The Sullivan Expedition of 1779 passed through the area and fought a British force at the Battle of Newtown, south of the current city. The Iroquois and the new United States made a treaty at Elmira in 1791 to settle territorial disputes in the region.
The first settler in Elmira was captain Abraham Miller of the continental army. He built a cabin after resigning just before the Revolutionary war. Miller's pond and Miller Street are named after him where his house was originally built.
The New York legislature established the Township of Chemung, now Chemung County, in 1788. The settlement of Newtown was soon established at the intersection of Newtown Creek and the Chemung River. In 1792, the settlement at Newtown joined with the Wisnerburg and DeWittsburg settlements to form the village of Newtown. In 1808, the village officially changed its name to the Town of Elmira, at a town meeting held at Teal's Tavern. It's said the town was named after tavern owner Nathan Teal's young daughter, but that story has never been confirmed. In any case, the City of Elmira, also called "The Queen City", was incorporated in 1864 from part of the town of Elmira and the village of Elmira. The remaining part of the town of Elmira exists still, surrounding the city on the west, north, and east. The city and town share an intricately entwined history. According to Amos B. Carpenter's Family History book printed in 1898, Elmira is named after Major General Matthew Carpenter's daughter. This occurred according to the book in 1821 at the constitutional convention which Matthew was a delegate to.
Elmira served as a transportation hub for New York's Southern Tier in the 1800s, connecting commercial centers in Rochester and Buffalo with Albany and New York City, via the canal system and railroads. The city was the southern terminus of the Chemung Canal (completed in 1833); later, the Junction Canal was constructed to connect Elmira with Corning, facilitating transport of coal from the Pennsylvania mines via the Northern branch of the Susquehanna Canal system. Some years after, the Erie and New York Railroads were completed and criss-crossed in the midst of the city, making it a prime location for an Army training and muster point early in the Civil War.
A great deal of the 30 acre Union installation, known as Camp Rathbun, fell into disuse as the Civil War progressed, and the camp's "Barracks #3" were converted into a Civil War prison camp in the summer of 1864. The camp, in use from June 6, 1864 until the fall of 1865, was dubbed "Hellmira" by its inmates. Towner's history of 1892 and maps from the period indicate the camp occupied a somewhat irregular parallelogram, running about 1,000 feet (300 m) west and approximately the same distance south of a location a couple of hundred feet west of Hoffman Street (Foster Avenue?) and Winsor Avenue, bordered on the south by Foster's Pond more or less, on the north bank of the Chemung River.
In the months the site was used as a camp, 12,123 Confederate soldiers were incarcerated; of these, 2,963 died during their stay from a combination of malnutrition, prolonged exposure to brutal winter weather, and disease directly attributable to the dismal sanitary conditions on Foster's Pond and lack of medical care. The camp's dead were prepared for burial and laid to rest by the sexton at Woodlawn National Cemetery, ex-slave John W. Jones. At the end of the war, each prisoner was given a loyalty oath and given a train ticket back home; the last prisoner left the camp on September 27, 1865. The camp was closed, demolished and converted to farm land. Woodlawn cemetery, about 2 miles (3 km) north of the original prison camp site (bounded by West Hill, Bancroft, Davis, and Mary Streets), was designated a National Cemetery in 1877. The prison camp site is today both a residential area and few of the city's residents are aware that the prison camp ever existed.
As Elmira grew, so did the citizens' concern about increased crime after the end of the war; the idea of constructing a reformatory within the city had been discussed for some years. Finally, lands on which the present-day Elmira Correctional Facility resides, approximately 280 acres (1.1 km²) in all (north of Bancroft across the street from Woodlawn Cemetery), were purchased in 1869 and 1870 by the state legislature, specifically for construction of the reformatory and an armory. These lay within the boundaries of the town of Elmira, rather than the city. Around the same time, Dr. Eldwin Eldridge purchased a large tract of wilderness (~ 100 acres (0.4 km²)) with a small pond, also within the township, and developed it into a fabulous garden spot. His sudden death in 1876 put paid to his plans to develop the land further. After his death, Dr. Eldridge's estate granted access to the parkland to Elmira residents and tourists. In 1889, the city purchased the land, calling it Eldridge Park in the doctor's honor. The park this time held a nearly 15 acre lake in its center, along with marble statuary, flower gardens, fountains, driving and walking paths, and a labyrinth. In 1890, along with Eldridge park, the Reformatory, and Armory, the city added a well-populated area known as "Carr's Corners" (area bounded by Hoffman, West Hill, and Hillcrest (old Carr Road) - and appears to include the residential area around and to the south of Woodlawn National Cemetery.
Elmira played a role in the escape of slaves to Canada on the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad operated at its peak from 1830-1865 and served as an avenue of escape for many fugitive slaves hoping to find freedom in the northern United States or in Canada. Along the Underground Railroad route stood "stations," or safe-havens for the runaway slaves, which were run by "conductors", people who helped the escaped slaves to freedom.
The "Fugitive Slave Act" of 1850 further strengthened the Underground Railroad because the act "violated the inherent rights of human beings to be free," according to Rochester Historian Arch Merrill in a June 26, 1964 article in the Star-Gazette.
One of the best routes on the Underground Railroad wound from Washington D.C., through Pennsylvania's Harrisburg, Williamsport, Canton, and Alba, to New York's Elmira and Canandaigua, followed by Rochester or other stations that connected to Canada.
According to a July 16, 1986 article in the Niagara Gazette, Elmira became a growing transportation center in the mid-19th century as railroads came into the city and use of the Chemung Canal increased ... increasing population brought money and created a more intellectual atmosphere ...
New railroad routes contributed to Elmira's popularity in the Underground Railroad. Geography and transportation routes added to Elmira's appeal for the Underground Railroad. Elmira is at the center of several river valleys, which have always been the basis for transportation routes. With the construction of the Chemung Canal between the Chemung River and Seneca Lake in 1833 and the completion of railroad lines in 1850, Elmira had major connections with much of New York and Pennsylvania. The same valleys that attracted railroad and canal construction also attracted slaves running towards freedom because they were the easiest and fastest route to travel.
Elmira's illustrious John W. Jones served as one of the area's most successful and most used conductors. In all, he found shelter for more than 800 escaped slaves - many in his own home behind Elmira's First Baptist Church. Jones often received fugitives in parties of six to 10, but at times he assisted 30 men, women, and children at once.
Elmira was the only regular agency between Philadelphia and Canada. Some fugitives passed from Elmira through Ithaca and Trumansburg to Lake Ontario. Others made the trip through Hornell to the Niagara. Towanda, Big Flats, Burdett, and Spencer were other Underground stations.
When the railway from Williamsport to Elmira was completed in 1854, Jones received many more fugitives by train, whom he shipped away in the 4 o'clock "Freedom Baggage Car." The railroad employees were friendly to the cause and placed them in the baggage cars for transport without charge through Watkins Glen and Canandaigua to Canada.
Jervis Langdon, Elmira merchant, and supporter of the underground railroad. According to papers left by Jones, the fugitives were often penniless when they arrived, and money had to be obtained to send them on their way. A few loyal men, including Jervis Langdon, James M. Robinson, William Yates, and Riggs Watrous, responded to frequent calls for contributions to replenish empty purses.
Elmira merchant, Jervis Langdon spent much of his money on social causes, particularly aiding runaway slaves, but there is no evidence he was a conductor, said Herbert Wisbey, retired history professor and first director of the Center of Mark Twain studies at Elmira College.
"He would be there with the purse to help out," Wisbey said. "Langdon could have been much wealthier in his later years, but he gave out much of his money, often anonymously."
It was also noted in Jones' papers that Riggs Watrous assisted in hiding fugitives. "Upon delivery in Elmira, Riggs Watrous would hide the slaves in the upper chambers of his house which was the first residence at Lake Street north of Market Street."
Because of Langdon's role and others close to him, Elmira was considered a safe location for the fugitive slaves. Many of the fugitives who arrived in Elmira liked the area so much they decided to stay instead of continuing the journey toward the Canadian border.
The Underground Railroad in Elmira
In 1950, the population of the City of Elmira peaked at about 50,000, which represented 57 percent of Chemung County's total population at that time. Today, the City has just 30,000 residents, which represents 34 percent of Chemung County's total population. This population decline is due to the National decline in Railroads and manufacturing.
Today, the primary manufacturing employers are:
The Hilliard Corporation is an Elmira manufacturer that makes over 16,000 different specialized one-of-a-kind products for businesses all over the world.
Kennedy Valve, a division of McWane Corporation, manufactures valves and fire hydrants at its plant on East Water Street in Elmira.
Eastern Metal, USA Sign, and the Sign Man manufactures interior and exterior signs, including the City of Elmira historical entrance sign, erected on E. Church Street in 2004.
Creative Orthotics and Prosthetics custom designs and manufactures orthotic and prosthetic devices for individuals.
Spanish manufacturer, CAF, calls Elmira Heights its headquarters for operations in North America where it constructs rail cars for the transit systems of the cities of Pittsburgh and Sacramento.
Vulcraft, a division of NuCor, manufactures steel joists, joist girders, steel floors, and roof decks at the new plant in the Town of Chemung.
Hardinge Incorporated is an international company with corporate headquarters located in Horseheads. Hardinge is a world-renowned and respected manufacturer of precision machine tools.
Schweizer Aircraft in nearby Big Flats manufactures helicopters, surveillance aircraft, and aviation parts. Schweizer is a contractor for the federal government, constructing unmanned helicopters for the military.
Also in Big Flats, Corning Life Sciences manufactures laboratory glassware, IST creates nuclear instrumentation and radiation tolerant cameras, and Orthstar is a software engineering company that creates software to automate and simulate systems
On June 22-23, 1972, Elmira recorded the worst flood in its history. There was no loss of life in The Flood of '72; however, there was an estimated $291.2 million in damage to the city. The cause of the flood was Tropical Storm Agnes, which was apparently headed out to sea when it changed its course. The storm stalled over northern Pennsylvania and southwest New York. The Flood of '72 waters rose at least three feet higher than the flood of May 28, 1946
About 15,000 people were driven from their homes, as the streets were flooded and the water rose to dangerous heights. Automobiles by the hundreds were ruined by the immense floodwaters. By Thursday night at 11pm, the Chemung River had risen to 17 feet (5 m) above normal at the Lake Street Bridge. Elmira became a city divided, as all of the bridges were unusable at the peak of the disaster. The City suffered a power outage and communications were knocked out all over town. "We're like a lost nation over here," remarked one of the Southport firemen during the intensity of the flood.
The remains of the Walnut Street Bridge At its peak, the flood carried away the southern spans of the Walnut Street Bridge, built back in 1896. The Main Street Bridge was damaged, but later opened for emergency traffic. There was devastating damage to Falck Street, after the former Harris, McHenry & Baker lumber company was swept away by the current. Porches and garages were ripped loose, and siding was torn from the houses by a destructive riptide.
The massive floodwaters stretched out from Water Street to Wall Street. On Hoffman Street, the water reached past First Street and Walnut Street. Elmira College and the Elmira City Schools were set up as survival centers for flood refugees. The flood knocked out important utilities such as water, power, and telephone. The Walnut Street bridge was washed away. Citizens were advised to boil all water before drinking it. Helicopters were evacuating people from hazardous properties in Big Flats, Wellsburg and Katydid Curve. In nearby Big Flats, nearly half a million gallons of furnace oil, kerosene and gasoline spilled from two cracked Sun Oil Company tanks and spread East. Crews from three oil companies worked to recover most of the spill.
Downtown was completely submerged. Elmira's City Hall escaped flooding, with the water only covering the third step of the entrance to the building. All of the churches downtown were damaged, so congregations met at churches outside of the flood zone, such as the First Presbyterian and the Southside Baptist Church. Marine Midland Bank took 66 inches of water and Chemung Canal Trust Company had 71 inches of floodwater in its lobby. The safe deposit boxes and the vault were flooded in their deep basement. Trayer Products on Madison Avenue flooded and its heat-treating facility also burned to the water line before firemen could reach it. At St. Joseph's Hospital, the ground floor took 9 feet (3 m), 1 inch of water and the damage was estimated at over $8 million.
Water flowed down streets On June 23, President Nixon declared Chemung County and 13 other New York State counties disaster areas. Chemung County received generous help from the National Guard, the Army, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and several private businesses who donated food, clothing, and money. Hardinge Brothers Foundation Inc. announced a grant of $300,000 to help the flood victims restore their homes. President Nixon called The Flood of '72 the greatest natural disaster in the nation's history. Federal and state funds came in by the millions, as the extent of the destruction was still unknown. Stanley J. Roth, the Executive Director of the Urban Renewal, estimated the flood affected 45% of Elmira.
In hundreds of homes, the flooding ruined furnaces, washing machines, water heaters, walls, bedding and carpets. Retail stores had heavy losses in ruined merchandise, broken windows and warped floors. The records of industry were turned into a brown pulp. Schools lost boThe Southside suffers from the wrath of the Chemung Riveroks, furnishings, and gym floors. Government units faced costly repaving projects as well as restoration of grounds and buildings. It took more than a month for many of the city's structures to dry out.
John Nickerson wrote and recorded the song "It Sprinkled, It Rained, and It Poured" about the Flood of 1972. Tedd Arnold wrote a Young Adult Fiction book based upon the Flood of 1972 called "Rat Life".
Flood of '72
Olivia Langdon Clemens
John W. Jones
John Arnot, Jr.
Charles Tomlinson Griffes
Charles Thomas McMillen
William P. Perry
Tedd Arnold Notable people with ties to Elmira
Elmira is located at (42.089874, -76.809559).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 19.6 km² (7.6 mi²). 19.0 km² (7.3 mi²) of it is land and 0.7 km² (0.3 mi²) of it (3.56%) is water.
The Chemung River flows eastward through the city. Elmira is built almost entirely in the flood plain of the Chemung River and has suffered many floods over its history, the worst from Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Newtown Creek, flowing from the north, joins the Chemung River at the southeast corner of the city.
New York State Route 17, The Southern Tier Expressway, connects with the city at Exit 56. New York State Route 14 passes through Elmira between Watkins Glen and Pennsylvania. New York State Route 352 begins in Elmira at Exit 56 of the Southern Tier Expressway and continues West into Corning.
As of the census of 2000, there were 30,940 people, 11,475 households, and 6,701 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,632.0/km² (4,229.5/mi²). There were 12,895 housing units at an average density of 680.2/km² (1,762.7/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 82.03% White or European American, 13.05% Black or African American, 0.39% Native American, 0.49% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 1.37% from other races, and 2.64% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.14% of the population.
There were 11,475 households out of which 31.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.3% were married couples living together, 18.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 41.6% were non-families. 34.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 3.05.
In the city the population was spread out with 25.1% under the age of 18, 13.0% from 18 to 24, 29.9% from 25 to 44, 18.2% from 45 to 64, and 13.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 101.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.2 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $27,292, and the median income for a family was $33,592. Males had a median income of $31,775 versus $22,350 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,495. About 17.9% of families and 23.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 32.6% of those under age 18 and 12.1% of those age 65 or over.
The Elmira Metropolitan Statistical Area (or Elmira MSA) is frequently used for statistical information such as labor rates and includes all of Chemung County with a population in 2000 of 90,070.
The Elmira MSA was ranked as the 59th safest place to live out of 344 Metro Areas in 2005 by Morgan Quitno Press .
The city government is a Council-Manager form of government in which the City Manager is the primary administrator of the City. There is one mayor elected at large and six councilmembers elected from each of six council districts. The term of office of the mayor and councilmembers was 2 years until a referendum passed in 2003 extended the terms to 4 years (4 year terms will begin after the 2007 election). The mayor and councilmembers are all part-time employees. The City Manager, City Clerk, City Chamberlain, City Assessor, and Corporation Counsel are all appointed by the City Council. All remaining department heads serve at the request of the City Manager.
The city has 125 miles (201 km) of road, 210 miles (340 km) of water lines, and 175 miles (282 km) of sewer lines. There are four ZIP codes in the City of Elmira: 14901 (northside), 14902 (downtown), 14904 (southside), and 14905 (West Elmira).
The city police department employs approximately 81 full-time officers.
The city fire department employs approximately 60 full-time firefighters and officers.
The city animal shelter has a goal to become by 2007 a no-kill animal shelter based on a model by Tompkins County SPCA..
The city received $1.4 million in Community Development Block Grant funds and $368,000 in HOME funds in FY2006-2007 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. These funds are used for programs and projects for low-moderate income families and neighbohood blocks.
The City of Elmira has more than 20 parks including Eldridge Park with a walking trail, restored carousel, skateboard park, and fishing lake and Wisner Park with memorials to veterans from World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and the Fallen Officers Memorial.
The City Manager of the City of Elmira is currently John J. Burin.
The Chief of Police is currently W. Scott Drake III. Facts about City Government
The City Slogan is "Honoring the Past, Building the Future". It is featured on an Entrance sign into the City from Exit 56 of the Southern Tier Expressway along with other honored Elmirans including (L to R) Brian Williams, Hal Roach, Ernie Davis, Mark Twain, Eileen Collins, John Jones, and Tommy Hilfiger. The sign was erected in 2003 by The Sign Man and designed by the City of Elmira Webmaster, Joshua Miller. The slogan was designated by Mayor Stephen Hughes following the conclusion of a slogan contest in which Marlin Stewart, Alan and Barbara Hutchinson, and James Lloyd were recognized for their contributions to the winning slogan.
On at least two hilltops near the city (mostly on Harris Hill to the northwest) pioneer pilots established the sport of gliding in America. Harris Hill is the site of the National Soaring Museum.
The last Labrador Duck was seen at Elmira on December 12, 1878.
The Elmira-Corning Regional Airport is located about 10 miles (20 km) outside of the City in the Town of Big Flats.
The Chemung County Chamber of Commerce has represented business and Industry in Elmira in such diverse areas as local, State and Federal legislation, small business concerns, tourism promotion and economic development.
Elmira Free Academy has graduated many notable Elmirans such as Eileen Collins, Tommy Hilfiger, and Ernie Davis.
Dunn Field is a baseball stadium located along the banks of the Chemung River on the southside. The Elmira Pioneers play at Dunn Field. Other famous players that have played or managed at Dunn Field include Babe Ruth, Earl Weaver, Don Zimmer, Wade Boggs, and Curt Schilling.
Elmira College is located in the city.
The First Arena was built in Elmira in 2000 (originally opened as the Coach USA Center). It serves as the home of the Elmira Jackals ECHL Franchise.
The Arnot-Ogden Medical Center and St. Joseph's Hospital are located in the city.
The Elmira Psychiatric Center is located in the city. In 2003, Governor George Pataki proposed closing this facility in the budget, but the community rallied together and protested the effect that the closing would have on the region. The State Legislature vetoed the Governor's closure and the EPC remains open. It serves hundreds of individuals on both an outpatient and inpatient basis.
The Elmira Correctional Facility is located on the city's Northwest side. The Southport Correctional Facility is located about 2 miles (3 km) outside the city's southern border. Joseph 'Joe Cargo'Valachi, the former Mafia member that first publically acknowledged that the Italian Mafia existed, revealed in the "Valachi Papers" by Peter Maas they he spent some time at the Elmira Correctional Facility (formerly the Elmira Reformatory).
The Arnot Art Museum is located in the downtown Civic-Historic District.
The recently restored Eldridge Park Carousel began operation in May of 2006 and is the fastest carousel in the world, spinning at nearly 18 miles per hour. 
Woodlawn Cemetery and Woodlawn National Cemetery are both located in the City of Elmira in the Northwest sector. More information about the City of Elmira
Star-Gazette, daily morning newspaper owned by Gannett Co. Inc. It was Gannett's first newspaper.
Chemung Valley Reporter, weekly newspaper based in nearby Horseheads Television
WPIE (studio in Elmira, tower in Trumansburg)