You might say that Ithaca College began with a letter from Berlin. Ithaca-area native William Grant Egbert -- Will to his friends -- was a young, homesick violinist studying in Europe when it occurred to him that the best way to live at home and still make a living would be to do what he did best. He could play his violin, and do it in Ithaca, if he taught music on a grander scale. So he wrote a letter to an Ithaca friend, instructing him to sell $50 shares in a new conservatory of music. There weren't many takers.
Nonetheless, on September 19, 1892, the first students trooped into four rented rooms in a house on East Seneca Street to begin their lessons. On that first evening, the faculty of the Ithaca Conservatory of Music gave a free concert in the Unitarian Church, the beginning of a tradition of public performances. Conservatory officers busily set about finding boarding -- "places carefully selected among Christian families" -- for their new students, who studied everything from solfeggio and composition to guitar, mandolin, and even china painting.
For years the fledgling Ithaca Conservatory of Music rented space in the old Wilgus Opera House above Rothschild's Department Store, where Center Ithaca stands today. But by 1910 the management of the school longed for permanent quarters. On November 1, 1910, the directors authorized taking out a mortgage of $11,400 to purchase Judge Douglass Boardman's handsome Italianate townhouse at 120 East Buffalo Street, adjoining DeWitt Park.
More Than Music
The Ithaca Conservatory of Music quickly became more than just a music school. By 1897 George C. Williams had arrived to inaugurate courses in elocution and rhetoric. Williams was an irrepressible character who turned his aspirations for the pulpit into a love of the stage, and here was born the College's long-standing theater arts program, with Williams in the leading roles in everything from Shakespeare to Gilbert and Sullivan.
As Williams succeeded Egbert to the presidency, and throughout the 1920s, new schools began to cluster around the conservatory. Other schools included
Williams's School of Expression and Dramatic Art, 1897
Institute of Public School Music, 1910
Ithaca School of Physical Education, 1917
Frederick Martin's Institute of Speech Correction, 1921
Patrick Conway's Military Band School, 1922
Edward Amherst Ott's School of Chautauqua and Lyceum Arts, 1922 (just in time to be made obsolete by the moving-picture craze)
Andreas Dippel's School of Grand and Light, 1925
Westminster Choir School, 1929-1932
We acted our hearts out, made music in the park, filled the church choirs with wonderful voices, and generally added life to the culture in Ithaca.
Through the Depression
Some of these independent institutes moved on, some died of larger cultural changes, and some were incorporated into Ithaca College when George Williams's tireless promotional efforts resulted in a 1931 college charter. But though we were now a college, our troubles were just beginning. With the Great Depression looming, Leonard Job, the new president, discovered some sizable bills outstanding with local banks and merchants -- bills for mortgages, coal and groceries, laundry and plumbing services. And that, he realized, is how you spell bankrupt.
But Leonard Job was born on an Indiana farm and didn't know how to give up. So he called a meeting with the merchants and put his case simply: There's nothing you can collect -- even the saltshakers are mortgaged. But if you forgive the College's debts, we'll all survive to do business together in the years ahead. The local merchants agreed to cancel old debts, and in 1937 the College was granted a new lease on life.
After the War
With the increased enrollment in the postwar years, renovated houses, old theaters, and the spaces above storefronts on State Street became classrooms and lecture halls. The demand for physical therapy gave impetus to our own fledgling program, now one of our established curricular strengths.
Now Leonard Job cast his eyes up South Hill and saw land -- wide space for playing fields and physical education facilities. In 1949 he laid out the present South Hill playing fields, returning each day to supervise the bulldozers. By that time Freeman, Yavits, and Hill were already household names in Ithaca sports talk.
Frugal by nature, President Leonard Job refused to pay the $15,000 in surveyor's and engineer's fees on the Dworsky-Campbell homestead. Instead he purchased a used surveyor's transit for $100 and gave himself a crash course in surveying. Ithacans coming and going on Danby Road would see President Job, morning and afternoon, out on South Hill laying out the athletic fields.
Meanwhile, Ithaca was producing musicians, music teachers, physical education teachers, physical therapists, and actors. In 1948 an army-surplus Quonset was set down at Court and Cayuga Streets and fitted out with a slightly-less-than-mighty 10-watt transmitter. Ithaca College radio was on the air. By 1958 the new television and radio facilities on Buffalo Street were in operation. Ithaca College television offered everything from game and talk shows to college classes and tax advice -- on cable. The whole town was watching.
With a Little Help from Our Friends
In March 1958 College trustee Roland "Red" Fowler agreed to head "a local committee in Ithaca" to raise funds for the College's expansion. Fowler's group of 100 local "friends" committed to a $100 annual gift to the College and to recruiting other friends. By October Fowler had $6,000 in hand for library books and much-needed scientific equipment.
It wasn't until 1960, after more makeshift downtown classrooms and a temporary expansion into the old hospital site on Quarry Street, that Howard Dillingham, our fourth president, broke ground on South Hill for the first building on the new campus -- the Campus Center, known then as Egbert Union. Dillingham had been quick to recognize that the federal government was anxious to fund higher education in the wake of the Soviets' launching of the Sputnik satellite. So Ithaca College in its modern incarnation was born -- "the miracle on South Hill," as a regional newspaper described it.
The miracle almost sputtered again: We had erected a union building and a few dormitories, but you're not a college if you don't have a classroom. And the U.S. government decided we weren't quite a college. The money stopped. Luckily, once more the community of Ithaca stepped forward. In 1961 the Friends of Ithaca College raised $250,000 for our first classroom building, named Friends Hall in honor of their generosity and perfect timing.
The View from South Hill
We were nearly ready to leave the old Boardman House, our home for 50 years, behind us for good. When the first classes convened on South Hill in 1961, they met in lounges in Egbert Union, in basement trunk rooms of dormitories -- anywhere there was space.
There were virtually three campuses in the early 1960s. Classes were still being held in rented spaces downtown and in the Quarry Street buildings. Students were ferried from one site to another by buses running on frantic but somehow efficient schedules, up and down the hills. Only in 1968 did the College's final academic department move to South Hill -- the radio and television department took up its new quarters in the just-completed Dillingham Center. By then the campus was distinctive, with fountains and towers.
Planting the Seeds
In the course of the 1960s, Ford Hall and Hill Center, Job Hall and Muller Center all followed on schedule. By 1967, the year Jim Butterfield began a football legend on the South Hill turf, Textor Hall had its controversial Disc, the gift of a trustee, mounted on the roof terrace.
With the passing of the turbulent decade, Ithaca came of age as a college under fifth president Ellis Phillips Jr. The physical face of campus reached a plateau during the first half of the 1970s with the completion or renovation of several key buildings. The academic infrastructure stabilized as well, as we -- at least for the moment -- finished reorganizing schools, programs, and courses for maximum efficiency.
We also began to experiment with giving students an educational experience beyond South Hill. Internships grew into distant-learning opportunities with the establishment of a program in London, laying the foundation for future hands-on learning in such places as Rochester, Los Angeles, Singapore, and Australia.
A Time to Grow
The second half of the '70s ushered in an era of success in both financial stability and academic reputation.
A Pennsylvania native with a long history in higher education administration came on board as our next president. James J. Whalen, or simply “J.J.” to many, arrived on South Hill in 1975. Over the next two decades the College saw a dramatic increase not only in the number of students but also in their academic profile. To accommodate these changes, we doubled the number of degrees offered and added more than 10 academic and residential buildings. And, most importantly for an institution supported largely by tuition payments, the College's endowment dramatically increased.
Building for the Future
In 1992 the former Ithaca Conservatory of Music, our founding school, turned 100 years old, and we celebrated for a full year with special concerts, symposia, stage productions, athletic events, and galas. A major expansion and renovation of Ford Hall -- now the James J. Whalen Center for Music -- furthered the reputation of our long-standing music program.
We also turned our attention to solidifying Ithaca's position as a student-centered comprehensive college. To that end, we embarked on yet another ambitious construction effort, starting with a building for the health sciences and one dedicated to fitness.
The year 1997 brought us a strong, civic-minded leader in the person of Peggy R. Williams, the first woman to head the College.
Williams affirmed and expanded Ithaca's long tradition of community involvement. From the Community Plunge in the fall to the Celebration of Service every spring, students, faculty, and staff regularly volunteer their time and expertise to local organizations and agencies. Further evidence of the College's concern for the community's social and environmental health is its leadership role in Sustainable Tompkins, a regional sustainability initiative. We further demonstrated our commitment to sustainability through the renovation of existing facilities to enhance energy efficiency, as well as through the construction of two, new buildings, the Dorothy D. and Roy H. Park Center for Business and Sustainable Enterprise, and the Peggy Ryan Williams Center, dedicated in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Both of these buildings were designed for LEED platinum certification, a measure of the highest principles of architectural sustainability.
Williams retired in 2008, passing the baton (or rather, the ceremonial academic mace) to Thomas R. Rochon, who initiated a strategic visioning process to guide our path over the coming years. Among the top priorities of the College under Rochon are increasing diversity on campus, strengthening our academic programs, and enhancing our students' educational and residential experiences through integrated, interdisciplinary projects.
Ithaca College remains an integral part of the town that shares its name, and it continues to affirm its role in shaping a sustainable and inclusive global community. The campus may now be a mile or two up the road and more than a century away from where it all began. But it’s not so far away, really, in spirit.
Welcome to Ithaca, nestled in the heart of New York State's beautiful Finger Lakes region. Located roughly halfway between Manhattan and Toronto, this thriving, culturally diverse city of 30,000 combines small-town warmth and charm with cosmopolitan flair. Home to Ithaca College and Cornell University, the Ithaca area attracts visitors, students, and scholars from around the globe.
Whether you're looking for natural beauty or urban sophistication, Ithaca has it all. Rolling hills, breathtaking gorges, and splendid lakes offer countless outdoor activities. Fantastic restaurants, exciting nightlife, vibrant theater, mainstream and independent cinema, and live music abound. You can visit central New York's award-winning wineries, swim beneath towering waterfalls, ski and skate throughout the winter, take in the museums and galleries, or just stroll and shop along the downtown Commons.
Ithaca College is a residential institution and guarantees each of its students on-campus housing for the entirety of their undergraduate career. Additionally, students are required to live on-campus for their freshmen, sophomore, and junior years. See the Residency Policy for more complete information.
Approximately 4,395 students live on campus in 27 traditional residence halls and two apartment complexes. The traditional residence halls are divided into four major residential areas: the Quads, the Towers, the Terraces, and Emerson Hall. Each of these areas offers housing for both new and returning students in a combination of single and double rooms. Emerson Hall is comprised of double rooms and a limited number of triple rooms, all with private bathrooms. Triple rooms in Emerson Hall are reserved for students with special needs.
The two apartment complexes are the Ithaca College Circle Apartments and the Garden Apartments. Both apartment complexes house returning students in apartments that can accommodate up to six residents.
The Office of Residential Life has 9 full-time Residence Directors and one Community Director who live in the residence halls and apartment areas along with the students. We also employ 116 Resident/Apartment Assistants, returning students who live on the floors and help to develop community, plan programs, answer questions, and generally serve as a resource for the residents living on their floor. In addition to these live-in staff members, the Residential Life office employs Area Coordinators, Assistant and Associate Directors, and others who work in the Central and Area offices.
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