History of Ithaca, NY
This is my submission to this month’s Views Infinitum’s assignment Hometown History. I struggled with where I wanted to write about – I grew up in a rural area on a farm – no real town history there. The closest town was Aurora, NY and there’s plenty of history there. The closest city is Auburn, NY – again plenty of history. But I ended up choosing my current hometown – Ithaca, NY.
When I was doing my research I discovered that The History Center of Tompkins County has developed a walking tour – the map can be viewed here. Most of the buildings featured on the tour I’ve driven past hundreds of times – several of them I’ve been in. But I never knew the history behind them. Until now that is.
The tour began at the Ithaca Commons which was built in 1974 and was the first pedestrian mall in New York State. Currently home to several local festivals, the Ithaca Commons continues to prosper, despite some parking issues (locals don’t like to pay to park) and the non-smoking rule (smoking is prohibited on the Commons). There are many excellent restaurants and unique stores on the Commons and it’s a great place to just walk around and enjoy the sunshine.
The Sagan Planet Walk also begins on the Commons. The Planet Walk is a walking scale model of the solar system – the center is the Commons, and the walk extends 1.2km to the Sciencenter with markers for each planet spaced to scale along the way.
The building formerly known as the Osborn House was designed by William Miller, one of the first graduates of Cornell’s Architecture Program. The building has been renovated and reopened as the William Henry Miller Inn to honor his achievements.
In 1806, Simeon DeWitt, the surveyor general of NY from 1784-1834, designated DeWitt Park as a “publick square.” In 1810 the square was sold to the Presbyterian Church with the stipulation that the public square remain in perpetuity. The Beebe-Halsey House is the oldest building on DeWitt Park – and it’s for sale!! If you’d like to own a piece of Ithaca’s history you can Christopher George Real Estate.
The Clinton House in on the National Register of Historic Places and the original building was erected in 1828-1830. This incredible building was saved from demolition by Historic Ithaca in 1972. Clinton House currently houses the New Roots Charter School.
The State Theater is the youngest building on the tour having been built in the 1910s as a car dealership. The State Theater thrived as a cinema house in the 1930s, but floundered and was facing demolition by the early 1990s. At this time Historic Ithaca began raising funds to preserve and restore the theater. Several well known acts have performed here including Whoopie Goldberg and Bryan Adams.
Saving the best for last – Ithaca is the disputed home of the hot fudge sundae. Created in 1892 by Chester Platt after church services, it was suggested that he name his new creation for the day of the week – and thus the sundae was born.