Ithaca
NY 14850

Dewitt Park

Natural Corridor/GreenwayBicycle SitePublic Space/SquarePedestrian FriendlyWheelchair AccessibleTraditional NeighborhoodMemorial/Site of Conscience

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The DeWitt Park Historic District (formerly known as the Public Square until 1869) comprises the city block in which the park is located and portions of the surrounding blocks, with structures fronting on North Cayuga Street, East Court Street, West Court Street, North Tioga Street, East Buffalo Street, and West Buffalo Street. The area also includes two houses that face eastward onto Sears Street which runs parallel to and midway between Cayuga and Tioga Streets.

The park itself involves about one-third of its block and is bounded by North Cayuga Street and East Buffalo Street, as well as by public buildings to the north and east.

The southern boundary of DeWitt Park and its environs is located one block north of East State Street, a major commercial street in Ithaca. This location has permitted the area to become one of mixed use, involving governmental, educational, professional, religious, and residential functions, all of which coexist harmoniously and serve to enrich the city visually, culturally, and economically.

The architecture is predominantly 19th and early 20th century eclectic; however, the Public Library and Ithaca Savings and Loan Association are two noteworthy contemporary buildings carefully designed to contribute to the existing environment. Particularly along the east side of North Tioga Street many private residences have been converted to professional offices with great sensitivity regarding the existing exteriors, often involving little more than repainting and selection of a suitable sign identifying the building's new use.

Significance

The DeWitt Park Historic District constitutes an environment of visual richness, architectural variety, and urban unity that greatly enhances the character of Ithaca's downtown area. It also serves as an effective example of planning within a pre-existing framework in terms of new architectural additions and adaptive uses.

The DeWitt Park Historic District is a focal point for cultural, social, educational, political, and religious functions, a handsome setting for the ongoing activities of the community which enters the lives of those who work and live in the area as well as those who only occasionally use it.

Historically the park dates back to the early days of Ithaca and was known as the Public Square. Forming part of its north boundary is the Old Tompkins County Courthouse, the "oldest surviving court house of the Gothic Revival period in the state of New York and the oldest public building in Tompkins County," according to Bullock. (This building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places July 24, 1970).

The "Bank of Newburgh," 106 East Court Street, built in the 1820's, served as an early bank for the town of Ithaca and then as the home of one of its prominent bankers. Boardman House is also associated with an illustrious resident, Douglas Boardman, first dean of the Cornell Law School. This building, too, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Architecturally prominent are the DeWitt Junior High School, built in 1912 by William Henry Miller, Ithaca's prominent architect; the Old Court House; and the Williams-Fisher House, 306 North Cayuga, a sensitively designed turn-of-the-century eclectic residence.

The area as a whole constitutes an integral part of Ithaca's history, having been developed by the town's founder, Simeon DeWitt, in the early 1800's, and is significant, as well, for its architectural character.

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