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  • Thu, November 02, 2023 3:44 PM | Anonymous
    The Tompkins County HistoryForge project has been digitizing local census, map, and building records since 2016. Our pilot HistoryForge site is an ever-growing, expanding, and improving public platform for visualizing local history; growing monthly with the contributions of volunteer transcribers and through the support of the National Archives. With data sets that now span over 70 years of local records for the City of Ithaca, the opportunities this database provides for local researchers is huge.

    One way our staff have been intentionally using this wealth of digitized content in the last three years is to showcase diverse and historically underrepresented communities and individuals in Tompkins County. Through using search terms like "Foreign Born", "Mother Tongue", "Race", "Place of Birth" and other census categories we are able to search for communities whose records might not be preserved or aren't currently held in our archives and paper collections

    This feature has been most utilized in the development of our history and heritage month web pages and corresponding social media series. In developing content for these pages our staff and student workers first explore the materials held in our archives and library collections, but for some identities that do not yet have related archives we turn to HistoryForge

    The 1910 census included the category 'Deaf and Dumb'*, "dumb" being an outdated and offensive term meaning non-speaking. By searching HistoryForge using the filter for this question you can see the census results for six deaf residents who were living in the City of Ithaca. This search gave our Masters-student researcher a starting point for her Deaf History Month research. 

    You may know that the Southside Neighborhood is a historically black community. Through using the "Race" category in different census years we can see that in 1880 there were 38 households with Black residents in the neighborhood in just the two blocks bordered by S. Corn St, W. Clinton St, S. Plain St, and W. Green StIn 1930 the number of Black residents in the neighborhood had increased to 66, and increased to 106 Black residents in the same two block neighborhood by the 1950 census.

    In searching for Hispanic and Latino residents for our Hispanic Heritage Month we used census filters like "Mother Tongue" and "Place of Birth" on each census year. Discovering that the 1900 census for the City of Ithaca had only five residents born in North, Central, and South American Latino countries, by 1940 that number had grown to 78 residents. 

    Claire Deng's pioneering research in 2021-2022 on the earliest Asian residents of Tompkins County first started with HistoryForge. By discovering names on the census of residents born in east-Asian countries, she was then able to cross search specific names through newspaper and historic records and discover multi-generational family stories and Asian-owned businesses dating back to the 1800s. This research resulted in the Tang Family Collection and the Tompkins County Asian Diaspora Collection now held in our collections.

    The census while a wealth of information, also has faults and historic quirks that make it an incomplete picture of any community. In finding information for Filipino-American Heritage Month, we came up against issues of race classification in different census years. “Filipino” was one of three new racial categories added to the 1920 census. No one on the 1920 census for Ithaca was recorded with the race “Filipino.” One enumerator did, however, encounter a man, Zack N. Dapula, who was born in the Philippines, as were his parents. Without specific instructions on what constituted Filipino as a race, the enumerator visually determined that Dapula was “Mulatto.” In 1930 six people were recorded on the census for the City of Ithaca as "Filipino." Highlighting the inconsistencies of racial categorization on the census, all six also appeared on the 1940 census, but there they were recorded as "White." 

    These are a few select examples that show how we are using our local HistoryForge platform (there are now eight HistoryForge sites in four states) to expand the types of stories we are able to find and tell about the history of Ithaca and Tompkins County. Through the two-year National Archives grant awarded to the project in 2022 the project is currently expanding into the rest of Tompkins County. We hope that in the coming years our community will be able to more easily search and discover the stories of historic residents in our rural townships as effectively as we now can for the Town and City of Ithaca. 
  • Thu, November 02, 2023 3:43 PM | Anonymous

    Listen to a local history tour!

    If you've been supporting and following The History Center since 2013 we hope you've had the opportunity to learn about and engage with the over 40 self-guided history tours we've made available on the free PocketSights app. These tours have expanded from the collaborative Ithaca Heritage tourism grant (2013-2019) that created the first 20+ tours, and now include driving and cycling tours on different history themes across the county. 

    Since the start of the PocketSights collaboration, we've gotten feedback from our local history enthusiasts who don't like apps, or have difficulty using the platform. With accessibility in mind, over the last 9 months our Senior Community Service Employment worker Lucius has been recording audio versions for these tours, recording segments on the literal hundreds of local stops highlighted through these tours.

    Through Lucius's commitment to this project with over 500 hours worked so far, we now have audio versions for 32 of the self-guided tours developed in collaboration by The History CenterHistoric Ithaca, and the Wharton Studio Museum since 2013. The audio versions of the tours can be listed to for free on The History Center's SoundCloud profile by selecting the "Playlists" tab on our page, or accessed as links in each PocketSights tour stop. We will have a web page dedicated to the audio playlists for these tours available in 2024.

    We are continuing with this project in the coming year, and are committed to continuing to make local history content available in multiple formats so more of our community can engage with the rich history of Tompkins County! Learn more at

    We are especially grateful to the Associates for Training & Development (A4TD) program that has funded Lucius' work-training placement with us this year as part of the Older Americans Act, and for supporting workers-over-50 in our community learn new skills to rejoin the workforce.

    Prior to this project Lucius had never before done recording work, and only recently moved to Tompkins County. This project has hugely expanded his technical skills and knowledge of the community.

  • Sat, October 07, 2023 1:59 PM | Anonymous

    'Gravestones Tell the Stories of Black Ithacans at the Ithaca City Cemetery'

    By Christine O’Malley (Preservation Services Coordinator, Historic Ithaca)

    and Patricia Longoria (Local Historian)

    Originally published in New York State Archaeological Association Fall 2023 newsletter, Volume 19, Issue 2. Republished here with permission.

  • Wed, September 27, 2023 4:50 PM | Anonymous

    This is the first of an occasional series featuring interesting parts of The History Center's archival collections.

    One of the earliest priorities of Tompkins County government when it was first  established was to provide services for the most needy members of the population. New York State legislation spurred the establishment of the county's Alms House (sometimes called the Poor House) to address this need. Beginning in 1829, the County Board of Supervisors oversaw this institution that would serve the community until 1987, when it closed.

    Located on Perry City Road in the Town of Ulysses, the Alms House was more than just a home for impoverished residents; it was also a working farm, with 100 acres where able-bodied residents were expected to work. The produce and dairy products grown on the farm were either consumed by the residents or sold. This continued until 1981, when the county legislature voted to end farming operations, and in 1987, after years of declining enrollment and decaying infrastructure, the Alms House formally closed.

    The Tompkins County Alms House Collection contains five boxes and several ledgers documenting admissions, discharges, physicians' records, deaths, and other data on indigent members of the community served. General information like annual reports and financial accounts can be found, along with more personal accounts such as personal correspondence and judges' reports on vulnerable individuals.

     To view this collection or for more information email

  • Fri, September 22, 2023 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    For Traverse Tompkins, I am proposing to do a history - run.  I plan to take some pictures along the route. Pictures will be added to this essay in October, and some of my pictures will be included in the mailed 'Building Bridges' booklet sent to all Traverse Tompkins donors.


    Between sixteen and seventeen miles.  And a good time to recognize the political leadership in Cortland County, Tompkins County, and the Towns of Dryden and Ithaca that have pushed through the approximately 6.5 miles of restored trail at the beginning and end of this old railroad.  The work has been tedious, but also shown steady progress, because of that political vision.  Government can accomplish good things.  And what is old can be new again.  I hope that this run reminds people about some of our still visible railroad history, but also in a small way helps keep the boiler fires stoked to make the path of the Elmira Cortland Northern Railroad a functioning transportation corridor again, this time as a fully connected Rail Trail.

    I worked for nine years in Cortland and commuted from Ithaca on a regular basis. Driving out along Route 366, I noticed that remnants of the old railroad between Ithaca and Cortland. The Elmira Cortland & Northern Railroad, originally the Ithaca & Cortland Railroad built in 1869, are still visible.The EC&N (later part of the Lehigh Valley Railroad) was an important part of the transportation system for Ithaca.  As a boy growing up in Belle Sherman, we saw the trains still operating from Cortland, so the history is relatively recent.  With my brother, we climbed around the coal cars, coal piles, and a large gray wood structure used to dump the coal out of the bottom of the rail cars into trucks (luckily, without serious injury).  At the time, Cornell heated its steam plant with coal, so there was a lot of it around.  The East Hill Depot (since moved) was located across from the present Coal Yard Café (then the business office for the sale of coal), but did not seem to be in real use anymore.  But earlier, it had been a major delivery point for the City of Ithaca.

    If you drive to Cortland and go by the Gutchess Lumber Company on Route 366, you will cross a still existing spur of the rail line.  A short distance to the west, Cortland County has turned a 2.5 mile section of the abandoned line into a rail trail. The run will start on this Lehigh Valley Trail in neighboring Cortland County at its intersection with Gracie Road for approximately 1 mile.

    Near the end of the Lehigh Valley Trail where it dead ends, there is a path leading to Route 366.  Running in the direction of McLean for about 1.8 miles, the old rail line is parallel to Route 366 downhill to the left.  After going through the hamlet of McLean, the railroad crossed the highway next to the Country Acres manufactured home park and proceeded down what is now a residential driveway on the north side of Route 366.  In the winter, a lengthy trestle can still be seen there crossing Fall Creek.  This stretch of the run, to Freeville is approximately 4.3 miles

    Because Fall Creek meanders, the railroad had to build and maintain several creek crossings and raised causeways.  Several of these trestles are still there along the way.  The pathway of the line roughly parallels Route 366, but on the north side with Fall Creek in between.  Remnants of the rail crossings can be seen from West Malloryville Road and Red Mill Road.  On Google maps, the outline of the rail line can be picked out, even across the Cornell experimental farm fields along Ed Hill Road.  One of the farm roads appears to be built on the old tracks.  As the run gets close to Freeville, just before it crossed the highway, a creek bridge on the right has recently been in use by cattle.

    At Freeville, the run takes a left turn onto Cook Street and then passes through the parking lot of the aptly named Lehigh Crossing Apartments at the site of an intersection with another Lehigh Valley rail line that ran between Groton through Dryden and beyond.  However, instead of going east to Dryden along the recent construction of this Trail starting at the Jim Schug Trailhead, the run will instead continue on a grassy path following the ECNR that connects to the Freeville Depot Road till it stops at Johnson Road.  Unfortunately, while the long level Freeville Depot Road still exists and runs almost 3 miles southwest to Kirk Road on the edge of Etna, it is gated and posted no trespass. Tempting to climb the gate, but instead the run goes down Johnson Road and back to Route 366.  

    From Kirk Road the trail again goes wild for a bit curving to the right around the Hamlet.  Looking on Google maps, the line running to the south of Etna is clear and tantalizingly close to being a running path until it crosses Etna Lane and later Route 366 just past the Etna Nature Preserve, Etna Cemetery, and a bend in Fall Creek.

    After crossing Route 366, the train would continue west on the south side of Fall Creek along the edge of existing farm fields and scrub forest, again along a stretch that looks close to being a trail (but is not) until it intersects with Pinckney Road.  The run will go back to Route 366 to the center of Etna, cross the newly rebuilt County bridge over Fall Creek and follow Lower Creek Road as it parallels the other side of Fall Creek from the Railroad for about 2 miles.  At Pinckney Road the run heads up hill, crossing the old rail line next to the Heidelberg concrete company.  While the run will proceed up to Route 13 and turn right for approximately 1 mile, the rail line runs on a gentle curve to the left above the concrete plant and underneath the new to Tompkins County Knickerbocker Bed Frame Company and meets State Highway 13 there.   

    As a possible next step, are plans to construct a pedestrian/bike bridge right there for a new section of rail trail to connect back to Pinckney Road.  If interested in the progress, the Dryden Rail Trail Task Force will keep you up to date.  

    For now, crossing Route 13 at ground level, the end of the run finishes as it began, on almost 4 miles of completed rail trail.  First, there is the Dryden portion that flows through mature forest to the east of Fall Creek near a section of the stream known as Monkey Run Natural Area all the way to Varna where it uses the iron bridge over Route 366 and continues past Mount Pleasant Road and the new solar farms to Game Farm Road.  A short section of the trail recently opened here connecting the Dryden and Ithaca paths with two newly rebuilt trestles over what becomes Cascadilla Creek.  

    The Trail becomes the East Ithaca Recreation Way as the path crosses into the Town of Ithaca at Game Farm Road and continues for approximately another mile along the Upper Cascadilla Natural Area.  At Pine Tree Road (where, by the way, the East Hill Depot was moved and is still used as a restaurant up near the P&C), there is a left turn, short uphill, and down Maple Avenue to the finish at the Coal Yard Café.  There is a very large lump of coal standing near the door inscribed with the words “Coal Office” that has been there at least since I saw it as a child.  The Rail Trail continues about another mile and a half, ending at Honness Lane.  But the run plan is to enter the Cafe and have a cool restorative beverage.


    Rich John is a general practice lawyer, consultant, and businessperson located in Ithaca, New York. He is a member of the Tompkins County Legislature, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, Chair of the T. C. Industrial Development Agency, and is an adjunct professor at the Cornell Law School. Rich John is also a member of the Board of Trustees for The History Center

  • Thu, September 21, 2023 5:54 PM | Anonymous

    As a final bridge post we wanted to share a bit about the recently renamed 'Kirby Edmonds Bridge' over Route 13. Originally built in 2001 as a pedestrian bridge to connect the east side of the highway to Buttermilk Falls State Park as part of a planned 'Gateway Trail'. The bridge existed for more than a decade without a corresponding trail on either side. Without access, or a trail that led to it the turquoise metal truss structure came to be known by locals as the "bridge to nowhere".

    In 2022 Ithaca Town Supervisor (and former director of The History Center in Tompkins County) Rod Howe approached city officials with the idea of naming the bridge after local educator and activist Kirby Edmonds who has passed away in 2020. This suggestion came as concrete plans to connect the bridge to the Black Diamond Trail were again being pursued with active interest. Edmonds was a leader, educator, and thoughtful contributor in community justice efforts for over 40 years. A co-founder and leader within Training for Change, the Dorothy Cotton Institute, Be the One, Ithaca's Comprehensive Plan Committee, and decades of work supporting local youth through programs at GIAC and the Ithaca Youth Bureau.

    One of the key programs Kirby spearheaded the creation of was 'Building Bridges' collective network. Building Bridges, established in the 20-teens, was a self-described collective action network of over 65 organizations across Tompkins County that shared common goals of social and environmental justice work but rarely communicated or collaborated with each other.

    Kirby's life-long work to create an interconnected network of social solutions in our community that lead to equity and justice for all, will now be preserved through the physical network of the Kirby Edmonds Bridge connecting our community through the paths we walk. Kirby's voice and thoughtful perspectives on equity and justice is preserved in our oral history archives, through a 2018 interview.

    We hope this year's Traverse Tompkins has made you think a bit as you've crossed a bridge in your regular travels around our County, and that you'll think more about the connections bridges bring for everyone and the work done to remember the builders and the bridges themselves.

  • Tue, August 29, 2023 7:32 PM | Anonymous

    We're already 1/2 of the way to our fundraising goal! Keep spreading the word! Support Ben's ride on 9/23 or do your own!

    You can start your own ride or support Ben and our other walkers, runners, and riders at our event manager below:

    The basic premise is simple - get outside and explore local history through a theme! Whether you're walking 1 mile to a local bridge, or competing in a 24 hour marathon, you can support The History Center by exploring local history.  Join us for a kick-off breakfast on Saturday, September 23rd, and then set off and explore the many different bridges across our community. Compete against other travelers for the most miles traveled - or simply explore at your pace and style! Find out more on our campaign site:

    Here's How It Works!

    There are two ways to participate and join the effort to keep our history alive.

    Option 1: Sign up for free and commit to asking your community for pledges to support your travels. Fueled by your obvious love for history and Tompkins County, reach out to your friends, family, and colleagues to pledge their support for your challenge. Their pledge - of any amount - gets calculated after you complete your mileage.

    Option 2: Buy an entry ticket! Asking for pledges isn't for everyone, but Traverse Tompkins should be. Your ticket price goes directly towards supporting The History Center's mission, and you still get to explore the bridges of Tompkins County!

    Discover more at:

  • Tue, August 29, 2023 7:31 PM | Anonymous

    Knot Sew Fast - Quilt Exhibit - *NEW ADDITION*

    The 'Women of Influence: Each Block a Story' quilt has been returned to the Seneca Iroquois National Museum for their upcoming exhibit 'Here, Now, and Always Haudenosaunee Beadwork' opening in Salamanca NY on September 23rd. We hope you'll plan a visit!

    For the remaining four months of the 'Knot Sew Fast: Patchwork of Tompkins County' quilt exhibit we will have the quilt 'Here Comes the Sun' on loan from the 40 Quilts for 40 Beds project, coordinated by the Community Quiltmaking Center

    The Community Quiltmaking Center and a growing group of individuals and organizations across Tompkins County have come together with free fabric and resources to help make the Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County's vision for handmade quilts on every bed at their new Open Access Detox Center a reality. Together, through this collaborative quilt project, they also hope to increase our community’s awareness and understanding of addiction, and lessen the stigma attached to this illness that impacts the lives of so many.

    This quilt officially joins our exhibit on Septembers First Friday Gallery Night (9/1 - 5-8pm) along with the quiltmakers story that inspired the design. We are very excited to be able to include this quilt in Knot Sew Fast, and to continue to highlight the many ways quilts, quilters, and quiltmaking have been ongoing point of community connection, skilled work, and a cultural practice of caring and expression across generations in Tompkins County. 

    The Community Quiltmaking Center is seeking more quilters to get involved with this project. Reach out to them here

  • Tue, August 22, 2023 6:26 PM | Anonymous

    Jane Koestler, our new part-time educator at The History Center, transitioned to this position after working two seasons as a schoolmarm at our Eight Square Schoolhouse.

    Jane earned her B.A. in Psychology from Cornell University, M.S. from SUNY College at Cortland, and National Board Certification as a Middle Childhood Generalist in 2017. She is also a New York Master Teacher, Emeritus.

    She taught 3rd-6th grade students during her 33-year tenure as a teacher, primarily working for the Ithaca City School District. She and her husband have two grown children, live in the country near Trumansburg, and recently helped her parents relocate to Ithaca. They have a large garden, and she is chief harvester and processor at “Fat Rabbit Farm”. Outside of work, she loves reading, singing, and walking, and participates in two monthly book groups. She is excited to join the staff at The History Center to create and facilitate educational opportunities for children and youth in our community.

    Send her an email at

  • Fri, August 18, 2023 6:22 PM | Anonymous

    We had a wonderful crowd of over 200 people come through on July 12th to celebrate the exhibit opening of 'Celebrating our 20th Swim: Women Swimmin' for Hospicare'. The atrium exhibit pulls together 20 years of memorabilia, including swim caps, t-shirts, and many memories from the swimmers and paddlers!

    The event was graced with a wonderful performance from the Yardvarks, the band who plays at sunrise each year to guide the swimmers to shore, as well as food from Word of Mouth Catering.

    This exhibit will be on display in the atrium of the Tompkins Center for History & Culture through October 2023. Stop by M-Saturday 10am-5pm. 

    Our thanks and congratulations to the display team: Lorraine Heasley, Linda Mikula, Judy Stewart, Bonni Boyland, and Sara Worden, as well as Image Press and The History Center for their support in the digital aspects of the exhibit design.

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