The Rathbun

The Rathbun Hotel - Elmira, NY - 1930

ituated at the corner of Water and Baldwin Streets in Elmira, NY, the Rathbun Hotel hosted many dignitaries thoughout the late 1800s and the early 1900s who were visiting from far away places like Albany and Washington, D.C. Built in the mid 1800s, the Rathbun saw its guests arriving by way of the railroads and the commerce created by the Chemung Canal. It was, perhaps, the longest functioning hotel in Elmira.

On August 1, 1941, after 90 years, it closed its doors, and the last of its tenants vacated. It finally became a victim to the wrecking ball and the new revitalization of Elmira during the Post World War II years. In its heyday, the Rathbun operated a high ceiling dining hall, a bar for which it became famous all over New York State before and after Prohibition, and a billiard room.

When it first started operations, the hotel was known as The Brainard House, named after its builder, E. R.. Brainard who completed construction in 1851 just after the Erie Railroad connection to Elmira was completed. A short time later, Brainard died and his wife sold it to John T. Rathbun, who renamed it The Rathbun House.

The history books say that John Rathbun contributed much to Elmira in the way of public service. He is given credit for leading the movement for public schools in Elmira. Elmira College and the La France Manufacturing Company were among many upon whose boards he held membership, and he managed the estate of his father-in-law, Simeon Benjiman, which paid more taxes than any institution in Elmira at that time. Elmira College was a large benefactor of this estate.

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