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Wosinski and Wright seen as founding mothers of today’s Market Street

Jeff Smith
jsmith@the-leader.com
Jinny Wright and Jean Wosinski, seen here, are recognized as key leaders of the movement that eventually led to Market Street as it now exists. The two women, reacting to a downtown that was beginning to cover its brick and terracotta with 'modern' façades in the 1950s and '60s, spoke to anyone who would listen about the architectural beauty that needed to be preserved and restored.

CORNING - Two women, though far from alone, led the fight to save the architectural brick and terracotta that characterizes the exterior and interior of many historic Market Street buildings -- a fight that began more than 50 years ago.

Jean Wosinski and Jinny Wright, who first met at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and again years later in Corning, worked together as members of the American Association of University Women in the 1960s to convince merchants and community leaders to restore the buildings’ original architecture.

“When me and my husband first came to (Corning) in 1958, it was hideous,” Wosinski said. “They had just got rid of the railroad going down Market Street -- that was a big improvement. I thought, ’Good God Almighty, what must it have been like before. It’s bad now.’”

Wosinski said when she moved to Corning, prosperous merchants on Market Street thought the only way to show their prosperity was to modernize their buildings.

“I thought, ’These people just don’t know what they’ve got,’” Wosinski said. “They chopped buildings up and covered them up. Maybe in some cases they didn’t have enough money to cover up the whole building, so they’d just cover up the first floor. We were losing [the historic look].”

Wosinski said AAUW started an architecture study group in the mid-1960s. As a member of the study group, Wosinski took pictures of Market Street area buildings and created a presentation with photo slides highlighting the beauty of the architectural brick and terracotta.

She presented her work to the AAUW study group, and months later Wosinski and Wright gave the same presentation to the Corning Rotary Club and several other agencies throughout the city.

“Once I had given that talk to all of these groups, I wrote letters to the editor -- oh, I wrote letters to the editor, believe me,” Wosinski said. “I was a thorn in people. ’That noisy woman out there talking about saving this stuff.’ The merchants then had no idea that they had something pretty. I said, ’Save this stuff, it's beautiful. It’s much more interesting than this stuff you’re sticking up on the first floor.’”

Wosinski cited Ernestine King, another member of AAUW, as an impetus to the work she and Wright did on preserving Market Street.

“Around 1958, Ernestine as a member of AAUW gave a talk on Corning architecture,” Wosinski said. “She said, ’My children’s birth certificates are going to say Corning, New York -- and look at it, it’s ugly.’ That’s back when every other building on Market Street was a bar. She inspired us by just that one sentence to work to improve the look of Market Street. I’m so glad it turned out the way that it did.”

Wosinski, originally from the Washington, D.C., area, said she and Wright, originally from the Chicago area, brought their own, very different concepts on architecture -- one focused on structures as a focus for community, the other on business prosperity.

“We came here with different tastes, but with this interest in the surrounding architecture,” Wosinski said.

Significant changes to the look of the Market Street area came after Tom Buechner supported the effort of Wosinski and Wright.

Then the Corning Foundation funded the creation of drawings of Market Street by preservation architect John Milner, to illustrate a restored Market Street.

The influx of recovery funds following the Agnes Flood of 1972 also helped fund the planting of trees and the installation of brick sidewalks.

Norman Mintz arrived in 1974 to lead the new nonprofit Market Street Restoration Agency. As a full-time "main street manager," Mintz and Corning became a model that inspired the National Main Street Program, which has thus far assisted 1,200 towns in the U.S. and Canada in revamping and restoring key streets.

“It was more than an idea, it was an obsession,” Wosinski said. “We spent 10 years obsessed with the fact that Corning had some beautiful brick work and terracotta work which actually was a product of Corning Glass Works. As a matter of fact, it was perfectly legitimate to beat a drum locally, because it was a local product.”

Elise Johnson-Schmidt, a former executive director of the Market Street Restoration Agency, said Wosinski, Wright and King worked in the 1950s and 60s to educate the community about what Market Street used to look like and how beautiful it could be again.

“They went around and talked to different groups, getting their support on what downtown should look like, and Corning Glass Works supported that,” Johnson-Schmidt said.

Chris Sharkey, president of Corning Enterprises, wanted to make the record clear recently during a Woman’s Suffrage Day event.

“As we stand in this beautiful Centerway Square, I’m not sure many people realize this whole effort to revitalize our downtown was started by three women: Jean Wosinski, Jinny Wright and Ernestine King,” Sharkey said.

Unfortunately, The Leader was unable to interview Wright for this story.

Pictured is Ernestine King, whose even earlier interest in historic preservation in the city helped motivate the work of Jinny Wright and Jean Wosinski.