Erastus Corning never had anything to do with glassmaking and probably never visited the town that bears his name. Corning began his business career in Troy, New York in 1808 at the age of 13 behind the counter of his uncle’s hardware store. In his work as a hardware man Corning was a dealer in all manner of iron products, from nails and stoves to farming equipment and railroad tracks. The Corning hardware store was one of the most significant businesses in the Hudson Valley by the 1830s and morphed into the Rensselaer Iron Works, which, under Corning’s guidance, installed the first Bessemer converter in the United States. Meanwhile, Corning was founding the Albany State Bank and branching into railroads which he would organize into America’s largest corporation, the New York Central. Amidst these interests Corning dabbled in politics, putting in a term as mayor of Albany and doing a stint in the New York state senate.
With his few moments of spare time Corning invested in land speculation in western New York. One place that caught his interest was timberlands along the Chemung River. With the opening of the Chemung Canal in 1833 large mills were sprouting to float logs and finished lumber out of little villages in the region. Corning was at the head of one investor group that gobbled up a village along the canal so the town was named for him. The plan was to build a railroad from the new anthracite coal lands of northeast Pennsylvania and ship it out via the canal.
With the canal and the railroads the village of Corning blossomed as a transportation center. One of the manufacturers who was attracted by the area’s cheap coal and transportation was Amory Houghton who was running the Brooklyn Flint Glass Works in, of course, Brooklyn, New York. When the people of Corning offered to put up $50,000 to his $75,000 Houghton began work on a new glass plant on June 1868 and was producing cut glass by October 22, 1868. The business was now the Corning Glass Works and the community was on its way to being “Crystal City.” Houghton left the business and the company’s new name and retired to his farm in Westchester County in 1870.
There were other industries in the hustling little town - there were firms making iron and bricks and drills and stoves but they would all pale behind the global corporation that became one with the name of the town. The face of that town would change forever in the summer of 1972 when flood waters from Hurricane Agnes wiped away businesses and factories. In the aftermath Corning has reinvented itself as an art town and tourist destination with the Corning Museum of Glass at its heart. Our walking tour will stop in on Corning and the Gaffer District but first we’ll start in a park named for a city engineer a century ago...
Steuben County Courthouse
Canfield Park at southwest corner of
Pine Street and 1st Street
Steuben County was created in 1796 out of Ontario County and named for Friedrich von Steuben, the general in the American Revolutionary War who famously brought discipline to the ragtag Colonial Army at Valley Forge. In 1853 the County was divided in two jury districts, with Corning and Bath as half shire towns. A courthouse was constructed here on a hill above the Erie Railroad at the cost of $14,000. In 1905 another division was made when Hornellsville was made the third of the shire towns. In 1902 this land, known as the Public Square, was gifted to the county and J. Foster Warner of Rochester won a design competition for a new courthouse. The resulting Neoclassical building features a full entablature supported by a pair of stout Ionic columns. The primary design consideration, however, seemed to be to do away with the “very objectionable ascent necessary to reach the present Court House.” So the moderate flight of stone steps seen today may have been what caught the building committee’s eye during the competition.
FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE COURTROOM STEPS, WITH YOUR BACK TO THE COURTHOUSE, TURN RIGHT AND WALKOVER TO THE CORNER OF PINE STREET AND 1ST STREET.
World War Memorial Library
Pine Street at First Avenue
The Corning City Club ponied up $5,000 to purchase this lot, the old Rogers property, in 1894. By 1897 they had constructed a new clubhouse with a blend of classical and colonial elements so that the club could move from its restrictive quarters in the town opera house. In 1930, when there still was only one World War, the building was outfitted as both a library and living tribute to the soldiers of the Great War from 1914 to 1918. It served as the county library until 1975 when the collection moved over to Nasser Civic Center Plaza. After standing vacant for many years the building has been rehabilitated as public housing.
First Presbyterian Church
1 East 1st Street
The first Presbyterian services were held around town in 1812 although a small wooden church would not be erected until 1832, when the congregation had reached about 100. The present stone church is the third meetinghouse to serve the Presbyterians; it was constructed in 1867 at the cost of $36,000.
CONTINUE WALKING EASTON 1ST STREET.
Christ Episcopal Church
39 East 1st Street at Cedar Street
The incorporation of Christ Church predates the incorporation of the City of Corning by seven years, 1841 to 1848. However, the congregation led a vagabond existence until 1853, meeting in other churches, a school or members’ homes. A Gothic-styled meeting house was then constructed on Walnut Street and was home until the flame-licked building was abandoned after a fire in 1889. The parish relocated into this gray stone English Gothic church in 1895. The tower bell, cast in 1871 in Troy, New York, was salvaged from the fire the original church. Some 85 stained glass windows adorn the sanctuary. Louis Comfort Tiffany came to Corning personally at the laying of the cornerstone of the church and consulted with Mrs. Amory Houghton, Jr. who donated $5,000 for Tiffany’s windows depicting the ascension of Christ.
Corning First United Methodist Church
144 Cedar Street at First Street
In 1832 Painted Post was set off as a separate circuit containing (as of 1837) Little Flatts, Painted Post, “Addison Village”, West Addison, Erwin Centre, Campbell and Tioga. In 1833 a class formed at Caton, which was set off with Corning in November 1839. Another division occurred in 1843 when Erwin, Painted Post and Campbell formed a circuit named after the latter two towns. In 1861-62, the Methodist Episcopal Church of Corning built a church which seated 700. On June 26, 1893 H. O. Dorman & Co., began tearing down the First Methodist Church, at Cedar and First streets, preparatory to erecting on the site a larger house of worship, the comer-stone of which was laid Monday, October 2, 1893. The fine Romanesque brick and terra-cotta church was built on plans by Henry Tuthill and dedicated on June 10, 1894. It cost $40,000, including the pipe organ.
TURN LEFT ON CEDAR STREET.
Rockwell Museum of Western Art
111 Cedar Street
From his office in Rochester Andrew Jacskon Warner contributed many splendid buildings to the central New York landscape in the latter half of the 1800s. Here he drew up plans for a Romanesque vision in orange brick trimmed out in terra-cotta and locally quarried limestone for Corning’s City Hall in 1893. The total price tag was less than $29,000. Bob Rockwell grew up on a cattle ranch in Colorado and attended Stanford University in California but landed in Corningat the age of 22 in 1933 helping run the family department store. He would remain until his death in 2009, sating his love of the West by amassing the greatest collection of western art east of the Mississippi River. After the old city hall was spared demolition in the 1980s the vast Rockwell collection moved here.
TURN RIGHT ON EAST MARKET STREET.
The Henkel Block
72 East Market Street
When this brick building with prominent arched Romanesque windows was constructed in 1893 it was the only five-story “skyscraper” in Corning. A water-powered elevator transported folks between floors. For many years a Food Mart operated here; today the floors above the ground story have been converted into luxury apartments.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON MARKET STREET, WALKING WEST.
45 East Market Street at Cedar Street
Henry Guernsey Tuthill was born in East Otto, New York and moved to Corning in the 1850s where his family were cabinet and furniture makers. When the Civil War erupted Tuthill organized about 60 men into Company A of the 104th New York Volunteer Infantry. He mustered into the Union Army as Captain on March8, 1862. Tuthill saw action in seven battles and was wounded in four, including losing the tips of two fingers while leading his company at Antietam. At Gettysburg Captain Tuthill was shot through the groin while defending Seminary Ridge and carried the ball in his body the rest of his life, for which he received a $30 per month pension. After the war Tuthill again worked in the woodmaking business before turning to architecture in the 1880s. He quickly became a busy architect around Corning but he used this one, erected in 1885, as his offices. He was joined in his practice in 1890 by his son Samuel Eugene. H.G. Tuthill and son, Practical and Superintending Architects soon were regarded as the best architect/builders in the Southern Tier, especially esteemed for their churches in New York and Pennsylvania.
H.G. Williams Block
21-25 East Market Street
This is another festive Victorian brick building designed by Henry Tuthill, constructed in 1887. Tuthill decorated the brick facade in terra-cotta, including a pair of small lions’ heads and an observant owl perched on the roof.
Concert Hall Block
2-6 East Market Street at Pine Street
Most of Market Street went up in flames in the summer of 1856 and this is one of the few buildings to survive the conflagration, although no one alive then would recognize it today. When it was built in 1851 the three-story building was outfitted in the Greek Revival style. The third floor was set aside as a hall for concerts, lectures and public meetings. In 1918 the Wellington Bank moved in from across the street and applied a Neoclassical appearance to the facade. In 1951 the entire third floor was sliced off and the old brick sheathed in Kentucky limestone.
First National Bank Building
5-9 East Market Street at Pine Street
Franklin N. Drake began his career as a clerk in a drug store and eventually purchased timber and coal lands that blossomed into the Bloss Coal Mining and Railroad Company. He moved to Corning in 1867 and established the First National Bank of Corning in 1882. In 1910 the bank purchased this property that had been the Drake Block and home of the J.M. Greig department store. The block was given a rich Beaux Arts makeover in brick and stone and named the First National Bank Building. Be certain to walk around the back on Centerway Square and see the decorative treatment given the drive-thru windows.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK INTO CENTERWAY SQUARE.
Market Street at Pine Street
When Pine Street was closed to vehicular traffic in 1988 this plaza was outfitted with brick pavers, wrought iron fixtures and period lighting. The restored stone clock tower was erected in 1883 as a memorial to Erastus Corning. Housing a bell that weighs 1,400 pounds, the 50-foot high tower sports a water spout at the base, a souvenir of its days as a watering hole for town horses.
RETURN TO MARKET STREET AND TURN RIGHT, CONTINUING TO TRAVEL WEST.
2 West Market Street
This wonderfully decorated Victorian Gothic brick building dates to the 1880s. It boasts a cast iron facade for the storefronts along the ground floor.
17 West Market Street
It is believed that the Little Princess Theatre operated here in the 1800s but for most of its life this Neo-Colonial two-story building has done retail duty. On July 31st, 2009 the refurbishedPalace opened as an intimate first-run movie house.
23 West Market Street
Now a training center, this was the location of Rockwell’s, the town’s major department store until 1991. In addition to the merchandise customers recall the displays of Bob Rockwell’s western art and antique toys and a pneumatic tube system that would whisk a cylinder containing the purchase slip to the business office for recording and return with a sales receipt enclosed.
34-36 West Market Street
When this three-story commercial block opened in 1895 it housed a maker of sweets, a purveyor of cigars, a bootmaker and a dance hall upstairs. Lloyd Sprague hung out his insurance shingle in 1921 and remained active in the business until his death in 1992 at the age of 98. His son Ted and Ted’s wife Mary Ann were in the forefront of historic preservation along Market Street and this Romanesque brick building, trimmed in sandstone and terra cotta, was one of the first properties to be restored.
The Club House
51-59 West Market Street at Walnut Street
This simple three-story brick building was constructed by Stephen Thurston Hayt in 1879 for his Southern Tier Roller Mill. Hayt, from Ithaca, had worked in New York politics as a member of the state senate and as Canal Commissioner before coming to Corning to grind flour. Hayt would die in 1907 and in 1926 the Corning Glass Works bought the building. It was converted into a club house for recreational activities and in the 1950s used as an office building. The old mill proved its mettle in the harrowing aftermath of Hurricane Agnes when it served as the corporate headquarters for the Corning Glass Works and a radio transmitter rigged on the top floor was the sole link to the outside world.
TURN RIGHT ON WALNUT STREET INTO THE CORNING INCORPORATED COMPLEX.
Corning Glass Works Riverfront Plaza Arch
1 Riverfront Plaza at Walnut Street
After Corning Glass Works changed its name to Corning Incorporated in 1989 this memorial arch was commissioned. The firm of Welliver McGuire incorporated a mosaic of iridescent gold Aurene art glass into the arch that was designed to mimic the company’s former headquarters constructed in 1925. The massive panels, each 52 inches wide and 11 feet tall were created by Frederick Carder, who founded Steuben Glass in 1903 with Thomas G. Hawkes and invented the Aurene glassmaking process in 1905. Carder remained Corning’s design director until he retired in 1959 at the age of 96. To bring the priceless panels to the arch the company developed moving techniques never before tried. In addition to Carder’s glass the classical arch is embellished with decorative brickwork, art glass and terra cotta detailing.
TURN LEFT AND WALK ACROSS THE CORNING GROUNDS OR DOWN AURENE LANE TOWARDS THE MAIN CORNING PARKING LOT AT THE END OF CHESTNUT STREET.
Little Joe Tower
Corning Glass Works at Chestnut Street
This landmark tower - 196 feet high - was used by Corning glassmakers in the production of thermometer tubing. Hot glass was pulled by cable to the top, creating a continuous tube. It was then cooled and cut to length. “Little Joe” is said to have been one of the skilled technicians who spent his days perfecting the technique known as “vertical draw.”
TURN LEFT ON CHESTNUT STREET AND WALK OUT TO MARKET STREET. TURN LEFT.
73-79 West Market Street
Irish-born Thomas Gibbons Hawkes came to New York at the age of 17 in 1863, determined to “see the world.” By 1870 he was running a shop in the Corning Glass Works and married a local girl in 1876. Hawkes was determined to start his own shop and in 1882 was granted his first patent for cut glass, a pattern later called “Russian.” That same year Stephen Hayt constructed another building near his flour mill and outfitted the top two floors with cutting frames for Hawkes Rich Cut Glass Company. The firm would remain here until 1916 and continue producing crystal until 1964 when it was acquired by Tiffin Art Glass Company. The building is now home to Vitrix Hot Glass Studio, although the Hawkes legacy is proudly remembered by a painted banner across the facade.
TURN LEFT ON WALNUT STREET.
United States Post Office
129 Walnut Street
James Knox Taylor was Supervising Architect of the United States Department of the Treasury from 1897 to 1912 and his office oversaw the construction of hundreds of Neoclassical buildings throughout the United States, including a number of post offices in New York State. This one was built of pressed yellow brick on top of a granite foundation in 1908-1909. The entrance pediment features elaborate terra cotta decoration. Many of the federal post offices from that era have been abandoned but the Corning facility is still handling mail 100 years later.
Frank B. Hower Scottish Rite Cathedral
146 Walnut Street at 1st Street
“Scotch Masonry” dips its roots back into the 1700s but the 33-degree system of the Order in America dates to May 31, 1801. This building, New York’s only freestanding purpose-built Scottish Rite Cathedral, was constructed in 1921, funded largely by a $40,000 gift from Frank B. Hower, an early promoter of the automobile in America. Architect James Walker imbued the brick cathedral with moorish design elements; it served the Masons until it was sold and more than 4,000 items, including swords, masonic aprons and historic artwork put up for auction in 2005.
CONTINUE TO CANFIELD PARK AND THE BEGINNING OF THE TOUR.