Created By: The History Center in Tompkins County
Philanthropy – A Great Ecological Idea!
While competition and natural selection are often cited as the great drivers of evolution leading to and perpetuating life as we know it, cooperation and symbiosis are more recently coming into focus as equally essential players. One of the great proponents of this idea was the evolutionary theorist, Lynn Margulis (famous Ithacan Carl Sagan’s first wife). In order to survive and evolve through time, organisms as well as cultures that have figured out how to work together and help each other have done better in the long run.
When Ezra Cornell made a fortune through his involvement with the burgeoning telegraph industry, he is quoted as having said the following:
"My greatest care now is how to spend this large income to do the greatest good to those who are properly dependent on me, to the poor and to posterity."
One of Cornell's first acts of philanthropy was the donation of a grand public library for the city of Ithaca in 1864. It was built on the southeast corner of Tioga and Seneca Streets. After he co-founded the university which also carries his name in 1865, this building was also used for the University's first faculty meeting and early convocations.
The demolition of the Cornell Public Library in 1960 was another Urban Renewal project that created space for a 27 car bank parking lot.
Photo from The History Center
This point of interest is part of the tour: Nature and Culture of Downtown Ithaca - Visual Aids