by Rachel Dworkin
Around 7:30pm on the night of March 28, 2022, flames erupted from the Lindenwald Haus at 1526 Grand Central Avenue in Elmira. The fire began in the attic and quickly engulfed the roof. For two hours, firefighters battled the blaze, leaving extensive water damage behind in their wake. The cause of the fire still remains under investigation and the fate of the building is uncertain.
While today the home at 1526 Grand Central Avenue is best remembered as a bed and breakfast, it did not begin that way, but rather as a social service. In 1874, Mrs. Sarah Jones proposed a Home for the Aged where Elmira’s elderly citizens without families could live and be cared for in their old age. Jones was involved in a number of charities. During the Civil War, she had volunteered as a nurse and helped to organize the Elmira Sanitary Commission. After the war, she was instrumental in the creation of the Orphan’s Home. The first meeting of the Society for the Home for the Aged was held in her parlor and within three years, Jones and her allies managed to raise enough funds to begin construction of the home. Dr. Edwin Eldridge of Eldridge Park fame donated the land. On July 1, 1880, the Home for the Aged at 1526 Grand Central Avenue opened for residents.
During its 109 years of operation, the Home for the Aged housed over 500 hundred of Elmira’s elderly residents. Anyone over the age of 60 could apply to live there. They would pay an entrance fee and then sign over all of their financial assets to the Home in order to pay for their continued care. Life at the Home was like a cross between a boarding house and a retirement community. Residents had their own bedrooms. There were parlors for socializing and meals were served in a communal dining room. Staff were on hand to provide assistance and nursing as residents’ health deteriorated. In many ways, it was a pre-cursor to the type of assisted living facilities common now.
Over the years, the Home for the Aged struggled to find space for everyone who wanted to live there. In 1906, a 2-story annex was added. The annex brought the total number of available rooms up to 48. In 1989, the Home for the Aged moved to a new facility on the Southside and the house at 1526 Grand Central Avenue soon took on a new purpose and a new name.
The Lindenwald Haus was born from a case of mistaken identity. In 1990, Sharon and Michael Dowd purchased the house at 1526 Grand Central Avenue in the hopes of turning it into a bed and breakfast. During their initial visit, Sharon thought she spotted a linden tree in the front yard and thought Lindenwald (meaning linden forest) would be a nice nod to her German heritage. It turned out the tree was actually a red maple. Shortly after they purchased the house, the couple planted a bunch of linden trees around the property to make the name accurate.
The Dowds opened their Lindenwald Haus for business on February 26, 1992. In the two years since they’d purchased it, they had invested a great deal of time and money renovating the building. Local interior designer Annie Werner redid the dining room and parlors to reflect their original gilded age glory. On the upper floors, the Dowds combined rooms to make larger suites, each with their own bathrooms. In 1998, they sold to Sara and Cortland Woodward who ran it, along with their children, until 2014 when they sold it to the Elmira Jackals to be used as a team boarding house. By 2019, it was back on the market and it has been empty since.
Given the extensive damage to the roof, it will likely be awhile before the Lindenwald Haus is ready to open again, assuming it ever will. Still, no cultural landmark is dead so long as there’s someone to remember it. If you have images, artifacts, or stories to share about the Lindenwald Haus or Home for the Aged, we would love to add them to our collections. Please call me at (607) 734-4167 ex 207 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have something you’d like to share.
Rachel Dworkin is the archivist at the Chemung County Historical Society. To read more of the museum’s blog, click here.