Alfred G. Hilbert
March 31, 1908 - September 2, 1991
Alfred G. Hilbert was widely known in the Southern Tier counties as an authority on early history and Indian lore. He was sympathetic to the Indian view of the world, and he gave many talks about the Indians of this region. Mr. Hilbert informed himself on many topics of area history and generously helped others to discover and learn with him.
Alfred Hilbert was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, 83 years ago. His family moved to Hartford, Connecticut, and later to Chicopee, Massachusetts. When he went to MIT, there must have been too many Alfreds, and Als, and Freds, already, so his friends decided to call him Chick after his hometown. The name stuck with him always. He even introduced himself as Chick, and many in Chemung County and western New York may not have known his real name.
Chick went two years to MIT and then graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1929.
His older brother, Otto Hilbert, was a Corning Glass executive. On a visit to see his brother in 1933, Chick found a job with the Elmira Lighting and Power Company. He continued work with the NYSEG Corporation for 40 years until 1973.
For the company he was supervisor of continuing property records. His work made him familiar with much of the terrain, and may have contributed to his familiarity with Indian trails and settlement locations. Not surprisingly, when the company offered a course in public speaking to him at Elmira College, he chose for his first topic "The Pre-Emption Line." This subject became his specialty and he presented his address about the famous survey lines—there were two of them—more than 80 times.
He was a very engaging speaker and he developed many other talks: "The Williamson Road," "The Forbidden Trail," "Spanish Hill," and others about transportation on the rivers and canals and about the Indians and early settlers. Both in his work and his speaking engagements Chick Hilbert must have found many sources of information about the Chemung Valley and its history. In 1966 he became a member of the Chemung County Historical Society's board of directors, and he continued his active association with the Society, becoming its staff historian and principal lecturer. Mr. Hilbert was historian for the Town of Elmira for many years.
Chick Hilbert had other consuming interests as well as history. For 33 years, beginning in 1936, he was an usher at Elmira Community Concerts. Much of that time he was the head usher and was responsible for seating the audiences at the musical events. He remembered well the many famous performers he met when they came to Elmira. Among those who stood out in his memories were Josť Iturbi, Lily Pons, Josef Hofmann, and Eileen Farrell.
Mr. Hilbert was married to Margaret Waples for 53 years. They both enjoyed music and square dancing.
Mr. Hilbert's history of the Pre-emption Line appeared in the October 1990 through December 1990 issues of the Crooked Lake Review. His Fourteen Minutes in the Southern Tier, an account of the geology and pre-history of this area, appeared in the February and March 1991 issues; The Forbidden Trail was in our July 1991 issue; Our Indian Heritage: The Food Plants We Have Inherited was in the November 1991 issue; The Williamson Road was in the July through September 1993 issues; and his History of Handsome Lake in the February 1995 issue.
© 1991, Bill Treichler