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  • Diane Janowski

Mark Twain Walking Around

By Diane Janowski, Elmira City Historian



Historians sometimes lie awake at night, thinking about things. I spent several nights this week thinking about Mark Twain, or as we called him in Elmira, Samuel Clemens. Sam, his wife Olivia (Livy), and his family spent twenty summers at Quarry Farm, just up East Hill. Starting in 1871 and ending in 1903, although I doubt he traversed the hill in the later years.

Elmira, New York
Looking down Watercure Hill Road from the Gleason’s Watercure. Photo courtesy of Diane Janowski.


I thought about what his wife might have sent him to the store to get. Butter, eggs, milk, or cereal? I decided that Quarry Farm was a working farm, so they had their milk and butter, as did every other farm. It probably had its chickens, so there was no need to go out for more eggs. Not to mention, they had an excellent cook, Katy Leary, and she probably had charge of the groceries or at least ordered the groceries. And they were probably delivered, so Sam really wouldn’t have had to pick up any food items.


Then I thought, what would Sam have needed from the hardware store? Sandpaper, screws, nails? No, Quarry Farm already had a handyman, John Lewis, who probably bought whatever was needed at the farm.


Michelle Cotton, formerly of the Chemung County Historical Society, wrote a book called “Mark Twain’s Elmira” that recalled all the stores and places in Elmira during Sam’s time. But would he have gone to all those places? I don’t think so, and I don’t think he would have a reason to shop downtown. He traveled the world, and I don’t think he bought his clothes here. He may have purchased paper, pens, and pencils. So probably yes to an office supply store. He liked cigars, so perhaps a tobacco shop.


We do know that Sam enjoyed an occasional cocktail after work. That is true. And he enjoyed the company of others, especially the ones down at Klapproth’s tavern on Lake Street. The building was still there in my childhood.


Then I thought about how Sam would have gotten to Klapproth’s from Quarry Farm. According to the route Google Maps mapped for me, it is 2.4 miles and a 48-minute walking trip. But is that the route he took? Might he have come down my street?


So, Sam would have left Quarry Farm probably in his white linen suit and leather-soled shoes and walked down the hill past the Gleason Watercure on the right and Thomas K. Beecher’s house on the left. Don’t forget it is a steep hill where he would come down. Quarry Farm’s altitude is 1480 feet; downtown Elmira is 856 feet. So, Sam would descend and ascend 624 feet on a round trip in slippery-soled leather shoes. The ascension part was after having a drink or two.


At the bottom of the hill, would he have zigged and zagged through the streets of the Eastside as Google Maps suggests? Or did he turn left on Tuttle Avenue, then right on East Church Street, and come up straight? Or did he follow the Junction Canal to Lake Street? He might have followed the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western tracks, but that railroad company didn’t come to Elmira until after Sam’s time.


Klapproth’s tavern was located at 162 Lake Street, the site of today’s Five-Star bank. The tavern was considered a fine place for gentlemen; even the Rev. Thomas K. Beecher checked in occasionally for a pint. Klapproth’s also sold tobacco products, making it a two-in-one stop for Sam.


So, then I thought about Sam getting home. Did he walk back the 2.4 miles, including a steep climb after a drink or two? Or perhaps a nice Samaritan with a buggy drove him at least partway home? This we will never know.


Klapproth’s tavern burned in a fire in February 1968. Some artifacts remain in the possession of Elmira College’s Center for Mark Twain Studies.


Sam Clemens came to Elmira for good in April 1910. He is buried with his family at Woodlawn Cemetery.








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