Charles H. (Charles Herbert) Thurber.

In and out of Ithaca : a description of the village, the surrounding scenery and Cornell University online

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In and Out of Ithaca.




ithaca, n. y.

Andrus & Church.


Copyright, 1886,
By Andrus & Church.

■^ ~r

The pages that follow have been prepared in the belief
that it would be a source of gratification to many to be able
to procure in convenient form a description of the village
of Ithaca, with the rare and interesting scenery surrounding
it, and also some comprehensive account of Cornell Univer-
sity. The facts here brought together it is hoped may be
of service.

If the reader finds the first chapter on the geology of the
region, interesting, his thanks, with mine, are due to Mr.
G. K. Gilbert, of the Geological Survey, who has kindly
given the writer some of the results of his own studies in
this region. Chapters XXIV to XXVII inclusive, and the
greater part of Chapter XXVIII, were written entirely by

Mr. Geo. M. Marshall.

C. H. T.



I. Our Stone Foundations, i

II. Our Log Foundations, 5

III. The Superstructure— Ithaca of to-day,. . 8

IV. The Cornell Library, 10

V. Other Public Buildings, 12

VI. The Churches 14

VII. "Trade — The Calm He.'Vlth of N.\tions," . 18

VIII. A Word in General, 21

IX. Cornell University — Introductory, . . 22

X. Cornell University — History, 24

XL Organization and Informing Ideas, ... 32
XII. Description of the Campus and Buildings

— General, 38

XIII. From Cascadilla to the Armory 40

XIV. The Armory .\nd Gymnasium Hall, .... 43
XV. Sage College 45

XVI. Sage Chapel, 48

XVII. On the Way to the President's House, . 50

XVIII. Morrill Hall and White Hall, 53

XIX. The McGraw Building, The Museum, and

Library, 56

XX. The Physical and Chemical Building, . . 63

XXI. Sibley College, 66


XXII. The Engineering Building, and East Side

OF Campus, 69

XXIII. Final Word, . 71

XXIV. The Gorges— Fall Creek Ravine 72

XXV. Cascadilla and Six Mile Creek 79

XXVI. Buttermilk Gorge, 82

XXVII. Lick Bjiook, 86

XXVIII. Enfield Gorge, 89

XXIX. On the Shores of Cavuga, 92

XXX. Taughannock, 95

XXXI. More Ravines vStill 100

XXXII. The Drives, loi

XXXIII. In and Out of Ithaca 103


Ithaca from South HitL.

Ithaca High School Building.

Cornell University from Sage College.

Armory and Gymnasium Hall.

Sage College.

Ithaca Fall— Fall Creek.

The McGraw-Fiske Mansion.

Triphammer Fall — Fall Creek.

Lucifer Fall— Enfield.

Taughannock Fall.




THE books tell us that Ithaca was founded m 1789.
The rocks tell quite another story. Not in years,
but in aeons do they record the flight of time since our
foundations were laid. Curious and interesting is the
tale, not yet quite reclaimed from the realm of primeval
myth, but still plain enough, so that we may keep the
thread of the strange story. Like editors of some old
manuscript or translators of some ancient classic, we
will allow ourselves to supply a word here and there,
which perhaps the scientists are not quite read}- to put
in, but which is needed to complete the sense, and then
the history will run as follows : —

Long ago these heaps of Chemung shale were laid
down under the water, and now and then a little spirifer
or trilobite was immortalized in the process. Then,
in the course of time, when the water went down or the
land came up — no matter now which — a great plateau
was formed through the centre of the vState. Through
it ran tortuous and winding streams, as streams are
wont to be, taking off the drainage of the country north-
ward, and having each its own little valley running in
a general way north and south. Then over this fair


scene broke the horror of the glacial epoch. Ice to an
extent which the imagination even cannot compass,
covered the land reaching down to what in distant fu-
ture ages was to be the State of Pennsj-lvania. It filled
all these little valleys, and as it moved slowl^^ majesti-
call\- and mercilessly over the country, it ground off
sharp corners into rounded cur\'es, it scratched out little
irregularities completel}', and in places where it stayed
longest it dug out the valley to a greater depth. The
ice gradually moved off to the north, dropping its debris
from its receding edges, and this moraine matter is now
plainh' visible on the Spencer divide. It j-ielded a little
on the south, but the great glacial mass, like a huge
dam, still shut off the outlets of the valleys in the
north. Then in that valley which in ages to come was
to be filled by Cayuga Lake, began the action which
has resulted in the curious glens and gorges that make
our Ithaca so enchanting and bewildering a place.

As the ice receded the space it left behind was occu-
pied by a lake, shut in at the north by the ice-dam.
The old water-courses were broken up. The little
streams poured into the lake here and there, wherever
it happened it seems, and rapidh' wore away the soft
rock where thej^ chose their channels. The debris from
this cutting process was deposited just under water at
the mouths of the streams, forming deltas. By and by
the ice-dam to the north gave way a little, and the level
of the lake was consequently lowered. These deltas
then became little terraces, and the streams cut deeper
and took down more debris to form other deltas below.


Then the ice-dam yielded a Httle more ; and so the pro-
cess was repeated, until finally the lake reached its
present level, the ice all having passed awaj-. The suc-
cessive deltas that the many streams had formed, as the
lake lowered its level, now became terraces up the sides
of the various ravines.*

So we see that all these ravines were given their curi-
ous and fantastic shaping, as the result of the great ice
flow, which not only straightened out and improved the
narrow and tortuous channel of some primeval creek
to be the fit bed of our beautiful Cayuga Lake, but also
in its tardy departure formed a great ice-locked lake, in-
to which the young and inexperienced streams poured
their contributions, cutting down the rock as the level
of the ice-lake fell.

Such is the true storj^ of all the streams, save alone
Six Mile Creek, that lend their varied charms to make
the setting of Ithaca so royal in its beauty. Six Mile
is likely more nearly as it was in the days before the ice
came over the world. There are many details of the
story about which we should like to ask just one or two
questions, as for example, whether the height of the
various falls corresponds with successive breaks in the

* This terrace formation is plainly shown on the sides of the
Fall Creek ravine. Professor Conistock's house stands on one
terrace, the next lower one is occupied by the Sibley Building
and Physical Laboratory ; the next by the McGraw-P'iske
House ; 'the next by the mills, while the great gravel bank at
the foot of the ravine is a very good example of the way in
which these terraces were formed. The process may be scien
going on at present, noticeably at Taughannock, where the
stream is building out a great peninsula.


ice-dani and consequent lowering in the level of the ice-
lake. The fact that all the lowest falls in the various
ravines make the greatest leaps would seem to give an
answer to our question, as decided as it is interesting.
However, we ma}- not cross-question too closeh- as yet,
but ma}' rest assured that we have the main facts of the
stor>^ in our possession.

As we stand on one of our hills, tjiis story will help
us to understand and interpret the landscape that is
presented to our view. The long sweep and graceful
curves of the lake valley, and the smoothly sloping
hills, save where they are serrated by the terrace-teeth
in the mouth of some deep ravine, were ground out by
the ice. The glacier-artist wrought our landscape.
Standing by the side of some one of the deep channels
cut b}- a fretful stream, the thought of the ^•ast period
of time during which the stream nuist have been at
work to accomplish what it has, often comes forcibh' to
the mind. Yet compared to the ages that passed over
valley and hills, ere the stream began its work, what it
has accomplished seems like the trifling of an idle sum-
mer hour.



Ithaca was not settled until George Washington be-
came President. The certainty of some stable govern-
ment, and adequate protection against their lurking
foes the Indians, encouraged the colonists to push out
into new regions ; and so in the very month in which
Washington assumed office for the first time, April,
1789, three men, Jacob Yaple, Isaac Dumond and Peter
Hinepaw, took up four hundred acres of land bounded
on the west by the line of what is now Tioga street.
They planted some corn on the flat, and Yaple left his
younger brother to look after it, while the rest of the
party went back after the good Dutch women and child-
ren. The three families, numbering some twenty souls
all told, came back in September, and put up log cab-
ins, Hinepaw on the north side of Cascadilla Creek,
near the present location of Williams' Mill, the other
two on East State Street, where now stands the residence
of the late Adam S. Cowdry. But in 1793 these three
families had the misfortune to lose their land, which
passed into the possession of Simeon Dewitt. He laid
out the Village of Ithaca, and encouraged settlement by
the liberal terms offered to settlers. By 1 798 there were
half a dozen houses. In 1806 the number of buildings
had increased to twelve, six or seven of which were
frame. A Mr. Vrooman kept a hotel on the spot where


the Tompkins House now stands, calling it the ' ' Ithaca
Hotel." It was from this fact that the place came to
be generally known by the name of Ithaca, although
Mr. DeWitt had bestowed that name upon it some years
previously. The village had before that been common-
ly called ' ' The Flats, " " The City, "or " Sodom. ' ' In
1 8 ID Mr. DeWitt wrote from Albany: "The place to
which I purpose to go when I have no business here, is
a village of at least thirty * * '^ If I
should live twenty years longer, I am confident that I
should see Ithaca as important a place as Utica is
now ' ' ; and in a letter from Ithaca, dated the same
year, he sa^-s, "I find this village considerably in-
creased since I was here before. I have counted thirt} -
eight dwelling houses, among which are, one very large,
elegant three-story house for a hotel, and fi\-e of two
stories ; the rest of one stor>% all generally neat frame
buildings. Besides these, there are a school-house, and
buildings for merchants' stores, and shops for carpen-
ters, cabinet-makers, blacksmiths, coopers, tanners ;
and we have besides, shoe-makers, tailors, two lawyers,
one doctor, watch-cleaner, turner, miller, hatter, etc."
With all this apparent prosperit}-, however, there were
only two or three marriageable yoinig ladies, and some
forty eligible young men.

So favorably started with a name and a taveni,
Ithaca steadily grew and prospered. The turnpike to
Owego, completed about 1808, and that to Geneva, com-
pleted about 1811, gave increased shipping facilities, and
the demand for Cayuga plaster, caused by the war of


181 2, the supply from Nova Scotia having been shut off
on account of the war, gave an impulse to commercial
enterprise. In 1820 the population numbered 859. The
same year the keel of the Enterprise, the first steamer
built on the lake was laid, and the boat was launched
May 4th, 1 82 1 . The boat connected with the Newburgh
stages, making the most direct route from New York
to Buffalo, the entire journey occupj-ing only three
days. The Erie Canal, completed in 1825, gave direct
communication wath the Atlantic seaboard. In 1834
the Ithaca and Ovvego railroad was completed. The
old style strap rail w^as used throughout, and the road
ascended the hill from Ithaca- by two inclined planes,
up the steeper of which the cars were drawn by means
of a huge windlass worked by horse power. Bright
anticipations of the future were, of course, raised by all
these increased facilities, and Ithaca, like most nascent
cities, went through its era of speculation. It was
destined, however, to be prosperous, but not great as a
commercial centre, and it gradually settled down to a
steady growth. In 1845 the population was about
4,000, in i860 about 7,000, and now it is nearly 12,000.
But from all this let us turn to our Ithaca, as we
know it to-day, as it is loved b}- its citizens and admired
by all comers.



Nobly and beautifully situated, the lake stretching
out its silver beauty before her, the hills rising about
her to form a terraced amphitheatre, Ithaca is to-day fast
realizing all that is meant by the term, a University
town. Pictures of Oxford and Cambridge, of the Uni-
versity towns of Germany, rise before the mind in
comparison with which, however, Ithaca suffers not at
all. Youngest of her sisters, it is true, not yet so fully
developed in all ways, but quietly and rapidh' growing
into her place.

The view from South Hill, coming in on the Delaware,
Lackawanna and Western Railroad, the old Ithaca and
Owego road, is on the whole the most comprehensive
and satisfactorv'.* On the east and west the lake valley
rises to the level of the old plateau in graceful curves,
intersected here and there bj- some one of the numerous
ravines. On East Hill the buildings of the Cornell
University stand out in bold relief, Cascadilla Place in
the foreground, half hidden by foliage, i To the north
the placid waters of Cayuga flow out to meet the hori-
zon. Crow-bar Point, six miles down the lake, seeming
to cut it off, and the water then reappearing far in the

* See PVontispiece.

t These buildings do not appear in the Frontispiece. See
View of the Campus.


distance beyond. Right below us rise the roofs and
spires of the city itself, the Cornell lyibrary Building,
and the new High School Building being conspicuous
among surrounding edifices. Just at the base of West
Hill runs the sluggish Inlet ; on its bank are the great ele-
vators, further to the north the steamboat landing and
the dingy coal docks. Near the base of the East Hill,
witching Willow Avenue leads the now quiet Cascadilla
to the L,ake. Such is the Forest City as seen in the
whole, nestling among its hills, guarded b}?- its s^dvan

But from the hill let us come nearer, and visit those
places that we should know about, and leani how they
came to be.



Ithaca early started out as a literary place. As early
as in 1806, three hundred dollars worth of books were
purchased to constitute a public librar}'. Few, if any,
additions were ever made to this collection, and about
1835 the books were divided up among the members of
the Minerva Society, who had acquired the title to the
librar}-. The library disappeared in the way such li-
braries do, the various persons who had books in their
possession keeping those they had, and getting as many
more as they could.

In 1862, Ezra Cornell, having acquired a large for-
tune in building up the telegraph system of the countiy ,
came to the decision that he would be his own ex-
ecutor in making that fortune a blessing to other men.
He decided to found a free public library'. His first in-
tention was to devote $20,000 to the purchase of a lot
and the erection of a building, but on consultation with
his friends, this original purpose was greatly modified,
and he finally decided to start the library- as it ought to
be started, let the cost be what it might. With clear
business foresight he recognized the fact that to ensure
the permanence and pro.sperity of the Librar}- it mu^t
be made self-sustaining. In accordance with this \-ie\v,
the present librar>- building was erected, and dedicated
with impressive ceremonies, on the the 2otli of Decem-
ber, 1866, having cost, with the books in the librar}- at
the time of dedication, $65,676.50.


The building stands on the corner of Seneca and Tio-
ga Streets. It is a handsome brick structure, three
stories high above a finished basement. The first floor
is at present occupied by the rooms of the First Nation-
al Bank, the Cornell Free Reading Room, and business
offices. The second floor contains the rooms for the
Library, and a large hall, capable of seating over eight
hundred persons. The third floor contains two large
rooms over the hall, and a suit of living rooms for the
janitor. The library room is thirty feet wide, fifty feet
long, and twenty-four feet high, well lighted and fire-
proof. The space for books is divided into two tiers of
alcoves, each tier containing ten alcoves, and each
pair of alcoves being finished in a different native wood.
The capacity of the room is about 30,000 volumes. It
at present contains about 12,000. The income from
the rent of the business offices and the hall has proved
sufficient not only for the maintenance of the Ivibrar>%
but also for a steady addition to the volumes on its

The I^ibrary is controlled by the Cornell lyibrary As-
sociation, incorporated in 1864, according to Mr. Cor-
nell's own ideas. The Board of Trustees consists of the
eldest male descendant of Ezra Cornell, the pastors of the
Presbyterian, First and Second Methodist, Congregation-
al, Episcopal, First Baptist, and Catholic churches, the
principal of the Academy, the Principal of the District
Schools, the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, the
President of the village, the Chief Engineer of the
Fire Department, and six others. The Eibrarian of the
Library is ex officio, a trustee of Cornell University.



On Cayuga Street, between Seneca and Buffalo,
stands a graceful brick edifice that serves the village ot
Ithaca as High School. Ornamental in its outlines,
convenient in location, and furnished in accordance with
the best modern scientific ideas on edvication, it is an
honor to the Forest City.

The corner-stone of the building was laid Sept. 2d,

1884, with imposing Masonic ceremonies. Sept. 7th,

1885, the dedicatory- services were held in the building.
The High School stands on the site of the old Ithaca
Academy, the corporation of this institution ha\-ing
made over its property to the village of Ithaca in 18S4.
The material of the building is pressed brick, orna-
mented with terra cotta work. The first floor contains
the rooms of the Grammar School, rooms for the Board
of Education and the Superintendent, and cloak rooms.
The second story contains a study hall fifty-two by six-
ty-five feet, a physical laboratory, four recitation rooms
and the Principal's office. The entire cost of the com-
pleted building was $55,549.18. The building is fur-
nished throughout with school furniture of the most
approved construction, and supplied with ever>- appli-
ance to promote the good health of the pupils. The
building is a noble structure, and in its completeness
and efficiency well represents the pul)lic school system
of Ithaca.




Aside from the High School, the pubHc buildings of
note are the Court House on DeWitt Park, and the
building for the police station and the fire department,
on the corner of Seneca and Tioga Streets. It can hardly
be said that either of these buildings possess such archi-
tectural beauty as to attract a ver^' careful inspection.



The first religious denomination to be represented by
an organized church in the settlement of Ithaca was the
Presbyterian. The First Presb5'terian church of Ithaca
was organized in 1804, with a membership of seven
persons. The Rev. G. Mandeville was the first pastor,
and continued to preach here and at Trumansburg on
alternate Sundaj-s for twelve years, when he became
discouraged, and gave up, so little spiritual activity
was manifested by the settlers. In 18 16 Dr. Wisner
began his labors by excommunicating six of the twent}^
members ; and his zeal and earnestness were rewarded
by the rapid growth of the .society until in 1820 it num-
bered one hundred and thirteen members. At that time
horse racing and intemperance were not held by public
opinion to be at all incompatible with the exercise of
the Christian graces, and Dr. Wisner, who held a
different view, had no little trouble with his congrega-
tion. The first church building was erected in 18 18.
In 1825 this was altered and enlarged, and .so remained
till 1853, when it was torn down, and the present com-
modious building erected. The church stands on the
north-west corner of DeWitt Park, is an imposing edi-
fice viewed from the outside, and the inside is finished
with good taste and elegance. A neat brick building
for lecture-room and chapel, adjoins the church on the


The First, or Aurora Street, Methodist church, is a
handsome brick edifice, on the corner of Aurora and
Mill Streets. It was erected in 1866. The society was
first organized in 1794, b}- the Rev. John Broadhead,
but soon became practically extinct. In 181 7 it was re-
vived, and in 1820 a chapel was erected on the site of
the present building, and dedicated under the pastorate
of the Rev. G. W. Densmore. Hitherto the villagers
had been obliged to rely upon their memories to be re-
min-ded of the hour of church service, but these had
doubtless been found more or less treacherous, and con-
sequently the new chapel was equipped with a bell, the
first to send its summons across Cayuga valley.

St. John's Episcopal Church was organized at a meet-
ing held in the Methodist chapel, April 8th, 1822. In
1823 the first church edifice, a brick structure, was erected
on the site of the present building. In 1844 the church
was repaired and enlarged ; in 1845 ^ parsonage was
purchased, and in i860 the old church was torn down,
and the present substantial edifice on the corner of
Buffalo and Cayuga Streets, was erected in its stead.
St. Paul's Episcopal church was organized in 1874, and
holds services in the University Chapel.

The First Baptist Church of Ithaca, now known as
the Park Baptist Church, occupies a commodious and
tasteful brick building on the east side of DeWitt Park.
The .society was first organized in Danbj^ village as the
Danby Baptist Church, but for purposes of convenience
was removed to Ithaca in 1826, taking its present name.
The first church building was erected in 1 830-3 1 , and
the present building in 1854.


The First Congregational Church was organized in
1830, by the Rev. John H. Schemerhom, as the Re-
formed Protestant Dutch Church, and a building was
erected in 1830-31. In 1872 the organization was
changed to a Congregational Societ}-, and in 1883-4 the
present handsome edifice on the comer of Seneca and
Geneva Streets was erected. Beautiful, but not espe-
cially imposing, viewed from the exterior, the church
from the interior is a model of taste, comfort and con-

The Second Methodist Church occupies a large brick
edifice on the corner of State and Albany vStreets. The
society was organized from the First Church in 1851 ;
and first erected a frame structure on the corner of
Seneca and Plain Streets. The societ}' was then known
as the Seneca Street M. E. Church. In 1878 the pres-
ent church building was erected, and the church has
since been known as the State Street Church.

The First Unitarian Society of Ithaca was the out-
growth of a series of meetings which began in the
Town Hall on the 15th of October, 1865. The Rev.
Samuel J. May, notable in anti-slaver}' histor\% officia-
ted at this meeting, and was prominently interested in
the movement which followed. In 1S68 articles of asso-
ciation were adopted, and the name of the society
changed to the Church of Christian Unity. The society
at present occupies a neat frame edifice on Buffalo Street
near Aurora, which was erected in 1873.

The first Catholic settlers came to Ithaca about 1830,
and a church was organized in 1834, and called the


Church of the Immaculate Conception. The first build-
ing was erected in 1851, and the present church, on the
comer of Seneca and Geneva Streets, in i860.

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Online LibraryCharles H. (Charles Herbert) ThurberIn and out of Ithaca : a description of the village, the surrounding scenery and Cornell University → online text (page 1 of 6)