Our community blogs
"Down at the local job site, a couple construction workers sat down to eat lunch.
Opening his lunchpail, one says, 'Damnit, peanut butter sandwiches again. I'm sick of 'em.'
'Why don't you ask your wife to make you something else?' the other replied.
'Whaddya mean wife? I'm not married. I make my own lunches.'
The heavy machinery is in place and ground is breaking in Downtown Elmira to prepare for the new $14 million, 75,000 square foot facility to be built on Water St. as part of the city's Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI ). A lot of conversation has taken place about the future and path for Downtown Elmira, and I've watched it with a good deal of interest not only for the purposes of this site, but also personal interest as well.
Much of that conversation is pretty positive, which is a good thing. We need some good news around here for a change. But there's two sides to every coin.
There's a new crop of people who see the potential that lies within an area like Downtown Elmira. They bring fresh idea and a new positive energy that, frankly, the area could use. They are attempting what many have tried and failed to do; get a foothold and restore the beauty of the place once known as "The Queen City". Some come to the area unencumbered by memories of what once was, they see only what can be. Which is a good thing, of course.
However I think there's too much of an attitude of, "be positive, or be quiet" in response to the people who have lived here for generations that raise questions or doubts about the latest, greatest thing.
Hurricane Agnes gets blamed a lot for the despair many residents of the city feel, but there's more to it than that. should be remembered that residents of the area have been here and heard a lot of pie in the sky promises over the decades. Developers and researchers have come and gone, millions of dollars thrown their way, only to see little or no results in return. "Good 'ol boy" deals and politicians' personal interests or screw ups have slowly chased small businesses out of downtown and to the west of the county or other outlying areas. A giant hockey arena that was supposed to be the savior of the city sits on a corner in the very heart of downtown, largely unused, costing millions while the major players have moved on.
The people of Elmira have always been resilient. They've been through hell, yes, and they stayed. They've earned the right to be skeptical when presented with "the next big thing" if you ask me. To tell them to sit down, shut up when doubts are raised is doing a great disservice to the people who built this community.
Having said that, I also think the people of this area need a paradigm shift.
Folks, the Elmira you remember is gone. Like that last Labrador Duck in Brand Park, it aint coming back. It's sad, yes, but it's also time to stop living in the past.
While I defend the right of every person to be skeptical about the future of the city, I also believe it's time to stop automatically dismissing every new idea that someone proposes. Sure, some of the ideas are blatantly stupid ( **cough, roundabouts... ) but you know, some of the ideas and things I see happening are pretty good!
I've often believed that if you point out problems without offering solutions, you end up becoming part of the problem. Lord knows there's a lot of problems in this area, but truth is, we're still better off than others. People need to remember that. So if someone moves here and gets a glimmer of hope in their eye looking at a run down building in the city, good for them. If they want to invest their time, money and sweat into making something of it, yeah you can be skeptical, but I also think they deserve the chance.
We’re half-way through April and it looks as though the stray blizzards may have ceased for this season…..or not. Spring always comes, but sometimes I crave freshness and newness before the season actually arrives, and this year, everyone’s spirits have been a bit low because cold and snow extend so far into April. If we look closely enough though, reassurance is out there; there are signs; a sprouting sunflower seed beneath the bird feeder, a robin’s song, the swelling of lilac buds and a slight tinge of red in the maple trees. Also, the cats are turning somersaults and ripping up and down trees; obvious indications of rampant spring fever!!
Edwin Way Teale says: “Now I see around me the beginning of a flood of life that nothing can halt. Seeds have expanded and split. Sprouts have driven up toward the light. All the noiseless, resistless push of spring has begun………I have seen many evidences of the power of growth. Peas, planted in a flower pot, once lifted and thrust aside a heavy sheet of plate glass laid over the top. When thick glass bottles were filled with peas and water, and tightly sealed, the germinating seeds developed pressures sufficient to shatter the glass……….and at the American Museum of Natural History…in some of the large animal skulls, the bones are fitted together so tightly that they are almost locked in place. Forcing them apart often results in fractures, so museum workers resort to swelling peas. They pack the skulls with dried peas and place them in water. In the course of only a few hours, the mounting pressure of the swelling seeds has forced apart the interlocking joints. Undamaged, the skull falls apart into its different elements.” These might be fun experiments, but now knowing these things makes a very good reason to listen to our mothers when they said: “Don’t ever put peas up your nose!!”
Other changes than winter to spring are constantly whirling all around us ---- sometimes welcome and sometimes not. We recently heard that the barn on the farm where Kerm grew up had been demolished and was a smoldering heap. This is hard. One wonders at the lack of regard for skillful building, still-usable wood and community history. It is bad enough to see barns sagging and empty as we drive along, but a home barn is connected to us by tendrils of memory and experiences of which we may not even be totally aware. When it is possible to name each cow that was ever in that barn, losing that symbol of home is a blow.
Then I heard from a friend that the house where I grew up is once again for sale. How very tempting it is to just go and BUY it!! This would be regardless of the fact that living in what is now Rochester’s suburbia, would be most annoying to lovers of rural areas. If only we could pick the house up and move it here! It is just difficult to contemplate strangers pulling up hardwood flooring that I helped to put down, treading stairs where I knew how to avoid each creak or enclosing the front porch that stood proudly with its Grecian pillars for a lot of years. That kind of change engenders some grumpiness on my part.
Of course, we must learn to cope with these little disappointments if we choose to keep going forward in our lives. Disappointments and acquired flexibility are probably training for more difficult changes, which, as we get older, seem to multiply at an astonishing rate. One hopes that years will bring us the wisdom and the capacity to cope with life’s u-turns and zigzags, but sometimes we are slow learners. And sometimes ---- “A burden of these years is the temptation to cling to the times and things behind us rather than move to the liberating moments ahead. A blessing of these years is the invitation to go light-footed into the here and now ---- because we spend far too much of life preparing for the future rather than enjoying the present.” (Joan Chittister**)
Kerm and I have both lived through more than a few losses and now we note shifts of life-styles among us: friends moving to smaller abodes; the need to stock up on sympathy cards; finding ourselves far more tired after a day of running hither and yon; indulging in thoughts of a compact five-room house with a smaller garden, and meals brought in. Change is with us whether or not we like it. We can kick and scream with hostile resistance or we can decide that we will turn those necessary changes into life-enhancing experiences in some way. To quote a little sign I saw this week: “There is always, always something for which to be grateful.” Recognizing it tests our awareness and creativity sometimes, but it can be found.
I had a lovely happening recently. In a spring magazine, I noticed that the garden in one article was owned by someone with the same name as my great uncle ---- and was in a western state where some of the family had moved. Having lost touch with this branch of the family, this piqued my interest immediately. I wrote a letter to the magazine and enclosed a letter to the garden-owners. This week, a letter came from those same garden-owners. This means that magazine editors were kind enough to pass on my correspondence and the gardeners were pleasant enough to write back ---- even though, it seems, they may not be family connections after all. Or if they are, they don’t know it. But what a fun and interesting occurrence, to brighten a wintery April day.
The grass is greener after Monday’s rains. I had a whole flock of gold finches patrolling the lawn --- obviously getting something as they pecked away. We were quite glad to escape the ice that was problematic just a little north of us. We continue to have snow showers, but my daffodil leaves and day lilies are now about 8 inches tall and only need a couple of days of sunshine and warmth to burst forth. Sara Teasdale*** speaks well to this time of the year: “The roofs are shining from the rain, The sparrows twitter as they fly, And with a windy April grace, The little clouds go by. Yet the back yards are bare and brown with only one unchanging tree ---- I could not be so sure of Spring save that it sings in me.”
*Edwin Way Teale--- Circle of the Seasons. 1899-1980. American naturalist, photographer & writer.
**Joan Chittisster ---- The Gift of Years. Born 1936. Roman Catholic nun, activist, writer and Academic.
***Sara Teasdale --- “April”-American lyric poet. 1889-1933
Carol may be reached at: email@example.com.
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by Kelli Huggins
Our 2016 Woodlawn Cemetery Ghost Walk ended in a little-known part of the cemetery: the free ground or Potter’s Field. Many of those in the free ground were destitute and their families could not afford a private plot. Others outlived all of their family, leaving no one to make arrangements. Some were simply unidentified. For Ghost Walk, I researched some of the people buried there using the clues I could find with the help of the staff at Woodlawn Cemetery. This was understandably hard to do. Still, I found some information and with beautiful staging and performances by the Elmira Little Theatre, the stories of some of the inhabitants of the free ground were brought to light (you can read the script from that night here). But there was one story I found that we didn’t tell that night. I’ll share it with you now.
Hiram Day was born in his family home along the Newtown Creek in the late 1830s. At age 10, he ran away from home to work in a hotel in Syracuse. He was not long for the hotel business, because soon after arriving, he found work with a circus. Young Hiram traveled around the country and South America with the troupe.
He next joined Dan Rice’s famous show, where he was highly regarded for his impersonation, equestrian, and acrobatic skills. He skipped around from company to company, later even performing on a Mississippi River boat. He worked in the circus for 40 years.
That, however, was the high point of Hiram Day’s life, because as one newspaper put it, “Hi Day had made and spent a fortune.” After moving back to Elmira at the end of his career, he was left with little money and even less family. Although he was twice married and said he had a son down south, his wives were dead by then and his son seemed not to care. Hiram repeatedly said his son would come help him out. That never happened.
By 1895, “Hi” was far from his former glory and resorted to eking “out an existence as a ‘human sandwich’ for the ‘Budget.’ That is he wears a board over his breast and back, advertising the special features the next issue of the paper will contain.” Rheumatism had left him crippled, with his feet particularly affected.
Hi Day died on July 16, 1897 at home of his brother Stephen Day at 608 Magee Street. He had been sick with pneumonia for 4 days before he expired. The Elmira Gazette published a sympathetic obituary that discussed his glory days in the circus, but ended with:
“In striking contrast to this picture of a dashing, strikingly-costumed young man with plenty of money in his pockets, is the familiar sight of the poorly-clad, bent old man hobbling along Water Street, asking for alms.”
Hiram Day was buried in the free ground at Woodlawn. His grave is unmarked.
Kelli Huggins is the Education Coordinator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see more of their blog, go to http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com
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As we conclude our discussion on how and where to begin your ancestry research with suggestions based on my experience, I thought it would be helpful to collect the online resources in one place. The following is a list of some of the many online sources which I found most helpful.
I also continue to stress that not all submitted family records on any given site are totally accurate. Unintentional errors and misspellings in data creep in. It is up to you to seek out and prove the accuracy of whatever data you find online about your ancestors. Unless you know a book is truly accurate and can prove the author had sound documentation, do not take a published book as fact “just because it says so.” That’s how I proved errors in a book that had been accepted as fact for decades as I noted previously. The extra footwork involved can be extensive, but it’s worth every effort put forth to have solid documentation for your family’s ancestral heritage.
Ancestry.com – free 1880 census record; but, for an annual subscription fee, you get in-depth census records from 1790-1930, military records, city and national records, land records, international records, family trees, baptisms, marriages, death index records, etc.
Family Search - free website with 1880 census records, baptism, marriage records, death records, and submitted family data. Books and documents on microfilm can be ordered and viewed at a Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, locally as in Owego or Elmira. They also have a free down-loadable Personal Ancestral File, PAF, which I have used, though I prefer the Family Tree Maker.
My Heritage – discover your roots in a free trial to a subscription-based genealogy compilation. I have not used this site.
Olive Tree Genealogy - free old church/cemetery records, 1600s ships’ lists, records for New Netherland, Palatines, Mennonites, Loyalists, Native American, Military, and Canadian data, etc. I found this website to be very helpful in my early research nearly 20 years ago.
RootsWeb – free source of records, county genweb sites, surname lists, e-mail lists, posted documentation for cemeteries, church records, family websites and more. Currently undergoing a full-site rebuilding, but worth checking out for sections as they come back up for use.
CyndisList - free listing of American and International records and resources – a great resource.
Vital Records – U.S. birth certificates, death records, and marriage licenses for a fee.
U.S. GenWeb – free County GenWeb sites with a lot of data to aid your research.
Three Rivers – free source for middle-eastern New York families in the Hudson, Mohawk, Schoharie river regions, family genealogies, books, etc.
Sampubco - Wills from several states, but not all wills. Fee charged for copies. I purchased several wills from this website and was very pleased with the service.
National Archives and Records Administration – Click on Veterans’ Service Records section to begin searching. You will find military service records, pension records of veterans’ claims, draft registration records, and bounty land warrant application files and records available. Order forms are free, but you pay a fee to order copies of records. Well worth the cost.
NARA contact/forms – see various forms listed for National Archives Records Administration, government war records. Obtain free forms from which to order military records including pre-Civil War full service records or pension application files (on NATF Form 85 and/or 86; forms are free). Some list family members, others do not. You will find a good amount of information in files re: a soldier’s service, enlistment, capture, discharge, death, etc.,; these records provide valuable documentation.
Soldiers and Sailors Database - Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database for military records.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Foundation - search passenger and ship manifest records free, or order quality record copies for a fee. Ship manifest records are also found at Ancestry.com, a subscription resource.
New York Biographical and Genealogical Society – very trustworthy site with many online articles/records; they are working to put more records online; however, most are limited to membership in the Society. The Steele Library in Elmira has the full set of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record and the New England Genealogical Journal. I can attest to the high quality of published research and records in both journals. I used these journals in my research, with my documented research articles published in the NYGBR. In order to publish, you must prove all of your statements with solid documentation.
Making of America, Cornell University – old books, magazines, newspapers online in searchable/readable format – worth wading through this free resource.
Higginson Book Company, Salem, Mass. - old maps, family surname genealogies, county/state historical books, published cemetery and church records, etc. Contact for free catalog; copies books/records obtained for a fee but worth it, from which I purchased a few books.
Olin Uris Library, Cornell University - Cornell University’s guide to research of their extensive holdings. They note that, unfortunately, not all their genealogical books are kept in one section.
Find-A-Grave - free resource of many gravestones around the United States. Be careful of family notes – I found errors in a family of my close relatives; when I contacted the contributor who added notes tying my family to theirs by error, there was no response, no correction.
Tips on fraudulent lineages at:
Genealogy.com - locating published genealogies
Again, locally, the Steele Library in Elmira has an excellent genealogy section on the second floor to aid your research. I spent many a Saturday morning searching through their collection for documentation on my ancestry data and can highly recommend it. Cornell University also has a major genealogy library though I was afraid to go up on campus for a personal visit.
And, last but not least, your local library can order books through the interlibrary loan system. This was a tremendously helpful resource to me for out-of-county and out-of-state historical/genealogical books. I could not have done it without these resources.
I must also give credit to the many friends I made along my genealogical journey, some of whom proved to be distant cousins and have remained close friends. We shared data, books, and a love for our ancestral families.
And now, I wish you every success as you search for your ancestors. Enjoy the journey!
~ The End ~
Ever climb a mountain? I have… well, sort of… See, I have a bit of a wild side tucked away that shows itself now ‘n then!
Recently, I read a short story of a 75-year-old man who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine’s Mt. Katahdin.* Though he dealt with a few health issues along the way, I was impressed with his successful endeavor. His story reminded me how much I’ve admired others who have hiked that trail over the years. I’ve even wished I could have hiked that trail, or climbed mountains, in my younger and stronger days. Yet, as I said, I did… sort of… and that event may well have sparked my interest, though now only lived out in reading the stories of others.
"I remember when…" How often haven’t we heard that, or said it ourselves? Well, I do remember when, back in the spring of ’73, I climbed one of those ever-changing ridges at Chimney Bluffs State Park in Huron, NY, east of Sodus Point along the southern shore of Lake Ontario - ever changing hard-packed sand formations formed from the strong winds blowing off the lake. Visiting my friend, Kathy, for a spring weekend our senior year of high school, we joined the church’s Youth Group that Sunday afternoon. The East Palmyra Christian Reformed Church and Christian School had been a big part of life until my family moved to New Jersey when I was in 4th grade.
Now, walking past a section of bluffs, a young man in our group decided to climb a ridge. Asking if anyone wanted to join him, I found myself the sole volunteer. Beginning our climb up the narrow ridge, he led as I followed. Learning where and how to place my feet from him, I found that I totally enjoyed this new challenge! One had to be sure-footed, like a mountain goat, in several spots or risk a tumble off the ridge’s peak as it narrowed higher up. Reaching an intersecting upward ridge, he recommended we change positions at the gap. In fact, thinking about it now, I realize he must have had previous experience to gain the knowledge and skill he appeared to have.
The ridge down was steeper and narrower, and he felt it was best to face forward to see our way as we walked. He also thought it best if I went first so he could guide me better. Leading the way, I started down very carefully. At one point, I slipped, earning a scraped-up leg in reward, but he grabbed my hand to help stabilize me… as I gathered my wits to contemplate the next step.
Admittedly, starting the trek down, and seeing our height above the beach, had left me a bit scared compared to the easier hike up. I remember thinking, “What did I get myself into?” Now, not so sure about my sanity in joining this venture, I also knew I had no choice but to continue on. Slowly and carefully we made our way down, step by step, and then…
Taking the final step at the bottom of the ridge found me grinning from ear to ear! I did it! As tall, peaked and narrow as most bluffs are, the first ridge up was easy, while the ridge down was definitely narrower and more difficult. But, I had challenged myself and those inner fears, succeeding beyond my wildest expectation! Successfully traversing the steep and narrow ridges, returning safely to the sandy beach and friends below, was an exhilarating experience! Despite the fears that crept in, I overcame them! Loving every second of that climb, fears ‘n all, I would gladly do it all over again!
You know, there’s something to be said about pursuing a dream, and, with God’s help and steady determination, reaching the pinnacle to savor success. Realizing that thought covers a lot of ground, we can openly face the challenges in many areas of our life, learning the lessons each step forward holds. Ahh, those carefree days of our youth as we faced our mountains and earned successes! Those days of uncomplicated friendships and simpler times that bring special memories to treasure as the years rush onward…
Do You Remember When…
Linda A. Roorda
Do you remember when the days were long
And we made our fun beneath a bright sky,
When neighborhood kids called out to us “come”
As we fled confines for the great outdoors?
Do you remember a time of few cares
When our word was good, and trust was implied,
When our biggest fret was the end of games
As the dark enclosed to shoo us inside?
Do you remember when we took our chances
Taking on risks seeming without fear,
Acquiring skills we’d not otherwise gain
If safely ensconced at technology’s beck?
Yet you can’t go back, back to what was
It’s never the same, the moment that passed,
But memories linger, frozen in place
When you recapture the essence of time.
Within those moments the mind has preserved
Are sights and sounds with laughter and tears,
Images held dear to our heart and soul
Retrieved at will for nostalgia’s cheer.
All rights reserved.
May not be reproduced without permission of author.
*April 2018 Guideposts, “Soul Trail – How old is too old?” by Soren West.
"Poetic Devotions" offers faith-based poetry and everyday devotions of praise by Linda Roorda. See more at her site HERE.
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In 2010, John Burin was well into his tenure as Manager for the City of Elmira. Asked to provide Chemung County with fiscal data, Burin created a document entitled “Every Number has a Story“, found here.
Although many things have changed regarding the economic situations in both the City of Elmira and Chemung County since Burin created the document, it nonetheless provides many insights into the obstacles facing Elmira. It is necessary reading for anyone trying to figure out why Elmira is in such a tough fiscal position and, more critically, what can be done to help fix it.
Photo of John Burin from the Star Gazette.
In his cover letter to the document, Burin, who has also served as Elmira’s assessor and is a past member of Southern Tier Economic Growth and the Chemung County Industrial Development Agency, encouraged Chemung County to give him an opportunity to participate directly on a task force created to analyze municipal income and expense:Quote
“Although you have requested financial data from each municipality, I have attached information that is unique to the City and requires an understanding before income and expense data can be accurately analyzed. As you review the attached information I am confident that you will conclude that a simple comparison of funds/expenses with other municipalities is insufficient. Every number has a story that needs to be part of your analysis and I would welcome the opportunity to be an active member of your committee to ensure your understanding of the City’s data.”
Burin is now a candidate for Chemung County legislature in the 9th district, as described here, in part because he recognizes the critical need for improved relations between the City of Elmira and the Chemung County.
Of note, I met Burin for coffee recently to talk about his experiences as manager and to get a better sense of why he wants to serve on the legislature. While we were talking, he asked why I, a candidate for legislature in the 7th district that encompasses most of the Town of Elmira, am so interested in what happens in the City.
It’s a fair question, and one I have been asked numerous times over the past few months.
The answer is straightforward and quite simple:
*Elmira is our county seat and the center of our community. We are never going to move forward Chemung County forward until we improve its financial condition, which will in turn lead to increased jobs and reduced crime throughout the County.
*Nearly all of the children who reside in the 7th Legislative district will attend school in the City of Elmira at some point, and a substantial number of adults work there. The Town-City border is an artificial line most of us cross every day. Improving conditions in the City benefits everyone, not just the people who live there.
*As I have begun talking to residents of the 7th Legislative district about the issues, the thing I hear most frequently is a concern about increased crime, something people tend to relate to conditions in the City. Whether the data supports this so-called “crime creep”, the perception that problems in the City adversely affect the Town is real. This perception impacts everything from quality of life to real property values, and can be addressed by making improvement of the City a priority.
*Finally, if the City of Elmira is forced to outright dissolve – something that would require a vote by the City’s residents – all property north of the Chemung River would revert to the Town of Elmira and property south of the river to the Town of Southport. As such, residents of those municipalities have a heightened incentive to work toward improving the City’s situation, as its problems would not simply disappear if it dissolves.
Fixing this mess will take a team approach, as we all have a lot to gain.
Christina Bruner-Sonsire is a local attorney and candidate for Chemung County Legislature
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Along the southern line of the Town of Chemung, nestled on the west bank of the Chemung River sat a log cabin for many years. To the south - south/west of the cabin ran the Waverly to Wellsburg Road, know today as Wilawana Road.
The property owners today, speak of a cabin that once sat below their current home, and was destroyed during the 1972 flood. It had been renovated in the early to mid 20th century. Looking back at old maps I located the site on the 1853 map with the name N. McDuffee notated on the map as the property in question. The property originally belonging to one George Williamson who held the 1788 land patent.
Having been raised in the Sayre/Athens area the McDuffee Family name was well known to me and well seated in the history of Athens, PA. Even though the Chemung property borders Athens Township, PA, it seemed a little far for a McDuffee to settle, so it piqued my interest. The story I was able to put together was quite interesting as the Yankee-Pennamite Wars is another one of my interests, and seemed woven through this story. If nothing else it makes for enjoyable afternoon reading.
Records from the McDuffee family tell of their ancestor Henry McDuffee who traveled with Arthur Erwin to America before the Revolutionary War to locate several tracts of land in Bradford Co. PA. When the war broke out, McDuffee retreated to Ireland. Near the end of the War, Henry’s son Daniel came to America to act as an agent for Colonel Erwin, as he became known. Daniel born in 1752 to Scottish parents, resided in Antrim County, Northern Ireland, married to an Irish woman, Dorothy “Dolly” Ladley, they came to America with three children born in Ireland: Mary, Neil (Neal) & Anna. They had a large family of twelve children with the remainder born in America: Daniel, Hugh, Dorothy, Ferdinand, John, Joseph, Samuel, Rebecca, Charles.
Before I go on to explain the Chemung McDuffee property, I would like to take a side trip to a very interesting story of early times in our area; that of Neal McDuffee’s Father, Daniel and his good friend, Arthur Erwin.
In excerpts taken from A History of Old Tioga Point and Early Athens, written by Louise Welles Murray, 1908, she depicts the struggle of the times with property border and land disputes.
For those of you who are not aware of the Yankee - Pennamite Wars, there were actually two, as if one wasn’t bad enough. Basically the Dutch claimed the land between New Netherland and the English colony of Virginia. King Charles the II rejected all the Dutch claims and granted the land to Connecticut. Charles the II also included the same land in a grant to William Penn. Both colonies purchased the same land by treaties with the Indians. Finally the controversy ended in 1799, with the Wyoming Valley becoming part of Pennsylvania and the Yankee settlers becoming Pennsylvanians with legal claims to their land.
( As a side note: Today, 3 wars were recognized in the Yankee Pennamite Struggle, ranging from 1769 to 1799. - MaryEllen )
She writes: "The handful of settlers had another source of contention. The uncertainty as to the actual State Line rendered possible the claims of certain squatters who insisted they were in New York. While Lockhart or his representatives do not seem to have been on the ground, Colonel Erwin, who had drawn a number of the Pennsylvania warrants, was."
Arthur Erwin, a native of Crumlin, County of Antrim, Northern Ireland sailed to America with his wife and five children. His wife died on the voyage. He later married again. He became one of the keenest land buyers in the country and was proprietor of a large tract along the Delaware. He made settlement in Bucks County, PA and in published writings of his descendants: Charles H. Erwin of Painted Post and Arthur Erwin Cooper of Cooper’s Plains, the town was named for him, Erwina. He served during the Revolution in the patriot army and for his valor was made Colonel of a Bucks County Regiment. He was cruelly murdered at Tioga Point, June 9, 1791.
He made a choice of lands between the rivers above the Indian Arrow, also west of the Chemung, in 1785, and soon after he added lands in New York State. Possessed of ample means and having a large family (ten children) he was evidently resolved to provide them with a goodley heritage. Unquestionably he went over the line seeking to avoid the Connecticut controversy. Erwin made a settlement at Tioga Point in 1788, and brought his agent and probably purchaser, his old friend Daniel McDuffee, who followed him from Ireland and living near him in Bucks County. They were at once and continually harassed by both squatters and Connecticut claimants and Erwin began to consider buying land in the Phelps and Gorham purchase. (East of the Genesee River in Western New York)
It is told by the descendants that Erwin and McDuffee were such firm friends that it was agreed between them that McDuffee should have as much land as he wanted at cost price, as he had less to invest than Erwin: but that at the time of Erwin’s assassination no choice had been made, although the McDuffees had been there two of three years and had built a timber house about on location of Frank Herrick House (near the Chemung River). Daniel McDuffee had resolved to take up land at Painted Post, but after Col. Erwin’s murder his sons, on account of the evident feeling against their family, urged him to remain at Athens and buy the Erwin lands there, offering even better terms than their father had. Naturally, he embraced their offer. Daniel was a noted weaver with a coat of silk and linen at one time displayed in the Tioga Point Museum. It will be seen that this family settled here apparently just as early as the Connecticut people and we think no other family of a pioneer lives today on the land originally possessed.
The story of Col. Erwin’s purchase is as follows: In 1789 he started for Canandaigua with a drove of cattle, presumably from his Tioga Point settlement. Stopping at Painted Post to rest his drove, he hired an Indian familiar with the locality to take him him up the mountain north of Painted Post. Here he had a view of the triple valleys of the Chemung, Conhocton and Tioga, with which he was so impressed that he came down and ascended the mountain on the other side, thus commanding a wide prospect. He then quickly returned to the log hut of the surveyors of Phelps and Gorham; and directing his drovers to follow, hurried under the Indian’s guidance to Canandaigua. Though late in the afternoon, he went at once to the office of Phelps and Gorham, made an offer for the tract (later known as town of Erwin), asking them to take in payment his cattle at their own price and promising the rest to be paid in gold. The bargain was closed in the morning. His historian says: “Within twenty-four hours after the deed was signed, Judge Eleazar Lindley arrived with an offer for the same land.” The reason for Col. Erwin’s haste was no doubt because he knew that Col. Lindley was on his way to make this very purchase.
Unquestionably, Erwin told a good story on his return, as the very next year, 1790, three of the original proprietors of Athens joined with him in the purchase called “Old Canistear Castle,” now known as the towns of Hornellsville and Canisteo; which statement is corroborrated by deeds and records showing that these men made transfers of their Athens property this year. This not only proves that the pioneer settlers at Tioga Point were uneasy about their Connecticut titles, but that they were in friendly relations with Erwin and that his assassin may have been one of the so-called New York squatters. Yet, it must be admitted that Col. Erwin had troubles as a Pennsylvania claimant. We have taken pains to study out this matter for various reasons. Erwin has been called a surveyor, (which he was not), many of whom suffered at the hands of the “Wild Yankees. He has also been confounded with James Irwin, who had no connection with him. The McDuffees were living here as early as 1788; whether in the home built on almost the same spot as the Curran Herrick house, still standing, northwest of town; or in a log house owned by Col. Erwin (which according to the daughter of Matthias Hollenback, and Major A. Snell, stood on the west side of the Chemung River, about twenty feet from the present road below the old McDuffee house now owned by Elsbree family), we will not assert. Nor is it important to decide whether it was in the day or evening, through door or window, that he was shot. In 1791 he brought two of his sons, Samuel and Francis, up the river to settle on the Phelps and Gorham tract and superintend his business interests there. His biographer says:
“On his return he stopped at the house of Daniel McDuffee one of his tenants near Tioga Point, and as he sat in the evening listening to Mr. McDuffee’s flute a shot was heard, he suddenly arose, and staggering towards the open door said “I am shot,” and then fell. (A side note tells the story that Erwin was listening to Mr. McDuffee’s flute; that Mrs McDuffee sat in the doorway sewing; dropped her thimble and as she stooped to pick it up the shot went over her head.) He lived but a few hours. Suspicion immediately attached to an ejected squatter by the name of Thomas, who the same night stole a horse (or, as was strongly suspected at the time, he had been supplied with one) and was never after heard from. Judge Avery in his address before the Pioneer Association at Athens in 1854 in alluding to this sad but dastardly murder said ‘About that time there was some difficulty regarding the State Line, or of the Pennsylvania and Connecticut charterists; the squatters claiming that these lands were within the State of New York or came within the Connecticut chart, threatened to shoot the first person who should purchase or settle on them, they claiming title by occupation. Col. Erwin was the first and only victim and the prompt investigation of this murder either frightened them away or forced the cowardly villains into lawful obedience.’ The late Judge Avery was of more than ordinary legal attainments and though his statements were entirely new to us, we are not inclined to contradict them.”
Neal McDuffee Log Cabin, located in Chemung, New York can be seen on the right of this photo, along the bank of the Chemung River.
It must be acknowledged that Avery was somewhat in error. While there may have been prompt investigation, nothing came of it, the assassin escaped. It seems strange that Judge Avery, with his ability and love of research, did not follow up this matter, as it is now impossible to do; perhaps just as impossible then. There can be added to these chronicles what would seem to throw some light on this matter; a letter from Col. Erwin himself, which lay for many years unnoticed at Harrisburg, but now to be found in Pennsylvania Archives, Third Series, Vol. XVIII, page 614, addressed to Governor Mifflin:
April 5, 1791 Sir: Perhaps it may appear somewhat extraordinary to carry a Complaint before the Chief Magistrate of the State, where the Laws of the land have pointed out the more regular Mode of pursuing the Means of Redress but as this, Sir, is an extraordinary case, it may probably be a sufficient excuse for the irregular Mode of proceeding in it. You are not now to learn the troubles and embarrassments with the Connecticut-claimants to Lands in the County of Luzerne have for a series of years past from Time to Time involved Pennsylvania. It will not be necessary, I conceive, to enter into any investigation of that Business. The existing laws, were they carried into effect, would be sufficient to answer every purpose. My present application to you, however, relates to myself only. When the Land Office was opened in the year 1785, and the choice thereof determined by Lott, I became an adventurer for about Five Thousand acres in Luzerne County, adjoining the New York line, and without the Limits of any of those Townships comprehended in the late confirming or quieting Law, since repealed. These lands which lay upon the Tioga above the Point, I immediately patented, settled, cleared and improved, not doubting but the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, under the solemn faith of which I had purchased and paid for them, would protect me in the possession and enjoyment of my property. I have been almost the only man who has, in that county, asserted the Claims under the Government of Pennsylvania to the Lands in Luzerne, by which I have not only subjected myself to insult and abuse, but on more occasions than one been in eminent danger of my life, not from threats merely, but by actual assault, and that of the most agrivated nature.
When in August, 1789, I was in that country cultivating my own ground I was obliged to have recourse to the legal steps to recover some rent due to me from a person who occupied a part of my Land there under verbal Lease, and when the property distrained was in the Hands of the Officer, the tenant with several others came and forceably resqued it, not satisfied with this outrage, they attacked me and one of them with the handle of a pitch-fork broke one of my arms and beat me in such a manner that I very narrowly escaped with my life. I then took the usual steps to have him prosecuted for a breach of the peace, but, altho’ every necessary proof was made of the fact, in that country he escaped unpunished. In the course of the last summer a number of persons who call themselves Halfshare men, a description of people, who I believe from principle and habit, are not likely ever to be good or useful citizens of this or any other country, came within my enclosed grounds at a time that I was absent, cut a quantity of hay, and to the laborours who I had there employed, used many threats against my person. After I had hauled in the hay which my people had made, together with what they had cut on my land, they came and forceably took it away, still using threats: Soon after they took from my Laborours a quantity of Indian corn in the same manner, which circumstances the Depositions of Daniel McDuffee, Sarah Redford, and Dolly McDuffee make appear. It is true the effects which have been violently and unlawfully taken from me are of no great value or magnitude, but if the persons who have flagrantly broke in upon my property escape with Impunity the property of no Pennsylvanian will be safe from their depradations. I have not taken any legal steps to obtain Redress, well knowing the fate of my process in the County of Luzerne, where a Pennsylvanian is a party; of this indeed I have had sufficient experience. I trust, however, that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will do me ample Justice and no longer suffer her laws to be trampled on, her dignity debased, and her citizens injured and abused by a set of people who have ever discovered a disposition obnoxious to the Laws and Government of this State. I have, therefore, made my application to you, as the supreme Magistrate of the State, and from your prompt decision and public spirit, I hope such measures will be taken as to secure me in the enjoyment of my property in the Country, as well as to protect me from the danger which from the constant threats of those people I conceive my life to be in while among them. With every sentiment of respect, I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedient and very humble servant, Arthur Erwin
Apparently this was but a few weeks before his death, which was a sad ending to an active and useful career. He had lived, with the great tracts he held in and about Tioga Point, he would have been a notable factor in the town-making. According to Matthias Hollenback, his body was conveyed in a boat down the river and carried over Wilkes-Barre Mountain to Erwina for burial.
That completes my information on Mr Erwin and his friend Daniel McDuffee. It is so unfortunate that so many people were completely affected and in some cases destroyed by the Yankee – Pennamite War era, 1769 – 1794. The story by Louise Welles Murray is an incredible insight into colonial times in our area and the strife of the common folk. It also shows how the war caused strife in our Town of Chemung and border communities.
As previously stated, Neal (Neil) McDuffee was the first born son of Daniel and Dorothy McDuffee, born in the Emerald Isle. He married a gal by the name of Anna and their children were: Mary, Ferdinand, Daniel, Charles and Sarah.
According to the US Census, he resided in Athens, Bradford Co, PA in 1820. Same was true in the 1830 census. However in the 1840 census Neal’s residence changed to Chemung, New York. So this leaves me wondering, since the property sits on the border of Athens Township, PA and Chemung, NY., is it possible this property is one in the same and because the state borders were not defined well, he thought he was dwelling in Pennsylvania when in fact it was discovered later to be in New York State? Consistency continued through the 1865 census. It was in the following year, 1866 Neal died and was buried in Wellsburg. Anna died in 1862.
It is also interesting to see another big name show up in the census who is well known in Athens and listed as residing next to Neal McDuffee. That of Julius Tozer. But I will save that information for another story. Another fascinating note of interest on the 1865 census, the following question was asked: Of What Material Built. The answer on the Neal McDuffee Home: LOG.
One last bit of information on the McDuffee Property, a deed dated March 1841. It was never recorded until May 1859, which was not uncommon to be that late in those days, yet a bit curious. McDuffee purchased an additional 16 acres for his farm. It was recorded May 25, 1859 with another 20 acres recorded May 27, 1859. The acreage happened to be in Bradford County, PA and McDuffee resided in Chemung, New York. The deed reads: at a rate of ten pounds per hundred acres, but looking at the recorded information it appears he paid $1.00 per acre. Is it possible this property was already part of his original farmstead and once the boundaries were clarified he was correcting the deeds legally? My guess is yes, that is exactly what he did. With both Neal and his wife gone by 1866 that was not the end of the McDuffee property. I located the name S. McDuffee listed as a surname on the 1869 map. It is possible the youngest daughter, Sarah took over the farmstead.
Mary Ellen Kunst is the historian for the Town Of Chemung. To see more information, visit her site, https://historicalechoes.weebly.com
Everyone has flaws. One of mine is that I have always held on to the past and worried about the future and what could happen. A smart person would understand that when you do that you miss out on what's important.
I'm a smart person but I've been a slow learner. Since retiring I have been working on that little flaw in my personality. It's taking some work because, as people who know me can confirm, I can be very stubborn. On the plus side, once I make up my mind to do something I do it.
So I've made up my mind to focus on today, the here and now.
To recognize the daily blessings that are sometimes missed because of holding on to the past or worry about tomorrow.
This may sound kind of corny to some, but when I woke Easter morning my first thought was "This is the day the Lord has made, be happy and rejoice".
I said a "thank you" for the simple fact that I woke to a new day, grateful for the ability to experience whatever the day may bring. I enjoyed the simple pleasure of morning coffee with my husband as we watched the news and chatted about this and that.
As I began preparations for Easter dinner I ignored aching joints, realizing that despite those aches and pains, I was still able to move about. Arthritis is a bitch but it could be worse. A couple of Advil and it was on to the next task.
I consciously felt the pleasure of making preparations to celebrate with my family. Anticipating their arrival and the chaos that comes with a home full of people who care about each other. A blessing that some don't experience.
Our eldest son and his family were the first to stop in for a visit before traveling to join our daughter-in-law's family for Easter dinner. They brought me a beautiful Easter lily, an Easter bread and ricotta pie. Years ago I had tried making this pie without success. Thankfully, my eldest daughter-in-law makes a delicious ricotta pie. In turn I surprised them with candy that I made for my adult kids and Easter bags I put together for the grandchildren with their $2.00 bill. Years ago my mother started the tradition of giving her grandchildren a $2.00 bill at Easter and I have continued that tradition with my grandchildren. I also surprised my daughter-in-law with two containers of pipi salad, something my own mother-in-law used to make. Her pleased smile made me happy and I enjoyed that moment.
My eldest grandson was my taste tester for the mashed potatoes since I've been unable to taste much due to a slight medical issue. He gave me the thumbs up and asked that I save him any leftovers. I happened to have one of his Mom's empty containers so I filled it with mashed potatoes and handed it to him. That got me another big smile. Something so simple but it lightened my heart and I count that as a blessing.
Our middle and youngest sons and their families joined us for dinner. It's easier to set up buffet style so everyone can help themselves, including the grandkids. No pressures about what you eat or don't eat. Being able to share that meal together is another blessing I'm grateful for. I love to hear the sounds of their voices as converations flow. I enjoy listening to them as they tease each other and the resulting laughter. The weather co-operated and the kids were able to play outside and enjoy their own time together.
Later, after everyone had gone home, I spent time cleaning the kitchen and getting dishes done. As strange as it may sound, washing dishes relaxes me. As I stood at the sink I thought about the day and all it's little pleasures and blessings.
I remembered watching our youngest grandson eating cabbage salad. No biggie you'd think but it reminded me of last Christmas and how he ended up taking the bowl off the kitchen counter, climbing into a chair in the living room and eating the cabbage salad directly from the bowl. I watched him eat his Easter dinner and saw how he dipped his dinner roll and ham into the cabbage salad realizing he thought it was a dip. It's a vegetable but I'm not tellin him.
I remembered the look on my granddaughter's face as I handed her her "Easter toast" as one of my grandsons called it. She thinks Mammy makes the best toast.
I smiled as I remembered grandson #3 asking me if a lamp emits light or sucks dark which I learned later had something to do with a meme. His Dad took exception to what he was saying and asked him if he wanted to do laps around the back field. I calmly advised my son that since my grandson was talking to me he could say or ask what ever he wanted; it was our conversation. Dad just smiled at his sons' teasing comments about Dad's Mom getting after him.
While washing a roasting pan I found my self chuckling as I remembered a moment with grandson #5. His Mom had made a cake for dessert and it wasn't until after the cake was served that I remembered I had made a cherry cheese pie. My youngest son doesn't care for cake so I always make this pie for holiday meals. As I was cutting the pie grandson #5, who loves cheese cake, was standing next to me.
"Would you like a piece" I asked him.
"I've already had a piece of cake and my Dad would say no" he answered while looking at the pie.
"I didn't ask what your Dad would say, I asked what you wanted". The look on his face said he wanted a piece of pie so I cut a small piece for him.
"Come into the living room" I said after handing him his pie, "I'll take care of your Dad". He wasn't taking any chances, however, and ate his pie standing at the kitchen counter. Sorry Dad, Grandma's house, Grandma's rules.
I've come to realize how freeing it is to be able to enjoy the here and now. To not dwell on the past or worry about what tomorrow may bring. It's like a weight has been lifted that you weren't aware you were carrying. Certainly there are times when I slip into old habits and my mind starts to wander into the "what if" territory of tomorrow or the regrets and sorrow of the past. I won't let myself go there anymore because I've felt the simple enjoyment of today and I like it. I've talked with Hubby about this and he's offered me a free kick in the ass whenever necessary.
It's easy to find your blessings each and every day when you take the time to look for them.
I'm eagerly looking for mine, are you?
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