Hidden Landmarks: John W. Jones Museum

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ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – The John W. Jones Museum is rich in history.

The building is relatively a new museum in Elmira. The Museum and grounds are managed and maintained by a voluntary board and donations.

Currently, you can visit during the summer weekends but with more volunteer support, the schedule can be expanded.

On July 5, 1844, John W. Jones crossed a toll bridge into Elmira, New York and once in Elmira, Jones found employment.

Through his hard work, Jones quickly became an important member of the local community. In 1847, he became the church officer or employee who takes care of the church property of the First Baptist Church in Elmira, he was the caretaker of the church’s cemetery which was a position he held for 42 years.

Jones also had a side-job, he was one of the most important conductors for the underground railroad.

Jones arranged transportation for fugitive slaves on the baggage car of the Williamsport & Elmira Railroad. Through his 4 am “Freedom Baggage Car,” Jones helped hundreds of fugitive slaves escape to freedom across the border in Canada. Ultimately he helped 800 fugitives from slavery to freedom over the course of nine years.

In 1864, the Federal Government opened the Elmira Prison Camp and contracted Jones to bury the dead Confederate soldiers from the camp.

Between the summers of 1864 and 1865, nearly 3,000 Confederate prisoners died at the Civil War prison camp in Elmira.

Jones buried nearly 3,000 Confederate soldiers in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Unlike many other prison camps in the North and South where little care was usually taken with prisoner burials. Jones took extremely detailed records of where each soldier was buried, and took great care in individually burying each man.

Jones also provided each grave with a small wooden headstone.

Jones’s effort to give each soldier an individual grave, as well as his meticulous record-keeping, was a big part of why the federal government designated the P.O.W. portion of Woodlawn a “National Cemetery” in 1877.

In fact, when representatives of the Daughters of the Confederacy came to Elmira at the turn of the century to consider repatriating the remains, Jones’s handiwork convinced them to touch not a blade of grass.

There are lessons that John W. Jones is still waiting to teach us, we just need to listen a little closely.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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