “I don’t believe that if some party of aristocrats would have come that they would have been treated as good as we were.” 

Photo postcard of Goldstein's track team, 1908
            Still, Goldstein’s life abroad wasn’t all fun and games.  “No more getting up at 7 o’clock and getting to work at 8 o’clock and working a couple of hours,” he wrote on April 30, 1908.  “Now I get up at 5:30 and work my 10 hours.”  He enjoyed the long hours, but was getting restless again.  “I may get dissatisfied and leave for I have been here for some time and you know that I have been staying here a longer time than I have stayed before.” 

            Within a year he had quit and taken a new job as a track foreman with May & Jeckel, an engineering firm constructing a railroad near the headwaters of the Amazon in Brazil.  Malaria was rampant in the area and dozens of workers died every week.  Goldstein himself suffered a severe bout of it and was hospitalized for a week in July 1909. 
Note from the doctor excusing Moses Goldstein from work on account of malaria, 1909
             Ultimately, the malaria killed him.  While visiting Elmira in January of 1910, Goldstein suffered a relapse.  He died at St. Joseph’s Hospital on January 13, 1910 at the age of 24.  His adventures abroad may have lead to his death, but, before he fell ill, he had been planning to go back, this time working for a fruit export company.