Hidden Landmarks: Horseheads Historical Society

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HORSEHEADS, N.Y. (WETM) – The Horseheads Historical Society has a lot of history to tell.

In 1866 Horseheads citizens had the pleasure of witnessing the completion of one of the best and most substantial brick depots in this section of the country and was built from solid brick.

Interestingly, Horseheads was home to no less than four passenger depots. The Pennsylvania, Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, Lehigh Valley and Erie Railroads all had depots within a short radius of one another.

The Pennsylvania Railroad depot, located along what was known as the “Elmira Branch” of the PRR, is the only one standing. Passenger service along the Williamsport, PA to Canandauguia, NY line ended on January 2, 1956.

In the fall of 1995, the depot was purchased by the Horseheads Historical Society for preservation and use as a museum.

It was officially opened on September 18, 1999.

Horseheads remained a small agricultural community until the construction of the Chemung Canal began in 1829. The village prospered during the three years of construction and the population nearly doubled. Horseheads became an industrial center, particularly known for its brick manufacturing. Mr. Albright founded the first brick factory, Westlake Brickyard, in 1840.

Horseheads was also known for its celery production. In 1887, W.H. Smith established the Horseheads Celery Company which shipped locally-grown celery and other produce all along the east coast from Maine to Florida. The village was also home to woolen factories, mills, foundries, and tanneries.

Eugene Zimmerman, known as “Zim,” was a nationally renowned caricaturist and resident of Horseheads. He was the president of the American Association for Cartoonists and Caricaturists and created illustrated correspondence course textbooks in cartooning, comic art, and caricature that were used across the United States. He created ads that were used in the local area and cartooned and lampooned prominent citizens in books such as A Foolish History of Horseheads. Zim also designed the bandstand in Teal Park, which was dedicated on September 15, 1910. His daughter, Laura, donated his house and its contents to the Horseheads Historical Society upon her death in 1980.

Horseheads has another essential legacy to Chemung County that doesn’t receive enough attention. It is easy to forget that slightly over 200 years ago, Elmira, Horseheads, Corning, the Finger Lakes, was the frontier. Travel was dangerous, it was the edge of the world. In this place early American settlers sowed the seeds of modern civilization and built a new world. And this world was built of brick.

In 1858 Horseheads was producing 6.5 million bricks per year – shipped all over the country by rail. In Post World War Two, they were up to 2 million bricks a month.

The brick plant closed in the mid-1960s. Bricks in the 1800’s and early 1900’s were the essential building blocks of the world. Houses, Municipal buildings, the post office, schools, the very streets we walked on all brick.

The bricks that came from Horseheads, New York helped build America.

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