In Tompkins County, people pass by buildings with significant historic value every single day. From sites like the William Austin House in Trumansburg to the Southworth Library in Dryden, there are different pieces of history that people see often, yet they may know very little about them. For the third year in a row, Historic Ithaca is offering their summer walk and talk tours to highlight such hidden gems.
Municipal historians from towns, cities and villages across Tompkins County have partnered with Historic Ithaca over the last few years for a series of tours around the county. Christine O’Malley, Historic Ithaca’s preservation services coordinator, said the tours were initially planned as a one-year event for the Bicentennial of Tompkins County in 2017. But once the series finished, people began asking what the next set of tours would entail.?
Not long after this, Historic Ithaca received funding from the Tompkins County Tourism Grant Program as well as a sponsorship from Tompkins Trust Company. Historic Ithaca allows the municipal historians to craft their own tours, while they inform people of where to meet for the tour.?
O’Malley said the next tour, held on July 20, is of a family farmstead in the Town of Dryden on Peruville Road. She added that there’s an additional tour of the Grove Cemetery near Trumansburg that is available from historian John Wertis, who is conducting his third tour. This year’s last session is a tour of a church in Caroline, a nationally registered 19th century gothic revival church.?
“So, some of the stuff like if it's on the National Register, we're trying to highlight it,” O’Malley said. “But, if it's just an interesting spot that people want to know more about then we'll select them [...] We try and mix it up between different spots throughout the county, different types of places.”
The selections are based on what each of the municipal historians is willing to do, and if there is a date that work. Once all that locks into place, then the tour can be added. Despite only being able to cover a limited geographical area, O’Malley has found there are so many hidden historical treasures around the county there is never a shortage of tour ideas. She explained the program’s philosophy and just how they keep people enticed to return. The only parameters are that it should start at 11 a.m. on Saturday and last around an hour, both of which O’Malley said help keep the tours free of charge. Other than that, the tour is in the hands of the historians.?
Including O’Malley and Historic Ithaca Executive Director Susan Holland, there were 52 people who attended this season’s first tour, of the White Park section of Cayuga Heights, led by Cayuga Heights historian Bea Szekely. O’Malley found herself shocked after attending a tour, led by Ulysses Municipal Historian John Wertis, of the abandoned County Home Building in Ulysses.
“I always wondered, what's the story there, why is that building sitting there like that?” O’Malley inquired. “Essentially, it was an almshouse. It was a place where the county looked after the poor and indigent.”
Wertis has previously done tours of the Trumansburg Conservatory and 19th century affordable housing sites. As for potential future tour targets, both O’Malley and Holland would love to have a tour done about the former Chainworks Building on South Hill, among many others.
The most popular tour to date, according to O’Malley and Holland, with 61 people on it, was of Rogue’s Harbor in Lansing. Lansing municipal historian, Lousie Bement, conducted the tour and took people to parts of the historic inn they’d never seen before.?
“[Bement] basically did a tour of the history of the building and a lot of people know the bar and the restaurant area down on the bottom,” O’Malley said. “They let us go up to the next level, where they rent out rooms, like an inn. What was really cool about that was there are lots of old photos up on walls, which was fantastic, people love that. And then we went up to the very top room, which was like a big ballroom where they would have dancing and stuff in the 19th century.”
More information about the remaining tours of the summer can be found on Historic Ithaca’s webpage.?