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1876 - Celebrating the Centennial in Elmira

A BiCentennial Postcard 

Article: The Centennial of the U.S. 1876
Township: Town of Elmira 
Article by Helen Mac Dougall Samson (1909-1995) 1976
Sent in by Walt Samson
Retyped by Debbie Hansen
Postcard from Joyce's Collection
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APRIL 15, 1976




The Bicentennial is being celebrated all over the country in so many different ways. A German friend writes, "Two hundred years of freedom. How you all must be celebrating that." But this one isn’t the first celebration of the Revolution. The first one, the Centennial was a happy occasion for the citizens of 1876 and the Elmira Daily Gazette did justice to the goings on when twelve o’clock ushered in the great year on January first.

The headlines, widely spaced down the page followed the familiar eagle and the scroll with E Pluribus Unum. There were – Blazing Bonfires, Roaring of Cannons, Clanging of Bells, Midnight Mass Meeting, Everyone Out, Whole City Illuminated. They ended with a tired, What a Time! What a Time!

At the request of Mayor Smith of Elmira, all church bells were rung at twelve o’clock on the 31st and the five alarm bell added to the din. The mayor had been late in making plans for the celebration, calling a meeting of a committee only a few days before the event. He could have been forgiven as he had no previous experience in planning centennial observations. The noise making seemed to grow as the night wore on. Walker’s Battery turned out and marched with a great crowd that joined them. A hundred guns were fired on the stroke of midnight and the Rolling Mill’s steam whistle added a shrill voice. Four locomotives in the yards were fired up so they could add their whistles. The "Camel-back," a switch engine was swathed in red, white and blue lights and was run repeatedly at a snail’s pace, its whistle screaming and the bell clanging, over the rails between Water Street and the depot. Torpedos were tossed into the crowd. The 110th Battalion marched up one street and down another and finally stopped in front of Park Church and fired a salute. At once, the great church was lighted from the dome to the first floor.

All the street cars were decorated with flats and bunting. They were also run up and down the tracks for much of the night. People from a distance were concerned at the noise and lights in the city and were not sure that some calamity had not occurred.

All of the celebration was not noise and confusion. The churches proclaimed a week of prayer and many were the sermons preached on the seriousness of the event.

Elsewhere in the nation, serious people were taking stock of the progress of one hundred years of freedom. The great Fair in Philadelphia was planned around patriotic themes. Progress, as amazing as the walk on the moon in this century, was proudly proclaimed. The west was newly conquered and Custer’s defeat the year before was the last battle of any consequence with the Indians. Chicago was rebuilding from the fire of 1871. The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill had resulted in many a disappointed would be miner’s return to his home. It was less than ten years since the end of the War Between the States and the death of Lincoln.

In this year, Bell would patent the telephone and the Sons of the American Revolution would select old Fraunce’s Tavern in New York as the place to organize. The W.C.T.U. had beat them by two years and were busily at work trying to close other taverns.

Perhaps the oddest event of this historic year was the selection of Rutherford B. Hayes as President. The electoral vote had selected his opponent but disclosures of several fraudulent votes and proof of dishonesty had thrown the selection to Congress and they decided on Hayes as the man. Did we have an unelected president in 1876?

We haven’t run many bells or paraded the army divisions as much in this year of celebration but, hopefully the knowledge of the events of two hundred years ago will be reviewed and understood and a little old fashioned patriotism encouraged.

Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
Tri-County Communities
Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA
1879 - Letter Celebrating the Centennial at Newtown
On September 1, 1879 Kate (Catherine) Bachman wrote a letter to Theresa Morehouse Johns.  At the end of the letter her husband Martin V.B. Bachman ( a lawyer in Horseheads who had served in the Civil War) wrote some personal items and then recounted the following tale of the centennial celebration at Newtown battlefield.  I thought this would be very interesting to many.

… We had a grand centennial celebration over the battle of Newtown and dedicated a monument to General John Sullivan and the other generals and the officers and soldiers generally who fought on our side but we left the poor Indians that fell on the occasion (of the battle I mean) with no monument but  the trees that grow upon their graves. Of the big guns here were General Sherman, General Slocum and several other smaller generals, the Governors of N.Y., Pa. & Vt. with their respective military staffs.  The procession and most of the ceremonies were a fizzle but the crowd and the dust were a success.  My wife did not go but I met with the lodge and marched up the mountain and marched down again and was covered with dust.  I got back to Wellsburgh and then to Elmira and home, got the dust off and my supper and went to E. (Elmira) again and saw the fireworks which were grand.  I got home at midnight.  If I don’t forget it I will send you a paper with all the ?, speeches and an account of the ball. 

Submitted by Louise Johns Neu  January 13, 2006

Postcard of the original Sullivan's Monument from Joyce's Collection
Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA

Published On Tri-Counties Site On 20 DEC 2002
By Joyce M. Tice
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