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  • Thu, April 21, 2022 12:43 PM | Anonymous

    A new exhibit at The History Center in Tompkins County recounts the history of the area through the lens of the census, including a look into migration in the county. reCOUNT: Facing Our Census gives visitors a view into the past 23 decades of Tompkins County.

    The exhibit opened April 1 when the U.S. Census Bureau released the 1950s census records. Displays in the exhibit include a focus on education, employment, census procedures, immigration, and definitions of race and the ways these changed over the years.

    Two displays centered around immigration to the Tompkins County area, one with a map detailing the origins of immigrants to the county since 1870 and another focusing on Asiatic immigration. While Tompkins County has a rich history of immigration, it is not only seen in the history books, or in this case the census records. The population of Tompkins County is 12.7% foreign born, and this increases to 17.5% in the city of Ithaca, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As of July, 2021, the bureau estimates Asian people comprise 10.4% of Tompkins County’s population.

    Zoë Van Nostrand, marketing and visitor experience coordinator at The History Center, said showing the county’s history of Asiatic immigration is important in subverting the myth that the higher education institutions in the county are the sole reason for the Asian population in the area.

    “One of the myths that I heard often growing up here is that the diversity of the community is from the colleges,” Van Nostrand said, “and what I found really powerful about this exhibit — and I know that our curator and our historian, Cindy [Kjellander-Cantu] and Eve [Snyder] did as well — is really pushing back on that and finding out who was here and when, and the businesses they held and the awards they won.”

    The display includes historical items on loan from the Tang family who immigrated to Ithaca in the 1930s. Wing and Susie Tang came to Ithaca from Canton, China, and founded the first Chinese restaurant in Ithaca — Asiatic Garden. At the history center, visitors can see original menus and dinnerware from the restaurant which has since become Capital Corner located at 140 W State St.

    The history of immigration to Tompkins County has greatly shaped the unique culture of the county that exists today and is seen through the food, shops, art and people of the area.

    “That exhibit in particular is this really great way to understand and have a more complete and full look back at who was here, when they were here and how the emergence of an Asian grocery in the 1910s might have really shifted local food understandings,” Van Nostrand said, “how you could have a place like Asiatic garden — which was kind of nicknamed Hong Kong Susie's after Susie Tang — and look at the way that that really shifted the cultural expectations in a time that a lot of very small rural communities in central New York did not have that same access to different ethnic cultures and foods.”

    The History Center will exhibit reCOUNT: Facing Our Census until March, 2023. It is available for private visits for people who want a more pandemic-friendly experience or who generally want limited interaction with the public. The center is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and people can schedule a private visit at

    Watch IthacaWeek video:


    This article was written by Alyshia Korba for their IthacaWeek Journalism Course. Originally published April 18th 2022, at

  • Wed, April 06, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous



    CONTACT: Zoë Van Nostrand – Marketing & Visitor Experience Coordinator

    607-273-8284 ext. 229 (W-Sat 10-5pm)

    The History Center in Tompkins County Awarded Pandemic Recovery Grant from the American Historical Association to Support Oral History Collection

    ITHACA NY –The History Center in Tompkins County has been awarded funding from the American Historical Association’s Grants to Sustain and Advance the Work of Historical Organizations Program, which provides relief to institutions adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This opportunity was made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

    “COVID-19 continues to have significant financial impacts on The History Center, and museums across the country. We’re thrilled that the American Historical Association has stepped up to support institutions like ours in this critical time of need and are grateful for their emphasis in prioritizing archival work on projects like ours.”

    • -       Ben Sandberg – Executive Director of The History Center

    The History Center in Tompkins County will use the awarded funds to support the archival processing, digital preservation, and public sharing of our Oral Histories of Tompkins County collection ( Our oral history collection represents an important part of the historical record we steward on behalf of our community. The content of these oral histories spans decades, and provide an important method to understand the past in people’s own words. Their value to us today, and to future generations in Tompkins County, cannot be overstated. This project allows us to fully accession a significant number of our existing oral history interviews, and then share them with the public on our institutional platforms of ArchiveGrid, SoundCloud, and New York Heritage. This project will allow us to more fully process the interviews included in the sub-collections: Asian Diaspora, Black Experience, Gender & Sexuality, Indigenous Experience, Religion & Belief, Stories of Immigration, and Women’s Voices as well as our general collections.

    The History Center is one of fifty grant recipients, which include site-based organizations, membership associations, and history departments at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Awardees will implement short-term projects that explore new ideas or build on experiments initiated during the pandemic—from online programming or publications to using new technologies or expanding audiences and accessibility.

    “The past two years have been challenging for small history organizations,” said James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association. “Our awardees have made compelling cases for their status as essential resources, making vital contributions to public culture. The American Historical Association (AHA) is pleased to provide funding for our colleagues to promote historical work, historical thinking, and the presence of history in public life.” 


    “NEH is grateful to the American Historical Association for administering American Rescue Plan funding to help history organizations around the country recover from the pandemic,” said NEH Chair Shelly C. Lowe (Navajo). “Small museums, historical societies, college history departments, historic sites, and community archives are essential to keeping and telling America’s story. These ARP awards will allow these institutions to develop new programs and resources that will expand access to this important history.”

    To learn more about the The History Center’s grant project please visit: or


    About The History Center: The History Center in Tompkins County is a generation-to-generation education and research center focused on engaging the public with the history of Tompkins County (located in the ancestral and contemporary lands of the Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' Nation) and the Finger Lakes region. The History Center helps people use the tools of history to understand the past, gain perspective on the present, and play an informed role in shaping the future. The History Center is located within the Tompkins Center for History & Culture, a collaborative visitor center and event space on the Ithaca Commons. Learn more at thehistorycenter.netand follow @TompkinsHistory on any platform.

    About the American Historical Association: Founded in 1884 and incorporated by Congress in 1889 for the promotion of historical studies, the American Historical Associationprovides leadership for the discipline and promotes the critical role of historical thinking in public life. The Association defends academic freedom, develops professional standards, supports innovative scholarship and teaching, and helps to sustain and enhance the work of historians. As the largest membership association of professional historians in the world (nearly 12,000 members), the AHA serves historians in a wide variety of professions and represents every historical era and geographical area.

    About the National Endowment for the Humanities:Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at


  • Fri, March 04, 2022 6:39 PM | Anonymous

    Douglass Day is an annual celebration of Frederick Douglass' life and legacy on his chosen birthday of February 14th. Each year the organizers coordinate with archival repositories across the country to transcribe and digitize historic Black collections to make them more accessible to educators and researchers, and support their historic preservation. 

    This was The History Center's second year participating in Douglass Day, and six Exhibit Hall volunteers and student workers spent their shifts from 2/14-2/21 transcribing documents and finding names for the 'Colored Conventions Project.'

    The Colored Conventions were state and national meetings held by free and formerly enslaved African Americans to debate their collective struggles. It's estimated that more than 10,000 delegates attended more than 600 Colored Conventions over seven decades across the United States. At these meetings, delegates talked about voting rights, education, labor, business, and a whole lot more. The conventions were highly democratic spaces at a time when Black people were denied access to the voting booth or the jury box.

    Only 64% of the documents had been transcribed by the end of February 14th, and our contributions and that of other volunteer transcribers across the country helped complete 100% of the identified documents by the third week of February. No word yet on if we've been able to identify any Tompkins County residents as attendants of the Colored Conventions, but now that these documents are digitized, finding a local connection to this historic movement is made possible!

    Thank you to: Rhonda, Phung, Lin, Rebecca, Kethry, Jacob, and Nnenna for pausing work on other projects to join this national preservation effort!


    Originally posted in the March 2022 History Happenings newsletter mailed on 2/28/2022

  • Tue, February 22, 2022 7:07 PM | Anonymous


    WHAT. We want your 20-60 second one-take videos, captured on any device at hand. Consider showing us that which might not be seen by visitors to the Finger Lakes region. Show us your Gorges. What you see might witness the abuse of or the protection of natural resources (living space, water, wilderness)! Or, show us the every-day overlooked things you see and places you inhabit. How are you in this space? Where do you work, dive, shop, drive, climb or escape to? We seek to include your contributions for a screening planned at Cornell Cinema on March 7th.

    WHO. Anyone who has an image to capture and share. No previous film experience required.

    HOW/WHEN: Please email your video files here:[deadline Tuesday3/4/22 at 12noon] along with your name and a one sentence description of your image. These clips will be edited together and screened as part of the March 7th (X)-trACTION screening If you contribute a video, you can join us FOR FREE that night.

    WHY: (X)-trACTION began in Bisbee, Arizona in January as the result of a collaborative group of media artists' inquiry into the problem of "extraction" both ecologically and aesthetically.

    Mid-century postcards, front and back, offer invaluable if obscured views in Nicole Antebi's archival re-animation of la frontera. Geography plays across multiple enactments in Cathy Lee Crane's video, which asserts the primacy of water and migration in the dust of militarized landscapes. Laurie McKenna conjures desert punk power in an aggregate of memory and charcoal, and grounds national rupture in a sonic diary. Erin Wilkerson and Jason Livingston, in their contributions, draw poetic power lines through industry, reminding us that extraction, for all its local magnetism and metal lures, is a view into international dynamics.

    Local Bisbee residents were invited to contribute observations of life in Bisbee which were included in that night's program as interstitial seams that made their way through the sequence of five artists' films to form a meta mash-up deposit concerned for our climate, our workers, our history and future- the beauty and the failures. Whereas the logic of extraction is violently deliberate, the operative logic of this generative media work [aka the screening program] is generous, chance-based, and playful. These might combine to tell a bigger story of regional extraction.

    Your contributions will run throughout the Cornell Cinema program on 3/7 as fragments from Under the Surface of Ithaca. Be a part of the conversation.

  • Wed, February 02, 2022 11:45 AM | Anonymous



    CONTACT: Zoë Van Nostrand – Marketing & Visitor Experience

    607-273-8284 ext. 229 (W-Sat 10-5pm)

    The History Center in Tompkins County Announces New Exhibit:

    reCOUNT: Facing Our Census

    ITHACA NY – The History Center in Tompkins County announces their next major exhibit, reCOUNT: Facing Our Census, to open on April 1st, 2022. The U.S. Census impacts everything from political representation to school funding. Tompkins County, and every other community across the nation, has been fundamentally shaped by the regular count of Americans. The census is also a valuable historical resource. Since 1790, the census has provided a broad snapshot of the nation and its communities. A critical examination of these records reveals biases and shortcomings baked into this American system. reCOUNT uses the census as a lens to explore the history of Tompkins County and its people, recognizing the value of the census, as well as its limitations.

    reCOUNT draws on the extensive work done by The History Center’s HistoryForge ( project and its many volunteers. Over the last six years, The History Center has developed an open-source digital web environment, HistoryForge, that integrates historic maps, building records, and local census data. The platform has been implemented in Ithaca and Tompkins County, with partner sites in Auburn (NY)Elmira (NY), and Oberlin (OH)HistoryForge allows users to connect more deeply to their neighborhoods, and understand the historical legacies present in our everyday lives.

    Using themes such as education, family origins, employment, race, and census taking, reCOUNT expands Tompkins County history through six interactive exhibits. Beginning with the first U.S. Census in 1790, the exhibits will trace the development of the county and the census across 23 decades. reCOUNT will inform our understanding of Tompkins County, and position audiences to think critically about local history’s impact on our lives. Additional information about the exhibit will be available at in February 2022.

    reCOUNT is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. The development of HistoryForge was supported through funding provided by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.

    About The History Center in Tompkins County:

    The History Center in Tompkins County is a generation-to-generation education and research center focused on engaging the public with the history of Tompkins County (located in the ancestral and contemporary lands of the Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' Nation) and the Finger Lakes region. The History Center helps people use the tools of history to understand the past, gain perspective on the present, and play an informed role in shaping the future. The History Center is located within the Tompkins Center for History & Culture, a collaborative visitor center and event space on the Ithaca Commons. Learn more at and follow @TompkinsHistory on any platform.

  • Thu, December 30, 2021 1:32 PM | Anonymous

    Despite pandemic constraints, 2021 was a rich and productive year in the Archives and Research Library. We served almost 600 people in our library and by email and phone from ten different states across the US, including Florida, Iowa, Washington, Tennessee, Georgia, Minnesota, New Jersey, and more. We created a brief video honoring the Council for Equality, Ithaca's own Civil Rights organization from the 1960s. A generous grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation helped us to revise and update our archival collections finding aids, those essential tools for researchers.

    We worked with numerous local partners to research and showcase Tompkins County's diverse history: The Village of Freeville, United Way, Discover Cayuga LakeIthaca Asian American AssociationFinger Lakes Land Trust, The Ithaca Voice, WSKG, WRFI, The Cherry Arts, Civic Ensemble, Caroline History Club, St. John's Episcopal Church, Friends of Stewart Park, and the Human Services Coalition. We also facilitated research for Cornell University Historic Preservation and Planning students studying the local built environment.

    Donations to the collection this year included materials from Club Essence, an African American women's group from the 1970s to the early 2000s; records of Ithaca's iconic Corner Bookstore; genealogy materials from numerous local and regional families; stereoviews of local scenes; records of the New York National Farmers' Union; materials from the Lehman Alternative Community School from one of its own students; an extensive collection of World War II items belonging to Robert Nobles of Ithaca, and more.

    More than a dozen volunteers and interns generously donated their time, effort, and expertise to facilitate all of this essential work. They include Nancy Leeming, Mary Tomlan, George Dillmann, Gene Endres, Elisabeth Shea, Janet Wagner, Alison Maceli, Ashley Miller, Alex Black, Shailja Gaur, Margaret McKinnis, Katherine Esterl, Raia Gutman, Maya Matunis, and Jessica Golden. We are more grateful to them than we can say.

    Donna Eschenbrenner

    Director of Archives & Research Services

  • Sat, November 20, 2021 5:56 PM | Anonymous

    Political Tompkins by Joe Mareane is the 4th in a series of historical writings published by the Tompkins County Historical Commission. 

    Purchase Political Tompkins through our online bookstore. All proceeds benefit The History Center in Tompkins County. 

    Preface - pgs. 4-5

    When I arrived in Tompkins County in 2008 to take the job of County Administrator, the liberalism of the area was a defining element of its identity. In fact, my going away gag gift from my previous job in nearby Onondaga County were a pair of Birkenstock sandals and a tie-dyed T-shirt. I soon learned, however, that politics in Tompkins weren’t always so Democratic or progressive. There was a time when the City of Ithaca and the County were among the most “rock-ribbed” Republican places in America. Moreover, the change from “red” to “blue” was relatively recent—well within my lifetime.

    The essay that follows began as a statistical tabulation intended to occupy a few days of the new cloistered era of the COVID-19 pandemic and satisfy my curiosity about the transformation of political preferences in Tompkins County. The plan was to track the results of presidential elections from 1828—the first time New York State engaged voters in the presidential election decision—through the 2020 election, plot the trend lines to see when major shifts of partisanship occurred, and then move on to other stay-at-home pursuits. 

    Despite the enormity of data available on the internet, I quickly found that the county-by-county results of presidential elections prior to the 1990’s were not easily available via a keystroke. With navigational help from Tompkins County Historian Carol Kammen and the indispensable assistance of Jim Folts at the New York State Archive who ultimately found tabulations of every presidential election through 2012, the statistical foundation was laid.

    I’ve always believed that if the right numbers are looked at in the right way, a story emerges. With election results compiled and tracked, the story of the evolution of political preferences in the County became clearer and often far different than I would have expected. The fact that Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton won landslide victories over Donald Trump was not surprising, but Franklin Roosevelt’s successive 30-point losses to four different Republican candidates was. Even Richard Nixon did much better against John Kennedy in Tompkins than in the six neighboring, and presumably more conservative, rural counties.

    The statistics begged answers to why voters changed their preferences at certain times and not others; when voting patterns in Tompkins diverged from the mainstream; what developments at the local level might presage changes that would later affect the outcome of presidential elections; and how major electoral events, such as women’s suffrage and the lowering of the voting age, might have affected election results.

    This essay attempts to shed light on those questions. While context for the elections is provided, it is only to give the reader a glimpse of the personalities and factors in the environment that may have contributed to the local response to specific candidates. A scholarly assessment of the myriad factors influencing the politics of a specific time and space is beyond the scope of this work and the talents of this writer. Speculations about factors that have contributed to the partisan leanings of the County are also shared. These should be taken only as the observations of one who has gained some familiarity with the political environment through a long career in local government, and not the disciplined work of a political scientist.

    Much of the research is based on articles and editorials in the various iterations of the Ithaca Journal that date back to 1828 and, thanks to the Tompkins County Historical Commission and Cornell University, are accessible online. Unfortunately, access to other papers and documents was severely limited by restrictions resulting from the Covid pandemic. 

    My hope is only to preserve data that might otherwise be difficult to access and provide a bit of insight into the unique political history and character of Tompkins County, including how it evolved from one of the “reddest” areas of the nation to one of the “bluest” of the blue.

  • Fri, November 12, 2021 1:24 PM | Anonymous

    George Washington Belt also Great Chain or Canandaigua Treaty Belt

    The George Washington Belt, also called the Great Chain or Canandaigua Treaty Belt is the friendship belt created from the Canandaigua Treaty or Pickering Treaty meeting in 1794. The thirteen human figures symbolize the original thirteen colonies of the young and newly formed democracy of the United States of America. The two smaller figures in the center represent the Indigenous "Keepers of the Eastern and Western Doors" of Haudenosaunee territory, and the house represents both the Haudenosaunee Longhouse and the U.S. Capitol Building, with the open door symbolizing hospitality and peace between the two nations. Each of the figures are linked by clasped hands to form a chain of friendship which represents the ongoing alliance between the United States and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

    The Canandaigua Treaty was intended to establish peace and friendship between the United States and the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and is considered the foundation of “modern” U.S.-Haudenosaunee relations. In 1794, more than 1,600 Haudenosaunee representatives met with Colonel Timothy Pickering, the U.S. representative selected by President George Washington, for a treaty council in Canandaigua, New York. The negotiations were mediated by trusted Quaker representatives selected by the Seneca. The treaty gave land claimed by the U.S. in the problematic Fort Stanwix Treaty of 1784 back to the Haudenosaunee and set new land boundaries agreed to by both nations. The treaty also recognized the sovereignty of the Six Nations to govern and set their own laws and firmly established a goal of "perpetual" peace between both nations. It was signed on November 11th, 1794 by sachems representing the Grand Council of the Six Nations. Notable attendants included Cornplanter (Seneca), Handsome Lake (Seneca), and Red Jacket (Seneca) who had distinguished themselves as sachems and leaders during the political negotiations and battles of previous years.

    Although the Canandaigua Treaty has been violated many times by the U.S. government and its citizens, it is still recognized as an active political agreement by both the Haudenosaunee and the United States. In observance of the original treaty promises the U.S. distributes $10,000 worth of goods to the Six Nations each year in recognition of Article Six, an obligation to "promote the future welfare of the Six Nations" in perpetuity. The annual Canandaigua Treaty Day Celebration on November 11th commemorates the treaty in Canandaigua, New York and serves to “polish the chain of peace and friendship” between the Haudenosaunee and the United States.

    Learn more at, and visit the Art of Wampum on display at The History Center for the month of November. 

  • Fri, November 05, 2021 5:40 PM | Anonymous

    The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is a matrilineal society organized by clans. Traditionally each clan is represented and led by a woman known as a clanmother. The Women’s Nomination Belt codifies the right of the clanmothers to nominate the chiefs who represent each Nation at Haudenosaunee councils. Clanmothers also gave names to newborn, and adopted clan members and were the heads of longhouses.

    Each Nation within the Haudensosaunee has a different number of clans. The clans are named after animals from three elemental categories: water, air, and land. For the Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' (Cayuga) Bear, Wolf, and Deer clans represent land, the Turtle, Eel, and Beaver clans represent water, and the Snipe, Heron, and Hawk clans represent air. Clan members are considered relatives even if they come from different Nations. For example, a Bear clan member of the Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' and a Bear clan member of the Seneca (Onöndowa'ga:') would consider each other family. The current Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' Nation council and clanmothers represent six clans: Deer, Bear, Wolf, Turtle, Snipe, and Heron.

    Replica weaving of the Women's Nomination Belt by Rich Hamell

    Visit the ‘Art of Wampum’ on display at the Tompkins Center for History & Culture for the month of November 2021.

    Explore for a virtual version of the exhibit, and additional learning materials.

    Explore for more information about Indigenous history in Tompkins County.

  • Wed, November 03, 2021 4:57 PM | Anonymous

    Gabriel: A Novel of the American Civil War by Matthew J. Watros is a piece of historical fiction that follows the story of the author’s ancestor, Gabriel Ballard, and his experiences in the Union Army.

    Ballard, who lived in Dryden, New York with his family, enlisted in the army at the age of 19 in 1862. From there, he travelled south with his infantry to Georgia where he participated in the Atlanta Campaign in the spring of 1864, but not without making many stops along the way.

    Watros, basing his book off family letters, Gabriel’s personal diary entries, and other primary sources, creates a narrative that details everything from family life, love, war, trauma, death, and social issues during the Civil War. He forms topics of slavery and the true causes of the war into personal stories, never shying away from the uncomfortable sides of history. Being a veteran himself, Watros creates a layer of intensity and emotion surrounding the war that can only be explained by those with personal experience. He also includes visualizations to help the reader create a better picture of Ballard’s experiences - with maps and charts to clarify where Ballard travelled. Gabriel is sure to captivate any reader who is interested in seeing the Civil War from a more personal viewpoint, and it is a great reminder that both sides of the war had moral downfalls through today’s lens. 

    Buy Gabriel

Physical Address

Located inside the Tompkins Center for History & Culture

110 North Tioga Street

(On the Ithaca Commons) 

Ithaca NY, 14850 USA

Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ Territory


Exhibit Hall Wednesday-Saturday 10am-5pm - CLOSED Sun-Tues

Cornell Local History Research Library & Archives - By appointment only. Please contact


Email: Refer to Contact page for individual emails, General inquiries to

Phone: 607-273-8284


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