ITHACA, NY – This year Ithaca turned 200 – on March 16, 1821, an act was signed by Governor DeWitt Clinton officially establishing the city of Ithaca. The city was part of many different counties throughout its history after the arrival of white settlers, but it gradually became part of smaller and smaller political units until it ended up in the county. by Tompkins. Initially, it was part of the city of Ulysses, where Trumansburg and Taughannock Falls are located. However, Ithaca was the main part of this city and in 1821 it acquired its own commune.
(Editor’s Note: Although this is a story about the 200-year history of the city of Ithaca, it should be remembered that this land was inhabited by the Cayuga people, one of the five nations of the Haudenosaunee, for thousands of years before the White Colony.)
City historian David George said that at the time of its founding Ithaca was much wilder than it is now, with a pioneer-type population. Tolls and roads were just starting to take shape, connecting Ithaca with places like Dryden, Etna, Owego and Geneva.
“Going from Omgo to Ithaca via the highway would take you eight hours by stagecoach,” said George. “The same journey would now take 41 minutes by car. “
He said that at the time of its founding Ithaca was essentially the Wild West.
“Now we think of Tombstone, Arizona and OK Corral, but back then it was Ithaca,” he said. “It was difficult to get here and when you got here it was the border.”
He said that although most of the people who ruled the city in its early days were well educated and could manage the city professionally, there were still vestiges of those wilder times.
For example, George tells the story of the city’s only public hanging in 1832. A man was to be executed for the murder of his wife on February 2, 1832. The hanging was to take place near Fall Creek.
“It’s the kind of thing you see in Old West movies,” said George. “The city is all excited about the city hanging. It is their entertainment.
George said there were thousands of spectators in attendance, many of whom arrived the day before and camped overnight. The bodies of those executed were then stolen the following night.
“This story left a mark on me,” said George. “People would come forward to be hanged, to get on stage coaches and steamboats. So the Ithaca of then was certainly different from the Ithaca of today.
The first days of the city
In 1825, the Erie Canal was completed, which turned out to be a major boost for Ithaca, providing access to other towns through the system of lakes and canals.
“The population grew and it was a pretty big event,” said George.
From the early to mid-1830s, a survey was conducted to examine the industry in early Ithaca. There were 36 “mechanical establishments”, 12 tanners, 31 shoemakers and shoemakers, 13 tailors, 46 carpenters, 26 blacksmiths, 12 saddlers, 17 coachbuilders and carters, 11 goldsmiths, five gunsmiths, 12 coppers and tinsmiths, seven millers , seven bakers, four plows, six stonemasons, six boat builders, and the list goes on and on.
The man who did the survey was named Solomon Southwick, and he said there were also two bookstores, 23 dry goods stores, two hardware stores, three jewelers, three pharmacists, 16 grocers and a total of 49 “Commercial establishments” doing business successfully. Southwick also looked at the town’s mills, such as a paper mill, flour mill, machine mill and others, many of which belong to household names such as Ezra Cornell and JS Beebe. There were plow makers, machine foundries, woolen factories, and a few hotels. Southwick in particular notes the grandeur of the Clinton House, which is still today a multi-purpose building in downtown Ithaca.
It should be noted that the stories of the city of Ithaca and the city of Ithaca are largely linked, especially at the beginning. At the beginning of the city’s history, what is now known as the city of Ithaca was part of the city. However, even then it was distinctly called “the village” and, just like today, it was the busiest and most commercial part of the city. The city of Ithaca did not become a separate entity until 1888.
In 1894, there were 6,101 people living in Ithaca, roughly evenly split between men and women.
In 1865, one of the greatest things that ever happened to Ithaca happened – Cornell University was founded by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White. George cited a book that called Cornell’s foundation “deeply important to the life of Ithaca.” The university is credited with introducing a more cosmopolitan atmosphere to the predominantly rural city. There was an influx of newcomers with new ideas, and the arrival of internationally renowned poets, doctors, lawyers, architects and scientists.
“I would say this is something people notice today – that Ithaca is a very unusual small town in that it has many cultural opportunities and resources and a diversity that is usually only found in in a big city, ”said George. “So that’s something that makes Ithaca special.”
George also notes some economic panics and depressions as defining moments in Ithaca’s history, particularly in 1837 when the economy fell, causing hard times for Ithaca’s businesses. In addition, in 1873, an economic panic led to the bankruptcy of Ezra Cornell, followed by a five-year economic depression.
In 1880, the Ithaca Gun Company was founded, which produced the favorite weapon of famous sniper Annie Oakley.
In 1892, the Ithaca Conservatory of Music was founded, which later became the College of Ithaca.
The ice cream sundae is perhaps a lesser-known Ithaca invention. Supposedly, on April 3, 1892, a Sunday, the Reverend John Scott made his usual visit to the Platt & Colt Pharmacy in Ithaca. The store owner, Chester C. Platt, was the church treasurer and often met with the Reverend for discussions after Sunday services. That day, Platt asked his fountain worker for two bowls of vanilla ice cream. He then garnished each with cherry syrup and a candied cherry. The treat was so popular with the two men that they decided to name it for the day it was created, giving rise to the first “Cherry Sunday”.
In 1907, the Frontenac steamboat burned down, symbolizing the end of the steamboat era and the end of Cayuga Lake as a transport vehicle. The Frontenac, built in 1870, was the largest steamboat ever operated on Cayuga Lake. It was 135 feet long and could accommodate up to 350 passengers. On July 26, 1907, a special excursion detained the Frontenac for the night at Cayuga Landing. There were about 60 passengers on board when the boat caught fire at around 1 p.m. The boat’s captain tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire as passengers began to put on life jackets. The water was only about four feet deep, but strong storms and big waves made it difficult for women in wide skirts to paddle or swim to shore. The boat eventually ran aground on the east shore, and five women and two children died in the crash. The steamboat trips ended soon after.
For a small town in upstate New York, Ithaca has had its fair share of interesting people living there, often drawn to the college opportunity. Among the best known are Carl Sagan, EB White and Vladimir Nabokov. But aside from those brought here to teach or study at Cornell, some of Ithaca’s earliest inhabitants have their own interesting stories.
George cites the Treman family as one of the most important residents of Ithaca and Tompkins County. Abner Treman was a captain in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He was awarded a 600-acre lot in 1791 in the Central New York Military Tract. It was crossed by two streams on the west side of Cayuga Lake and turned out to be a good spot for a mill. Members of the Treman family established a hardware business in 1857. Other members were among the organizers of the Ithaca Gas Light Company and the Ithaca Water Works. Robert H. Treman State Park is located in the city, donated by Robert and Laura Treman for the creation of the first state park in the Ithaca region.
One of the Tremans also married silent movie star Irene Castle.
“She was Ithaca’s most famous movie star,” said George. “This couple was probably a sensation at the time.”
Andrew DeWitt Bruyn had many jobs in the city of Ithaca in its early days, including Justice of the Peace, New York State Assembly Representative, Ithaca Trustee, Village President, County Supervisor, Judge and member of the United States Congress. Congress of States. George tells the story of a young congressman who was taken to Congress when he failed to cast a deciding vote, shortly before his death. Bruyn was initially convinced to come to Ithaca by his cousin, General Simeon DeWitt, one of the founders of Ithaca.
Despite the many changes in Ithaca over the past 200 years, George attributes Ithaca’s longevity to something that has been around almost from the start – Cornell University.
“He’s the major player in Ithaca, a major employer in Ithaca,” he said. “It makes the ups and downs of the economy have less of an impact on Ithaca, so the city can get through tough times more easily than other places. Education is a fairly stable activity.
Today, the city of Ithaca has more than 22,000 inhabitants. Parts of Cornell University remain in the city, as does Ithaca College. Buttermilk State Park has joined Treman State Park as a place of natural beauty that residents can enjoy. The city is working to regulate short-term rentals when visitors come to Ithaca to enjoy the lake. The hardworking days of the 1820s are over, and education and health care are now the biggest employers locally. Much has changed in the 200 years that have passed since the city’s rough and tumultuous beginnings, but many of the things that brought people to Ithaca back then – the opportunities, the culture, and the natural beauty. – remain.