A Reflection on the 2017 Stuart Stein Heritage Tourism Internship with the History Center

At the beginning of the summer, it was not surprising to me that the proposed Tompkins Center for History and Culture quickly drew unanimous support. As a new-comer to Ithaca two years ago, the memory is fresh in my mind of looking for a destination with information on varied attractions, activities, history, and cultural networks in Ithaca and the surrounding region – the kind of destination the Tompkins Center aims to be.  

Since the county approval, I attended several planning and coordination meetings alongside of Rod Howe, Executive Director of the History Center of Tompkins County, where I met the myriad of individuals involved. Guided by the vision and collaboration of several non-profit organizations under one roof, the Tompkins Center will undoubtedly be an oasis of resources, engaging exhibitions, and a spectacular reuse of the historic Tompkins Trust building. Not to mention it’s in a prime location in the heart of downtown, accessible by all modes of transportation.

The Heritage Ambassadors pilot program, an initiative of the Tompkins County Heritage Tourism Implementation Plan, was simultaneously taking its test run with a dedicated and diverse group of volunteers. Each Wednesday evening for a period of six weeks, we hosted a panel of presenters – many of which were debuting organization partners in the new Tompkins Center.  Not only were these evenings a fabulous, informal setting to meet people in the community, it facilitated an open dialogue about the historical and cultural linkages to the built and preserved environments unique to this place.

The most rewarding part of my experience this summer was getting to know Ithaca beyond the college-town identity. While working on the launch of new walking and driving tours, I grew accustom to the nuances of Ithaca and the surrounding region I had previously overlooked. In the process, I was introduced to the invaluable work of individuals from several local organizations, such as Historic Ithaca, the Wharton Studio Museum, and HistoryForge. I got to know and understand the deep cultural connections to agriculture and sustainable practices in the urban and rural contexts of the county. I read and wrote of the trialed lives of individuals seeking this region as a place of refuge - from slavery, persecution, or famine - and about the lingering industrial footprint of early Ithaca that had drawn thousands to its workforce.

The individuals behind Ithaca Heritage have worked diligently to make this rich historical record available to everyone through events, programs, and tools developed by the Heritage Tourism Network. I encourage you to get to know your area in a way you haven’t before by taking advantage of our new self-guided tours, located under our Tours tab. We look forward to your constructive feedback with this on-going project!

Melanie Colter
Stuart Stein Heritage Tourism Intern