Elmira, New York
Known as “The Queen City” of New York’s Southern Tier region, Elmira possesses all the small-town charm expected from a community so steeped in history and culture.
No matter the season, Elmira is alive with activity. The town is home to quaint shops and unique boutiques as well as restaurants and eateries to satisfy every taste bud. The community also plays host to annual and seasonal activities, like the Elmira Jazz Festival, farmers’ markets, the Alive After 5 summer concert series, Elmira’s Holiday Parade, home tours and more.
Elmira is the southern gateway to New York’s Finger Lakes, a region recognized for its extraordinary wine and world-renowned Rieslings. In addition to the more than 100 wineries and vineyards that call the Finger Lakes home, the area provides an abundance of attractions for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, including impressive state parks, remarkable waterfalls, stunning vistas and bucolic scenery. The Chemung River, which snakes its way past Elmira, offers opportunities for water recreation, and a number of local parks – including Tanglewood Nature Center, ranked No. 1 on Best Things New York’s list of best nature centers in the state – are perfect places to hike, bike, snowshoe and more. For those seeking to hit the links, Elmira is home to several golf courses; the Mark Twain Golf Course ranked as the No. 1 Best Kept Secret by Golf Digest.
Family fun is also available in Elmira. With a vintage atmosphere, Harris Hill Amusement Park offers a variety of activities like children’s rides, miniature golf, picnic areas and a pool. Eldridge Park, meanwhile, features paddle boat rides and dragon boat trips as well as an 1890s restored Looff Carousel.
The region’s topography makes Harris Hill, just west of Elmira, the ultimate site for motorless glider flight. Indeed, Elmira is internationally recognized as the National Soaring Capital of America and is home to the National Soaring Museum. Not only can visitors learn about the history of gliding, but they can experience it for themselves to gain a spectacular view of Elmira, Chemung County and the entire Finger Lakes region. Those looking for a faster-paced type of thrill can witness heart-pounding motorsports action at the historic Watkins Glen International road course just a short drive north of Elmira.
Culture and history also have their place in Elmira. The Clemens Center, home to the restored Vaudevillian-era Powers Theater, hosts everything from Broadway shows and comedy performances to contemporary concerts and family friendly entertainment. The Arnot Art Museum, in the heart of Elmira, is home to 17th, 18th and 19th century European art, 19th and 20th century American art, and collections of Asian and Egyptian artifacts. The Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate museum of American art in nearby Corning, is described by Frommer’s as “one of the best-designed small museums in the Northeast.” The Corning Museum of Glass features more than 50,000 glass objects in its collections and provides visitors a glimpse into the history, art and technology of glass making.
History buffs will enjoy learning about the region’s past while perusing more than 20,000 artifacts at the Chemung Valley History Museum. Elmira’s military history is on display at Newtown Battlefield State Park, site of a 1779 Revolutionary War clash, and at Elmira Civil War Prison Camp where nearly 3,000 Confederate prisoners of war died during imprisonment. Elmira played an important role in the Underground Railroad, and the town also boasts New York’s highest concentration of Victorian-era homes, on display in the Near Westside Historic District.
Several prominent individuals have called Elmira home over the years, including fashion mogul Tommy Hilfiger; Ernie Davis, the first African American athlete to win the Heisman Trophy; Eileen Collins, NASA’s first female shuttle pilot; director and producer Hal Roach, best known for producing the Laurel and Hardy comedies; and television journalist Brian Williams. Elmira’s best-known citizen, however, is renowned American author Mark Twain. Twain, who summered in Elmira for more than 20 years, described the area as “a foretaste of heaven” and wrote some of his most beloved literary works like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from his study overlooking the picturesque Chemung River Valley.
Twain’s legacy is celebrated at a number of Chemung County attractions. Twain’s study, on the campus of Elmira College, has been named the “No. 1 Literary Attraction in America” by USA Today, and his gravesite in Woodlawn Cemetery draws visitors throughout the year. The Trolley Into Twain Country trolley tour highlights the author’s various connections to the area.