A tip of the hat to one of our favorite benefactors, Hattye B. Skelley

Tuesday – April 12th – we are celebrating Hattye B. Skelley Day at the Steele Memorial Library.  In honor of the day, library staff members will be wearing their favorite hats.

After taking good care of her brother Otto, Hattye donated $250,000 of her estate to the Library (April 12th, 1990).  We thought you might like to know a little about her, so here is some research we’ve done about Hattye and her family.

  • Hattye was the daughter of William and Alvena Birkholz.
  • William was born in Germany in 1873, just after that nation was created.
  • Alvena was also born in Germany, in 1875.
  • William and Alvena married in Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1892, probably entering the country at Ellis Island.
  • William was a blacksmith and Alvena (sometimes listed as Elvina) was a homemaker.
  • William and Alvena Birkholz had three children:  Hattye H., Otto A., and Fred H..  Hattye was born in 1893; Otto in 1894, and Fritz in 1897.
  • In 1901 the City Directory has William, a blacksmith, at 217 Harriet Street but by 1912 they had moved to 807 John Street, on Elmira’s East Side near what we now call Newtown Creek.
  • In 1912 Hattye, now 19 years old, is working as a clerk for F.M. Howell, but by 1914 she moves (still a clerk) to Flannigans, a dry goods and department store located at 112-116 West Water Street.
  • The 1920 Census of Population has the family living at 807 John Street, in Elmira’s 2nd ward.  Their neighbors were also immigrants, but from Russia and Austria.  Other neighbors were immigrants to Elmira from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
  • In 1920 Hattye was a stenographer, working for a law office, Otto was a partner in the blacksmith shop of his father, and Fred (who became known as Fritz) was a pharmacist.
  • Both Otto and Fred (Fritz) served the United States in the First World War (1914-1918).
  • All three children were members of the “German Church” – the United Church of Christ.
  • By 1925 Hattye, still a stenographer, had moved to the City Clerk’s office and, in 1926, she was still living with her parents at their home at 807 John Street.  Hattye eventually became City Clerk (1962-1963) and then retired from her career with the City of Elmira.
  • In either 1926 or early 1927, Hattye married Lawrence J. Skelley, and moved to 354 Maple Avenue.  Lawrence was an automobile salesman and, in 1925, was manager of Wolcott Motor Company.  By 1955 he has retired and, in either 1959 or 1960, dies.
  • Fred, listed as Frederick H. in the 1960 City Directory, is no longer a pharmacist; rather, his occupation is listed as “investment securities.”  Several say he spent a great deal of time at the Steele Memorial Library.

Source:  Elmira City Directories; 1920 Census of Population.

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