New York and the Civil War | Chords of Memory

This episode of Chords of Memory highlights photographs of New York State soldiers who fought during the Civil War. Brian Hyland provides the music and plays “An Mhaighdean Mhara” on his concertina. Photographs courtesy of the Chemung County Historical Society, the Delaware County Historical Association, and the Library of Congress.

Chords of Memory is a web series from WSKG that combines historic photographs with local musical talent. In each episode, a local artist provides the musical backdrop to a showcase of hand-selected images from various photographic archives.

Big Flats

Located in Chemung County, along the banks of the Chemung River in Chemung County, is the town of Big Flats. First settled in 1787, the town was created from parts of Elmira in 1822, and was named for the large river flats around the river.

Funding provided by a grant from Empire State Development.


After the American Revolution, veterans of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign – who had waged war against the Iroquois during the Revolution – returned to the fertile lands of Upstate New York to start new settlements. One such settlement was the village of Newtown, formed in 1792 along the banks of the Chemung River. In 1808, the village was renamed Elmira.

Funding provided by a grant from Empire State Development.


First settled in 1789, Horseheads, New York is located a few miles north of Elmira in Chemung County. Horseheads’ unique name comes from a Revolutionary war era anecdote.

Funding provided by a grant from Empire State Development. Links:
Path Through History:
WSKG’s Path Through History:

Elmira Fair Grounds, 1889 | #tbt

Today’s throwback Thursday photograph, taken in 1889, shows the fair grounds in Elmira, New York. From 1842 to 1889, the New York State Fair traveled between 11 different cities before the fair was finally moved to its current location in Syracuse. Between 1855 and 1889, Elmira hosted the State Fair nine different times. One of the more interesting details of the photograph is the banner outside one of the venues that advertises, “The Living Two Headed Boy. Absolutely the Greatest Living Curiosity in the World.”

Baldwin Street, Elmira, New York | #tbt

Today’s throwback Thursday photograph shows Baldwin Street at the intersection of East Water Street in Elmira, New York, from around the turn of the 20th century. The photo was taken by Charles Van Aken, a photographer from Elmira. Today, a large collection of Van Aken’s original glass plate negatives are preserved by the Chemung County Historical Society at their museum and research library in Elmira. Van Aken took another photo of the same intersection a few years after the first. A comparison of the two photos gives us a glimpse at some of the changes taking place in Elmira at the turn of the 20th century – most notably the addition of the trolly line.

Eugene Zimmerman

Eugene Zimmerman, or Zim as he became known, emigrated from Switzerland to the United States in 1869. For a time, Zim worked as sign painter where he honed his skills by coping the works of other cartoonist. In 1886, Zim married his wife Mabel Beard and two years later the couple moved to Horseheads, NY. The Zimmermans lived in Horseheads for the rest of their lives and became deeply involved in the community.

‘Uniquely New York’ is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Clara Cook

In December of 1941, America was thrust into World War II and thousands of young men and women answered the call to enlist. This included star athletes and Major League Baseball players like Bob Feller, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio. In order to keep the sport of professional baseball vibrant and in the public eye during the war, baseball executives formed a new league – The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. One of the leagues first players was a fast pitch left-hander named Clara Cook.

‘Uniquely New York’ is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. Links:

Path Through History
Chemung Valley History Museum
National Baseball Hall of Fame

Photos Courtesy of:
Chemung County Historical Society

John W. Jones

John W. Jones was born in 1817 on a plantation in Virginia. At the age of 27 he and four others fled their plantation and made a hazard filled 300-mile journey to Elmira. Jones settled in the area where he learned to read and write, and by 1851 he was an active agent on the Underground Railroad helping over 800 slaves escape to Canada. In 1864, Jones was caretaker of Woodlawn Cemetery when he was contracted to bury the confederate dead from Elmira Prison.

‘Uniquely New York’ is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

High Wire Act | #tbt

Today’s throwback Thursday photograph shows a high wire act being performed for a crowd at the Chemung County Fair, circa 1900. The Chemung County Agricultural Society held the first Chemung County fair in 1843. Annual county fairs were one of the most important social gatherings for many communities, and they continue to bring enjoyment every summer. This year marks the 174th annual Chemung County Fair. Between 1855 and 1889, Elmira also hosted the State Fair nine times before it was moved to its current location in Syracuse.  

Photograph Courtesy of the Chemung County Historical Society.

Horseheads, NY | #tbt

Today’s throwback Thursday photograph shows the corner of West Franklin Street and Grand Central Avenue in Horseheads, NY, circa 1900. The first white settlers began arriving in the area soon after the American Revolution and the town was officially formed in 1835. Horseheads’ unique name came from an interesting Revolutionary War era anecdote. The area still looks very similar today. One of Horseheads most famous residents was Eugene Zimmerman.

The 1961 Heisman Trophy Winner | #tbt

In today’s throwback Thursday photograph, President Kennedy greets the 1961 Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis. The photo was taken at a reception sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. As a young man, Ernie Davis attended Elmira Free Academy in Elmira, New York. Davis excelled at a number of different sports, but had a natural athletic gift for football. In 1958, Davis became a running back for Syracuse University and was selected Most Valuable Player in 1960.

A NASA First | #tbt

On the night of February 3, 1995, the dark skies around Kennedy Space Center in Florida light up as the space shuttle Discovery lifted off on its 20th mission to outer space. The launch represented an historic moment for NASA and the space program; it was the first Space Shuttle mission piloted by a female astronaut – Eileen Collins. Today’s throwback Thursday photograph shows Collins at the pilot’s station during that historic flight.

Lt. Col. Collins was born in Elmira, New York where she attended Elmira Free Academy. Collins had a very successful career with the Air Force and NASA, logging over 872 hours in space. In 1999, she made another historic flight as the first female commander of a U.S. spacecraft, and retired from NASA in 2006.

Milk Wagon | #tbt

Today’s throwback Thursday photograph shows a dairy wagon owned by George S. McCann Farms in Chemung County, New York, circa the late 1800s. Before the days of large supermarkets, families had milk delivered to their doors daily. Through World War II, milkmen and their horse drawn milk wagons were a common sight in towns across the country. Horse and driver worked together as a team traveling the same routes everyday. Some horses knew the path so well they could be left alone to walk on to the next stop while their drivers disembarked to make a delivery.

Group Plans to Preserve Last Surviving Structure of "Helmira"

A hundred and fifty years ago this summer, the Civil War prison camp in Elmira, New York closed its doors for the last time. At a recent press conference, the Friends of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp officially kicked off their fundraising efforts to preserve the last known surviving piece of the prison. Between 1864 and 1865, roughly 12,000 Confederate prisoners were held at Elmira Prison. Nicknamed “Helmira” by the inmates, nearly 25% of prisoners detained there would die as a result of unsanitary conditions. Today, the former site of the prison is a residential neighborhood and the only visible reminders of the camp are a few stone markers scattered amongst the houses.

Preserving a Piece of Revolutionary War History in New York

During the summer of 1779, a military expedition ravaged the landscape of upstate New York. Today, on the 235th anniversary of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, the Public Archeology Facility (PAF) at Binghamton University has received a grant to help preserve a part of this often overlooked aspect of the American Revolution. The Sullivan-Clinton Campaign

In May of 1779, General George Washington ordered Major General John Sullivan and Brigadier General James Clinton to lead a military expedition into the western frontier of New York and Pennsylvania. The expedition was the Continental response to a series of deadly raids conducted from the region by Loyalists  and their Iroquois allies – most notably at Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania and Cherry Valley in New York. The battles of Chemung and Newtown were the only major military engagements of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign.