“In 1779 near this spot General John Sullivan mercifully disposed of his pack horses worn out by faithful service in the campaign against the Six Nations of the Iroquois. The first white settlers entering the valley in 1789 found the bleached skulls and named the place Horseheads.”
— Plate inscription on a boulder in Hanover Square
More than two centuries after Sullivan’s expedition, the only municipality in the country to memorialize the services of military pack horses takes pride in its unusual name.
Historic Hanover Square remains the heart and soul of Horseheads. It buzzes with a mix of vigorous businesses and an array of fine eateries. An empty storefront is a rarity. Main Street, Franklin Street and the Old Ithaca Road meet at the square, creating a five-cornered tumult of traffic. With no stoplight to control it there’s the ongoing drama of “who goes next?” For entertainment you can watch Hanover Square drivers take their chances while you relax and enjoy lunch at Louie’s. Meanwhile, on the outskirts of the village, a lively industrial park has risen in an area called “Holding Point,” formerly one of the country’s largest military depots during the World War II era.
“We’re celebrating our 175th Anniversary from mid-2012 through mid-2013,” explains Mayor Don Zeigler. “In addition to our traditional Saturday Farmers Market and Thursday Evening Concerts in Teal Park, a variety of special events are sprinkled throughout the year – food, music, parades, art shows and family gatherings.”
A Horseheads Birthday Party took place in July, followed by a spirited Celery Festival in October (the village was once the leading celery producer in the region). Late November’s Holly Days Festival rings in the Christmas spirit, and during December’s Victorian Stroll & Horse and Carriage Rides, folks can experience historic architecture of days gone by.
“We’re a close-knit community – one with a sense of preserving the past, appreciating the present, and preparing for the future,” says Zeigler. “The 175th Anniversary and its activities will celebrate that legacy.”
Varied and rich, the history of Horseheads is on display throughout the village, particularly at the Historical Society and Museum lodged in the old Pennsylvania Railroad Depot. Using the volunteer labor, services, and financial donations of dedicated locals, the refurbished building houses meeting rooms, office space and a gift shop. Extensive exhibits highlight Horseheads’ proud past – the Sullivan Expedition, Chemung Canal days, its once-famous brickyard and, of course, Zim.
Eugene Zimmerman (1862 – 1935) was perhaps the most prominent cartoonist and caricaturist of his generation. His humorous work, often satiric and biting, was featured in the popular magazines Puck and later Judge, and was followed closely by an admiring public.
A native of Switzerland, Zim married Mabel Beard of Horseheads in 1886, and settled in the village to seek “a more gentle life.” He periodically commuted to New York City to fulfill his professional commitments. For his family, Zim built a gabled home in town, and financed and designed a community bandstand in Teal Park. The whimsically decorated structure is still used for weekly band concerts during the summer.
The Zimmerman’s only daughter, Laura, lived in the original Pine Street home until her death in 1980. Zim House was willed to the Horseheads Historical Society, which maintains it today. “The house appears much as it did when Zim was in residence,” says historian Leah Cramer. “Many of his 40,000 or so sketches, along with his correspondence, artifacts, desk and drawing board, remain in the home.”
The Queen Anne-style home with its fine carpentry, unique windows, balconies, and flowing rooms is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is open to the public.
PRESERVING THE OLD AND EMBRACING THE NEW
In their own restored home on Horseheads’ Eleanor Street, George and Marnie Koliwasky experience times gone by in a very personal way. In the 1970s, the couple purchased a rundown house constructed in 1834 from planks 18 inches wide by 2 inches thick. The Koliwaskys have toiled to create a warm and striking décor that showcases their personal talents and unique auction treasures. Antique cupboards and tables provide space for their personal collections of everything from clocks to toys to quilts, and Marnie’s preservation stenciling adds an historic touch throughout. Today, the home propels one back in time, a sort of “living history” museum.
Route 17, with its heavy traffic, and congested and dangerous intersections, split Horseheads for many years. To the north of the highway was the village center. To the south were other parts of the community, including the historic Greek Revival home and sprawling farm owned since the mid-1850s by the Day family.
Recent construction of I-86 has changed that situation for the better. A “fly-over” highway bridge was the remedy. Its walled construction is enhanced by landscaping and a linear park at street level, maintained by community volunteers. To greet visitors passing under I-86, artist/sculptor Tom Gardner and artist Joanne Sonsire collaborated on a series of sculptures featuring three horses’ heads. Rich and distinctive, the sculptures are appropriate to the 175th anniversary celebration.
On May 18, 2013, a life-size bronze of a Military Pack Horse will be unveiled at the Horseheads Village Hall. “We’re very proud of this new legacy for our town and village,” says Mayor Zeigler. “And if nothing else, the three horses on our anniversary logo and sculpted on the I-86 bridge prove one thing – we’re certainly not a one-horse town!”
by James P. Hughes