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Ithaca (Town and City).                 more selected entries

Town (pop 18,198) and city (pop 29,287) in central Tompkins Co. Located at the headwaters of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca was visited from 1786 to 1788 and settled in 1789. Abraham Bloodgood acquired 1,400 acres (567 ha) from the state on land called the Flats, which he conveyed in 1794 to his widowed son-in-law Simeon DeWitt. DeWitt had a subdivision survey made and offered lots for sale. He named his land Ithaca, first mentioned on a map of 1807; in 1808 the first hotel took the name Ithaca Hotel. The settlement flourished with DeWitt's encouragement and served as a transshipment point for salt and gypsum mined at Salina (Onondaga Co). In 1810 Ithaca was linked to Owego (Tioga Co) by a turnpike. Ithaca was named county seat in 1817 and the town was formed in 1821 from Ulysses; the village incorporated in that year, governed by a president and trustees.

Steamboats operated from Ithaca on Cayuga Lake beginning in 1821, carrying plaster, salt, pork, whiskey, and flour, and service continued until early in the 20th century. The Ithaca and Owego Railroad was built in 1834; by the 1850s there were rail lines north and south. The final links, connecting Ithaca to all the major rail lines, were built between 1871 and 1874. A small industrial center had developed along Fall Creek, including plaster mills, gristmills, sawmills, paper mills (1818) and carding mills (1819); in 1827 a cotton factory was established. Economic decline followed the 1837 depression. Ithaca exhibited the major social enthusiasms of the Burned-over District, including revivalism, abolitionism, and temperance. In the 1830s Irish Roman Catholics joined the primarily Protestant population of mostly white settlers. More African Americans, fleeing the South or moving further into the North from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, arrived in the period before the Civil War. The population increased following the 1868 opening of Cornell University, which provided the community with economic stability and became one of the county's two largest employers by 1900, soon ascending to first rank. The Village of Ithaca became a city in 1888, governed by a mayor and aldermen. A public library, endowed by Ezra Cornell, opened in 1866. The Ithaca Street Railway Co provided trolley service (1884-1935). Ithaca College began as the Ithaca Conservatory of Music in 1892, moving to a location on South Hill in 1965.

Post-Civil War industry included the Ithaca Agricultural Works (1867-83), the Ithaca Calendar Clock Co (1868), Phoenix Iron Works (1869-1939), the Ithaca Gun Co (1888; moved to Genoa, Cayuga Co, 1990s), and Land and Reynolds machine shop (1865-1921). In the 1890s Italian and Hungarian workers appeared in Ithaca, and in the 1910s immigrants came from Greece. These groups grew and by 1990 in the city and town there were communities of American Indians, Chinese, Indians, Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese, South Americans, Russians, and Western Europeans. In 1992 Tibetans established the Namgyal Monastery. The size of the population grew steadily throughout the 20th century with a significant jump following World War II when the university expanded and Ithaca Gun Co flourished. From 1912 to 1920 Ithaca hosted a silent movie industry. Products made in 20th-century Ithaca include cigars, pianos, organs, and airplanes; manufacturing companies include Morse Chain (Ithaca operations, 1906-80s) and National Cash Register Co (1943; later Axiom, 1995).

Local press includes the daily Ithaca Journal (1815), the Cornell Daily Sun (1880), the weekly Ithaca Times (1977), and the literary journal Bookpress (1990). Ithaca's cultural life is rich, with an opera company, the Center for the Arts in Ithaca (1965) offering summer theater and arts education, and numerous smaller drama, choral, instrumental, and dance groups. Major museums include the Sciencenter (1983), Museum of the Earth (2002), Cornell's Johnson Art Museum, and Tompkins County Museum. The city and region are served by the Cayuga Medical Center, and Ithaca hosts a giant Friends of the Library Book Sale every fall. In 1997 the Utne Reader voted the city "The Most Enlightened Community in the United States" based on the amount of citizen participation in local affairs, concern for the environment, and cultural activities. Since 1950 the population of the Town of Ithaca has more than doubled, while the population of the city has remained relatively unchanged. The city faces increasing financial strain as it attempts to continue to provide expected and mandated services.

Abt, Henry. Ithaca (Ithaca: Ross Kellogg, 1929)

Dieckmann, Jane M. A Short History of Tompkins County (Ithaca: DeWitt Historical Society, 1986)

Kammen, Carol. Peopling of Tompkins County: A Social History (Interlaken, NY: Heart of the Lakes Publishing, 1985)

Carol Kammen


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