Ithaca, New York, is situated on the southern end of Cayuga Lake and is the seat of Tompkins County. The community (population 29,300) was named after the island home of the Greek hero Odysseus. Known as "Sodom" and "The Flats" in its days as an unruly frontier town, Ithaca was a busy transportation center for the region by the mid-19th century, served by several rail lines and daily steamboat departures.
Ezra Cornell, who had made a fortune through his early involvement in the telegraph industry, founded the university bearing his name here in 1868. Ithaca also lays claim to being the birthplace of the ice cream sundae.
In 1970, Ithaca adopted one of New York State's earliest preservation ordinances, establishing a Landmarks Preservation Commission. In 1986, the town became a Certified Local Government, which enabled it to receive grants to develop a city-wide Reconnaissance Survey and Treatment Plan, design guidelines, interpretive signage, and nine other projects to date.
In 1997, the city adopted a local tax abatement program to spur investment in local historic resources, following a successful effort to change State law to enable local communities to offer such an incentive. The program phases in the increase in assessed value resulting from rehabilitation of historic buildings that are locally designated landmarks.
Ithaca's 1928 State Theatre, once a vaudeville and movie house, is the only surviving theater of its kind in the area. It is unusual in that it still has a large percentage of its original equipment, which affords the rare possibility of providing contemporary audiences with an authentic period experience. Saved from demolition in 1998, the theater reopened in 2001 following stabilization and safety improvements.
Since then, the theater has contributed to the revitalization of downtown Ithaca, acting as a catalyst for economic development and tourism, while providing recreational and cultural opportunities. During the 2003-2004 season, it hosted nearly 44,000 patrons at 89 events, bringing approximately 100,000 patrons to surrounding dining and retail establishments.
A broad partnership among Historic Ithaca, Inc., the City Community Development Office, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Save America's Treasures program, Tompkins County Strategic Tourism Capital and Operations grants, the State Council on the Arts, and other private and public entities has had a role in funding this ongoing project.
Ithaca also offers walking tours of three historic districts, produced by Historic Ithaca, Inc., with funding from the New York State Council on the Arts.
Continuing restoration of the State Theatre, along with pending National Register designation of Ithaca's Downtown Historic District, promises to draw even more business as well as cultural tourism.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2005.