Finding Fires - Tompkins County

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Finding Fires - Tompkins County

Ithaca, New York 14850, United States

Created By: Ithaca Heritage

Tour Information

**This tour was originally developed in 2021 for The History Center in Tompkins County's annual fundraiser Traverse Tompkins: Finding Fires*

The 2021 Traverse Tompkins explored Tompkins County through historic fires that impacted all corners of Tompkins County. Whether you stop at the site of the A&P fire rumored to be retaliation by the Mob on the present day Commons, or trek over to Trumansburg to learn about the master craftsmen who doubled as the Podunk Arsonist, our fires of interest are a great way to learn more about Tompkins County.

The tour starts on The Commons in downtown Ithaca, and winds through several stops downtown before heading west. After a quick out and back to Tutelo Park, follow the Black Diamond trail for a series of fires in Trumansburg. You'll head south with some rolling climbs to reach Newfield, and then meander east through forests to Danby. After Danby, the tour takes you through Brooktondale and Caroline before turning north to Dryden. The series of fires in Dryden spits out riders onto the Rail Trail up to Freeville. Follow Route 38 North to Groton, before tacking west to reach Route 34. This stretch eventually drops you into Cayuga Heights and Cornell for a series of fires before dropping riders back onto The Commons for a well deserved finish!


Intended to be a driving tour or an avid biking trail.

Smaller subset walking or cycling Finding Fires tours can be found on PocketSights for the Town of Dryden, Village of Trumansburg, and Town of Ithaca.

Cycling trail details: Tompkins County Trail (117 mi) - (Tompkins County Strava Trail), 7,444ft of Elevation Gain

Listen to the tour on SoundCloud:

Tour Map

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What You'll See on the Tour

Date: May 28, 1840 Location: 206 Owego Street (now East State Street), Ithaca Frank Atwater was the owner of a theater on Owego St. (now E. State St.) in the early nineteenth century. The theater was located behind a jewelry store, and neve... Read more
Date: February 14, 1912 Location: 215 North Cayuga Street, Ithaca Early in the morning, a “laborer” passing by noticed smoke coming from the windows of the high school. He went to the police headquarters to raise the alarm, and soon af... Read more
Date: Location: 102 West State Street, Ithaca Few fires have a history as long and sordid, and filled with crime and superstition and vigilante justice as the fire at the Franklin House in 1845. The story begins back in 1818, when Luther Ge... Read more
Date: June 30, 1988 Location: 132-4 West State Street, Ithaca A fire that started at 6:00 am burned for nearly the whole day and destroyed the popular nightclub and bar Common Ground, at 132-134 W. State Street. Firefighters determined the ... Read more
Date: February 3, 1970 Location: 200 Hancock Street Late at night on February 3rd, 1970, neighbors of A&P Grocery called the fire department to report an “explosion” that had shattered the front windows of the store. Shortly after ... Read more
Date: July 27, 1907 Location: South of Farley's Point on Cayuga Lake On a summers day in 1907, the new boilers on the steamboat Frontenac exploded and the boat went up in flames. Wind and rough waves prevented the Frontenac from stopping a... Read more
Date: September 24, 1779 On September 24-25, 1779, Coreorgonel, the largest settlement of the Tutelo Nation, was burned by Colonel Dearborn and his regiment as part of the Sullivan-Clinton campaign. The village’s residents had already ev... Read more
Date: November 10, 1968 Location: 100 Whig Street, Trumansburg Early on a Sunday morning, three managers of the high school football team arrived at the school to store equipment for the winter. Upon arrival, they spotted thick black smoke... Read more
Date: May 22, 1871 The Great Fire of 1871 had a smaller square footage than the fire of 1864, but was more destructive. It burned down 11 buildings in total, including the Washington House. Further damaged impacted buildings down Main Stre... Read more
Dates: November 4, 1909, and December 31, 1987 The Page Block was one of the oldest buildings in Trumansburg, constructed sometime in the mid 1800’s. It hosted numerous business, apartments, and the Post Office. On November 4th, 1909, the... Read more
Date: February 22, 1864 Early in the morning of February 22nd, 1864, a young man named Florence Donahue was returning to his home after being granted furlough from the Union Army. As he crossed over the bridge, he noticed a light reflecting... Read more
Date: June 25, 1922 Location: 2 West Main Street, Trumansburg Early in the morning of June 25th, Anna Quinn woke in her apartment in the Opera House Block to a loud crackling sound. When she went to her window, she saw a wall of flames engu... Read more
Date: February 17, 1892 Late one night in January Fredd Biggs spotted flames through the windows of the Academy, as it was called. He immediately went to start the engine in the firehouse, and along the way ran into Colonel Durling, who set... Read more
Date: March 17, 1888 Podunk, despite its reputation as a “podunk” little town or a “sleepy hamlet,” did not escape its own story of flame and drama. Milt Cuffman, Podunk resident and honorary “mayor,” recounted the tale of Rich... Read more
Date: September 19, 1969 Location: 198 Main Street, Newfield A fire started in a restaurant and spread down Newfield’s Main Street, gutting five brick buildings, including the Town Hall and the Newfield Public Library. Sixty firemen from ... Read more
Date: August 28, 1926 Location: 180 Main Street, Newfield Early in the morning, a fire started in the cellar of Hankison’s Store on Main St. in Newfield. The block also contained a post office, Masonic rooms, and a dance hall. The fire sp... Read more
Date: February 17, 1917 Location: 105 Bank Street, Newfield The Newfield Baptist Church was built in 1842 and was one of the oldest churches in the county at the time of the fire. On a Saturday afternoon in 1917, a fire spread from a furnac... Read more
Date: January 10, 1996 Location: 83 West Jersey Hill Road, Ithaca The fire destroyed the woodworking studio of Mark Cushing, a bagpipe maker. It is assumed the fire started from hot coals in the studio's wood stove.The studio contained sa... Read more
For centuries, humans have looked for ways to shape the landscape around them, whether for farming, building homes, or collecting resources like firewood or timber. One of these methods, used by indigenous groups, uses controlled fire to c... Read more
Date: April 21, 1916 Sometime on the night of April 21, 1916, a fire of suspicious and “incendiary” origin started in a wool mill owned by Benjamin Rightmires. The fire migrated from the mill to the shed and ice house of Frank Mulks, a... Read more
As legend has it, an old peddler would visit Ellis Hollow to sell his wares. At night, he would sleep in a farmhouse by a nearby swamp. One day, the peddler arrived to the Hollow, but he never reappeared. Villagers became concerned after ... Read more
Date: May 28, 1936 Early in the morning on May 28th, 1936, the Dusenberry homestead in Dusenberry Hollow was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. The home had been built around 1830 by Henry L. Dusenberry, one of the earliest white... Read more
Date: November 19, 1916 Location: 2743 Slaterville Road The Fountain House was one of Slaterville Springs’ three popular hotels in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that advertised the healing powers of the nearby mineral ... Read more
Date: February 20, 1938 The Nathaniel Tobey Tavern was built around 1808 and was a popular stopping points for stagecoaches on the Catskill Turnpike. Nathaniel Tobey, the proprietor of the tavern, helped establish the township and governme... Read more
Date: February 2, 1954 Location: 36 Union Street, Dryden In 1954 Dryden Central School suffered a fire that destroyed eight classrooms and the cafeteria. The fire appeared to start on the roof, and spread through the attic and the third f... Read more
Date: December 17, 1938 Location: 6 North Street, Dryden In the afternoon of December 17th, 1938, while decorating for that evening’s Sunday mass, the pastor and two parishioners smelled smoke in the auditorium. Unbeknownst to them, ove... Read more
Date: December 19, 1995 Location: 42 West Main Street, Dryden At 4:30pm on December 19th, 1995, a fire started on the roof of the Dryden Hotel. The fire traveled down the top two floors, destroying them completely. Smoke and water from the... Read more
Date: June 6, 1915 Location: Spring House Road, Dryden In 1840, the building that would become Dryden Springs Sanitarium was built as a hotel named the Dryden Springs House. It became known for its parties and banquets, and was known by ... Read more
Date: March 20, 2000 Location: 7 Union Street, Freeville On March 20th, 2000, the Downey Honey Butter Plant was leveled by a fire with an unknown cause. "The Old Honey Butter factory" was housed in a wooden building constructed in 1875. Or... Read more
Date: January 14, 1996 Location: Corner of Locke Road A favorite local eatery in North Lansing, Celie’s Diner, was damaged by a kitchen fire that began around 11 pm on January 14th 1996. The structure of the building was saved, but the in... Read more
Date: March 12, 2004 Location: 813 Auburn Road, Groton A fire that started from lint in a laundry vent in the basement burned down the 162-year-old Rose Inn on March 12th, 2004. The inn was completely gutted, with only a section of the sta... Read more
Date: May 9, 1957 Location: 1 Edgecliff Place, Ithaca Around six in the morning on May 9th, 1957, the 37 fraternity brothers at the Zeta Beta Tau Frat House woke up to a blaring fire alarm. The fire was said to have originated from a matt... Read more
Date: April 1, 1970 Location: 320 Wait Avenue, Ithaca Around one in the morning, a circuit breaker at the Africana Studies and Research Center on Cornell's campus alerted the authorities to an ongoing fire. The fire, according to police, m... Read more
Date: February 13, 1916 Morse Hall, home to Cornell's chemistry department, burned down one day before the start of the spring term.The fire may have started at the top of the building in the studio of J. P. Troy, the university photographe... Read more
Date: December 7, 1906 Location: 810 University Avenue, Ithaca The fire at Jennie McGraw’s McGraw-Fiske Mansion, inhabited by the Chi Psi fraternity, was a tragedy that caught the attention of the state of New York and continued to live i... Read more
Date: April 14, 2015 Location: 400-402 Stewart Avenue, Ithaca The Chapter House and an adjacent apartment building (406 Stewart Ave) were consumed by a fire that began at approximately 4:30am. The bottom floor of the Chapter House was an ic... Read more
The DeWitt Historical Society was formed in 1935 as a revival of two earlier historical societies (1863-64 and 1899-1905) based in Ithaca New York. The first, the Ithaca Historical & Scientific Society, was started by Ezra Cornell, and... Read more


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