Explore the deep heritage of Ithaca, New York and Tompkins County
through walking, biking, and driving tours.
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.
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.
Barns of Tompkins County
This driving tour is based on the "Barns of Tompkins County: Self-Guided Driving Tour" prepared by Historic Ithaca and the New York State Barn Coalition in 2008.
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
HEnry Noble Hinckley
Born December 1, 1888 in Trumansburg, New York, Henry N. Hinckley’s life intersected with milestones and minutiae of Tompkins County’s history.
His parents, Henry L. and Nellie Noble Hinckley, purchased the Victorian mansion at 409 East Buffalo Street in Ithaca when he was four months old. He attended Cornell University where he played violin and participated in track, tennis, boxing, swimming, Glee Club, and the Alpha Zeta fraternity. After graduating with a degree in architecture in 1911, he first worked as an architect before being employed by the Thomas-Morse Air Craft Corporation. His commission as a Lieutenant in the Air Force Signal Corps took him to France until his discharge as a Captain in 1921.
The post-war years saw him open an investment brokerage, serve as Ithaca’s Building Commissioner for six years, and own and manage residential properties. He was active in the American Legion, the Rotary, and the First Presbyterian Church. He and Eleanor Belden Hulings married in 1924 or 1925 and soon after, their son, Henry Lester Hinckley II, was born on Christmas Eve, 1925.
After the stock market crashed in 1929 and the Great Depression began, his world changed immensely. He suffered the deaths of both his son – at 4 from spinal meningitis – and his mother within months in 1930. (His father died previously in 1912.) Divorce by Eleanor and the loss of his fortune followed soon after. Collecting antiques became his passion. He loved and collected patent information on the Ithaca Kitty! He lost the family mansion in 1945, moving into a renovated carriage house, keeping several cats as company. Mary Van Allen, a fellow antiques dealer, became his companion.
Following his death in 1969, his will established the Hinckley Foundation Museum in his last residence. Dedicated to his father, mother, and son, it included Americana collected by Hinckley. Various lectures, demonstrations, and social events reflecting exhibit themes were held in the museum, which also published booklets and such. The facility operated until 2000. The History Center in Tompkins County holds the Hinckley Family Collection. The Kroch Library at Cornell University Library holds the Henry N. Hinckley Papers and the Henry N. Hinckley Local History Ephemera.
Tompkins Center for History and Culture (Projected opening, spring 2019), 106-112 N. Tioga Street, Ithaca, NY
Tompkins County’s cultural heritage center—the Tompkins Center for History and Culture—opens in spring 2019. It’s fitting that it will be housed in quarters that encompass so much of the county’s retail, entertainment, banking, and government history. The site on North Tioga Street’s “Bank Alley” is an amalgam of three different buildings joined together, each with its own history: the two-story former Tompkins County Clerk’s Office at 106 N. Tioga, the three-story former Ithaca Trust Company building at 110 N. Tioga, and the annex and glassed atrium that joins the two.
The lots on which these buildings stand were originally owned by early Ithaca landowner Abraham Bloodgood and then sold to New York Surveyor General Simeon DeWitt (Bloodgood’s son-in-law). DeWitt in turn transferred the properties to Ithaca lawyer David Woodcock, who served as village of Ithaca president, New York State legislator, and U.S. congressional representative in the early 1800s.
The oldest of the buildings is at the south end of the site. Built on plans drawn by architect and builder John H. Maurice, it was completed in 1863 on a lot that was owned by Tompkins County from 1823 to 1949. Styled after an Italian palazzo, the elegant brick-faced building has distinctive sunburst motifs over the first-floor windows and brick corbels on courses separating the first and second story. Pilasters capped with circular floral motifs frame the second-story windows. A cornice with corbel brackets accents three sides of the building.
The building at 106 N. Tioga Street served as the Tompkins County Clerk’s Office well into the twentieth century. The office included the County Judge and Surrogate’s Office and Children’s Court. In the 1930s, the Red Cross’s Ithaca Clothing Bureau rented space. An early county economic development group—the Tompkins County Development Association—had their offices in the building for two years in the mid-1930s. During the 1940s, it housed the Club Claret restaurant and nightclub owned by George Atsedes. On its opening night in November 1940, Club Claret patrons dined in the club’s Checkerboard Room and danced in the Claret Room to an orchestra with featured vocalist. Despite Atsedes’ long-term lease and improvements and an addition he made to the building—and a stipulation in an 1823 deed that the property only be used for the County Clerk’s Office—Tompkins County sold the structure to the Tompkins Trust Company in 1949.
A more modest, two-story frame building once stood on the lot directly north of 106 N. Tioga. Cornelia Ackley operated Ackley’s News Emporium there in the 1870s, where she sold books, newspapers, magazines, and stationery. “Every article required by the Great Reading Public, if not on hand, will be furnished on the shortest notice,” advertised the store in an early Ithaca directory. Cornell founder Ezra Cornell purchased the lot in 1870, and after his death in 1874 it stayed in his family until 1892. In 1917, ownership of the lot was transferred to the Ithaca Trust Company. From 1898 through the Great Depression, a “lunch shop” under various names operated out of the space. The building was demolished in 1941 and later replaced with a glassed-in entry atrium that now joins the old County Clerk’s Office with the former Ithaca Trust Company building at 110 N. Tioga.
The Ithaca architectural firm of Vivian & Gibb designed the impressive three-story stone, terra cotta, and brick headquarters of the Ithaca Trust Company in 1895 to replace an office building on the site. The architects’ chosen mix of materials gives visual interest to the façade. Two-story fluted Ionic pilasters unify the second and third stories. Shorter pilasters also flank the upper-story windows. The roofline is marked by an elaborate entablature with a projecting cornice, ornate brackets, and dentils. Arched windows anchor the first floor, while Palladian windows accent the third story. In the same year that the building was constructed, the Ithaca Trust Company purchased the western (rear) part of the adjoining 108. N. Tioga lot and sometime in the 1910s built a large annex. (In 1935, the Ithaca Trust Company merged with the Tompkins County National Bank to form the Tompkins County Trust Company.)
In addition to housing its own tellers and clerks, the bank building at 110 N. Tioga rented out space to other businesses and organizations. The Cornell Daily Sun and Cornell Alumni News managed their publications there in the 1900s and 1910s. The building’s own architect—Arthur N. Gibb and his Vivian & Gibb and later Gibb & Waltz partnerships—rented space as well. Lawyers also found a congenial home there, including Sherman Peer and George S. Tarbell, who hung his shingle in the professional offices for about four decades, and the Tompkins County Bar Association Library. In the 1920s and 1930s, agricultural groups, including the Cooperative Grange League Federation Exchange (which later became Agway), the Agricultural Advertising & Research Service, and the New York State Cooperative Official Poultry Breeders, leased offices from the bank.
Sometime after 1949, when the Tompkins County Trust Company purchased the old County Clerk’s Office, the three buildings became unified into one large bank office. In 2017, during the Tompkins County bicentennial year celebration, the county began exploring the idea of purchasing the bank building. The Tompkins Trust Company sold the complex to Tompkins County in 2018, and the county began renovating the building to house the Tompkins Center for History and Culture. The area that once was Cornelia Ackley’s News Emporium will now be an atrium—named the Tompkins Trust Company Atrium after its former owner—that welcomes county residents and visitors.
The Center will bring several cultural and tourism groups under one roof. On the main floor where tellers once tallied banking transactions, the History Center in Tompkins County (THC) will have exhibit space. The History Center will work with Center partners, including the Wharton Studio Museum, the Ithaca Aviation Heritage Foundation, and the Dorothy Cotton Institute, to share multiple historical narratives with visitors. The Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau will have a visitor information center and retail space in what once was the Ithaca Trust Company’s main floor, and above that cultural heritage groups will have office space. The Community Arts Partnership will host a gallery space on the first floor of the former County Clerk’s Office, and THC’s research library will operate there as well.
The adaptive reuse of these old buildings for a new cultural heritage center honors the history embodied in them and preserves the many stories they tell.
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