Created By: The History Center in Tompkins County
Water takes us places
From here Cascadilla Creek follows its channel out past the ScienCenter and Ithaca Wastewater Treatment Facility to Steamboat Landing, the current site of Ithaca's popular farmers' market. Steamboat Landing was one of the sites where steamboats docked when Ithaca was a medium-sized village hopeful of a promising future. Willow and Lake Avenues which flank Cascadilla Creek in this area were designed as a stately, tree-lined entryway into the main part of Ithaca for passengers arriving by water from afar.
In 1820, Ithaca was served by its first steamboat, The Enterprise. The Erie Canal was opened five years later and Ithaca had high hopes for its future with this watery connection to the rest of the world. Goods and people could travel freely to and from this inland port to any other port on the planet. The Panic of 1837 pushed the young United States into an economic depression that lasted a few years and Ithaca did not escape the effects of this. When economic conditions finally improved, railroads had also progressed toward their eventual replacement of travel by water, though steamboat service continued into the early 1900's. Ultimately the main railroad lines wound up bringing travelers and goods east and west across the state to the North and South of Finger Lakes (since it was easier to lay track where there were no lakes and deep glacial valleys to overcome). This simple geologic and geographic fact significantly hindered the future economic development of Ithaca. Interestingly, while things didn't necessarily work out for transportation by water in terms of supporting a huge economic boom during the Industrial Revolution, that also spared Ithaca certain aspects of a boom and bust sort of growth seen in some of the cities along those railroad routes to the south and north, such as Elmira or Auburn. In the end, water remains Ithaca's most valuable resource in terms of abundant, high quality fresh water that supports its residents, natural ecosystems, agriculture and businesses as well as the attraction for tourists of Ithaca's water features such as gorges and lakes.
Photo of the Frontenac courtesy of Bill Hecht, from the Crooked Lake Review
Willow Ave Stereoscope Image from the New YorK Public Library online collection
This point of interest is part of the tour: Nature and Culture of Downtown Ithaca - Visual Aids