A Revitalized Eddy Gate in Ithaca's Collegetown

 Photo courtesy The History Center in Tompkins County

Photo courtesy The History Center in Tompkins County

“So enter that thou mayest become more learned; more thoughtful; so depart that daily thou mayest become more useful to they country and to mankind.” This motto, borrowed from the Latin inscription on the gate at the University of Padua, marks the Eddy Gate on the southwestern edge of Cornell University.

Today the Eddy Gate leads to a tucked-away parking lot away from the main thoroughfares leading to campus. But the grand gateway was once a vibrant transition space between city and college, with a grand circular drive leading to it and streetcars trundling past. A film studio, Cayuga Pictures, even shot a scene for one of their silent films, "If Women Only Knew," (1920) at the spot.

First Cornell president Andrew Dickson White donated funds for the gate’s construction, and it was completed in 1896. Architect William H. Miller designed the gate’s alternating courses of sandstone and limestone. An ornate wrought-iron arch with a medallion of Ezra Cornell spans the top of the gate. It’s formally known as the Andrew Dickson White Memorial Gate, and at one time was informally known as “Andy White’s chocolate layer cake” because the colors of the layered stones resembled a frosted cake in Cornell’s colors.

When it was built, the entrance was meant to revitalize campus and showcase the natural beauty of the Cascadilla Gorge and campus landscaping. To honor Ezra Cornell and the university’s early students, professors, and leaders, President White chose the following words to be inscribed in a tablet on the gate:

“In remembrance of all who with him had part in founding this university, of all who with him here gave instruction, of all who here pursued their studies under his presidency and with a God speed to all who have done or shall go hence to their life work with noble purposes and firm resolves, this gateway is erected by Andrew Dickson White 1896.”

Now this neglected spot is once again receiving attention. Cornell’s Campus Planning Office is partnering with Design Connect, a student-led community design organization, to come up with new uses for the open space adjoining the gateway in what they're calling Project Eddy Gate. From May 4 to May 6, Design Connect will construct a pop-up park in the Eddy Gate alley to welcome the Cornell and larger communities to enjoy the space. Known as “tactical urbanism,” this type of approach encourages engagement with urban areas that have fallen into disuse. The weekend may well spark a renaissance of this historic landmark that connects town and gown.