Ezra Cornell

History & Art in Downtown Ithaca

Ezra Cornell

Ithaca, New York 14850, United States

Created By: Ithaca Heritage


The Ezra Cornell mural on the south-facing wall of the Tompkins County Public Library was painted by Poughkeepsie artist Nestor Madalengoitia in 2016. The mural features the founder of Cornell University, Ezra Cornell, and text exemplifying the ideals of the library. The mural was funded by the Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County, the Tompkins County Library Foundation, and a private donor.

Ezra Cornell (1807–1874) spent his early life in DeRuyter, New York. He first came to Ithaca at the age of 21, working first as a carpenter and then in Jeremiah Beebe's plaster and flour mill. At the age of 47 he was bankrupt. By the time he was 57, however, his fortunes had changed after his hard work and investments in the early telegraph industry paid off. The philanthropist co-founded Cornell University in 1865.

Ezra Cornell spent about $100,000 to construct Tompkins County's first public library building in 1863 on the southeast corner of Seneca and Tioga streets (in 2020 this location was the site of the Seneca Street Parking Garage). The Cornell Public Library was completed in 1866. Some of the people who lectured there were Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Mark Twain. Cornell University's first commencement took place in the hall of the library in 1869. The building stood until it was demolished in 1960. The Tompkins County Public Library (TCPL) officially became the county library in 1967, and in 1982 TCPL became the first library in New York to use a computerized catalog system. The Tompkins County Board of Representatives approved a plan to purchase the Woolworth building on the corner of Green and Cayuga Streets in 1998 as the site of the new library. TCPL opened its doors at its Green Street location in 2000.

Cornell University's online exhibit, "'I Would Found an Institution': The Ezra Cornell Bicentennial,"

The text on the mural reads:

(Above the eyebrows)

“It belongs to all. Let that be remembered. Not to a chosen few to monopolize its benefits, not to a narrow circle to frown on all the rest, but to all. To every one as equal with every other."

(Below the eyebrows—in no precise order)

Reading, Haven, Community, Helpful, Equality, Exciting, Invaluable, Resources, Comfortable, Sharing, Families, Information, Visionary, Opportunity, Fun, Art, Technology, Connected, Adaptable, Enriching, Evolving, Programming, Learning, Enriching, Resources, Lively, Open, Inclusive, Vibrant, Diverse, Welcoming, Accessible, Professional, Sustainable, Children, Teens, Seniors, Dynamic, Accepting, Values, Active, Responsive, Neutral, Fair, Unbiased, Freedom

Tompkins County Public Library, Founded in 1864 by Ezra Cornell as the Cornell Library Association”


This point of interest is part of the tour: History & Art in Downtown Ithaca


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