Featured Tours

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Historic Bridges in Tompkins County, NY Tour

Each stop on the tour highlights one of Tompkins County's historical bridges, showing how it has been either altered or preserved over the years.

 

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William Henry Miller Lower Collegetown Architecture Walking Tour

William Henry Miller (1848-1922) was one of Ithaca's most prolific local architects, dramatically reshaping the skyline of Ithaca and Cornell University.

 
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Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour

This LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning) local history tour is designed to preserve some of the rich stories and heritage of our Ithaca community.

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Ithaca College: A Walking Tour of Its Downtown Roots

Ithaca College began modestly in 1892 as the Ithaca Conservatory of Music, founded in downtown Ithaca by a local musician, violinist William Grant Egbert. This walking tour begins at the Boardman House on DeWitt Park and includes many college landmarks


Featured person

Verne Morton, “SElf Portrait”. Photograph from the History Center in Tompkins County Collection.

Verne Morton, “SElf Portrait”. Photograph from the History Center in Tompkins County Collection.

Verne Morton (1868-1945)

By the late 1890s the art and science of photography had advanced considerably beyond the cumbersome and costly processes of the mid-1800s. Cameras and equipment were more portable and accessible to gifted amateurs, and photography became a popular outlet for people eager to record images of daily life. One such gifted amateur in Tompkins County was Groton’s Verne Morton. Born in 1868, Morton, the son of a farmer, was a dedicated schoolteacher in various district schools in Groton, Lansing, Dryden, and Locke. His students remembered him as quiet, shy, and kindly. He was also a skilled amateur naturalist, with an extensive library of field guides to the flora and fauna of the area. He collected various plant specimens, which he meticulously labeled and preserved on proper herbarium sheets.

Morton’s first photographs date to 1896, and for the next 49 years, until his death in 1945, he painstakingly documented rural life in upstate New York in more than 12,000 remarkable photographs. His subjects include the people and the activities of the world in which he lived: farmers stacking hay; children running in a schoolyard; beekeepers extracting honey from a comb; family groups posed outside of farmhouses. It is interesting to see the dramatic technological and social changes that Morton’s images highlight as the 20th century progresses. Automobiles replace ox carts, and tractors supplant horse-drawn plows. Telephone poles and wires appear in village street scenes, and a woman is pictured in a Bell Telephone office in Groton.

But nearly half the photographs he took were of the natural world, which he portrayed with great skill and artistry. Cornell naturalist Anna Botsford Comstock and horticulturist Liberty Hyde Bailey often used Morton’s photographs of local plants and flowers to illustrate their publications and bulletins put out by Cornell’s College of Agriculture. His images of animals in the wild remind us of the extraordinary patience that great nature photographers must have to capture the fleeting moments when they are in view.


featured site

Henry St. John School (undated; Courtesy The History Center in Tompkins County)

Henry St. John School (undated; Courtesy The History Center in Tompkins County)

Henry St. John School KindergarTen (THE Ithaca Journal)

Henry St. John School KindergarTen (THE Ithaca Journal)

Henry St. John Building, 301 S. Geneva St., Ithaca, NY

The City of Ithaca experienced a mini population boom in the 1910s, growing by almost 15 percent between 1910 and 1920. School enrollment increased at a higher rate: between 1910 and 1923, attendance rolls swelled by 40 percent. In response, the Ithaca City School District built four new elementary schools in the 1920s: Central School (now Beverly J. Martin Elementary School), Belle Sherman Elementary School, Cayuga Heights Elementary School, and the Henry St. John School on South Geneva Street.

 Local architect Arthur N. Gibb (1868-1949), who had worked in the office of noted Ithaca architect William H. Miller earlier in his career, designed the Henry St. John School in the Collegiate Gothic style popular in the early 1900s for academic buildings. Gibb, with partners, also drew up plans for other notable Ithaca landmarks, including the Masonic Temple building on S. Cayuga Street, the Treman King hardware store on the corner of State and Cayuga streets, and Stewart Park’s Cascadilla Boathouse.

Named for the city’s third mayor and school board member Henry St. John (1845-1925), the school was completed in 1925 and served the community for close to sixty years. The school had a full-day nursery program started during the Depression. Internationally recognized playground designer Bob Leathers, whose children attended the school, designed the playground in 1971, the first in his long career of volunteer-built, kid-designed play spaces.

By the 1980s, however, enrollment at Henry St. John had declined, and the district decided to close the school. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) bought the building in 1983 and converted into apartments and offices, a successful adaptive reuse that continues to serve community needs. The building gave its name to the locally designated Henry St. John Historic District established in 2014.


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Use the tools of history to understand the past, gain perspective on the present, and help shape the future.