Horseheads: A Mayberry Kind of Town

I’ve just been to visit the Village of Horseheads, New York (where the population barely reaches 20,000).

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This is a tiny place, a blink of an eye with a disturbing name bestowed upon it by the Iroquois after the Revolutionary War. The story goes that General John Sullivan, the commander of troops marching through the Finger Lakes Region in 1789, was starting to run out of food. He decided to kill off their sick and disabled horses, of which they appear to have had a pretty good number (I love that the the plaque commemorating this event says, “the General was compelled to dispose of these partners in the cause of American freedom”). The Iroquois later laid out the horse skulls along a trail and began calling the area “the valley of the horses’ heads.” Gruesome, but true — and despite the town once having been christened Fairport and later on North Elmira, the town embraces its somewhat grim name.

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Horseheads is, in fact, “the only community in the United States dedicated to the service of the American Military Horse.” I’m not sure what that might involve, but it’s an interesting claim to fame.

Lots of people know Horseheads because you have to go through it to get pretty much anywhere if you’re traveling east or west through southern New York State. The town was also once a stop on the Elmira & Seneca Lake Railway, and the old railroad depot is now home to the town’s historical society and museum.

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If you want to have more reminders of railway days gone by, you can have a huge breakfast at The Diner, which sits inside of an old railroad car.

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The centerpiece of the town is Teal Park, home to the Zim Bandstand:

fullsizeoutput_456cThis 1910 bandstand was designed by political cartoonist Eugene Zimmerman (probably Horseheads’ most famous resident, best known for the sketches he drew for Judge magazine). Zim himself dreamed up the animal band at the pediment:

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The bandstand continues to be used for Thursday night concerts in the summer, and the whole thing has a very true-blue America sort of feel to it (here we have the Sgro Brothers, a “nationally famous harmonica duo” — something I did not know existed):

At the end of the day, Horseheads is a dot on the map, home to over a dozen hair salons, a surprising number of old Victorian homes, and a five-way intersection at Hanover Square that no one but the townies know how to manage (side note for full disclosure: my in-laws also live here). But I enjoy exploring things both great and small, and it’s interesting to see what a town at the crossroads looks like when you stop and get out of the car.

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