Mark Twain wrote many of his most beloved works, including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in Elmira, New York while spending summers at Quarry Farm with his family.
Today, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies is responsible for the Octagonal Study where Twain wrote (and now located on the Elmira College campus), as well as the Quarry Farm property, where the Clemens family spent more than twenty summers.
We are also committed to promoting the unique history of the city and region which Twain chose to make both his writing retreat and permanent resting place. Below you will find a collection of resources that explore this rich history.
The Gospel of Revolt in Elmira
As a resident of Elmira, Mark Twain would come in contact with stationmasters and conductors on the Underground Railroad, Women’s Rights activists, radical theologians, prison reformists, and philanthrocapitalists. Many prominent citizens from Elmira were on the cutting edge of the political and social movements which came to define U.S. history during Twain’s lifetime. Our resident scholar, Dr. Matt Seybold, explores the “gospel of revolt” in Elmira in the following:
C19: America In The Nineteenth Century Podcast (Also Available via The American Vandal Podcast Feed)
In this episode of the podcast hosted by The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, Dr. Seybold provides an audio-tour of Park Church, Woodlawn Cemetery, and other important Elmira landmarks with the aid of Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated actor, Hal Holbrook.
In this essay, delivered on the 150th anniversary of Twain’s first visit to Elmira, Dr. Seybold explores the community of which Twain became a part through its residents, many of whom came together for a Dickens-themed costume party in 1905.
This 15-minute mini-documentary was produced for 2021 Summer Orientation at Elmira College. It offers a concise introduction to the historical connections between Mark Twain, his extended family, and the Elmira community.
Jillian Spivey Caddell tells the history of a vital member of Elmira’s Underground Railroad community, John W. Jones. Born into slavery, Jones escaped and proceeded to assist in the freedom of over 800 people. During the Civil War, Jones meticulously buried hundreds of Confederate soldiers at Elmira’ Woodlawn National Cemetery.
Thanks to the Ohio History Connection and the Chemung County Historical Society, we are able to share some letters written by Susan Crane and John W. Jones to a historian working on a book about the Underground Railroad.
Dwane Eutsey discusses the life of one of Elmira’s most famous historical figures, Thomas. K. Beecher. Mark Twain was profoundly impressed with this man of faith and long time leader of The Park Church
First produced by Robert D. Jerome and Herbert A. Wisbey in 1977, then substantially revised by CMTS Director Barbara Snedecor, Mark Twain in Elmira contains both primary and secondary sources, photographs, and various appendices related to Twain’s life in Elmira.
The Courtship of Sam & Livy
Sam Clemens fell hard of Livy Langdon. He pursued her despite several initial rejections. They were eventually married in Elmira on February 2nd, 1870. Together, they would endure the loss of two children, a bankruptcy, and much other adversity, but would remain mutually adoring spouses until Livy’s death in 1904.
Susan K. Harris, author of The Courtship of Olivia Langdon & Mark Twain, provides a spirited summary of their romance on the occasion of their 150th Wedding Anniversary.
Matt Seybold focuses on a holiday letter Twain wrote to his fiancé in which he makes a portentous promise.
A brief summary of Twain’s description of the wedding in his Autobiography also features a high-quality image of the marriage certificate courtesy of Chemung County Historical Society.
An account of the wedding published in the Cleveland Herald.
150 Years Ago Mark Twain Celebrated New Years Eve By Debating How Drunk He Had Been During The Preceding Year & Listening to Charles Dickens Read David Copperfield With His Future Wife
Dr. Seybold’s account of Sam and Livy’s first date.
A Virtual Tour of Mark Twain’s Elmira
The Center for Mark Twain Studies creates and hosts resources to help digital visitors explore the community of Elmira.
This interactive map introduces a series of landmarks and community members affiliated with Twain and his extended family.
Mark Twain and most of his extended family are buried in the Langdon-Clemens plot at Woodlawn Cemetery. The Center for Mark Twain Studies has created a geo-located map of Woodlawn which also features short bios of many of the prominent Elmirans buried there.
The Center for Mark Twain Studies has digitized this copy of a rare manuscript which circulated in the 1930s and features firsthand accounts of the social culture of Elmira during Twain’s life. Matt Seybold provides a detailed discussion of the manuscripts authors and subjects.
We published a 2017 talk by Thomas Reigstad which traces the development of Jervis Langdon’s sometimes controversial company, the headquarters of which was located in downtown Elmira.
In his introduction to a 2019 performance of “Mark Twain’s Music Box” at the Park Church, Dr. Seybold provides an overview of religious institution which the Langdon family founded.
The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies is known and respected world-wide as one of the premier sites for the research and study of Mark Twain. The Center was established in 1983, with the gift of Quarry Farm to the College from the Langdon family, the in-laws of Mark Twain. This gift followed a long tradition of associations between Mark Twain, the Langdon family, and Elmira College.
Emancipation Day, 1880 (Frederick Douglass in Elmira)
On August 3rd, 1880, the Black community of the Southern Tier, potentially as many as 15,000 strong, gathered in Elmira to celebrate Emancipation. The event was scheduled on the anniversary of the adoption of the British Abolition Act in the West Indies, and the festivities included religious services, banquets, picnics, military balls, and a parade which ended at Hoffman’s Grove (now Grove Park) where the keynote speaker, Frederick Douglass, addressed the crowd for two hours.
In 2021, Matt Seybold reconstructed Frederick Douglass’s speech from the original manuscript at the Library of Congress and newspaper transcriptions based on missing portions of the manuscript. You can read the speech and view the original sources here.
Was Mark Twain in the audience for Douglass’s speech? Dr. Seybold assembles evidence from variety of archives while also surveying the Douglass-Twain relationship which dates back at least to 1869, as well as Douglass’s relationship with the Langdon family, which dates back to when he was a fugitive.
The 2021 Emancipation Week installment of the Park Church lecture series by Jill Spivey Caddell deals with the challenges of historicizing Elmira through the figures of Twain, Douglass, and John W. Jones, who was the President of the Emancipation Day organizing committee in 1880.
When he visited Elmira in 1880, Douglass had a recent history of conflict with the city’s only daily newspaper. Yet somehow the editor of that paper ended up with part of the manuscript of Douglass’s Emancipation Day speech. Matt Seybold tries to unravel this mystery.
A special 2021 Emancipation Week episode of The American Vandal Podcast brings together three scholars of 19th-century U.S. literature, all of whom have deep ties to the Southern Tier, to talk about the peculiar culture of the place Douglass, in his Emancipation Day speech, calls “home.”
We have devoted a separate page to a concise history of Quarry Farm. However, this evolving history can be explored in greater detail through the following resources.
While Quarry Farm remains an active residence, reserved for the production of Twain scholarship, with the help of SmallTown360 we have created a virtual tour of the entire house, as well as the grounds and the Langdon-Clemens gravesite.
In August 1877, a Black tenant farmer, saved several members of the extended family from a runaway carriage incident. Mark Twain was among the witnesses of this act of heroism and Lewis thereafter became one of his favorite local interlocutors, as well as a regular presence at Quarry Farm. In this essay from two scholars at the Mark Twain Project, we see how Twain first framed the story of Lewis’s introduction to the family for two sets of faraway friends.
As part of his series of occasional dispatches, Caretaker Steve Webb does his own accounting of the John T. Lewis legend, taking into consideration his own extensive experience with East Hill.
Matt Seybold reverse engineers the recipes which went into a Thanksgiving menu created by Susan Crane in 1897.
Frances Millard traces the provenance and restoration of a carpet in the dining room which is older than the State of California.
Led by Dr. Heidi Dierckx, students unearthed several artifacts from the era when the site was a working dairy farm.
History of the Mark Twain Study
Susan and Theodore Crane surprised their brother-in-law Samuel L. Clemens with this study in 1874. It was placed about 100 yards from the main
house at Quarry Farm on a knoll overlooking the Chemung River Valley. In this octagonal building, Mark Twain wrote major portions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Prince and the Pauper, A Tramp Abroad, and many short pieces.
In 1952, the Mark Twain Study was moved from Quarry Farm to the Elmira College campus. The Study is staffed by trained student guides daily throughout the summer and by appointment in the off-season.