Mark Twain wrote many of his most beloved works in Elmira, New York while spending summers at Quarry Farm with his family.
Mark Twain’s connection to Elmira is through the Langdon family. Today, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies takes care of Quarry Farm, where he stayed during twenty of his summers, and the Octagonal Study where he did his writing.
Meeting Charley Langdon
In 1867, Samuel Clemens secured funding from the Alta California newspaper to travel to the Holy Land and write about his journey. On June 8th, Clemens, who was by then already known by his “Mark Twain” pen name, left New York City aboard a steamship named Quaker City. The series of letters he wrote between then and his return on November 19th, were later immortalized in 1869 as Mark Twain’s first book The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress. This hugely successful work brought Clemens fame and fortune, and was the best selling of his books during his lifetime.
The Holy Land trip was also significant for Samuel Clemens because it was aboard the Quaker City that he met Charles Langdon, the brother of Clemens’ future wife. The Langdons were a wealthy Elmira family, and the eighteen year old “Charley” Langdon had been sent by his father Jervis to the Mediterranean in order to gain worldly perspective. Despite the age difference between Charley and the thirty-one year old Sam Clemens, the two became friends. One day aboard the Quaker City, Charley Langdon felt compelled by homesickness to show Clemens a miniature portrait of his sister Olivia.
After the Quaker City returned to New York, Charles Langdon introduced Samuel Clemens to his father and sister in person. As the story goes, Clemens fell in love with Olivia at that first meeting. Clemens travelled to the West Coast for business soon after, but in August of 1868 followed up on an invitation to visit the Langdon family, arriving in Elmira by train. He became smitten with “Livy,” and, after a convenient but not at all serious carriage accident, ended up staying three weeks instead of one.
Samuel Clemens and Olivia Langdon were married in Elmira in 1870. Although they moved to Buffalo, New York before eventually settling in Hartford, Connecticut, the Clemens spent their summers in Elmira at Quarry Farm. It was during these peaceful summers in his study that much of the work of Mark Twain was written.
Elmira College Connection
Elmira College has a unique legacy and association with Mark Twain and his family. Founded in 1855, the college is the oldest college still in existence which granted male-equivalent degrees to women. Mark Twain’s father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, was a member of the first Board of Trustees. Mark Twain’s wife, Olivia Langdon Clemens, was a member of the Class of 1864, and later belonged to the Elmira College Alumnae Club of New York City.
Much later, the Clemens’ niece Dr. Ida Langdon became a Professor of English Literature at the College where she taught for twenty years.
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.
Visit the Mark Twain Study
If you are interested in the life and writings of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, consider a summer visit to his octagonal writing building – now called the Mark Twain Study.
The Mark Twain Study, still on the campus of Elmira College, is free to visit and open to the public during the summer months. The Study is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day every year: Monday through Friday, 10:00 am – 4:30 pm (Closed for Elmira College holidays). Currently both the Study and Exhibit are closed for renovations.
If using GPS to locate the Study, the College address is: One Park Place, Elmira, NY 14901.
The Mark Twain Exhibit
Next to the Mark Twain Study is Elmira College’s recently renovated Cowles Hall. In this historic building is a Mark Twain Exhibit that houses photographs, stereoscopic views, and memorabilia from the summers Mark Twain and his family spent in Elmira. The Exhibit also contains association furniture and clothing. Trained student guides are on hand to speak with visitors daily throughout the summer and by appointment in the off-season about Elmira’s unique place in Mark Twain’s life.
The Exhibit has the same hours as the Study.
The Mark Twain Statue
The statue was a gift of the Elmira College Class of 1934, who have a long standing interest in Mark Twain and the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Made of bronze, the statue weighs 376 pounds. From the base to the top of the structure, it is 12 feet high, which is two fathoms or, as riverboat pilots would say, mark twain. The statue was created by Gary Weisman of Roseville, Pennsylvania.
The Olivia Langdon Statue
Visitors to Elmira College’s campus will also find a statue of Olivia Langdon near that of Mark Twain. The statue was a gift of the Elmira College Class of 2008. Made of bronze, the statue weighs almost 600 pounds. Olivia, once a student at Elmira College, is attired in a dress that is part of the collections at the Chemung County Historical Museum on Water Street in Elmira. At the time when she wore the featured dress, Olivia had a twenty-inch waist (corseted) — this after bearing four children. The statue shows Olivia with her hand extended toward the nearby statue of her husband while her glance takes in the Study some distance away. The statue was created by Gary Weisman of Newfield, New York.
Mark Twain Burial Site
When Mark Twain died on April 21, 1910, he was buried next to his wife in Elmira at Woodlawn Cemetery. A large granite monument was later erected by his daughter Clara as a memorial to her father and her husband, Ossip Gabrilowitsch. The monument is exactly twelve feet or two fathoms tall, corresponding to the call of “mark twain” made by leadsmen on Mississippi River boats from which Samuel Clemens adopted his pen name. Bronze, bas-relief, profile portraits of Twain and Gabrilowitsch adorn the granite. Clara decided that the portrait of Samuel Clemens be labeled Mark Twain, as he was and remains best known to most.