Jervis Langdon purchased the Quarry Farm property on East Hill, looking down upon the city of Elmira and the Chemung River Valley, in May, 1869. The Langdon family would spend much of the Summer that followed enjoying the quiet and relative cool on the property three miles from their primary residence in downtown Elmira. For most of the season they were joined by Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, who was engaged to Jervis’s youngest daughter, Olivia Langdon.
The Langdons initially imagined Quarry Farm exclusively as a Summer home, as its altitude and remoteness rendered it less accessible during snowy months in the Southern Tier of New York. However, it only retained this secondary status for one Winter, as Jervis died in the Summer of 1870. He willed the property to his eldest daughter and her husband, Susan and Theodore Crane, who turned it into a permanent residence and a working dairy farm.
The following year Sam and Livy Clemens would inaugurate what would become their ritual, moving to Quarry Farm in March and remaining until the end of September. Many years between 1871 and 1895, the Clemens spent more days at Quarry Farm than they did at their primary residence in Hartford. All three of their daughters – Susy, Clara, and Jean – were born in Elmira.
At Quarry Farm, the Clemens girls had access to the veritable menagerie of domesticated animals kept by the Cranes, as well as three cousins and several acres of open space to keep them occupied. Livy was surrounded by her extended family and the beloved community in which she had been raised. In this state of relative seclusion and domestic bliss, Mark Twain was inordinately productive, writing the better part of three book-length travel narratives, two plays, dozens of stories and essays, and four novels, including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
In 1874, the Cranes built the Mark Twain Study roughly a hundred yards uphill from the main house. From this octagonal perch, Twain commanded a panoramic view of the Chemung River Valley, and was also freed of the distractions of a full house and bustling farm. (For more on the Mark Twain Study, see our Octagonal Study page.)
At Quarry Farm, Twain found inspiration from a large and diverse cast of characters, including Mary Ann Cord, a beloved African-American cook who ran the Quarry Farm kitchen and lived in a cottage the Cranes built for her on the property. Cord’s reflections on her life as an enslaved person, as she recounted them on the Quarry Farm porch in 1874, became “A True Story Repeated Word For Word As I Heard It,” the first story Twain ever published in the prestigious Atlantic Monthly.
Twain would later say of Susan Crane, after whom he and Livy named their eldest daughter, “she was an idol and the rest of us were worshippers.” Many of the idiosyncrasies of Quarry Farm – it’s peculiarly placed windows, portals, and pocket doors – were the brainchild of Mrs. Crane, who wanted to create a seemless transition between the outdoor and indoor spaces on the property. Crane continued to manage the Farm until she was 83 years old, becoming active in the American Association of Medical Milk Commissions, which sought to increase the safety and quality of milk products by improving storage, transport, and testing methods.
The Cranes did not have any children of their own and so, when Susan died in 1924, Quarry Farm passed to the nephew named after her father, Jervis, and then to his son, Jervis Jr., who donated the property to Elmira College in 1982, creating the basis for the Center for Mark Twain Studies. The terms of gift specifically mandated that the property should always be used exclusively for the support of scholarship on the life and work of Mark Twain. Thus, just as the Cranes had created the tranquil atmosphere which inspired Twain to do his best writing, the Langdons created a unique space for research and writing which, over the next four decades, became the site of production for the books and essays of hundreds of Quarry Farm Fellows.
Quarry Farm Fellows are chosen via an annual application process and spend between two and four weeks in residence at “the quietest of all quiet places.”
In 1982 Jervis Langdon Jr. specified that the main house at Quarry Farm would be a cultural humanities site, a house that would be used exclusively as a place of work and inspiration for Mark Twain scholars. Quarry Farm provides scholars and writers the unique opportunity to have full access to a world-class selection of primary and secondary sources related to 19th century U.S. literature and history while offering them a unique, and at times inspirational, experience of living in the same space, and perhaps partaking the same daily routine, as Twain himself. Between sixteen and twenty scholars are in residence every year, either as Quarry Farm Fellows or as contributors to the Trouble Begins Lectures. As a result scores of articles, book chapters and reviews and over 100 books have been written at Quarry Farm since 1982.
The public may view the house and walk the grounds several times each Spring and Fall when the Center for Mark Twain Studies hosts its Trouble Begins Lectures, many of which take place in the barn which has been renovated as an exhibit space. Also, in partnership with SmallTown360, the Center for Mark Twain Studies created a Virtual Tour of the main house, so you may visit the spaces in which the Clemens, Cranes, Langdons, and several generations of Twain scholars live and work.
“This may be called the home of Huckleberry Finn and other books of mine, for they were written here.”
– Mark Twain, 1886