May 6, 2004

Ag College Celebrates Centennial

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Thirty two years after he had left his post as one of Cornell’s first professors, Goldwin Smith returned to Ithaca in October 1904 to lay the cornerstone of Goldwin Smith Hall. What was the first state-funded building at Cornell, the Dairy Building, was incorporated into Goldwin Smith Hall’s northern wing.

The construction of Goldwin Smith Hall completed the University quadrangle and marked the end of the University’s early era. Dean “Tee Fee” Crane, President Jacob Gould Schurman, Smith, Andrew Dickson White, and others are pictured at the groundbreaking.

One hundred years ago, Cornell’s campus looked vastly different. On the single, neatly ordered quad, a trolley car ran past the University Library and Boardman Hall, on the spot where Olin Library stands today.

And while the Arts College was settling into a physical structure that would largely last the century, an era of rapid expansion was beginning for the College of Agriculture. When Liberty Hyde Bailey became the first dean of the College of Agriculture in 1903, he aggressively lobbied New York State for funds and on May 9, 1904 received word that Cornell would receive $250,000 for the construction of an agriculture campus.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is celebrating its centennial this year on May 12 with a parade beginning at 1:30 on Ho Plaza. Members of the Cornell community are welcome to gather to enjoy a mystery “centennial” ice cream when the procession reaches Fernow Hall.

The parade will be a re-enactment of the one exactly one hundred years ago with horse-drawn carriages, cows, floats, animals and bands, according to the Cornell News Service.

As a result of Bailey’s efforts, Roberts Hall was erected in spring 1905.

Even with all the construction, Ithaca still possessed something of the untamed wild about it, as captured by a nostalgic Hendrick Willem Van Loon 1905, writing in 1930 that:

“Its buildings were nothing to boast of and rubber boots were not entirely out of fashion among the aborigines who crossed its muddy pathways …. In the days of long ago … we had to step across a couple of sabre-toothed tigers before we could get into Morrill Hall ….”

Sabre-toothed tigers or no, land developers were eagerly snatching up the remaining lands around campus. Declaring that “The Boom Is On,” attorney George S. Tarbell was advertising in The Sun that “Now is the time to buy lots upon Cornell Heights or houses upon East Hill.”

Cornell Heights is the area around Thurston Avenue, North of Fall Creek Gorge.

Cornell University was also preparing for growth. In the decade following 1904, Cornell purchased over 700 acres of land to save room for the University’s future growth and prevent further development. Most of the land was purchased from the Cornell family, a major Ithaca landowner since Ezra Cornell’s time.

“In an imperialistic era the University was acting imperialistically,” writes Kermit Parsons in The Cornell Campus.

Despite all of the activity, however, Ithaca was still cow country.

State Street had only been paved ten years earlier, and all but the major roads would be unpaved for another decade and the rise of the automobile.

The Trolley

Housing was a large problem at Cornell in the early 20th century. The University grew dramatically in enrollment, but neither University dormitories nor collegetown boarding houses could feed the demand.

In 1891, the Ithaca Street Railway, the second trolley system in the country, added service between East Hill and downtown Ithaca, allowing students to live downtown with ease.

It was not until 1896, however, that the University permitted a trolley line onto campus, having already vetoed the proposal once before. With the development of Cornell Heights picking up speed in 1904, the trolley added another line going North on East Avenue, over Triphammer bridge, left onto Thurston Avenue, left again on Stewart Avenue and back to State Street.

In 1894, Renwick Park, today’s Stewart Park, was developed by the Ithaca Street Railway as a destination for trolley-riders.

The trolley was discontinued after floods in 1935 destroyed the trolley’s tracks.

Archived article by Peter Norlander
Sun Senior Editor