finger lakes trip elmira new york

What to Do in the Finger Lakes: Elmira’s Mark Twain

For the bookish. Image by Kayti Burt.

Looking for a low-key, culture-rich locale to escape the hustle and bustle of your daily life? The Finger Lakes region of New York might be just the ticket. You would be in good company, too. Great American author Mark Twain — AKA Samuel Clemens — spent more than 20 summers visiting and writing in Elmira, New York, one of the larger cities in the southern Finger Lakes region, with just under 30,000 residents.

Twain penned some of his most celebrated works here, and it’s easy to see why. The region is renowned for its beauty, but it also has a commitment to cultural history and an eye on progress that does Twain proud. The city is home to Elmira College,  one of the first institutions of higher learning for women in the country (It has since gone co-educational.) and the alma mater of Twain’s wife, Oliva Langdon. Twain and Olivia married in 1870, and Twain spent many subsequent summers visiting his in-laws in the region.

Last month I was lucky enough to spent some time exploring Mark Twain’s connection to the region as part of a larger trip to the Finger Lakes. Here’s everything you need to know about taking your own trip to “Mark Twain Country” to get to better know the fascinating man behind classics like Adventures of Huckleberry FinnA Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and The Prince and the Pauper.

What to Do in Elmira, New York

Enter hallowed ground — Mark Twain’s study at Elmira College.

the-finger-lakes
Hanging out by Mark Twain’s actual study where Mark Twain actually wrote things. Image by Kayti Burt.

Though Samuel Clemens’s primary residence was in Hartford, Connecticut, he got much of his writing done from inside the very octagonal study pictured above. The study was built for Twain by his in-laws and originally sat outside of their house, the nearby Quarry Farm, where Twain and his family spent their summers. Twain wrote to his friend William Dean Howells of the study:

“I haven’t piled up MS (manuscript) so in years as I have done since we came here to the farm three weeks and a half ago. Why, it’s like old times, to step right into the study, damp from the breakfast table, and sail right in and sail right on, the whole day long, without a thought of running short of stuff or words.”

The study was moved to the Elmira College campus in 1952. Check out the accompanying Mark Twain Exhibit in nearby Cowles Hall and the statue of Twain also found on the campus. Tours are provided by trained student guides during the summer and are available by appointment during the off-season.

the-finger-lakes
Mark Twain tried his hand at many different endeavors, like this failed attempt at a history board game, just one of the treasures to be found in the Mark Twain exhibit at Elmira College. Image by Kayti Burt.

Visit Mark Twain’s grave.

the-finger-lakes
Mark Twain’s final resting place alongside his wife and children in Elmira, NY. Image by Kayti Burt.

Twain chose Elmira as his final resting place, a point of pride for the people who call the Finger Lakes region home. Twain, his wife, and his four children are all buried in Elmira’s Woodlawn Cemetery. If you’re lucky enough to get a tour guide who knows his or her stuff (like I did in Mark Delgrosso, the trolley master and tour guide for Trolley Into Twain County Tours), then you’ll learn about Samuel Clemens the father, husband, and friend in the town Clemens once called “a foretaste of Heaven.”

Check out the Chemung County Historical Society.

the-finger-lakes
Come for the Twain, stay for the mammoth tusk…The Chemung River got its name when local Native Americans found a mammoth tusk along its banks. Image by Kayti Burt.

The Chemung Valley Museum has a small dedicated exhibit to Twain (and the people and places he knew in the Chemung Valley), complete with cardboard cutout of Twain for the obligatory photo-op. The society expands beyond Twain, of course, tracking the county’s history from the time of the Native Americans through the end of the 20th century. If it wasn’t already clear, this is a region that values and celebrates its history. The region was an important part of the Underground Railroad, a training place for soldiers during the Civil War, and the birthplace of fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger.

the-finger-lakes
Some of the plethora of interesting historical information to be found at the Chemung Valley Museum. Image by Kayti Burt.

Cost: An adult ticket costs $5. Check the website for more information about admission hours and ticket discounts.

Where to Eat in Elmira, New York

Hilltop Inn Restaurant

the-finger-lakes
Image by Kayti Burt.

The Hilltop Inn Restaurant has many claims to fame. Not only does it boast a similar view to the one Mark Twain saw when he wrote from his octagonal study, but it’s also home to the world’s largest wreath/shamrock and boasts New York’s longest-held liquor license (doled out following Prohibition). The food and wine selection is pretty excellent, too…

the-finger-lakes
Come for the view, stay for the eggplant Parmesan. Image by Kayti Burt.

Where to Stay in Elmira, New York

Holiday Inn Riverview

the-finger-lakes
The Holiday Inn Riverview. Image by Kayti Burt.

If you’re looking for a clean, comfortable, and centrally-located hotel at which to stay while in Elmira, check out the Holiday Inn Riverview. It has an in-house restaurant, comfy beds, and a fantastic staff who were kind and friendly upon my check-in.

Editors’ Note: This post was sponsored by Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes,Chemung County Chamber of Commerce, and the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce. However, the views and opinions are completely my own! Click here for Wanderful’s full disclosure statement.

Instagram Feed Instagram Feed Instagram Feed Instagram Feed Instagram Feed Instagram Feed
More Stories
15 Inuktitut Words to Know Before Visiting Iqaluit