Retiree Profile: Susan Hamlin

 

Retirement didn’t last very long for me. After some immediate travel, I went back to doing special projects at the Vet Library until one day, in 2004, my dentist asked if I had time to help him with Eldridge Park in Elmira. Eldridge Park had closed in 1987 and Dr. Bob Lyon had set about to revive the park and restore the famed carousel. After he asked to join the board of the Eldridge Park Carousel Preservation Society as assistant treasurer, I also became chair of the gift shop – which turned out to be a great success! The grand opening in 2006 was a tremendous accomplishment, complete with fireworks! It was spectacular.

After that, I ventured into writing a book about my family’s hotel (family-owned since 1884) in Plattsburgh, NY. My grandfather William H. Howell, Sr. took over management of the hotel when he was 19, after his father died, and made the Witherill into a landmark showplace of northern New York. As a longtime member of the New York State Hotel Association, my grandfather encouraged his close friend, Prof. Howard Meek, in the founding of the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. Fortunately, I had many photos, letters, and newspaper clippings in my possession. A research trip to Plattsburgh’s Clinton County Historical Association and SUNY Plattsburgh’s Special Collections filled in the necessary blanks.

After it was published in October, 2015, Welcome to the Witherill did very well! While working on the book, I was invited to join the Friends of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp board. Although the camp existed for only one year in 1864, almost 3000 prisoners perished there and are buried in Woodlawn National Cemetery. In addition to erecting an original salvaged building on the prison camp grounds in 2017, a replica barracks has also been built. In 1861, the Foster family leased their property to the US government, on which the camp was built. The Foster antebellum home, an impressive structure, will be the museum’s headquarters and available as a research center for scholars interested in studying Elmira’s Civil War history.

 

the Eldridge park carousel
The Eldridge Park carousel after it was restored

the front cover of Welcome to the Witherill
The front cover of Welcome to the Witherill

the front of the future Elmira prison camp museum
The front of what is to be the new museum on Elmira's civil war and prison camp.