A Literary Walking Tour of Ithaca (Historic Brochure Edition)

This walking tour leads the visitor to the former haunts of many of this century's brightest literary lights, and the Ithaca settings that resurface in their novels.

A Literary Walking Tour of Ithaca (Historic Brochure Edition)

Ithaca, New York 14850, United States

Created By: Ithaca Heritage

Tour Information

**This tour is from the 1986 printed "A Literary Walking Tour of Ithaca" brochure written by Deborah Schoch", modified for PocketSights by The History Center in Tompkins County in 2022. Text is unchanged from the original printing.**

For students of 20th century literature, a treasure trove of trivia awaits in Ithaca, N.Y.

This secluded college town has been home to some of the major figures in American writing over the past century. Many of them wrote about the town, some disguising it with names like "Athene" or "New Wye." Yet Ithaca remains undiscovered and unspoiled by the culture-seekers who know swarm through Cambridge and Greenwich Village and wear down the floors of Westminster Abbey.
No cultural markers scar the landscapes of Collegetown and Cayuga Heights. No tourism booths have sprung up to hawk postcards and bumper stickers. Remarkably, not a single home displays the sign "Nabokov Slept Here."

A one-day walking tour is the ideal way to spot the many highlights of Ithaca and the surrounding countryside. Some may choose to try this tour by bicycle or automobile; they are urged to pay attention to the city's many "one-way" traffic signs.

A LITERARY WALKING TOUR OF ITHACA is based on research of Ithaca literature and secondary sources. It is not intended as a scholarly excercise. Nor can we guarantee that we have not overlooked a writer, a literary hotspot, or even another Nabokov residence. The author welcomes any and all suggestions, additions and revisions.

A map on the inside of the book cover provides an overview of the walk and the location of the sights. And, to keep you on the path, maps have been reproduced on each page.

Tompkins County's literary landmarks are not limited to the City of Ithaca and Cornell University.

For starters, cultural thrill seekers can take the "Vladimir Nabokov trail" in Cayuga Heights.

We might begin at the Corners Community Center, a shopping area closely resembling "Community Center" in Nabokov's Pale Fire.
We pass by 880 Highland Road, where Nabokov lived in 1957-58. Nearby is Hampton Road, where he lived in 1952-53; 623 Highland Road, his home in 1951-52; 425 Hanshaw Road, where he lived in 1956-57; and 404 Highland Road where he lived in 1958-59, shortly before leaving Ithaca.

A short drive away is 614 Wyckoff Road, Pearl Buck's home in 1932-33. She returned to Ithaca with her first husband who was studying at Cornell. The Good Earth had won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize, and local newspapers made much of her Ithaca stay. She was working on a new novel, tenatively titled The Patriots, according to a 1932 Ithaca Journal article that described her Cayuga Heights home. "Here and there an unobtrusive Oriental decoration hinted of far-off China," the article stated. "But the mistress of the house is primarily the charming wife of an American professor."

A few blocks away is Oak Hill Road, scene of a real-life drama that would be transformed into the climax of Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. In May 1958, Cornell students became infuriated by a proposed administration ban on unchaperoned apartment parties. Led by Richard Farina and Kirkpatrick Sale, they staged a demonstration on campus. An estimated 1,000 students marched north to the Cornell president's home on Oak Hill Road, where effigies were burned and eggs thrown. Farina, Sale and two others were suspended.

East of the Cornell campus is a modest home at 22 Forest Home Drive where Buck lived quietly in 1924-25. She was doing graduate work in English at Cornell. Yet a current Forest Home resident can remember typing her manuscripts for East Wind: West Wind.
Other points of literary interest:

  • The Village of Dryad -or Dryden- where a rural Dairy Queen is the scene of important action in Been Down So Long

  • Ithaca College, where Serling once taught writing workshops

  • 307 Willow Ave., on Ithaca's Northside. This is the home of the singing infant in Baby, according to author Robert Lieberman.

  • Hector Street on West Hill, once home to W.D. Snodgrass. In The Campus on the Hill, he writes of his house "on the other hill, among meadows, with the orchard fences down and falling; deer come almost to the door."


Thanks are extended to the Board of Planning and Development, City of Ithaca, for use of its city map. In addition, we wish to thank Jane Marcham, Rita Hall, Jim Powers, Barb Gingras and Bruce Tilton.


Total distance travelled: 5.90 miles

Elevation: Very hard (multiple hills)

Tour Map

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What You'll See on the Tour

The Ithaca Hotel was a massive brick Victorian structure that served as an entry point for generations of Ithacans. At the time Schoch's guide was written it was home to the Iszard's department store. E.B. White arrived by train and and ch... Read more
Several literary greats got their starts in the Sun newsroom. E.B. White was elected editor-in-chief in his junior year. In a May 1920 editorial, "The King's English," he hinted at the philosophy of language he would later make famous in Th... Read more
A leading character plays his saxophone in an upstairs room of the Chanticleer Tavern in the novel Halfway Down the Stairs by Cornellian Charles Thompson. 
The Journal appears in different guises in several Ithaca novels. Fariña dubbed it "The Athene Globe" in his novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. Alison Lurie called it "The Corinth Courier" in The War Between the Tates. In ... Read more
DeWitt Park is the site of the first public concert by the amazing singing infant in Robert Lieberman's Baby. This downtown park near the Tompkins County Courthouse was host to many antiwar demonstrations during the Vietnam years. It rese... Read more
Birthplace of Roots author Alex Haley, it was also his home for the first six weeks of his life. Born in Ithaca on August 1, 1921, Haley returned to his mother's hometown--Henning, Tennessee--in September while his father completed a mast... Read more
This gorge gave its name to "Cascadilla Falls," one of the best-known poems by A.R. Ammons: "...oh I do not know where I am going that I can live my life by this single creek."  Ithaca's spectacular gorges are a major motif in its literat... Read more
This cemetery was visited by White during his undergraduate days. He wrote to his mother of going to town, "through the torturous graveyard, I'll shamble down" and then blames the phrase on "an overabundance of Browning." Incidentally, ceme... Read more
Fariña lived in these red-brick dorms as a Cornell freshman in 1955-56.
Nabokov lived at Belleayre Apartments from 1954 to 1955.  If you continue on Stewart Avenue for another one-quarter mile you will be able to look across the Fall Creek Gorge at the ersatz Egyptian temple-like home of astronomer Carl Sagan.... Read more
White spent his freshman year in the Collegiate Gothic Baker dormitories.
This bridge is the scene of a lyrical passage in On a Darkling Plain, Clifford Irving's first novel: "He gazed down from the swaying suspension bridge, the cold wind biting his face, reddening it. A fir tree threw down a clump of snow, whi... Read more
This slope was immortalized on the first page of Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49. "...A sunrise over the library slope at Cornell University that nobody out on it had seen because the slope faces west."
The Arts Quad is the scene of a springtime encounter between Pynchon and Fariña, described in Pynchon's introduction to the 1983 edition of Been Down So Long.
Nabokov worked in Room 278 of Goldwin Smith Hall for many years and taught comparative literature in Lecture Room D. The building contains the offices of several current Ithaca literary figures, including Ammons, James McConkey and Dan McCa... Read more
McGraw Hall was undoubtedly the model for the college building in The War Between the Tates, from which one of the leading males helped a professor escape from a sit-in by lowering him out the window with a rope.  ...
This McGraw clock tower reappears throughout Ithaca literature. Characters check their watches by it, although few Ithacans do; the four faces often register slightly different times. In One Man's Meat, White remembers the night in Novembe... Read more
Fariña described Cornell Law School in Been Down So Long : the Law School has a "pleasant courtyard, splendid for a duel."
Fariña described the 1950s-style engineering quad as "tinted aluminum plates, long sheets of weatherproofed glass, dymaxion torsions; the synthetic content of a collective architectural grab bag. Clean, well lighted, cheap to heat, functio... Read more
Collegetown was called "Lairville" by Fariña. Student Agencies at 409 College Avenue and its "Student Laundries" across the street in Sheldon Court is where "the ambitious, shorthaired young men scramble(d) about, mixing everyone's wash." ...
Sheldon Court was home to White in 1917 and Toni Morrison in 1955. Morrison came to Cornell in 1953 to do graduate work in English. She said she chose Cornell mainly because she had "nowhere to go." In 1955, after turning in what she descri... Read more
Fariña lived at 226 Linden Avenue in 1959.
Johnny's Big Red Grill, at the site of the neon bear, achieved posterity as Guido's Grill in Been Down So Long.  Johnny's was operated by the Petrillose family from 1919 to 1981 and it collected scores of would-be writers and musicians.... Read more
Fariña lived in a first-floor apartment at 301 College Avenue in 1956-57. At the time the guide was written it was a Egan's supermarket parking lot. 
Near the rear of 971 E State Street, Fariña and Pynchon helped install the roof on the redwood carport in 1959, according to McConkey. The professor lived in the adjacent house and was adviser to the two Cornell undergraduates. Part of th... Read more
Nabokov resided at 957 E State Street in 1953-54, where he reportedly completed work on Lolita.
Nabokov resided in this brown-and-white frame house from 1948-51. 
Pynchon lived at 702 E Buffalo St in 1957.
Vonnegut resided in this nondescript house at 109 Williams St in 1940-41. 
Before urban renewal, Hal's Delicatessen stood here, at 309 E State Street. It was a regular dining spot for Rod Serling. The creator of television's original and now legendary Twilight Zone is said to have favored hot pastrami sandwiches... Read more


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