All true stories begin and end in a cemetery.Carlos Ruiz Zafon
When you think about cemeteries, what comes to mind? The final resting place for loved ones, memorials, sadness, or even ghosts? Ever since I was young, when we would bury a loved one or place a memorial crock on a headstone, I would remark on the beauty and wonder I felt. I would become really curious about the lives of people long since passed. I would wonder how they lived their life, what they cared most about, if they still have family and friends that pay their respects. Somewhat morbidly, I would wonder how they died. Thankfully for me, some of the older headstones provided that information.
When I left for college, I actually sought out a cemetery when I needed a break from studying. If I’m not sounding strange enough, I recently visited a cemetery during a vacation to New Zealand! If you share the sentiment that cemeteries are worth visiting for a stroll–or anything in addition to a burial–you will be happy to know that we have some wonderful options right here in Elmiraland. You can even make a plan before you head out by searching this website to find a cemetery or to search for famous graves.
A few of my local favorites, below.
Woodlawn Cemetery is by far one of my favorites. The Friends of Woodlawn work hard to preserve the integrity of the cemetery, and it shows. Most recently they worked to install the Heller Cremation Garden which surrounds a new columbarium or alternative to in-ground burial. During Halloween the Friends offer a (typically sold out) Ghost Walk that I would encourage you to check out along with ongoing audio tours and other special events. Within Woodlawn is Woodlawn National Cemetery, which started as the final resting place for prisoners of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp and is not to be missed. Exercise and history all in one!
Woodlawn was among the first cemeteries designed to have a park-like feel. Prior to 1831, Americans did not bury their dead in large cemeteries. Around that time, however, we began creating large cemeteries that felt more like public parks and places to spend time outdoors. Because the US did not have many public parks at that time, families would flock to cemeteries for picnics or to carriage race among the beautiful gardens and sculptures. Woodlawn (est. 1858) certainly has this feel to it. Stroll along its winding roads and you’ll be sure to get some steps in. You’ll also notice some famous names who’ve made Woodlawn their final resting place including Mark Twain, John W. Jones, Ernie Davis, and a host of Elmira’s founding families (Diven, Eldridge, Pagett, Hendy).
Saints Peter and Paul’s Cemetery on Elmira’s Southside is where my passion for cemeteries first grew. In the 1980’s, my parent’s owned the Convenient Food Mart on the corner of Broadway and Franklin Streets. While they were working, I’d hop on my bike and ride throughout the cemetery, sometimes for hours. (I was a slightly odd child but I’m OK with that). I would ride and wonder, sometimes do some gravestone rubbing and always check to see if the mausoleum was open.
A few years ago, I discovered the Webb Mills Cemetery while reviewing grant applications for work. This cemetery is in the hamlet of Webb Mills at the junction of Pennsylvania Avenue and County Highway 69. Community members have adopted the cemetery and volunteer their time to mow, fix fallen headstones, solve water run-off issues and so much more. It’s a really lovely place situated on a hill.
There are so many other smaller cemeteries scattered throughout the City that often get overlooked like the ones on Fulton Street, Second Street, and upper Maple Avenue. Most are lovingly cared for or at least mowed by a few dedicated people.
I encourage you to consider visiting one of these cemeteries or take a trip to be with your loved ones. Make sure you have plenty of time to pay your respects, reflect on life and enjoy the memories. Then, take a moment to gaze around at all of the headstones. Each one represents a life. We all try to avoid cemeteries but death is inevitable. You can give yourself some serious time to focus in on your future direction surrounded by a rather silent audience. All of our lives have meaning and purpose and the truth of the matter is that someday it will end. Cemeteries will surely remind you of that.
If you haven’t been to the Elmira Drive-in on Route 352 in Big Flats, then you, my friend, are missing out.
I went for the first time last year. Perhaps the reasons it took so long for me to take the leap is because a) I didn’t know where it was and b) I didn’t know how it worked. So for those of you in the same boat, here’s what you need to know.
Look up the movies and times online and go maybe 20-30 minutes ahead of time. Throw some blankets and pillows in the back of the car, maybe some extra water. You pay at the front gate (below). You’ll find a good spot right near the screen. The snack bar has good snacks that do not cost a million dollars. The bathrooms are fine. Everything is good here. You find your spot, you get your snacks, you tune your car radio to the right station, you wait for the sun to go down, you watch a movie – or two, if your crowd is cool that way. Easy.
The drive in is open seasonally, so I highly recommend that you go soon or put in on your list for next summer. We are so lucky to have this in our backyards.
In 2017, Elmira was a Round 1 winner of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), a New York State-sponsored competition for a $10 million grant. The City received this funding to launch, leverage funding toward and complete major downtown development projects. Because a couple of years have passed since the award and people are curious about what’s happening now and next, we are providing an update on where the projects—as originally proposed by local officials and finalized by New York State—currently stand.
Click this link for the official list of projects and then read on to learn more about their status.
100 West Water Street
The City of Elmira received $4 million for this anchor project, a mixed-use development that is also the first new construction downtown in quite a while. 100 West Water is a four-story building with 51 gorgeous market-rate apartments. The developer had fully leased the apartments within two weeks of their opening in April. The building also includes approximately 17,000 sf of ground-floor retail and commercial space as well as a landscaped area facing Clemens Square to the north. The businesses here include LaBella Associates, a Rochester-based engineering and design firm, and Wells Fargo bank. We will share any public information on the tenant for the last available space as soon as we hear it.
Lake Street Pedestrian Bridge
The Lake Street Pedestrian Bridge is a former vehicular bridge that closed due to structural concerns several years ago. LaBella and TWLA, the Ithaca-based landscape design firm, are polishing up designs for conversion of the bridge for bicycle and pedestrian use, with construction set to occur in 2020. The estimated date for the bridge to open is August 2020. The bridge rehab will provide another linkage in the bike and pedestrian network that we are continuing to build in Elmira, and will encourage more residents to walk downtown and enjoy Chemung River views. For more information, see our previous post about bridges.
Centertown Parking Garage / Clemens Square / Riverfront Park Boardwalk
We are discussing these three projects together as they are all part of one contract led by Hunt Engineers, Architects and Land Surveyors (HUNT) with design assistance from Whitham Planning and Design. The consultant team is in the design phase on all three projects, which will likely go out to bid in November and begin construction in spring 2020. As noted above, these include a $1,000,000 rehabilitation of the 40 year-old Centertown Parking Garage. The 735-car garage will undergo corrective maintenance items such as lighting and safety, and some aesthetic enhancements (TBD), providing a more pleasant parking experience for visitors to nearby businesses and activities. Clemens Square, located between the parking garage and 100 West Water, will also receive a $1.25 million facelift as part of this project. Plans to make this public space more inviting will enhance walkability, as it connects many of our downtown assets. It will also provide a new adaptable space for programs, events and outdoor eating and drinking. Finally, the project includes improvements to nearby Riverfront Park, including seating, planters, and other amenities. The goal for this area is to draw in visitors to this currently underutilized public space and provide an opportunity for better views of the Chemung River. Designs for all three elements of this project are forthcoming and we will share them here when available.
Activate Buildings Fund
The DRI included $1,750,000 to activate vacant and underutilized mixed-use buildings downtown. Building owners submitted applications for grants up to 25% of their project cost, and the City selected projects based upon many factors including overall impact on downtown. This initiative is ongoing through 2021. Several projects, including façade improvements at Langdon Plaza and the historic Werdenberg Building at 200 West Water Street, are complete. Others such as interior and exterior improvements to Roundin’ Third and Gerould’s Pharmacy on South Main are moving forward, and we hope to see enough momentum in the program by the end of this year to inspire another post – stay tuned.
(Note: The City folded the small business revolving loan fund into the Activate Buildings fund, in part due to need and the administrative costs of managing these funds.)
West Water Street Parking Reconfiguration
The parking on West Water Street is part of the Riverfront Park discussion (see above). While not part of the DRI, the City has in the past year retrofitted downtown parking meters to reflect the current century. Our meters now accept credit cards and coins. Huzzah!
Modernize Downtown Zoning
The zoning update is in full swing. E3/Elan Planning and Design and STREAM Collaborative are leading the effort to update the city’s zoning ordinance within the DRI boundary to reflect the comprehensive plan. For more information about the zoning project, visit the City’s website. This zoning update will utilize a Form Based Code to foster new opportunities for infill development that will prioritize the form and appearance of what future developments should be. The goals of the updated zoning approach aim to decrease rates of vacancy, increase the renovation of existing buildings, create economic incentives for businesses, improve walkability and create a sense of place.
Please note that the zoning committee is aiming for another public workshop in September and we really hope you come. Although the zoning update may not be the most exciting subject, it probably affects you.
The timeline for this project is to have the update largely drafted by the end of 2019 with adoption slated for early 2020.
A Final Note…
If you live in or around Elmira, you are probably aware of the many road and bridge construction projects currently underway. That is a wonderful thing. It is also one reason why the City shifted some of the DRI projects from the 2019 construction season to 2020. Busy seasons are great for the engineering firms, construction companies and local officials overseeing the work, but we have a limited supply of all of these things.
Please feel free to leave questions or comments below and we will respond to them as soon as possible!
Memories of Elmira summers…
As someone who moved to Elmira from the desert landscapes of New Mexico, I have never ceased to be amazed by the greenery and lush colors present everywhere. This quiet liveliness describes my entire experience living here. There are so many small things that are abundant in Elmira, which can often be taken for granted.
Growing up, I spent every day playing outside in the summertime, whether in my own sprawling backyard or running through the fields and trails along the slumbering Chemung River. When I was younger, the whole world seemed like a giant playground where my imagination could run wild–the “bamboo” (actually Japanese knotweed, but it’s more fun to call it bamboo) growing everywhere became spears or swords, tall trees became enemies or forts or obstacle courses, puddles became great floods. In fact, every time it rained my brother and I would run outside to play in the temporary streams. Moving from the southwest, I never lost my appreciation and awe of rain. We would play outside until we were soaked, then we would run inside shaking like wet dogs.
These experiences would not have been possible if we had moved somewhere else. This freedom and access to the outdoors allowed me to have an amazing childhood. In the winter, my family would cross country ski on snowy days, or take our sleds down the dike for hours on end. There are few places with as easy access to nature as Elmira, and it made all the difference in my childhood to be able to do such things.
I grew up in a welcoming neighborhood, with other kids to play with and adults that always came together to help us when little disasters came through town. The sense of community contributed to my ease as a child, and made me always feel comfortable roaming the nearby neighborhood while I played. Elmira is a very unique town, and I am so thankful to have gotten to grow up here, taking full advantage of all that the area has offered to me.
Guest writer Tallulah Keeley-LeClaire graduated from Elmira High School in 2018 and will be a sophomore at Yale University in the fall. She is spending the summer studying in South Korea (read more about it on her blog).
Some call it Spring …. I call it ice cream season.
It’s here! The time of year when my favorite mom-and-pop-style ice cream stands eagerly turn their signs from closed to open for business! I can’t wait to get that first taste of my favorite, chocolate and vanilla twist with chocolate sprinkles. Sure, temperatures still dip into the teens in the evening, and you may freeze standing in line for your favorite treat. But the payoff is so sweet as you take that first lick or scoop. It is spring in a cone, here to help us through the last doldrums of winter.
Because it is still chilly outside, I offer the following winter ice cream rules:
- Do not order a banana split – they take way too long!
- Know what you want to order before you get to the window.
- Tip your server! He or she is likely a high school or college student. Ice cream = kindness.
- Bring cash. Most of these stands are small businesses who may have to pay extra for credit or debit card transactions.
Whether you’re a cone, sundae or shake kind of person, where do you go for the best ice cream? Here’s a list of my favorite stops in Elmiraland:
KING KONE / 1315 College Avenue
Krunch Kote anyone? King Kone used to be one of the only stands that you could get this marvelously crunchy topping, which has since caught on at other places. This remains, however, the only one with bright yellow paint and a giant gorilla-holding-ice-cream on the roof. This stand is one that you might visit while on a first date after having seen a movie. It’s vintage! (And one of the first to open every year.)
BIG TOP/ Miracle Mile
Big Top is fantastic, so don’t let its location on the busy Miracle Mile scare you away! This little stand has been around for what seems like forever. While I used to be put off by all of the signs in the windows saying things like, “cash only” or “know what you want to order before coming to the window,” I now appreciate that they keep the lines moving. The Erie Railroad tracks run behind Big Top and occasionally the train will stop so conductors can grab lunch or a cone. That’s always fun to see.
FAIR SHAKE / Pine City
Fair Shake is really more of an experience, especially if you have young kids. They offer over 50 flavors of ice cream plus several dairy- or sugar-free options, a bunch of old arcade games inside, a fish pond in the back and a homemade barrel train that gives rides to little ones for FREE!
GRAND CENTRAL CREAMERY / Elmira Heights
Serving ice cream since 1959, Grand Central Creamery is the only local stand providing both walk-up AND drive-thru service. Here you’ll find 9 Perry’s soft-serve custard flavors along with over 40 varieties of hard ice cream. You can also spot the dole-whip flavor-of-the-week on their sign – I know a few friends who get really excited for pumpkin every year.
SERENDIPITY / Route 352, Big Flats
Serendipity is the new kid on the block. Stop here to break up your commute from Elmira to Corning or grab a sweet treat to enjoy at one of the tables outside. Serving Hershey’s ice cream, you’ll find all of the standards – chocolate, vanilla, strawberry – hard and soft, plus a bunch of other flavors. They have coffee, too, which I hear is great! This is a really nice place and a modern variation to the traditional stands we typically see in Elmira.
This wraps up my list of favorites … now get out there and enjoy some spring in a cone as we usher in the warmer weather!
Well, it’s official. Spring has sprung! Which means frosty mornings, thawing yards, pink sunrises, and muddy shoes. Oh, and the occasional snow storm. But let’s not talk about that.
As I look outside on this sunny day with an impossibly blue sky, I’m thinking about Spring in all those feel-good, I-read-this-on-a-magnet ways. Spring is new beginnings. A promise of all that is green and wonderful. It’s satisfying breezes reminding us that not only are warmer days yet to come, but that everything exists in a cycle. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Birth. Life. Death. Repeat. Right now, I can’t help but think about how Elmira fits into the cycle. I blame the blue sky.
Surely we have seen our Winter. Shops closed and businesses gone. Declining population. Vacant properties. Poverty. Crime. But now, I like to think that we are at our Spring. Budding businesses popping up downtown like little green shoots in flower beds. Think Downtown Grind and Turtle Leaf Café. New construction for the first time in decades. Look at the development at 100 West Water Street Apartments getting ready to open its doors. People moving here for opportunities like LECOM. Developers taking back long-dormant, vacant properties and turning them in to housing for all different income levels. Institutions and individuals collaboratively addressing poverty and crime. All of us working together as a community toward a better future.
As silly as it was impressive, the giant human shamrock coordinated by Elmira Downtown Development on St. Patrick’s Day was more than a new world record and fantastic PR event. It was proof–green and wonderful–of the unique spirit of this community. Our ability to come together. Bitingly cold, muddy, and with snow flurries dotting the sky, 1200 Elmirans donned thin green ponchos and formed that shamrock; hundreds more came to show their support. That’s crazy! And cool. And not something just any community would or could do. And THAT is Elmira.
I’m ready for Spring, are you?