Created By: Ithaca Heritage
The Brooktondale Community Mural, located at the Brooktondale Community Center, was designed and painted in 2016 by local artist Mary Beth Ihnken, a resident of Brooktondale. The mural was the “brainchild” of the Brooktondale Community Center Board of Directors and community member John Haines-Eitzen, and was funded by a grant from the Community Arts Partnership.
The mural depicts important Brooktondale landmarks, including the Old Mill, the earliest of many mills built in the area that ran on water power; a train track and station, alluding to Brooktondale’s history as a stop on a local railroad line; and the Caroline Valley Community Church, a historic building and a center of religious life and community activity. Brooktondale, a hamlet of the Town of Caroline located on Six Mile Creek, was originally called Cantinesburgh (alternatively: Cantine’s Mill or Cantinesville) for John Cantine Jr., who settled the area in 1798 on a large tract of land given him by his father, Colonel John Cantine, who was awarded several tracts of land for his service in the Revolutionary War and as a land-claims judge. Much of Tompkins County was awarded as military tracts to soldiers who had served in the Revolutionary War, and/or participated in the genocidal 1779 Sullivan-Clinton Campaign which destroyed and displaced hundreds of Haudenosaunee communities.
Later, Brooktondale became known as Mott’s Corners, (alternatively: Mottsville, Mott’s Hollow, Mott’s Mill) taking its name from William Mott II, who bought up Cantine’s property in 1825. After the Mott family left the area, Mott’s Corners changed its name to Brookton, which the post office adopted in January 1883. Because of the similarity of spelling of Brookton to Brockton and Brooklyn, the Post Office Department changed the name to Brooktondale in February 1926.
The red building pictured on the far right is the Old Mill, also known as the Upper Mill. The Old Mill is as old as the town of Brooktondale itself; John Cantine Jr. chose the site for the mill in 1798 as he was settling on the land, and construction on Cantine’s Mill was completed in 1800, making it one of the first grist mills in the area. In 1830, William Mott bought Cantine’s Mill and converted it into a plaster mill, and he eventually went on to own and manage six sawmills, several stores, and a furniture factory in the village. Mott’s Mill was burned in 1862 and a new mill was erected on the same site in 1865 by George White. From 1870 to 1881, Ezra Cornell’s son Frank owned the mill during this period. In the early 1890s, Frank Vorhis took over the mill, converting it into a buckwheat flour mill and constructing the Upper Mill Dam next to it in 1897 (painted to the left of the Old Mill in the mural). At its peak, the Excelsior Mill (as it was renamed by the Vorhis family) employed nine men full time who worked day and night to produce buckwheat flour. In 1921, H. C. Whitlock acquired the mill and managed it as a feed mill that continued to run on water power until at least the early 1950s, long after other mills in the area had ceased to do so. The Excelsior Mill finally came to an end when it was burned down in 1964 to make room for a highway. Today, a historic marker erected in 2002 by the Town of Caroline’s Bicentennial Committee stands next to the highway on the site of the Old Mill, commemorating its history.
On the grassy patch directly below the Old Mill is a small skunk, which the artist included as a tribute to a skunk farm that was once located near Brooktondale on Bald Hill Road.
The left side of the mural pays homage to the railroad station located in Brooktondale, depicting the wooden trestle built over Six Mile Creek just north of Brooktondale as well as Brookton (later Brooktondale) Station, which was located at the south end of the trestle. The trestle and the station were originally part of the Utica, Ithaca & Elmira Railroad (UI & E), which was founded in 1871 with Ezra Cornell as its principal financier. Brooktondale served as a stop on a line from East Ithaca to Van Etten, which the UI & E built to connect its Elmira-Van Etten segment with its Ithaca-Cortland segment. The wooden trestle and Brookton Station were built in 1875, and service was inaugurated on December 11, 1875. The finished trestle was an impressive 1,600 feet (~488 meters) long and 90 feet (~27 meters) high, requiring 750,000 feet (22,860 meters) of 12-inch square timbers for its construction. The wooden trestle stood until 1889, when it was replaced with an iron trestle, which was built while service remained open on the line. In 1884, the UI & E was acquired by the newly-incorporated Elmira, Cortland & Northern Railroad, which was bought out 12 years later by the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company. In the early 1900s, passenger business grew, and trains became a regular feature of life in Brookton, crossing the valley several times daily. The Towns of Tompkins County (Carol Kammen, pub 1998) describes Brookton residents of that time “loading hay, potatoes, and buckwheat into the box cars, helping the station agent handle crates of eggs and chickens, sitting on the hill overlooking the track to watch the train go by” (62). The Great Depression of the 1930s dealt a devastating blow to the EC&N branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, though passenger traffic had already been declining since the mid-1920s due to increasing preference for automobiles. Despite strong public opposition, the passenger line and Brooktondale Station closed permanently in 1935, with the last passenger train, Train 325, making its last trip through Brooktondale on June 30, 1935, after nearly 60 years of service. The trestle was damaged by a flood in July of 1935, and was subsequently demolished for scrap.
In the center of the mural, between the two doors, is the Caroline Valley Community Church, formerly home to the Caroline Valley Federated Church and the Brookton Congregational Church. The first congregation, known as the Congregationalists, was formed in 1863 by members of the Old Reformed Church of America and the Brookton Methodist Church. The church had three women ministers in the late 1800s to early 1900s: Annis Bertha Ford Eastmas (1889–1891), Juanita Breckenridge Bates (1892–1893), and Emily C. Woodruff (1899–1903). Breckenridge married the Town of Caroline Supervisor, Fred E. Bates, in 1893, and held positions in the NY State Suffrage Association, while Woodruff organized the Christian Endeavour Society for young people.
The church building itself is the former Varna Presbyterian Church, which the Congregationalists purchased in 1868 and moved to a new foundation on land formerly owned by William Mott. The building has undergone many changes since then, with acetylene lights replacing kerosene lamps in 1921, followed by the installation of electric lights in 1925. The original steeple was blown down in a wind storm in 1925 and in 1977, the church acquired a fiberglass steeple, which was lifted by crane onto the roof. The current (as of 2021) church bell in the steeple was purchased from the Dutch Reformed Church by the Congregationalists and is likely the oldest bell in the area. The Caroline Valley Community Church is still an active part of the Brooktondale community today, hosting the Christmas Country Store crafts fair each November and community dinners on election night.
This point of interest is part of the tour: History & Art - Driving Tour of Tompkins County