The Federation Farm was at 1031 Hoffman St., facing Hart Street. Originally, it was the old home of J.R. and David Conklin, dating back to the early 1880’s.
The Elmira Federation for Social Service purchased the property in 1917 and opened it as a “home for children who were in danger of contracting tuberculosis because of lack of proper nourishment or inability of parents to furnish them with proper care … the age limit of the Farm is six to twelve years. The children are allowed to remain at the farm for an indefinite period or as long as the physician thinks necessary” (Star-Gazette, Oct. 17, 1926).
The Sunday Telegram of May 29, 1927 reported, “Any Elmiran will find an hour spent at the Federation Farm a liberal education in childhood and a revelation in the gentle art of doing something remarkable on next to nothing. First of all will come the discovery it is not an ‘institootion’ as the late Mr. Dooley used to say, but a home in every sense of the word. Mrs. Louise Terry, the presiding officer is not a ‘matron’ in any sense but a real mother, and while the youngsters call her ‘aunty’ they speak the word with a wealth of tenderness that conveys a meaning all its own. It may prove a surprise to discover the 18 bright faced youngsters are not ‘inmates’ but members of a family not dominated but led, not subjected to rigid rules but urged to be natural with the same limitations found in any Elmira home.”
Also in that story: “See that little fellow running across the lawn, said Mrs. Terry. Well, when he came here a year ago the doctor said he had but a few weeks to live so far as diagnostic skills could determine. The other day the same physician declared he was practically cured. Wiping a tear from her eye, Mrs. Terry continued: That little girl running up the hill to the playhouse came to us a bundle of skin and bones, weak, nervous, lifeless. Now, within a few days, she will return home to gladden a lonely mother’s heart. That little boy with the unruly hair, would not be on earth now but for the prompt discovery of his condition and his removal to this home. And so it goes.”
The Federation Farm opened in 1917 with 12 children. It was reported in 1926 that 250 children had been treated there. Over the years, “it was supported by the Federation, the Anti-Tuberculosis Committee, Exchange Club, Sunshine Circles, other groups and finally Chemung County” (Telegram, Feb. 20, 1966).
The Federation Farm was an outgrowth of a group known as the Women’s Federation of Elmira. Former County Historian Tom Byrne noted that “a project that lighted the way to today’s United Community Services was initiated by a group of prominent Elmira women in 1905. They were ahead of their time in seeking to consolidate the city’s charitable organizations and ‘do away with various forms of begging.’ Organizations of the time were the Industrial School, the Orphan’s Home, the Home for the Aged, the Anchorage, the Sunshine Circles and Visiting Nurse Association.” Jennie Louise Crocker Fassett — the wife of J. Sloat Fassett, a former Chemung County district attorney, state senator and U.S. congressman — was chosen chair (Chemung County History, 1890-1975).
Eventually, the organization would become known as the Elmira Federation for Social Service.
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A major goal of the new Federation was to build a $60,000 structure to house all of the various organizations. The newspaper reported on March 1, 1905 that “Mrs. J.S. Fassett is very prominent in the work and is in reality the originator of the idea. Mrs. Fassett stated to The Gazette today that the movement is the result of a necessity which has presented itself for a closer union of the charitable institutions and philanthropic societies of the city. Mrs. Fassett stated that it is now an assured fact as the women of the city are awake to the necessity and will carry the project to success.”
Byrne noted that the object was to halt the overlapping of relief work and to supply, according to Jennie Fassett, “such material help as will put them (the needy) on their feet and make them self supporting.”
J. Sloat Fassett donated the site (where the Steele Memorial Library is now located), and Jennie Fassett gave $15,000 to the building fund. Byrne notes that “when the Federation Building opened in 1908 it was among the out-standing structures of its kind in the nation.”
A Nov. 5, 1908 headline for the Star Gazette read, “Federation’s New Building Is A Wonderful Institution.”
It went on to say, “The Women’s Federation Building is becoming the busiest place in Elmira and with its dozens of up-to-date social features is setting a pace for Elmira which, if maintained, will place this municipality in the van of American cities in a short space of time.”
The county assumed the title in 1929 and operated the (renamed Preventorium) institution until 1940, when it closed because of a lack of children needing care there. The building was absorbed by Hoffman Plaza in 1943.
Jim Hare is a former history teacher and mayor of the City of Elmira. His column appears monthly in the Star-Gazette.