A few days ago, my wife and I traveled to Hammondsport, NY for our lunch. Now that the tourist season has ended and the weekend residents of the many nearby cottages along Keuka Lake have departed, the little town goes back to sleep much like the other small villages located along the Finger Lakes.
We ate our lunch in the Park Inn Hotel which is located along Main Street just across from the park. The Park Inn Hotel is celebrating their 150th year on New Year’s Eve having opened for business in 1861, the first year of the Civil War. As I looked out the window of the Park Inn, I couldn’t help but wonder what this little town was like in those days and I wondered if the First Presbyterian Church just up the street was built by then.
On the wall in the Park Inn tavern, there is wall mural depicting Glenn Curtiss’s first flight. In 1878, just 13 years after the end of the Civil War, Glenn Hammond Curtiss was born to Frank and Lua Andrews Curtiss in the village of Hammondsport, NY (click here). His father was a harness maker and died when Glenn was 4 years old. At 6 years old, his younger sister Rutha was stricken with meningitis and she became deaf. Lua moved the family to Rochester, NY so Rutha could attend a school for the deaf. Glenn Curtiss’s formal education ended at the age of 8 years. He went to work at Eastman Kodak to help support the family and invented a stencil machine. He became a Western Union bicycle messenger, and in 1902 Curtiss began to manufacture 1 cylinder motorcycles. In 1907 he set the unofficial world speed record of 136.36 mph on a V8 motorcycle – a record which stood until his death in 1930.
If you stop in the little village of Hammondsport, there’s scant evidence of Glenn Curtiss and his wonderful achievements in the village today. Yes, the Glenn Curtiss museum is located just outside the village off route 54. It’s as if the people of Hammondsport want to forget their most prominent son. All around the Finger Lakes, you will find people who lived in the region and enabled our modern way of life both socially and economically. I keep hoping that some new child will be born in the Finger Lakes with a burning desire to create a better life for him or herself. And that the spirit of challenge and invention is once again rekindled in this region. Why in Hammondsport, NY? Why not?
This blog is dedicated to my friend James Ballus, CEO of Hidden Valley Electronics, Apalachin, NY. The Southern Tier of New York State used to be a hot bed of electronic manufacturing with companies like IBM, GE, Link, and Singer-Link. All are gone now.
You’re right that there has been scant evidence of Glenn Curtiss other than the Curtiss Museum. But thanks to a 2-year effort by Museum Executive Director Trafford Doherty, the Glenn Curtiss Heritage Trail was completed last fall. There are now informational markers about Curtiss and his accomplishments at key locations around Hammondsport. A free map of the markers is available at the Museum. We all hope this will spark renewed interest in Curtiss among both residents and visitors.
Thank you Sarah. And I am from Ohio (Wright Brothers) but didn’t know anything about Glenn Curtiss until I moved to the Finger Lakes 12 years ago. I didn’t know about the Glenn Curtiss Hertiage Trail. I have visited the museum perhaps a half dozen times, and always learn something new. To put all of this in perspective, Glenn Curtiss set his record run on his V8 powered motorcycle in 1907 – the year that my father was born! There should be a statue in the village park of Glenn Curtiss and signs as you turn off route 54 proclaiming Hammondsport, “Home of Glenn Curtiss, Father of Modern Aviation”.