Cornell Heights Historic District Driving Tour

Loop One & Two

Cornell Heights Historic District Driving Tour

Ithaca, New York 14850, United States

Created By: The History Center in Tompkins County

Tour Information

This tour was developed by Historic Ithaca.

Cornell Heights was Ithaca's first planned suburb, intended by its developers as an exclusive "residence park" for families of the Cornell University faculty and wealthy businessmen and professionals. The distinct character of the district--defined by a curvilinear street plan, lavish landscaping, generous setbacks, and the imposing size of many of the homes--was part of the developers' original plan and has remained largely intact. The area was designated a National Register historic district in 1989.

Private wealth financed the development of Cornell Heights. All of the details of the neighborhood's infrastructure--the roads and building lots, the water and sewer lines, the street lighting, and the landscaping--were paid for by a handful of businesspeople and professors calling themselves the Cornell Heights Land Company. Many of the homes in the neighborhood were built by the company. Even the bridges linking Cornell Heights to downtown Ithaca and the rest of East Hill were privately financed.

Completed in 1898, these bridges over Fall Creek were critical to the expansion of trolley service to the Heights. Trolley access, in turn, was influential in making the neighborhood attractive to prospective residents. Not coincidentally, given the land company's controlling stock interest in the Ithaca Street Railway and Lighting Company, trolleys were soon to follow.

On July 28, 1898, the trolley made its first round trip to Cornell Heights, entering the neighborhood via the Triphammer Bridge, going west along Thurston Avenue to the Knoll, and returning to town via the Stewart Avenue bridge. The trip took an hour and a half.

Among the distinguishing features of Cornell Heights are a varied topography and the curvilinear street plan that accommodates it. Intent on taking advantage of the area's natural beauty, the land company hired William Webster, a landscape architect from Rochester, New York, to design a set of streets that would complement the terrain, which includes steep and gentle inclines, knolls, and ravines. Webster also laid out the building lots, which vary greatly in size and orientation and many of which have direct lines of sight to Cayuga Lake.

The explosive growth of Cornell University around 1900 had a direct impact on the successful development of Cornell Heights. From the first, the district was promoted as an extension of the university campus. Many building lots were sold to professors, and several streets were named after prominent members of the faculty. Faculty and upper-level administrative staff have constituted the single largest population in the Heights since its inception.

Most of the 150 buildings in the district were built between 1898 and 1935 and reflect a variety of early twentieth-century architectural styles. Many of the homes were designed by locally prominent architects, including William H. Miller, Clinton Vivian, Clarence Martin, and Arthur Gibb. The district reflects the eclecticism of the period wherein elements from various architectural styles were combined in a single structure. The most abundantly represented styles in the district are Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and Craftsman.

This tour presents information on 36 homes in the district, a 175-acre parcel of land on the north rim of Fall Creek between Cornell University and Cayuga Heights. It was developed by Historic Ithaca Inc.

Loop One is 1.2 -miles long and can be toured safely and easily on foot. Loop Two is 1.5 miles long. Given the absence of adequate sidewalks--especially along Ridgewood Road--we strongly recommend that you see it by car. Please use discretion when approaching private property. Thank you, and we hope you enjoy the tour!


Tour Map

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What You'll See on the Tour

1
225 Fall Creek Drive

This Colonial Revival home is one of the oldest buildings in the district. It was built in 1901 for David Hoy, Cornell University registrar and the person referred to in the song Give My Regards to Davy. The house was designed by Clarence M... Read more
2
302 Fall Creek Drive

This Tudor Revival home is one of the more recent homes in the district. Built in 1929 for George Coleman, an instructor at Cornell, it is typical of the so-called "Stockbroker Tudors" popular in the 1920s, which, despite their modest scale... Read more
3
124 Roberts Place

Nature book publisher John Henry Comstock had this Craftsman-style house built in 1914, not as a residence, but as the headquearters of his lucrative business, Comstock Publishers. He and his wife, naturalist Anna Botsford Comstock, lived a... Read more
4
201 Wyckoff Avenue

This Queen Anne-inspired house was built in 1904 for Louis Agassiz Fuertes, renowned artist, naturalist, and bird illustrator. Considered by many to be the foremost American illustrator of birds--surpassing even John James Audobon--Fuertes ... Read more
5
534 Thurston Avenue

Fraternity and sorority houses now abound in Cornell Heights in spite of the fact that developer Edward Wyckoff was intent on maintaining the area as a "placid, family-oriented residential suburb without the encroachment of commercial inter... Read more
6
319 Wait Avenue

This striking house is a good example of the stylistic eclecticism found throughout the district. Built around 1912, it exhibits features of the Craftsman style, such as low-hanging, open eaves, but does not feature the exposed roof raft... Read more
7
216 Wait Avenue

About ten percent of Colonial Revival homes have gambrel roofs. Most, like this one, are one-story homes with steeply pitched gambrels containing almost a full second story of floor space. Many have separate dormer windows or a continuous s... Read more
8
114 Kelvin Place

Construction in Cornell Heights proceeded in stages. It began slowly, with twenty houses built between 1899 and 1903. Construction flourished between 1904 and 1916, in keeping with the rapid expansion of the university which, by the end of ... Read more
9
116 Kelvin Place

A comparison of this house with its neighbor across the street (121 Kelvin Place) reveals the limitations of using conventional style labels in attempting to describe the appearance of a particular structure. This house, built in 1907, can ... Read more
10
121 Kelvin Place

In keeping with the Colonial Revival style, the doorway of the house at 121 Kelvin Place features a porch with Doric columns and an arched pediment--classical details that are notably absent on the house across the street at 116 Kelvin Pla... Read more
11
125 Kelvin Place

This house provides another example of the stylistic eclecticism so common in the district. It was built in 1903. The accentuated doorway and balanced symmetry of the house's facade suggest something of the Colonial Revival style, ... Read more
12
126 Kelvin Place

This large Dutch Colonial Revival home was built in 1909 for Gilbert D. Harris, professor of geology and paleontology at Cornell and founder of the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI). Harris lived here through the 1950s, and the hom... Read more
13
403 Wyckoff Avenue

This stately Colonial Revival home was built in 1907 for Adam Capen Gill, professor of mineralogy and petrography at Cornell. Set on a rise, well back from the roads on a large, well-landscaped corner lot, the house conveys an air of dignif... Read more
14
419 Wyckoff Ave

This house was built in 1908 and combines features of the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles. Queen Anne elements include the asymmetrical facade with corner tower and wrap-around porch, and the stained glass on some of the first story ... Read more
15
125 Heights Court

This house is an excellent example of a California Craftsman bungalow, with its projecting single-story wings, low-pitched roofline, widely overhanging eaves, and exposed rafters. It was built in 1922 for Leon Rothschild, president and secr... Read more
16
120 Heights Court

Heights Court does not appear on the original street plan for the district. It was probably created around 1910, when this house was built. Most of the houses on the street date from 1914 to the late 1920s and are noticeably smaller and mor... Read more
17
116 – 116 ½ Heights Court

Now used as student apartments, this double house was built in 1916 as a residence for businesspeople, professionals, and faculty. Early occupants included Edwin G. Boring, who went on to teach psychology at Harvard University, and Karl M. ... Read more
18
110, 112 Heights Court

This unusual structure was originally the barn on Edward Wyckoff's estate on Thurston Avenue. Built in 1898, it was moved to  its present location around 1912 and remodeled into apartments for businesspeople and professionals.  As report... Read more
19
1 Lodge way

This is another building from the original Wyckoff estate. It was built in 1900 as a gatehouse and had a large greenhouse connected to it at the northwest elevation. The building was probably dissociated from the estate and remodelled for... Read more
20
305 Thurston Avenue

Fraternity and sorority houses constitute the second largest category of residential land use in Cornell Heights after private, single-family homes. Many opulent, formerly private homes have been taken over by Greek letter and independent... Read more
21
110 Highland Avenue

This house was built in 1936 for Cora Perry Morse, widow of industrialist Frank L. Morse, president of Morse Chain Company.  It was designed by Carl Tallman and built on a large lot that the Morse family had owned for several years,... Read more
22
150 Highland Avenue

In 1926, Morse Chain Company owner Frank Morse had the small Craftsman style home at 150 Highland Avenue built for his personal chauffeur, C. Lynn Hausner.
23
201 Highland Avenue

This large, Prairie-style home was built in 1916, the busiest year of building activity in Cornell Heights. Occupied briefly as a private residence, it housed various fraternities, including Beta Samach, Phi Gamma Delta, and Theta Kapp... Read more
24
110 Westbourne Lane

This house is a hybrid, like many in the district, combining features of the Prairie and Craftsman styles. It was built in 1912 for Frederick W. Owen, professor of mathematics at Cornell, and was occupied from the 1930s through the 1980s... Read more
25
55 Ridgewood Road

This large Tudor-influenced home was designed for Frank L. Morse by Walter Burleigh Griffin, a prominent Chicago architect and former assistant to Frank Lloyd Wright. Built in 1913, the year Morse assumed presidency of the Morse Chain Compa... Read more
26
40 Ridgewood Road

Two different houses have existed on this property. The first was a small, stucco-covered dwelling built around 1909 for George F. Atkinson, professor and head of the Department of Botany at Cornell. That house was demolished and replaced b... Read more
27
2 Ridgewood Road

From the early days of the university, the number of fraternities at Cornell has been exceptional--a result of an early administrative decision by university president and co-founder, Andrew Dickson White, that the university not provide do... Read more
28
101 Thurston Avenue

This Swiss Chalet-style house, with its jerkinhead, or clipped, gable and Swiss balustrade, was built in 1914 for W H. Austen, an assistant librarian at Cornell. Austen lived there only briefly, and the house was vacant for much of the time... Read more
29
105 Needham Place

This Tudor Revival-style house was built in 1907 for Professor James G. Needham. Needham taught the first course in limnology at Cornell and established a department that became world famous. Limnology is the scientific study of ponds and l... Read more
30
900 Stewart Avenue

This building, the so-called "Sphinx Head Tomb," was built in 1926 by the Sphinx Head Society, an honorary organization for male undergraduates at Cornell. Originally built as a single, windowless room, it was designed in the Egyptian Revi... Read more
31
109 Barton Place

This house, which combines Colonial Revival and Queen Anne-style features, is one of the earliest houses in the district. It was built on speculation as residential rental property sometime between 1899 and 1902. It was designed by Clinto... Read more
32
212 Fall Creek Drive

This eclectic house was built in 1909, probably as residential rental property. Distinctive features include the double-pitched hipped roof with flared eaves, Prairie-style windows, and Craftsman-inspired porch. The house's first occupant w... Read more
33
216 Fall Creek Drive

Cornell Heights developer Edward G. Wycoff had this house built on speculation in 1904. Its first occupant was John Parsons, a professor in Cornell's College of Civil Engineering. Parsons may have designed this Tudor-inspired house; he is k... Read more

 

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