Hennepaw’s Mill: Ithaca’s pioneer settlement

By Eric Gervais

Anyone who investigates the early history of the Ithaca area of Tompkins County will sooner or later find records of a man sometimes called Peter Hennepaw, as shown on the ‘Original Lane’ sign at Terrace Place and Buffalo Street. However, like many names from the 1700s, Peter’s surname was phoneticized, and in this case, taken from written records. Hennepaw, the name on the marker, is actually spelled ‘Heimbach’. This mistake was confirmed to me by SUNY Cortland Professor Emeritus Charles Yaple, who is a direct descendant of Peter ‘Hennepaw’s’ mother. His book “Jacob’s Land: Revolutionary War Soldiers, Schemers, Scoundrels and the Settling of New York’s Frontier” provides an in-depth account about life in the region before, during, and after the American Revolutionary War.

A sign at East Buffalo Street and Terrace Place honors the earliest known United States settlers to the Ithaca area.

Peter Heimbach was one of Ithaca’s earliest known residents after the Revolutionary War. He and his brothers, the Yaples, and their new brothers-in-law, the Dumonds, came to settle in 1789 from Ulster County. They had lived on the Delaware River, the homeland of the Leni-Lenape, or Delaware Nation. Colonial treaties made after the French and Indian War had made the east side of the river, a place known as the Cookhouse, part of English territory. Peter Heimbach kept a trading post there that sold goods to the indigenous people across the river. It was basically the farthest outpost of New York’s western frontier at that time. After the war, when lands of the Cayuga Nation had been opened to settlement, these enterprising frontiersmen, the Yaples, Dumonds, and Heimbach, packed up and came to the ‘Head of Cayuga Lake’.

Unfortunately, these pioneers were forced to settle not once, but twice, due to the confiscation of their lands by local authorities. There is much speculation about this event, but in the end, Abraham Markle moved onto Heimbach’s land and in 1800, he built Ithaca’s first framed house. The settlement was even known for a time as Markle’s Flats. The Yaples and Dumonds resettled on South Hill, and Peter Heimbach received an 800-acre tract near today’s German Cross Road. He didn’t stay for long, and left the area for good in 1795. Heimbach’s name has been in Ithaca’s history books from the very beginning, and the way it is written and pronounced has caused confusion ever since.

This mispronunciation is due to multiple errors. The first, ‘Henne’, is derived from ‘Hine’ which was derived from ‘Hyn’. ‘Hyn’ and its long-i sound were later interpreted as a short-i.  Another error is due to the suffix, ‘-paw’ being a German sound that is not present in the English language. This mistake is commonly made when English speakers speak the name of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. The guttural -gh sound is spelled ‘ch’, but a native English speaker is likely to speak ‘ch’ with a -k sound. In Heinbach’s case, the German -ch was phonetically interpreted in many unique ways, although most commonly -pough or -paw. The correct pronunciation of the -ch sound also leads to the prior consonant sounds, -n and -m, and -p and -b, being nearly impossible to differentiate.

Terrace and Buffalo
Peter Heimbach settled in 1789 the area of East Buffalo Street and Terrace Place. The arrow shows where an historical sign has been erected.

No matter how you spell or pronounce Peter Heimbach’s name, his settlement at the base of Cascadilla Gorge was the heart of early Ithaca. It is possible that anti-German sentiment in first half of the 20th century influenced the transformation of the name on local signage, or on the way Heimbach’s pioneer group is remembered today. Robert McDowell was recast as Ithaca’s pioneer in the 1930s, based on Jonathan Woodworth’s journal of 1788 being from the year before. That source may be the only reason for the change of story, but in reality, there were likely many unrecorded people here at that time. The position of the Heimbach, Yaple, and Dumond family, on the ground in the heart of town, tells the story between the lines. History is “what is written”, so in a sense, all of the ways Peter Heimbach’s name is spelled have become part of the larger tapestry of Tompkins County heritage.

eric gervaisEric Gervais was born in Lewisburg, Pa. near the junctions of East and West Branches of the Susquehanna River and moved to Ithaca in the 1990s. His projects include Ithaca History Booklist, a curated list of free ebooks about Ithaca, and Ithaca Tours, a social media project that provides information about Ithaca’s heritage and natural features.




Ithaca Gorge walk was a must-see attraction for 19th century visitors

By Lynn Thommen

A 1872 ad for the Ithaca Gorge walk.

Fall Creek Gorge, that mile-long portion of Fall Creek from the base of Ithaca Falls eastward to Beebe Dam, had long been accessible on the north side only to the most ardent and daring of climbers and hikers. Ithaca entrepreneur and Civil War veteran William Gordon Johnson (1834-1897) saw enormous potential for attracting visitors to a scenic pathway along the gorge’s still undeveloped side.

His Ithaca Gorge walk would offer unsurpassed, sublime views of sylvan, rock, and water scenery, passing no fewer than five waterfalls, along with vistas of the lake, town, and valley. From its opening in autumn 1869, the trail was promoted widely in guidebooks, newspapers, and magazines for the next 20 years.

The recommended visit would begin in the morning at the Lower Lodge located at the northeast corner of the Lake Street bridge and proceed eastward by ascents, descents, switchbacks, stairways cut into the rock walls, and finally a wooden spiral staircase that spanned from the creek bed to the bank above Triphammer Falls. While considerable manpower was expended in creating “everything requisite to the safety and comfort of visitors,” [1] one reviewer in 1876 noted that, “It is no mean feat to ‘do’ Ithaca Gorge.”[2] Mention is made of “tortuous and in some places difficult and somewhat dangerous scrambles over rocks and cliffs”[3] along narrow single-file paths hewn into the rock of the cliff faces, and steep descents.

 Undeniably romantic names were given to stops along the route: The Rest (with a small aviary), The Plateau (with a seasonal refreshment stand), Cliff Walk (which in 1882 was said to offer the finest view of Jennie McGraw Fiske’s opulent mansion), Trouble Bay (for its steep downward path). The waterfalls each bore names (which Johnson spelled using a singular fall, such as Ithaca Fall): Ithaca Falls, the largest with its drop of 150 feet, followed by Forest Falls to the east of today’s Stewart Avenue Bridge, Foaming Falls beneath the pedestrian suspension bridge, Rocky Falls adjacent to the water power plant, and lastly Triphammer Falls.

Johnson’s death in 1897 was followed by the opening of Cornell Heights as a residential community on the north side of Fall Creek, complete with the new Stewart Avenue bridge and electric street trolley. Ithaca Gorge’s trail and amenities were soon lost to 20th-century progress.

Cayuga Lake Scenery from Picturesque America ca 1875
Cayuga Lake scenery from “Picturesque America,” a two-volume set of books describing and illustrating the scenery of America, circa 1875.





fred ives 16x20
Lower Lodge, circa mid-1870s, was located at the northeast corner of the Lake Street bridge in Ithaca. Photo by Fred Ives


Johnson Ithaca Gorge guidebook cover
Ithaca Gorge walk guidebook cover.

Clarke F. W., Views around Ithaca: Being a Description of the Waterfalls and Ravines of This Remarkable Locality. Ithaca: Andrus, McChain & Co., 1869.

Johnson, William G. Illustrated guide book of Ithaca gorge, and its surroundings. Ithaca: Andrus, McChain & Lyons, 1873.

Kurtz, D. Morris, Ithaca and Its Resources, Being an Historical and Descriptive Sketch of the “Forest City” and Its Magnificent Scenery. Ithaca: Journal Association Book and Job Print, 1883.

Thurber, C.H. In and Out of Ithaca: A Description of the Village, the Surrounding Scenery, and Cornell University. Ithaca: Andrus & Church, 1887.

The University Guide containing an account of the Buildings, Museums and Collections of Cornell University. Ithaca: Finch & Apgar, 1875.

Articles and mentions in The Ithaca Journal and Ithaca Daily Journal found through on-line searches at New York State Historic Newspapers and Fulton History websites.

[1] Ithaca Daily Journal, 5 July 1879, page 4.

[2] Ithaca Daily Journal, 30 August 1876, page 4.

[3] Ithaca Journal, 30 May 1871, page 4.


HUANG_DARIEN Business and Editorial Portrait REIS_D20160223JR2
Photo courtesy Jon Reiss

Lynn Thommen has enjoyed a life-long interest in local history—the people, places, built structures, and events that make community. Since coming to Ithaca in 2015, she has focused on learning about the Cornell Heights neighborhood and Fall Creek gorge.

Previously, Lynn held senior positions at Bard Graduate Center, The Jewish Museum, American Ballet Theatre, and the Pierpont Morgan Library, and served as an officer of the Museums Council of New York City. She received a BA in art history from Colby College and a graduate degree in not-for-profit management from Binghamton University.







The Dutch Roots of Ithaca’s Dey Street

By Patricia Longoria

Dey St sign 4 19 2017

On the northwestern edge of Ithaca’s Fall Creek neighborhood, a turn from busy State Route 13 (North Meadow Street) leads to tree-lined Dey Street. Only three blocks long, the street has a relaxed, neighborhood vibe. Its tidy late-Victorian homes sit close to the street on narrow lots.

Dey St Cottages vert 4 19 2017

At one end, where Dey Street and Auburn Street meet at an acute angle, a V-shaped pocket park offers a shaded reminder to slow down and enjoy the day. On an early spring afternoon, kids play a game of baseball. Younger children shriek happily as they launch from a swing and climb on the play structure.

A three-story brick building, once home to the Ithaca Calendar Clock Company, dominates the block across from the park. The former factory currently houses a music store. From it drift the high squeak of a music student’s brass instrument and a jazz duo’s low bass strum.

Manhattan’s Dey Street

More than 200 miles southeast of Ithaca, in the heart of Manhattan’s Financial District, another street carries the same name. Dey Street runs between Broadway and Church Street just a stone’s throw from the World Trade Center. The narrow thoroughfare is only a block long. Much of the street’s pedestrian traffic flows underground through the Dey Street Concourse, where commuters can access multiple subway and rail lines.[1]

Though hundreds of miles apart, both streets were named for the Dutch Dey family who arrived in colonial New Amsterdam in the seventeenth century. The Deys were politically and socially prominent landowners and merchants. By 1750, Manhattan’s Dey Street was laid out as a rural road bisecting the Dey family’s five-and-a-half acre farm.[2] The property extended to the Hudson River.

Jane Dey (1728-1810) and her husband John Varick (1730-1809) inherited several lots along Dey Street in 1764.[3] It was the Varicks’ daughter Jane who made the Dey family’s Ithaca connection.

In 1799, Jane Dey Varick Hardenberg (1760-1808), by then a widow,[4] married New York Surveyor General Simeon DeWitt (1756-1834), himself a widower. The couple lived in Albany, but by the time of their marriage DeWitt owned more than 1,000 acres in Ithaca, then known as Ulysses (Military Tract township Number 22).[5]

Ithaca’s Dey Street is Named

At the end of 1834, Simeon DeWitt died in Ithaca. Richard Varick DeWitt (1800-1868)[6]—Simeon DeWitt and Jane Varick DeWitt’s oldest son—managed the sale of his father’s extensive Ithaca property. Richard, along with two other commissioners, divided the DeWitt estate into lots.

They laid out and named a host of new streets in what would later become Ithaca’s Northside and Fall Creek neighborhoods. The prosaic First through Seventh streets paralleled Cascadilla Creek. The Founding Father streets included Franklin, Adams, Hancock, and Madison. The New York state governor streets of Yates, Tompkins, and Lewis were sandwiched between streets named for first Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay and fourth Chief Justice John Marshall. The resulting 1836 map was the first to show Dey Street named and laid out, running diagonally to Railroad Avenue and next to the aptly named Short Street.

Map of Ithaca 1836 screen capture

Dey Street and some of the other roads in the new section of Ithaca deviated from the north-south and east-west orientation of older streets. But, for the most part, Richard followed his father’s surveying model, with an ordered, grid-like pattern of streets.

On an earlier map made in 1831, Simeon DeWitt had acknowledged his wife’s father’s family by naming Varick Street (now Park Place) along a public park. Richard’s uncle and namesake, Richard Varick (1753-1831), was mayor of New York City in the first decade after American independence.

Similarly, Richard chose to recognize his mother’s Dey ancestors with the naming of Dey Street. The names of political figures imbued the raw, young village’s planned streets—most of them rough dirt tracks—with a sense of patriotism and history. The Dey name evoked Revolutionary War heroes and leaders of the early republic.

Thus mapped, Dey Street in Ithaca marked the legacy of a Dutch American family whose members fought to build a new nation and invested in (gambled on?) an upstate New York region brimming with confidence in its future prosperity.

However, Richard Varick DeWitt and the investors who purchased his father’s lots could not have known that this optimism would soon be challenged. The Panic of 1837 touched off a decades-long financial recession that depressed real estate prices and forced some of the DeWitt estate buyers into bankruptcy. It would be almost four decades before Dey Street buzzed with the electric energy of a successful commercial enterprise when the Ithaca Calendar Clock Company built its three-story brick factory there at the start of Ithaca’s industrial boom.

Ithaca Calendar Clock Company THC
On what is today the northern third section of Dey Street, the county fairgrounds’ exhibit hall once bordered a horse-racing track. The Ithaca Calendar Clock Company bought the fairgrounds from the Tompkins County Agricultural Society and built its factory on part of this property in 1875. The original building burned down the next year but was rebuilt. (Photo used with permission from The History Center in Tompkins County)
PHOTO Norton Cottages Dey St ca 1884
Dey Street was no more than a weed-choked, dirt track in the mid-1880s. By 1884, these six identical “Norton cottages” had been built across from the Ithaca Calendar Clock Company factory. James Norton ran a grocery store at the corner of Dey and Adams streets, and he and his wife Elizabeth Norton owned the nearby lots. Most of the first residents of the Norton cottages were families of workers employed at the Ithaca Glass Works at Third and Franklin streets. (Photo used with permission from The History Center in Tompkins County)


Pat SunPatricia Longoria is deputy historian of the Village of Cayuga Heights and coordinator of the Names on the Land–Tompkins County project. Pat has been an editor and writer in educational publishing for more than two decades. Her archival research and graduate training in Latin American history translate surprisingly well to deciphering the spidery handwriting on old property deeds, puzzling out the family trees of early Tompkins County residents, and finding names on historical maps. 


[1] “Fulton Center Connection to World Trade Center PATH Station to Open Thursday; New Access Point Links 9 Subway Lines with Port Authority Trans-Hudson Rail Service,” MTA Press Release, May 25, 2016.

[2] Treman, Ebenezer Mack. History of the Treman, Tremaine, Truman Family, Vol. 1, Press of the Ithaca democrat, Ithaca, 1901, pp. 743-744 and pp. 755-756.

[3] “Abstracts of Wills on File in the Surrogate’s Office, City of New York, Vol. VI, 1760-1766, With Letters of Administration Granted 1760-1766,” in “Collections of the New-York Historical Society for the Year 1897,” New York, 1897, pp. 321-322.

[4] “DIED, in this city, in the 37th year of his age, Maj. Abraham Hardenberg, one of the officers of the late American army.” Columbian Gazetteer, New York, New York, October 13, 1794. Birth and death dates for Jane V.H. DeWitt confirmed in Reynolds, Cuyler (ed.). Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs, Vol. 1, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York, 1911, p. 366. (Same source says that Jane was the sister of Revolutionary War Colonel Richard Varick, who served as mayor of New York.) Death date confirmed in U.S., Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930. Find A Grave lists her birth date incorrectly as 1784 and death date as 1808. New Jersey, Marriage Records, 1683-1802 lists her marriage to Abraham Hardenburgh (Ulster, NY) as 22 January 1784. US, Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930: “Hardenberg, Abraham, Maj., officer of American Army, d. at New York (C.C. Oct. 18, 1794).” The Seward Family Digital Archive includes Jane, “d. 1808, widow of Abraham Hardenbergh [1756-1794].” https://sewardproject.org/person-public-fields/5270.

[5] Heidt, William. Simeon DeWitt; Founder of Ithaca, DeWitt Historical Society of Tompkins County, Ithaca, 1968, p. VII and pp. 21-23.

[6] Treman, p. 791.