Welcome! The History Center is requiring that all visitors continue to wear masks inside the Tompkins Center for History & Culture. Our visitors include young audiences and others who are unable to be vaccinated. We appreciate your respect and awareness in following our Health & Safety Protocols.
At our new location within the Tompkins Center for History & Culture at 110 North Tioga Street, the process of reserving rooms is an evolving procedure being developed by the building's Governance Council. All spaces can be set up with tables, chairs, and projector capabilities.
If an organization within the building is sponsoring your event, that organization can reserve the room for you on the internal building calendar. If you are a non-member organization we charge a modest fee for room rental.
If you have any questions or would like to rent a space contact Ben Sandberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Available Event/Meeting Spaces:
Please explore the local Inclusive Recreation Resource Center's profile of our handicap accessibility here.
This profile includes detailed information regarding the physical layout of the Exhibit Hall and Research Library, and alternative methods for engaging with our exhibits and materials for individuals with impaired sight or hearing. Print out visitor guides and auditory visitor guides can be requested at the docent desk to the right of the front entrance to the Exhibit Hall.
We do not have a parking lot associated with our building, however visitors with physical and/or movement impairment are encouraged to contact us at email@example.com in advance, and when possible they may use one of two staff parking spaces by the back entrance of our building. These spaces may not be used without advance communication.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or feedback.
HOW THE TOMPKINS CENTER FOR HISTORY & CULTURE
The History Center in Tompkins County has a long tenure in the community, going back to 1863 when Ezra Cornell helped initiate the first Ithaca historical society. Starting in 2014 The History Center’s Board of Trustees started conversations about what to do given that the organization’s wonderful five-dollar-per-square-foot lease at Gateway Center was ending in December 2018. The trustees decided that to be a premier local history education and research center for residents and visitors, a different setting would be needed. When Executive Director Rod Howe was hired in 2015, he discussed the potential move with several community leaders. The idea of sharing physical space with partners also in the county’s historical and cultural fabric arose organically.
The first potential partnership emerged with the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau, a division of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce. The Downtown Visitors Center and The History Center (THC) could more fully support heritage tourism together, an idea seeded by former Tompkins County legislator Stuart Stein which later informed the county’s Heritage Tourism Implementation Plan.
Ithaca Aviation Heritage Foundation (IAHF) was also keen to join in order to have a visible location for the rebuilt Thomas-Morse airplane, known as the “Tommy Plane,” following its centennial celebration flight which was held in September 2018.
Representatives of these three organizations searched for possible locations with a strong interest in the Ithaca Commons and engaged in conversations with Tompkins County government and Tompkins Trust Company.
Tompkins Trust Company was supportive of the idea and their Bank Alley building (110 North Tioga St, Ithaca NY) became the potential new site for this “heritage center” as the bank prepared to build new headquarters on Seneca Street. Their old building's location, architectural character, and visibility were all advantages, and Tompkins County legislators decided to purchase it during the county’s bicentennial.
Tompkins County has had a longstanding commitment providing space for a museum that preserves the records and artifacts documenting its history. The county was seeking ways to minimize the cost of this type of heritage tourism and education center while also maximizing The History Center’s role as a community attraction, tourism destination, and anchor for a “heritage education center” which would house several other related non-profits in the area.
Initial agreements and building analyses were followed by a formal agreement, enabling the start of non-profit partnerships, architectural plans, operational guidelines, the work of branding and naming, and a capital campaign. Mack Travis and Jean McPheeters were brought on to co-lead the initiative in January 2019.
New York state grant funding was secured through the Consolidated Funding Application process from the NYS Council on the Arts and Empire State Development funds. The county purchased the building which was then named the Tompkins Center for History & Culture.
The Tompkins Center for History & Culture opened to the public on May 10th 2019 with 12 local non-profit partners sharing office, display, and event space in the building.
It’s fitting that our building is housed in quarters that encompass so much of the county’s retail, entertainment, banking, and government history. The site in the Ithaca Commons “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 Tompkins 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.
Ackley's News Emporium - After 1881
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.
Tompkins County Clerks Office 1881
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 Savings Bank (later merged to become the Tompkins 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 to make way for building renovations.
Ithaca Trust Company Building (At Left, South of the Ithaca Savings Bank)
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 1910's built a large annex. (In 1935, the Ithaca Savings Bank 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 1900's and 1910's. The building’s own architect—Arthur N. Gibb and his wife Henrietta, 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 1920's and 1930's, 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.
In 1953, four years after the Tompkins County Trust Company purchased the old County Clerk’s Office, the two larger buildings became unified into one large bank office. Major renovations in the early 1980s knocked down walls between the two main buildings to create “windows” linking the spaces.
During the Tompkins County bicentennial year celebration in 2017, 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 & Culture.
The Tompkins Center brought 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) has it's Exhibit Hall and Cornell Local Research Library and part of our extensive archival collection. The Exhibit Hall includes displays from various community partners, including the Wharton Studio Museum, the Ithaca Aviation Heritage Foundation, and the Dorothy Cotton Institute. The Downtown Visitors Center runs a visitor information center and retail space in what once was the Tompkins Trust Company’s main floor. The Community Arts Partnership hosts a public gallery space on the first floor of the former County Clerk’s Office. The area that once was Cornelia Ackley’s News Emporium is now the entry atrium—named the Tompkins Trust Company Atrium after its former owner—that welcomes county residents and visitors. 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.