The Tioga County Historian's Office provides information and services to the public and historical organizations, and maintain an extensive on-site resource library of historical compilations that relate to all aspects of the history of Tioga County, New York. The County Historian is responsible for collecting and preserving materials pertaining to the county's history.
Some historical photos and views from the Historian's archives:
Left to Right: Hiawatha Island, Hiawatha House Hotel, Glove Factory, Cady House, Trolley House
By Emma M. Sedore, Tioga County Historian
Did you ever wonder what North Avenue looked like before the underpass was built and why and when?
To begin, it was after Frederica Ford was killed at the East Temple Street railroad crossing on May 7, 1930 that the Erie Railroad Company first proposed the elimination of the crossings at East Temple, Paige and Greene streets in the village. Then, on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1931, James F. Bell was killed at the East Temple Street crossing. At a meeting held in November 1932 the Public Service Commission announced the closing of four crossings: East Temple, Paige, McMaster and the busiest one of all, North Avenue, located just south of East and West Avenues. They first suggested building an overpass, rather than an underpass, but nothing was decided.
Then, on February 22, 1933 tragedy struck again when Daniel Champlain met his death at the Paige Street crossing. Three months later, on May 16th, a preliminary hearing was held at the Tioga County Courthouse with forty residents from the affected areas attending. After a lot of discussion between the railroad officials and the village board of trustees, nothing came of it. Mayor Albert S. Andrews and village attorney, Benjamin W. Loring declined to make a statement.
At the July 28, 1933 hearing, the first plan for the proposed elimination of the North Avenue crossing was submitted at a cost of $238,800, exclusive of the rights-of-way and property damage. The plan was offered by the State Department of Public Works and provided for the construction of an underpass on North Avenue instead of an overpass as first suggested. The plan included the underpass to extend from Fox Street to the intersection of East and West Avenues for a total length of 1, 141 feet. The approaches would have a 5% grade and the roadway would be 40 feet wide with six -foot sidewalks on both sides. There would also be a 14-foot overhead clearance from the road to the 49-foot span of the two-plate girder railroad bridge above it. Heavy concrete walls would be constructed and concrete stairs with railings would be built to allow people access to their adjoining properties from North Avenue.
The village mayor and board of trustees did not like the idea of closing off streets and making them dead-end because it would depreciate the property value. Instead, they suggested that the railroad company build a lateral road from the East Main Street crossing to Paige Street, south of the tracks so people could simply drive on out through Fox Street to North Avenue. However, the businessmen of Owego objected, saying that it would divert traffic from the businesses in the village.
By the fall of October 1934, the Public Service Commission finally ordered five streets closed with plans to start the underpass in 1937. But again, Mayor Andrews and the board of trustees caused delays because they were adamant about not wanting any of the streets closed. Finally, when Mayor Edward C. Till and a new board of trustees were elected, they took the opposite position. In the meantime, contractors made borings and tests, but no work was started.
People who lived in or near the underpass site voiced their concern about flooding. They felt that the sewer was not large enough to carry off the water, but they did not object to going ahead with the project. Before it was completed, two 500 gallon capacity electric pumps were placed in a concrete structure on the west side of the underpass, nearly opposite the railroad station. The Erie engineer told the newspaper reporter, “Nothing short of a cloudburst would ever flood the underpass and stop traffic.”
In addition to eliminating the crossings, a pedestrian underpass was constructed at the corner of Paige and Fox Streets under the railroad tracks leading to Erie Street. Also, a number of buildings had to be razed, including two hotels; the old United States Hotel and the Gardner Hotel, both on the west side of North Avenue. The Cottage Hotel on the east side had a 14-foot section removed. Another building removed was a concrete garage near the Cottage Hotel belonging to the Comeford Amusement Company (with hopes of building a theater there someday.) On the west side, along with the two hotels, were two double houses and a single-family house. The large brick building belonging to the Baker brothers escaped being razed. It was moved just 22-feet north of its original site by the L. D. Dexheimer & Son Co., of Guilford. A large crowd gathered to watch the operation. A photo was in the August 4, 1949 Owego Gazette. Also, on the northeast side a two-story building used by Hubert & Reed Grocery and owned by Miller Lumber Co. was razed. A big shade tree was removed on the west side and the entire front room of a house owned by Mrs. William Marquart at 139 North Ave was removed.
In order to make way for the underpass, three streets had to be closed at the intersections of North Avenue: John R. and South Depot streets on the east side and Delphine on the west side. At South Depot and Delphine, concrete stairs were installed. New intersections were constructed on both East and West Avenues. West Avenue was only slightly changed, but East Avenue saw changes all the way back to Erie Street. Both streets were widened and repaved with new curbs and sidewalks along with concrete steps up to the properties. When the whole project was finally completed, including East Avenue, there were 18 sets of concrete stairs with railings installed.
The state paid for damages and for the purchase of properties. They agreed the settlements would be fair, but would not agree to exorbitant prices. If the state and property owner disagreed, the matter would be taken to the Court of Claims, which usually resulted in expensive litigation. The total amount of damages could not be estimated accurately because the individual owners refused to reveal the amount of their claims.
In the beginning it was stated that the state and railroad would pay 99% of the costs and the village just 1%. It would be difficult to find out today if in fact it worked out that way. The Owego Gazette reported the total cost of building the overpass, crossing eliminations, stairs, etc. was $777,999.59. Another issue of the newspaper reported the total cost would exceed $1,000,000.
The North Avenue underpass officially opened to traffic at 11:30 A.M. on January 24, 1951. There were no formal ceremonies, no ribbon cutting or speeches made; the workmen simply removed street barriers and trucks began to roll.
Note: In response to my request for photos and memories of the underpass, a couple of people send me photos and who shared their memories relating to the underpass. One of the first was Jack Morse who grew up in Owego and graduated from OFA and now lives in Loveland, Colorado. He told how he watched most of the underpass being built. When he was about 14 years old (1954) he was walking to his home on Talcott St. when he witnessed a large truck pulling a flatbed with a shovel driving through the underpass. A joint in the shovel hit the steel girder overhead with a loud bang and made a big dent in it. The driver stopped the truck, got out, made some adjustments and then drove off. (And yes, the dent is still there!) He said he thinks he was the only witness. He also recalled how he and several of his teenage friends would climb down through the top and get inside the structure over the cars just for fun. When he was old enough to drive he had his first auto accident just coming from under the pass going north. Thanks, Jack.
I also received a picture of the Cottage Hotel in 1942 before the underpass was built from Anita Slocum. It shows a huge crowd of people seeing the largest contingent of WWII draftees off to war, one of which was her uncle. Where the crowd is standing is now the underpass. Thanks, Anita.
I received another very interesting photo from Keith Jastremsky. It shows a little boy named Joe Ward standing near the site being excavated for the underpass. Thanks, Keith.
And last, but not least, a big thank you to the Tioga County Historical Society.
Eeek! Just the thought of rats usually makes one cringe, but not Owego’s Helen Dean King. Born in 1869, she was the daughter of George A. and Lenora L. (Dean) King and the granddaughter of the Rev. William H. King, pastor of the Owego Baptist Church (1854-1881) and I might add an ardent abolitionist who passionately preached against slavery and for temperance. Genealogists are still using his birth, death and marriage records. Her father George, her uncle, William A. and Rev. William H. owned and operated the King Harness Company on Church Street for years. When they closed the business, the Kayser glove factory bought the building. Today, it is a parking lot.
Helen graduated from Owego Free Academy at 16 in 1886 and earned her B. A. from Vassar College in 1892. From Vassar, she attended Bryn Mawr College which opened its doors in 1885. It was the first women’s higher educational institute to offer graduate degrees, including doctorates. The women who graduated from Bryn Mawr were known for their dedication and independence. Helen was a prime example. She earned a Fellow in biology in 1897 and her Ph.D. in 1899. In 1906 she earned a University Fellow in Research Zoology at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in genetics, researching the effects of inbreeding using rats.
From 1900 to 1907 she taught science at the Baldwin School at Bryn Mawr. She then progressed to holding an Assistant Professorship of Embryology at the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology in Philadelphia (which continued until her death in 1955) and in 1932 was selected as one of two women with highest achievement in scientific research in the world. Dr. King was the only woman at the turn of the century to hold a professorship in research work other than Madam Curie, of France.
That same year she was awarded the prestigious Ellen Richards Research prize, known as the Women’s Nobel by the Association to Aid Scientific Research by Women. Edwin Grant wrote to the nominating committee: Dr. King has done the most important work in the biological sciences of any living woman and I think that her work has not been generally appreciated by those who are not biologists as it deserves. The work is of a very fine quality in every respect, accurately, reliable and abundant, and best of all; it deals with problems of great importance…
In 1947, Mrs. Henry M. Robert, wife of Gen. Henry Martyn Robert (Robert’s Rules of Order) spoke in conjunction with the American Cancer Society drive and noted the work of Dr. King: …[she] has dedicated most of her life to cancer research. She had experimented a number of years on rodents with a cancer virus. A number of rats, bred under her direction were animals exposed to atomic rays at atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946. The tests, under the newly established Atomic Energy Commission were for the study of the control of atomic energy.
Dr. King’s accomplishments received considerable recognition during her lifetime, both in the press and from her peers, and although few people know of her now, she is ranked among the most eminent biologists of the 20th century. Today, of the sixty strains of rats that can be credited to Wistar, one is known as “King 1909.” On a personal note, it seems that her dedication to her profession took precedence over marriage. She died in 1955 and is buried in the family plot in Owego’s Evergreen Cemetery.
By Emma M. Sedore Tioga County Historian
By: Emma M. Sedore - Tioga County Historian
167 years ago, the most destructive fire in the history of Owego, N.Y. occurred. Known as “the Great Fire,” it broke out at about three o’clock in the morning of September 27, 1849. It started in the hall of the Sons of Temperance, over the store of James and William Ely on the south side of Front Street near the bridge. The fire might have been extinguished before it spread to other buildings, but the chief engineer insisted on switching from the first engine that sprayed water, to change to another engine; and in doing so, they had to halt spraying water until it was hooked to the second engine, causing the flames to get out of control.
It burned all of the buildings on both sides of Front St., from Church to Park St. and all of the buildings on Lake, except for three and even part of the bridge crossing the Susquehanna River. A total of 104 buildings were lost, totaling $300,000. The sight of the ashes and rubble and the smell of burned merchandise must have made people cringe.
A depression set in among the businessmen. Many insurance companies failed and although some goods were saved, many of the property owners suffered a total loss. Their thoughts were probably filled with the worry of how and what could they do now? Those that could afford it, opened on North Avenue or in other parts of the village. Perhaps others found miscellaneous jobs to support their families.
One of the good things that occurred just three months before the fire, was when the Erie Railroad reached Owego. It was able to transport goods in and out of the village for re-building.
By the following year a group of prosperous men formed a stock company of $25,000 and decided a new hotel should be built on the northwest corner of Church and Front Streets. They figured it would bring in new businesses, tourists and salesmen. They began digging the cellar in March 1851 and the grand opening was held in April 1852. The hotel was named the Ahwaga House, and was four stories high. It took up half a block on Front Street and almost halfway down Church Street. People came from all over to stay there and especially for dinner and to attend various events. Numerous other stores and shops opened soon after. Most of the new buildings replaced were made of brick, rather than to rebuild them of wood and are still standing today.
WAC Corporal Margaret J. Hastings, known as the Shangri-La WAC was involved with one of the most amazing non-combat missions of WWII. She was one of only three survivors in a tragic plane crash that took twenty-one other lives on May 13, 1945 into the side of a mountain in the jungles of New Guinea.
She was stationed at a remote base in in Hollandia, New Guinea as a secretary. As a break from routine, an offer was made to the enlisted personnel to join a sightseeing flight over a hidden valley that was rumored to be a village occupied by headhunters. Of the twenty-four who boarded the C-47, the three who lived to tell it were Cpl. Hastings Lt. John McCollom and Sgt. Kenneth Decker.
Sgt. Decker suffered severe head wounds and burns and Margaret’s legs and face were burned; however, Lt. McCollom’s injuries were minor and he took charge. He was able to salvage a few supplies from the tail of the plane and led them down a treacherous trail following a stream on the side of the mountain. They could hear the roar of search planes but the jungle was too dense for them to be found until they reached an open field. There they fell exhausted onto the bright yellow tarp that McCollom pulled from the plane, and then waited.
Hearing noises like dogs barking, they saw at least 100 fierce-looking natives peering at them from behind the trees and their first thoughts were that they were the headhunters they heard about. As their chief stepped forward they smiled and tried to look as friendly as possible; and to their relief, the chief shook hands with McCollom and smiled back.
The search plane finally located them and within a day, supplies, which included a walkie-talkie was dropped to them. Very soon after that, Filipino medics were parachuted in and cared for Margaret and Decker’s wounds. Other men were also parachuted in and an elaborate camp was set up. After several weeks, when their wounds were healed enough, the whole group, plus many of the natives who helped carry the supplies, trekked more than 40 miles to a landing strip that was being constructed.
The plan was to have a glider brought in by a C-46 and then the glider would be snatched up by a C-47 transport plane to bring them safely back to Hollandia, a never-before feat and very dangerous. The C-47 had to dip as low as twenty feet from the ground to snatch the line that was connected to the glider and yank it into the sky. With the expertise and amazing ingenuity of intelligent people, the plan worked and finally, on June 28, 1945, forty-seven days after the crash, Margaret, John and Ken were safely out of the jungle.
The media first called the native village Hidden Valley, but it wasn’t long before they nicknamed it Shangri-La after James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon, probably because they romanticized the situation. They emphasized the fact that it was one pretty girl and two single men and the public eagerly read every report imagining all kinds of things.
When she got back to the United States she was assigned to go on an extensive Victory Bond tour. She gave over 200 speeches in fourteen states, meeting many celebrities, including General Eisenhower. Everyone was eager to meet her and to hear of her experiences in Shangri-La. In fact, while Margaret was there she kept copious notes in shorthand in a personal diary of day-to-day events. After she returned home, the diary was published in chapters over a period of about eighteen weeks in various newspapers all over the country.
Her hometown of Owego, N. Y. gave her a rousing welcome with a huge parade and headlines in the newspapers. Photographers snapped pictures of her every chance they could. There was talk about making a movie, but it never materialized. She was featured on radio, as well as being the lead condensed story of Reader’s Digest, Life Magazine and other publications. A comic book was even made about her adventures through the Calling All Girls magazine.
In 1946, by special invitation, she attended a reenactment of the glider snatch at Harris Hill in Elmira, N. Y. After things settled down, she enrolled in Syracuse University, but dropped out two years later. In 1949 she married Robert C. Atkinson, had two children and divorced several years later. She later worked at an administrative job at the Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, N. Y. for a number of years.
Her last public appearance was in 1974 at the National World War II Glider Pilots Association convention in Florida when she, John McCollom and Ken Decker became honorary members, and it was the last time they ever got together. Margaret died four years later of ovarian cancer at the age of sixty-four.
In 1959 the remains of the crash victims were recovered, returned to the United States and eighteen of them buried en masse at Jefferson Barracks Cemetery, St. Louis, Mo., including John McCollom’s twin brother, Robert who also died in the crash. Three of the victims were buried in other cemeteries according to family wishes.
This historical marker was made possible through the William G. Pomeroy Foundation and is the only marker in Tioga and Broome County honoring a female veteran.
Date of Installation: Friday, August 12, 2016 12 Noon
Location: 106 McMaster St., Owego, NY (Cpl. Hastings former home)
History compiled by: Emma M. Sedore, Tioga County Historian
Listed below are some of the notable women from Tioga County NY -
Tioga County's history is well documented in the various historical societies, preservation organizations, museums, libraries, schools and communities. Tioga County and her people have played important roles in regional, state, and national events.
Tioga County was once home to the Cayuga and Onondaga tribes of the Iroquois confederacy. Owego saw events from the American Revolution unfold as the contingents of the Sullivan and Clinton Armies burned the Iroquois villages in August 1779. By 1784, James McMaster, a veteran of the revolution who came through the area with the Sullivan and Clinton campaign, began to cultivate crops and trade with the Native Americans living on the banks of the Susquehanna River.
McMaster, and Amos Draper, an itinerant trader, and the first permanent white settler were soon accompanied by other pioneers in Tioga County. Samuel and William Ransom, Prince and Andrew Alden, Samuel Brown, Isaac Harris, Ebenezer Ellis, Pelatiah Pierce, James Cole, Daniel Ball, Elisha Wilson, Ezbon Jenks, and Asa Bement were just a few of the hearty pioneers who would clear the land and establish roots before 1800.
As more people settled in the area, there became a need for law and order. James McMaster would become Tioga County's first sheriff in 1791. The political boundaries of the county would fluctuate through time as the state and nation began to grow, industrialize, and diversify.
As the first half of the 19th century drew to a close, Tioga County sent men to fight the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War. It had established infrastructure consisting of roads, turnpikes, bridges, toll roads, steamboats, ferries, stagecoach lines, and the second oldest railroad in the state. County residents learned of events and news via newspapers, such as the Owego Gazette, or heard from family and friends through the mail service traveling along the Catskill Turnpike.
As the second half of the 19th century began, the winds of controversy grew stronger over sectional diversity, states rights, taxation, and slavery. After four years of bloody strife had ended in 1865, Tioga County celebrated her heroes and mourned her losses. Men from Tioga County would serve in all branches of the military during the Civil War. Many would comprise the companies of the 109th and 137th New York State Volunteers. Men such as Generals Tracy and Catlin of the 109th, and Captain Barager of the 137th. Many of these men such as Sergeant Amos Humiston would lose their lives at Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Peach Tree Creek.
With the reconstruction of the nation came the industrial boom and new ideas about commerce, society, and the rights of women. Women who had served on the home front during the war between the states such as Sarah Palmer, affectionately known as Aunt Becky by her boys of the 109th, and Esther McQuigg Morris, the first woman to hold a public office in the U.S., began to question their status in life. Vast amounts of money were being made by the Captains of Industry, or as the newly forming labor unions called them, the Robber Barons. Men like John D. Rockefeller of Richford who would create the Standard Oil Company, becoming the richest man in the world.
Still others, like Raphael Pumpelly, made contributions to the field of geology. Henry Martyn Robert would revise his Robert's Rules of Order used in parliamentary proceedings, and Thomas Collier Platt, New York State Republican Boss and later U.S. Senator, would determine who would remain in power and become the next president of the United States.
By the time Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as President of the United States after the assassination of William McKinleyin 1901, Tioga County was prospering. Men had once again answered the call of duty during theSpanish-American War in 1898, railroads spanned the country, slavery had been abolished, telephone and electric lines were being strung, the Owego Champion Wagon Works had begun building automobiles, and reunions for the veterans of the Civil War had been held on Hiawatha Island at the Hiawatha Hotel. The dawn of the 20th century would bring new challenges to the next generation.