Reconstructed prison building taking shape at “Hellmira”

Elmira Prison Camp building

A reconstructed building from the Elmira POW camp takes shape (center).

ELMIRA – Come June Elmira will finally acknowledge it’s dark history.  Hellmira, in part, will be reborn.

For decades rumors have swirled that lumber from one of the Elmira prisoner of war camp buildings was in storage and someday would be reconstructed.  It appears that the day has come.  In fact, on  June 24th a special dedication ceremony is planned and the building now at least 153 years old will be unveiled.

Volunteers from Friends of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp have been working on the building that was part of Barracks number three for about a year now.  Once it is complete it will be relocated nearer the road on Winsor Avenue.  At the moment it sits behind the water works building.  A museum is also planned for the site, as well as a platform (seen on the left in the photo) reminiscent of those used by curious locals during the Civil War.

The Elmira prisoner of war camp was open July 6, 1864 to July 11, 1865.  During its short life the camp housed more than 12,000 Confederate prisoners – far more than was originally intended.  The mortality rate was exceedingly high and historians have speculated that the Union War Department planned it that way in retaliation for the atrocities of the infamous Andersonville prisoner of war camp for Union soldiers.  Elmira has long declined to acknowledge the camp.  There was a monument placed on the site years ago, but you have to know it is there in order to see it as it is tucked away in a neighborhood near the water works. (see Chris Mackowski’s Oct. 14, 2011 post for pictures.)

Fosters Pond_Elmira

Foster’s Pond

From the levy behind the water works, visitors can see Foster’s Pond which was on the site of the camp.  Stagnant water in the pond was blamed at the time for much of the mortality among prisoners.

Anyone interested in the dedication should plan to come to Elmira for a weekend of events dubbed “Barracks to Prison Pen: A Living History and Preservation Challenge” June 24 and 25.  In addition the dedication, there will be a reenactment of the march of the original 400 prisoners from the Erie Railroad Station on North Main Street to the prison camp site.

About Derek Maxfield

Associate Professor of History Genesee Community College
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