State Street and W 2nd Street, Corning, New York | Unmarked Location
Michael Higgins, Margaret Sanger’s nonreligious father, invited agnostic orator Robert G. Ingersoll to speak in Corning, New York. According to Sanger’s autobiography, her father had arranged to rent a hall that was owned by a Catholic priest; when Ingersoll arrived, Higgins found that the hall had been padlocked so that Ingersoll’s speech could not proceed. But Ingersoll and Higgins would not be deterred by this setback. They led an attentive crowd into the woods just outside of town, and Ingersoll delivered his lecture outdoors.
Like other stories of Sanger's childhood in her autobiography, this event cannot be substantiated. But based on available records, we suspect the hall involved in this story may be Columbus Hall. It later served St. Mary Mother of Mercy Church as a convent house.
The first photograph shows the building as it appeared circa 2010. It was demolished in 2017. The site was converted into an 85-space parking lot, finished in May 2019, needed after St. Mary's absorbed a neighboring congregation whose church had become structurally unsound.
Michael Higgins, Margaret Sanger's father, supposedly invited Robert G. Ingersoll to speak in Corning, New York. If the story is factual, we believe this might be the hall that Higgins tried to rent, unsuccessfully, from a Catholic priest. 2010 photo.
The land just south of St. Mary's Church now hosts an 85-car parking lot (completed 2019). This photo is taken from the corner of Second and State looking northeast, similar to the 2010 photo. (Note unusual arrangement of shrubbery at the corner.)