Elmira made way for Route 17 by demolishing a neighborhood in 1950’s
Parts of New York state Route 17 (today’s Interstate 86) were designated in 1924. It was constructed from pieces of the former Liberty Highway. It took nearly 100 years, but today’s version fully connects 11 counties from Mina, New York, to Rutherford, New Jersey.
Locally, the Liberty Highway came from Corning and the west along Route 17C, now Route 352, through Elmira to today’s I-86 and heading east. It crossed Old Tuttle Avenue just past Kennedy Valve on East Water Street, where today’s I-86’s access road on the west. Route 17 went east from there.
In 1904, the “Badger Heights” development on the Eastside hoped to attract homeowners. It was laid out with Badger, Prospect and Huntley streets, and Tuttle Avenue. It was not named after “badgers,” the animal as I thought, but rather for the Badger family, who owned the property. The development never really caught on, and only a few houses were built.
In 1949, the New York State Public Works Department recommended building a new four-lane highway (but with room for a six-lane for the future) section of Route 17 to connect Elmira and Horseheads along the eastern hills. The project would cost an estimated $3.5 million and “relieve considerable congestion in the Elmira business area.”
City Council rejected the first proposal to connect Elmira from near Harper Street and Madison Avenue, as it would have cut through the residential area of the Eastside. The city wanted the connection to begin at Lake Street near Mathew. Elmira Heights wanted a connection at 14th Street. Horseheads also wanted a connector from Route 17 to the Holding Point that “runs from the traffic circle near the Westinghouse plant north to a point on Route 14.”
The state and city finally decided that old Tuttle Avenue, through Badger Heights, seemed to be the best plan for Route 17. It followed today’s access road ending at Pattinson Street. A vestige of the original street exists near East Avenue at the bottom of Watercure Hill.
On April 22, 1953, the Star-Gazette reported that “all the homes on Tuttle Avenue between East Water and East Avenue must be demolished or moved to other locations to make way for the bypass. The state will also take some homes on streets intersecting with Tuttle Ave.”
The acquisition of the Tuttle Avenue properties in 1954 caused controversy between the citizens and the state. Citizens complained that “residents were being forced to vacate their homes before receiving money from the state to finance purchases of new homes.”
The new seven-mile highway link began at East Water Street and connected to Lake Road in Horseheads. A bridge was built over Route 17 at East Avenue. Access ramps were added at both ends.
The Route 17 connection opened on Aug. 1, 1956, at 1 p.m. Speaker Raymond Fisher, the administrative deputy to the state Public Works Department supervision, opened the connection. The dedication ceremony was at the Church Street ramp. Fisher hinted at possibilities of an Elmira Heights connection and the connection of Route 17E (today’s Route 352) with Route 17.
The speed limit on the new highway hadn’t been decided at the opening, but Fisher could see “no reason for other than a 50-mile limit.” Signage for the on- and off-ramps was also “still being decided.”
The ceremony concluded with antique cars driving on the new section to the Westinghouse intersection.
Today there is no Badger Heights. Prospect and Huntley streets are gone. In their place is Industrial Park Boulevard. There are a few houses left on Tuttle Avenue.
Diane Janowski is the Elmira city historian. Her column appears monthly.