The City of Ithaca (named for the Greek island of Ithaca) sits on the southern shore of Cayuga Lake, in Central New York State, USA. It is best known for being home to Cornell University — an Ivy League school with almost 20,000 students (most of them studying on Cornell’s Ithaca campus). Ithaca College is also located just south of the city in the Town of Ithaca. The college is strongly linked to the city, further adding to Ithaca’s strong “college town” focus and atmosphere.
The City of Ithaca is the center of the Ithaca-Tompkins County metropolitan area (which also contains the separate municipalities of Town of Ithaca, Village of Cayuga Heights, Village of Lansing and other towns and villages in Tompkins County). The city is the county seat of Tompkins County. In 2000, the city's population was 29,287, and the metropolitan area had a population of 100,135. 2004 estimates puts the city population at 29,952, an increase of 2.3%.
The Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca is the North American seat of His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama.
In the 1820s and 1830, Ithaca held high hopes of becoming a major city when the primitive Ithaca and Owego Railway was completed in 1832 to connect the Erie Canal navigation with the Susquehanna River to the south. In 1821, the village set itself off by incorporation at the same time the Town of Ithaca parted with the parent town of Ulysses. These hopes survived the depression of 1837 when the railroad was re-organized as the Cayuga & Susquehanna and re-engineered with switchbacks in the late 1840s; much of this route is now used by the South Hill Recreation Way. However, easier routes soon became available, such as the Syracuse, Binghamton & New York (1854). In the decade following the Civil War railroads were built from Ithaca to all surrounding points (Geneva, New York; Cayuga, New York; Cortland, New York; Elmira, New York; Athens, Pennsylvania) mainly with financing from Ezra Cornell; however, the geography of the city has always prevented it from lying on a major transportation artery. Nevertheless, the village of Ithaca became a chartered city in 1887. When the Lehigh Valley Railroad built its main line from Pennsylvania to Buffalo in 1890 it bypassed Ithaca (running via eastern Schuyler County on easier grades), as the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad had done in the 1850s. Ithaca became a city in 1888 and remained a small manufacturing and retail center until the recent education boom. In 1891, the Rev. John M. Scott and a local druggist, Chester Platt, invented the ice cream sundae in Ithaca, though other cities, such as Two Rivers, Wisconsin, make the same claim.
The valley in which Cayuga Lake is located is long and narrow with a north-south orientation. Ithaca is at the southern end (the "head") of the lake, but the valley continues to the southwest behind the city. Originally a river valley, it was deepened and widened by the action of Pleistocene ice sheets over the last several hundred thousand years. The lake, which drains to the north, formed behind a dam of glacial moraine. The rock is predominantly Devonian and, north of Ithaca, is relatively fossil rich. Glacial erratics can be found in the area. The world renowned fossils found in this area can be examined at the Museum of the Earth.
Ithaca was founded on flat land just south of the lake — land that formed in fairly recent geological times when silt filled the southern end of the lake. The city ultimately spread to the adjacent hillsides, which rise several hundred feet above the central flats: East Hill, West Hill, and South Hill. Its sides are fairly steep, and a number of the streams that flow into the valley from east or west have cut deep gorges, usually with several waterfalls.
Ithaca experiences a moderate continental climate, with cold, snowy winters and sometimes hot and humid summers. The valley flatland has slightly milder weather in winter, and occasionally Ithacans experience simultaneous snow on the hills and rain in the valley. The phenomenon of mixed precipitation (rain, wind, and snow), common in the late fall and early spring, is known tongue-in-cheek as ithacation to many of the local residents.
Due to the microclimates created by the impact of the lakes, the region surrounding Ithaca (Finger Lakes American Viticultural Area) experiences a short but adequate growing season for winemaking. As such the region is home to many wineries.
The Ithaca City School District, which encompasses Ithaca and the surrounding area, enrolls about 5,500 K-12 students in eight elementary schools, two middle schools, Ithaca High School, and the Lehman Alternative Community School, which provides its students wide-ranging freedom to choose their own curriculum. There are also several private elementary and secondary schools in the Ithaca area, including Immaculate Conception School and the Cascadilla School.
With some level of success, Ithaca has tried to maintain a traditional downtown shopping area that includes the Ithaca Commons pedestrian mall and Center Ithaca, a small mixed-use complex built at the end of the urban renewal era. Some in the community regret that downtown has lost vitality to two expanding commercial zones to the northeast and southwest of the old city. These areas contain an increasing number of large retail stores and restaurants run by national chains. Others say the chain stores boost local shopping options for residents considerably, many of whom would have previously shopped elsewhere, while increasing sales tax revenue for the city and county. Still others note that the stores, restaurants, and businesses that remain in downtown are not necessarily in direct competition with the larger chain stores. The tradeoff between sprawl and economic development continues to be debated throughout the city and the surrounding area. (Another commercial center, Collegetown, is located next to the Cornell campus. It features a number of restaurants, shops, and bars, and an increasing number of high rise apartments and is primarily frequented by Cornell University students.)
Ithaca has many of the businesses characteristic of small American university towns: used bookstores, art house cinemas, craft stores, and vegetarian restaurants. The collective Moosewood Restaurant, founded in 1973, was the wellspring for a number of vegetarian cookbooks; Bon Appetit magazine ranked it among the thirteen most influential restaurants of the twentieth century.
Ithaca has also pioneered the Ithaca Health Fund, a popular cooperative health insurance. Ithaca is also home to one of the United States' first local currency systems, Ithaca Hours, developed by Paul Glover (building on the pioneering work of Ralph Borsodi and Robert Swann).
The dominant local newspaper in Ithaca is a morning daily, The Ithaca Journal, founded 1815. The paper is owned by Gannett, Inc., publishers of USA Today. The alternative weekly newspaper Ithaca Times has a larger circulation, though it should be noted that the Times is distributed free of charge. Other area publications include Tompkins Weekly, the Ithaca Community News the Cornell Daily Sun, the Ithacan, and the Tattler. (The latter three are run by student staffs at Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Ithaca High School, respectively.)
Ithaca is also home to a wide variety of radio stations. WVBR is run by Cornell University students, but is an independent, commercial station in the rock format, playing a mix of modern and classic rock during the week and specialty shows on the weekend. WICB is a non-commercial student-run station, run by communications students at Ithaca College. The Cayuga Radio Group, a subsidiary of Saga Communications, Inc., owns Q-Country and Lite Rock 97.3, a country and soft rock station, as well as I-100, a classic rock station and located in Cortland, and The Wall, based in Auburn, has a transmitter in Ithaca.
The Town of Ithaca is one of the nine towns comprised by Tompkins County. (Towns in New York are something like townships in other states; every county outside New York City is subdivided into towns.) The City of Ithaca is surrounded by, but legally independent of, the Town. The Town of Ithaca contains the Village of Cayuga Heights, a small incorporated upper-middle class suburb located to the northeast of the City of Ithaca.
The City of Ithaca has a mayor-council government. The charter of the City of Ithaca provides for a full-time mayor and city judge, each independent and elected at large. Since 1995, the mayor has been elected to a four-year term, and since 1989, the city judge has been elected to a six-year term. Since 1983, the city has been divided into five wards, each electing two members to the city council, known as the Common Council, for staggered four-year terms.
The Town government consists of an executive, the Town Supervisor, elected to a four-year term, and a Town Council of three members also elected for terms of four years.
The majority of local property taxes are actually assessed by an entirely independent agency with entirely different borders, the Ithaca City School District.
The possibility of consolidation is controversial for Town residents who could be forced to pay higher taxes as they help shoulder the higher debt burden that the City has taken on. Some Town residents also worry that consolidation could lead to increased sprawl and traffic congestion. However, most of the Town's population is already concentrated in hamlets in proximity to the City's borders and Town residents take advantage of City amenities. Mayor Walter Lynn of the Village of Cayuga Heights (a wealthy Ithaca suburb located in the Town) called consolidation discussion a "waste of time.
Ithaca is the larger principal city of the Ithaca-Cortland CSA, a Combined Statistical Area that includes the Ithaca metropolitan area (Tompkins County) and the Cortland micropolitan area (Cortland County), which had a combined population of 145,100 at the 2000 census.
As of the census of 2000, there were 29,287 people, 10,287 households, and 2,962 families residing in the city. The population density was 5,360.9 people per square mile (2,071.0/km²). There were 10,736 housing units at an average density of 1,965.2/sq mi (759.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 73.97% White, 6.71% Black or African American, 0.39% Native American, 13.65% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 1.86% from other races, and 3.36% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.31% of the population.
There were 10,287 households out of which 14.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 19.0% were married couples living together, 7.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 71.2% were non-families. 43.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.13 and the average family size was 2.81.
In the city the population was spread out with 9.2% under the age of 18, 53.8% from 18 to 24, 20.1% from 25 to 44, 10.6% from 45 to 64, and 6.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 22 years. For every 100 females there were 102.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 102.2 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $21,441, and the median income for a family was $42,304. Males had a median income of $29,562 versus $27,828 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,408. About 13.2% of individuals and 4.2% of families were below the poverty line.
Ithaca is served by Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport, located about three miles to the northeast of the city center. US Airways Express offers flights to New York LaGuardia and Philadelphia using a mixture of small jets and propeller craft. Northwest Airlink provides twice-daily service to Detroit Metro airport. Many residents travel to Syracuse Hancock International Airport, Greater Binghamton Airport, Elmira-Corning Regional Airport or Greater Rochester International Airport for more service options.
Ithaca lies at over a half hour's drive from any interstate highway, and all car trips to Ithaca involve at least some driving on two-lane state rural highways. The city is at the convergence of many regional two-lane state highways: Routes 13, 13A, 34, 79, 89, 96, 96B, and 366. These are usually not congested except in Ithaca proper. There is frequent intercity bus service by Greyhound Lines, New York Trailways, and Shortline (Coach USA), particularly to Binghamton and New York City, with limited service to Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse, and (via connections in Binghamton) to Utica and Albany. The bus station serving all these companies is the former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western railway station on Meadow St. between W State and W Seneca streets, about a kilometer west of downtown Ithaca.
Ithaca is the center of an extensive bus public transportation system — Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) — which carried 3.1 million passengers in 2005. TCAT was reorganized as a non-profit corporation in 2004 and is primarily supported locally by Cornell University, the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County. TCAT operates 39 routes, many running seven days a week. It has frequent service to downtown, Cornell, Ithaca College, and the Pyramid Mall in the neighboring Town of Lansing, but less frequent service to many residential and rural areas, including Trumansburg and Newfield. Chemung County Transit runs weekday commuter routes into Schuyler and Chemung counties, and Tioga County Public Transit runs weekday routes into neighboring Tioga, primarily to serve Cornell employees who prefer to live in these rural counties, or are forced to because of the high house prices near Ithaca.
GADABOUT Transportation Services, Inc. provides demand-response paratransit service for seniors over 60 and people with disabilities Ithaca Dispatch, and Finger Lakes Taxi provides local and regional taxi service. Ithaca Airline Limousine connects to the airport.
Regional short haul freight trains reach Ithaca from Sayre, Pennsylvania, mainly to deliver coal to the Milliken Power Station halfway up Cayuga Lake. There is no passenger rail service, although from the 1870s through the 1930s there was service to Buffalo via Geneva, New York; to New York City via Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (Lehigh Valley Railroad) and Scranton, Pennsylvania (DL&W); to Auburn, New York; and to the US northeast via Cortland, New York; service to Buffalo and New York City lasted until 1961.
As a growing urban area, Ithaca is facing steady increases in levels of vehicular traffic on the city grid and on the state highways. Outlying areas have limited bus service, and many people consider a car essential.
However, Ithaca is a walkable and bikeable community for others. One positive trend for the health of downtown Ithaca is the new wave of increasing urban density in and around the Ithaca Commons. Because the downtown area is the region's central business district, dense mixed-use development that includes housing may increase the proportion of people who can walk to work and recreation, and mitigate the likely increased pressure on already busy roads as Ithaca grows. The downtown area is also the area best served by frequent public transportation. Still, traffic congestion around the Commons is likely to progressively increase.
Unlike most urbanized areas in the United States, Ithaca does not have direct access to the Interstate highway system. In 1968, it was proposed to convert Route 13 from Horseheads to Cortland through Ithaca into a limited access highway (it is currently such for three miles heading north from Ithaca), but the plan lost local and State support.
For decades, the Ithaca Gun Company tested their shotguns behind the plant on Lake St.; the shot fell into Fall Creek (a tributary of Cayuga Lake) right at the base of Ithaca Falls. A major clean-up effort sponsored by the United States Superfund took place from 2002 to 2004.
The former Morse Chain company factory on South Hill, now owned by Emerson Power Transmission, was the site of extensive groundwater and soil contamination. Emerson Power Transmission has been working with the state and South Hill residents to determine the extent and danger of the contamination and aid in cleanup.
Like many small college towns, Ithaca has also received accolades for having a high overall quality of life. In 2004, Cities Ranked and Rated named Ithaca the best "emerging city" to live in the United States. In 2006, the Internet realty website "Relocate America" named Ithaca the fourth best city in the country to relocate to. In July 2006, Ithaca was listed as one of the "12 Hippest Hometowns for Vegetarians" by VegNews Magazine and chosen by Mother Earth News as one of the "12 Great Places You've Never Heard Of.
These designations have at times polarized some local residents: some note the recognition with pride, some see it as an indication of decadence, and others feel that it is a narrow view of the community. Some, particularly conservatives, note that the positive press often appears in left-leaning publications, or have more general questions about the methodologies used in determining the designations.
In its earliest years during frontier days, what is now Ithaca was briefly known by the names "The Flats" and "Sodom, the name of the Biblical city of sin, due to its reputation as a town of "notorious immorality", because of its reputation as a place of horse racing, gambling, profanity, Sabbath breaking, and readily available liquor. These names did not last long; Simeon DeWitt renamed the town Ithaca in the early 1800s, though nearby Robert H. Treman State Park still contains Lucifer Falls.
That early reputation for immorality, together with its more recent reputation as having a left-leaning population, has once again made Ithaca mildly infamous in some circles as the "City of Evil," due to a satirical campaign by members of a politically conservative online discussion board. Some Ithacans have embraced the label. This idea is further buoyed by Cornell University's early nickname, "the godless university" which came about due to their lack of affiliation with any organized religion.
For additional information about recreational trails see: Trails in Ithaca, New York.
See also The Whartons Studio for films shot in Ithaca prior to 1920.
RESIDENTS of a North West informal settlement are buying water from their local ward councillor as the municipality fails to provide them with a sufficient water supply.
Sep 23, 2011; RESIDENTS of a North West informal settlement are buying water from their local ward councillor as the municipality fails to...