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OUR STORY

The History Center is a generation-to-generation education and research center focused on engaging with the public. The Center helps people use the tools of history to understand the past, gain perspective on the present, and play an informed role in shaping the future.

In order to accomplish our mission we preserve and encourage access to The History Center's unique collections; seek out the diverse needs and interests of our community; design learning experiences and provide services that respond to those needs; create opportunities for people to learn about themselves and their place in the world; and provide a neutral environment for public discussions that bring historical perspective to current issues. 

Our Exhibit Hall and Research Library are located at the Tompkins Center for History & Culture on the Ithaca Commons.

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 lasted less than two years. The DeWitt Historical Society was formed in 1899 to promote Tompkins County history, and was named in honor of Simeon DeWitt, a prominent early Ithacan and city planner. This society met to hear papers, erect commemorative plaques, and started a collection of books and objects that was housed at the public library after the society disbanded in 1905.

In 1935 members of prominent local families revived the society "to encourage research into local history and preserve objects and documents of historical significance." 

The society collected locally relevant objects, books, and documents, mounted exhibits, and published articles in the Ithaca Journal. It was housed in a room in a local bank before moving to the county courthouse in 1936, and has received support from the county ever since. From 1943-1973 the society, located in the old courthouse in downtown Ithaca, was open to the public on a regular basis, and sometimes had paid staff. Almost the entire collection was on display and could be handled by visitors. The Society collected heavily over those years, both items relating to Tompkins County history specifically, and more generalized artifacts. It published short books on local history and a quarterly newsletter all on its own press. 

Video from 2018 featuring former Executive Director Rod Howe

In 1973 the Society moved from the old courthouse to the recently restored Clinton House (thereby tripling it's public space), and hired its first professionally trained director. Since then, the Society grew steadily; mounting several temporary exhibitions a year, and publishing articles on local history. During this time it refined it's collection policy to more accurately reflect the Society's original focus on Tompkins County history. In attempting to do a better job of interpreting local history, the Society in the late 1970's and early '80's chose several areas of archival concentration: immigration, county artists, businesses, occupations and industries, and 20th century social history. 

In March of 1992 the Society closed its doors at the Clinton House in order to move into the former Dean of Ithaca Building (now known as Gateway) at 401 East State St. This space was completely renovated to serve as a museum space in 1992-1993. Doors opened to the public on March 19th, 1994. The History Center operated out of the Gateway building until 2019.

The DeWitt Historical Society changed it's name to The History Center in Tompkins County in September of 2004 to more accurately reflect its changing identity as a historical society, research space, and public museum space. 

After more than two decades at the Gateway building on East State Street, The History Center in Tompkins County relocated to the brand new Tompkins Center for History & Culture (110 North Tioga Street) on the Ithaca Commons. A heritage tourism center which opened to the public in May of 2019 with 11 partner organizations in the building.

This new space allowed for expansion of all current projects, adding an extensive Local Research Library, the Thaler/Howell Archives, and the Exhibit Hall, with regularly changing exhibits inspired by the extensive archival collections of The History Center.

The History Center in Tompkins County is thrilled to continue to connect history generation to generation, through connecting residents and researchers to our shared past through our Youth Education programs, exhibits, research opportunities, and collaborative programming. 






Physical Address

Located inside the Tompkins Center for History & Culture

110 North Tioga Street

(On the Ithaca Commons) 

Ithaca NY, 14850 USA


Hours

Exhibit Hall -  Thursday-Saturday 10am-5pm / Sunday - 10am-3pm - CLOSED M-W

Cornell Local History Research Library & Thaler/Howell Archives - By appointment only. Please contact archives@thehistorycenter.net

Contact                                                     

Email: Refer to Contact page for individual emails, General inquiries to community@thehistorycenter.net

Phone: 607-273-8284

Web: thehistorycenter.net

Find us on social media @tompkinshistory

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