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Facts & Trivia About Ithaca

Ithaca/Tompkins County Overview

Ithaca and Tompkins County are located in the Finger Lakes Region of central New York State, four hours from New York City, three hours from Niagara Falls, two hours from Rochester and four hours from Philadelphia.

The Finger Lakes Region is comprised of 14 counties, which occupy 9,000 square miles, roughly comparable in size to the states of Vermont, New Hampshire or New Jersey.

Ithaca, NY sits at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake, the longest of the 11 Finger Lakes.

Home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, the Ithaca area offers the best of small-town life with cultural qualities of a larger metropolitan city.

Ithaca is the seat of Tompkins County. As of 2017, the population estimate was over 104,800. The county was named in honor of Daniel D. Tompkins, who served as Governor of New York and Vice President of the United States.

The climate of Tompkins County provides for a variety of Ithaca attractions and outdoor activities ranging from boating, swimming and hiking in summer, to cross-country skiing and ice-skating in winter. “Ithaca is gorges” has become the indelible adage that aptly describes the Ithaca area, which has been blessed with deep cut gorges and the most spectacular waterfalls in New York.

Did you know...

  • Ithaca is famous for its many waterfalls, more than 100 within 10 miles of downtown. If you put them all together, it's a waterfall 7,342 feet tall. That's 1.39 miles of falling water!
  • Ithaca takes its name from the Greek island of Ithaca in Homer's Odyssey.
  • Cayuga Lake is named after the Cayuga Indian Nation, one of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.
  • The city's modern history began in the late 18th Century when Congress awarded Revolutionary War soldiers land grants (in lieu of combat pay) to settle the area. Local deeds are still based on the original "Military Tract," designated in 1790.
  • As a frontier town with questionable morals, Ithaca was briefly known as Sodom.
  • Famous Ithacans include: "Roots" author Alex Haley, astronomer Carl Sagan, television writer Rod Serling, and former World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz.
  • Famous Cornell University alumni include: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Associate Justice of the Supreme Court), Bill Nye (the Science Guy), Bill Maher (comedian and television host), and Christopher Reeve (actor, Superman), among many others.
  • Famous Ithaca College alumni include: Bob Iger (CEO of The Walt Disney Company), Gavin DeGraw (musical artist, though he did not graduate), Ben Feldman (Emmy nominated actor, Superstore), and David Boreanaz (actor, Bones), among many others.
  • An intrepid boater can cast off from Ithaca and cruise the storied Erie Canal system all the way to NYC and the Atlantic Ocean. Westbound, the canal leads boaters into the Great Lakes, the Mississippi and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The Moosewood Restaurant, famous for its award-winning vegetarian cookbooks, has been an Ithaca landmark since 1973.
  • Ithaca was a film capital from 1913-1920 with numerous silent films produced at Wharton Studios in Stewart Park.
  • Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum was a likely visitor to Ithaca while his future wife attended Cornell University. At the time, yellow bricks paved local roads.
  • Dr. Robert A. Moog, founder of Moog Music and the inventor of the legendary Moog synthesizer received his Ph.D. from Cornell in engineering physics in 1965 and was a longtime resident of Trumansburg, N.Y. Cornell University now houses his archives.
  • Ithaca has its own currency, "Ithaca Hours." This alternative legal tender is widely used in town and has been featured in over 400 media outlets nationally and abroad.
  • The Ithaca Gun Company, whose namesake smokestack remains a local landmark, was established in 1880 and produced some of the world's finest shotguns. Among its patrons were John Philip Sousa and Annie Oakley. The long-closed factory is now being converted to residential use.

Famous/Infamous Ithaca Discoveries and Creations

  • The first Ice Cream Sundae was invented by a local fountain owner Chester Platt and Unitarian reverend John Scott on April 3, 1892.
  • America's first electric street lamps lit the Cornell Campus in the winter of 1875-'76.
  • The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was rediscovered (maybe) by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in 2005.
  • The song "Puff the Magic Dragon" was penned in Ithaca. Cornell Student Lenny Lipton wrote it as a poem and passed it on to Peter Yarrow, who later turned it into a song in the Peter, Paul and Mary classic.
  • Novelist Vladimir Nabokov wrote "Lolita" in Ithaca-and he almost burned it here after the story was rejected by every American publisher. His wife changed literary history when she pulled the manuscript from the incinerator behind their rented house on East Seneca Street.

Tompkins County Quick Geography & Weather Facts

  • Land area – 474.65 square miles (2010 census)
  • Persons per square mile – 214 (2010 census)
  • Connecticut Hill – Highest point in Tompkins County (2,099 ft. above sea level)
  • Cayuga Lake – Lowest point in Tompkins County (382 ft. above sea level)
  • Average high temperature in January – 34 degrees F.
  • Average high temperature in July – 83 degrees F.
  • Average yearly rainfall – 35.4 inches
  • Average yearly snowfall – 67.3 inches
  • Source: Northeast Regional Climate Center

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    Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau
    A division of the Tompkins Chamber
    904 East Shore Drive, Ithaca, NY 14850
    Phone: (607) 272-1313 | Toll Free: (800)-28-ITHACA
    The official web site of Ithaca, New York and Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau in the Finger Lakes. Complete guide to Ithaca, NY hotels, attractions, dining, shopping and recreation with maps and driving directions.
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