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Mountain Home Magazine

A Bespoke Main Street

Mar 01, 2024 09:00AM ● By Mary Beth Voda

There is a Horse Head Island in Greenland. Virginia has Horsehead Cliffs. Here in upstate New York, just off Route 17 between Elmira and the Arnot Mall, Horseheads names the village in the town—population 6,606.

The village website identifies it as “the first and only town and village in the United States dedicated to the service of the American Military Horse.” Military pack horses served in the Revolutionary War’s 1779 western campaign, waged by the Continental Army against British Loyalists and their Iroquois allies. When exhausted animals were unable to go on, they were abandoned or killed. Their sun-bleached skulls were found by the first white settlers entering the valley in 1789. Originally called The Valley of Horses Heads, the village has been known by a few different names over the past 200-plus years; it was changed to Horseheads once in 1845, and again in 1886, and Horseheads it has remained.

A visitor’s first impression of the town is often the hub that marks the transition from South Main to North Main. It’s also where East Franklin Street becomes West Franklin. Just for good measure, Old Ithaca Road also joins the party here. Good luck—and remember to yield to vehicles on the right.

Is Main Street Horseheads like Main Streets everywhere? Such locales are usually identified as having more small businesses than chains. Hairdressers, barber shops, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and other establishments in Horseheads’ business district, known as Hanover Square, provide goods and services typical of downtown commerce. In fact, except for one, there are no empty storefronts on Main Street Horseheads, a remarkable accomplishment considering today’s small-town economic picture.

Mayor Kevin Adams is a lifelong Horseheads resident dedicated to his community.

“The village’s commercial and retail corridor, Hanover Square, is one of the safest and nicest in Chemung County,” he says. He cites a ten-person police force, a volunteer fire department, the village’s water system, its pool, and an active business community as major assets.

Regarding Hanover Square’s second-level apartments, Mayor Adams notes the residents offer a vital component of life beyond the people who patronize businesses. They range from young adults to the business owners who live above their shops—a lovely throw-back to how it used to be. “It is more than a shopping district,” he says, “It is our residents’ homes.”

At the Horseheads Do-It Center, 124 North Main, cashier Hope Towsley greets customers with a broad smile and a welcoming “Good morning.” The Do-It Center is a general lumber and hardware store providing kitchen and bath design and remodeling services. It’s a place where contractors and do-it-yourselfers can rent every kind of equipment for all kinds of projects, including earth moving, insulation blowing, and garden construction. Staff, including Matthew Aiken, assistant manager, and his colleague, Laura Brooks are proud to say they are the local hardware serving Horseheads, Elmira Heights, Elmira, Big Flats, Corning, Watkins Glen, and Steuben, Schuyler, and Chemung counties. During covid, when people were stuck at home and undertook home improvement projects, the Do-It Center was able to supply materials, tools, and services for those projects.

A few doors away, at 118 South Main, Jude’s Barber Shop and Specialty Services owner Jude Muoio acknowledges that online shopping and post-covid customer habits have resulted in sales downturns. The “specialty services” part of his business includes selling and servicing vacuum cleaners and sewing machines, and sharpening knives and scissors. But Jude appreciates the advantages of his Main Street location—the proximity to the area’s well-patronized bars and restaurants. “They bring people downtown,” he says. His shop is on that five-spoke intersection, which is also a gastric hub, including Louie’s Hanover Square at 102 South Main, Nick’s Pub and Grill at 102 North Main, and Simon’s Japanese at 2 Hanover Square. Main Street shop owners also recommend Thai Asian 119 at 119 West Franklin and Pudgie’s Pizza at 134 West Franklin.

At Studio 111, a hair salon just off Main, at 111 West Franklin, owner BeLynda Morse notes there are at least a dozen successful hairdressers in the area, thanks, in part, to a system of so-called booth runners. Individual hairdressers rent space in a shop such as hers, “and they bring their clients with them.” BeLynda says that during the covid years, she was forced to take temporary jobs to get by and is happy to be reopened now.

Wildflower on Main provides a boutique experience with women’s casual and party-ready clothes, jewelry and accessories at 110 South Main.

A block south you’ll find a lifelike bronze statue of a Revolutionary War pack horse in front of the Village Hall at 202 South Main. While you’re there, a visit with “the Barbaras” of the Horseheads Historical Society at the Depot, 312 West Broad, is a must. Society President Barbara Tighe-Skorczewski and Treasurer Barbara Kurcova are two more friendly Horseheads residents who are passionate about where they live and can provide an introduction to the Horseheads of long ago. Native American lore, Chemung Canal days, the community’s role as a WWII holding and reconsignment point all flesh out the Horseheads story.

They can also help you arrange a visit to Zimmerman House at 601 North Pine. It belonged to Eugene Zimmerman, a world-famous cartoonist in the late 1800s and early 1900s whose style ranged from simple pencil drawings to lifelike paintings appearing in political cartoon magazines.

The village is recovering well from the covid challenges. As for current village challenges, Mayor Adams refers back to the five-street convergence in the middle of Hanover Square where only one of the five has the right of way.

“Out of towners can be confused,” he admits.

Aside from those converging intersections, there is no confusion about Horseheads’ vibrant Main Street.

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