At the southern tip of Cayuga Lake lies Ithaca, a small, progressive university town whose population of about 30,000 nearly doubles in size whenever its two colleges—Cornell University and Ithaca College—are in session. This is the kind of laid-back place where everyone wears Birkenstocks and reads Proust in outdoor cafés.
Ithaca was originally a Cayuga settlement that was destroyed during General Sullivan’s ruthless 1779 campaign. The first white settlers arrived in 1788, but the town didn’t really begin to grow until the opening of Cornell University in 1868.
For several years beginning in 1914, Ithaca was a center for the motion picture business. The Wharton Studios based itself here; Exploits of Elaine, starring Lionel Barrymore and Pearl White, and Patria, starring Irene Castle, were both filmed in Ithaca. The region’s unpredictable weather proved less than ideal for moviemaking, however, and in 1920 the industry moved west.
Ithaca also claims to be the birthplace of the sundae, supposedly first concocted here in 1891. “As the story goes,” writes Arch Merrill in Slim Fingers Beckon, “an Ithaca preacher came into C. C. Platt’s drugstore, weary and sweating after the Sunday morning service. He asked the druggist to fix a dish of ice cream and pour some syrup on it…and thus another American institution was born.”
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition