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Elmira Heights Village


Elmira Heights Village Hall is located at 215 Elmwood Avenue, Elmira Heights NY 14903; phone: 607-734-7156.

Beginnings [1]

Today [1982], the village of Elmira Heights is part of an urban continuum which runs from Elmira on the south to Horseheads on the north, but it was settled much later than either of these communities. The land now included within the village boundaries was included in four land grants of the period 1788-92, among the earliest land grants to Revolutionary War veterans. A land of swamps and scrub pines, it was not very desirable farmland; although first settled in the 1790s, it was sparsely inhabited for most of the nineteenth century. In 1832, the Chemung Canal was built through this region, linking the Chemung River to Seneca Lake, thus opening the Elmira region to the New York City and mid-western markets via the Erie Canal. The Chemung section of the Erie Railroad system was completed in 1849; eventually, this provided a high-speed rail link to Buffalo and New York.

After mid-century, the area north of Elmira began to develop as a recreational area; Dr. Eldridge developed the swamp environs of Serpent Lake into a beautiful park. The canal tow path was a favorite site for walks and picnics. And in 1872, the New York State Agricultural Society bought fifty acres from prominent farmer James McCann to provide a permanent site for the state and county fairs.

The Chemung Canal was abandoned in 1876, but during the next decade two more rail lines were laid between Elmira and Horseheads. This abundance of rail transport was to be the catalyst for the future development of the planned community of Elmira Heights.

In 1891, a group of politically minded businessmen from Elmira formed the Elmira Industrial Association to stimulate employment and business in the face of the coming depression. Their object was to establish an industrial community north of Elmira and entice industries to locate there. With a capital stock of $100,000, they purchased almost five hundred acres to the west, north, and east of the fairgrounds. This area was then surveyed and laid out in a grid patter of streets with 2,160 building lots and a number of factory sites abutting the railroads. A prospectus of the proposed development was published to advertise the advantages of the location with its six rail lines (on three sets of track), two streetcar lines, and attractive development opportunities. The building lots were offered for sale at $200 each, assignment of particular locations to be done by lottery. Although some of the properties were not worth the $200, many were worth considerably more, including eight which held substantial buildings. Profits from sale of the lots were to be applied to street improvements and to attract industries. In spite of the approaching depression, business was brisk, over 1,200 lots being sold on the first day of sales, October 31, 1892. Among the earliest purchasers of factory sites were a glass manufacturer, a cotton mill, a table factory, a bridge works, and a knitting mill. Competing streetcar lines raced to attract patronage to Eldridge Park and establish service for the new community. Seeing the success of the Elmira Industrial Association, the Elmira realty firm of Compton and Hurlbut negotiated to purchase the fairgrounds, the county fair being relocated a few miles north. This area, known as the Compton Industrial Grounds, was subdivided into factory sites and 271 building lots and offered for direct sale under the name Park View.

In October, 1893, with most of the lots sold, the Elmira Industrial Association announced to an impatient public that the lottery would take place October 24 at the Elmira Opera House. The nine-hour drawing attracted an audience of eight hundred people.

Almost immediately a thriving settlement appeared out of the cornfields and woodlots. Factories were built, railroad spurlines were extended, hotels and saloons sprang up, and the first houses and stores appeared. Engineers were hired to design a model sewer system; a water system was provided; a fire company was formed; and plans were drawn up for a schoolhouse.

By 1896, it was evident that a distinct community had been established, which was incorporated as a village under a name chosen by the residents — Elmira Heights. A center for village government and services was needed, and so the present village hall was begun that same year. With the expectation that the village would soon become a town, the building was inscribed "Town Hall."

  1. Breyer, Lucy A, NY State Division for Historic Preservation, Elmira Heights Village Hall, Chemung County NY, nomination document, 1980, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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