Terrace Place has its rocky roots in Ithaca’s McClune Terrace quarry

By Carol Kammen

Terrace Place is the small lane that leads across the slope on East Hill heading toward the lake.  It spans the land between East Buffalo Street and Linn Street, spilling in at the junction of Court Street and University Avenue. Terrace Place is easily overlooked but has an interesting history.

Original Lane
A sign at East Buffalo Street and Terrace Place honors the earliest known United States settlers to the Ithaca area. The marker is also near where Simeon DeWitt, New York’s surveyor general, most probably camped when making his survey of the land that would become Ithaca.

When conducting the survey of the Military Tract, that land that had been the home lands of the Cayuga Nation and was not to be given to veterans of the Revolutionary War in payment for their service, Simeon DeWitt, New York’s surveyor general camped somewhat above what is now Terrace Place, most probably on DeWitt Place, where he looked down at the flats below. Horace Mack, writing in the history of the county published in 1879 remarked that DeWitt “selected a beautiful and elevated spot on the east hill for a house on which there is a small grove of white pines from which you have a fine view of the lake and country.” Below is a precipice of 100 feet and from DeWitt’s perch, he could see over the rocky cliff, to the lake beyond. This is where DeWitt, who died in 1834, was first buried: he was later reburied in Albany among members of his extended family.

When conducting the survey of the Military Tract, that land that had been the home lands of the Cayuga Nation and was not to be given to veterans of the Revolutionary War in payment for their service, Simeon DeWitt, New York’s surveyor general camped somewhat above what is now Terrace Place, most probably on DeWitt Place, where he looked down at the flats below. Horace Mack, writing in the history of the county published in 1879 remarked that DeWitt “selected a beautiful and elevated spot on the east hill for a house on which there is a small grove of white pines from which you have a fine view of the lake and country.” Below is a precipice of 100 feet and from DeWitt’s perch, he could see over the rocky cliff, to the lake beyond. This is where DeWitt, who died in 1834, was first buried: he was later reburied in Albany among members of his extended family.

DeWitt would have known of the trail that led to the lake as it skirts the high ground and cliffs overlooking Cascadilla Creek below him his campground, and it was part of the Martinus U. Zielie tract of 1,400 acres that lay at the bottom of East Hill.  [See the essay about Zielie by Peter Marks at http://toursixmilecreek.org/Zielie.php].

That tract of land was conveyed from Zielie to Abraham Bloodgood and then the title passed to Bloodgood’s brother-in-law and then to Simeon DeWitt. The evidence for these transfers, and the reason Zielie received the 1,400-acre tract seem to be lost. What is interesting is that the 1,400 acres are those that DeWitt saw in the late 1780s when he headed the survey of this portion of Central New York and was land he thought most suitable for a small city. That he ended up with that land is `Curiouser and curiouser!’ as Alice said when she looked down the rabbit hole.

According to the 1879 history of Tompkins County, Simeon DeWitt “came into possession of nearly all the domain which is now embraced within the bounds of the village corporation and other lands outside it.”

In 1807 DeWitt drew a map of his property, showing his plans to create a village. His drawing shows Beull Street and it did not, at that point extend up the hill. But as the population of the village of Ithaca grew, Buell became Buffalo Street, which transected the old pathway across the hill.

Terrace Place MapMcClune Terrace was renamed Terrace Place in the early 20th century.

The useful lane became the site of Gideon McClune’s quarry in 1859 and was known as McClune’s Terrace as he chipped away the stone for sale from his office at 53 West Seneca Street. He advertised “flagging, platforms, curbing, door and window sills and caps, horse blocks, hitching posts, &c., &c.”

 

GC McClune Advert
Gideon McClune began his quarry at McClune Terrance in 1849. According to his June 9, 1909 obituary, McClune operated the businesses for 48 year and the quarry supplied many of Ithaca’s original stone sidewalks.

By 1898 there were seven residences on McClune Terrace and the Ithaca Directory continued to carry an ad for McClune’s flagging and cut stone, noting that he employed “competent and Experienced Workmen,” and he kept in stock “thoroughly seasoned Stone.”  [page 211]

In 1908 Gideon McClune was still in business but he died the next year. In 1915, the Ithaca Directory only listed two residents on McClune Terrace, Henry Van Orman and Albert Alexander and identified their location as from 319 East Mill heading south which is the area where the original lane spills out into Mill, now Court Street, and blends into University Avenue.

The remainder of the 11 residents of the street, located from 317 East Buffalo north to Linn Street, were identified as living on Terrace Place and that is how the small street is identified today.

Full obituary: Obit Gideon McClune

OBIT McClune Screen Shot

 

carol-kammen-new

Carol Kammen is the Tompkins County historian and the author of several books on local history.

Podunk: A State of Mind in the Town of Ulysses

By John Wertis

Etymologists tell us that “Podunk” is a term of mild derision that has been used to refer to a small, insignificant settlement.

There are references from the 1600s to an indigenous term resembling “Podunk” from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Long Island. The term appears to have been used by speakers of the Mohegan-Pequot language shared by various Indian nations living in Southern New England and eastern Long Island and is thought to mean “a boggy place.”[1]

Its earliest documented colonial use dates to 1636, when various property deeds and other documents mention the Podunk Indians and a meadow and stream in Connecticut that share the name.[2] In a letter written in 1666, Connecticut governor John Winthrop Jr. (1606-1676) noted that “yesterday there was a party of . . . Mohaukes at Podunk (a place between this town [Hartford] & Windsor) who were discovered by the Indians, & as sone [sic] as discovered they fled.”[3]

 

NEWS Married at Podunk IJ and Advertiser March 23 1853
By the first half of the 1800s, the name “Podunk” had come to be used as a generic term for a fictional place, usually one that was off the beaten track. A satirical poem describing the marriage of Mr. H. Hoe and Miss Ann Handle “at Podunk” appeared in the March 23, 1853 edition of the Ithaca Journal and Advertiser.

In Ulysses the name Podunk has long been applied to a region surrounding the junction of Bolter Creek with Taughannock Creek. This area lies at the southern terminus of Trumansburg’s South Street, one of the earliest roads opened by the Town of Ulysses. This directionally named street ran from Abner Treman’s (1761-1823) cabin on the Ithaca-to-Geneva Turnpike, due south, to a mill site operated by David Atwater in 1804.

MAP Podunk area TC Atlas 1866
The 1866 New Topographical Atlas of Tompkins County map of Ulysses shows homes, a shoe shop, mill, and schoolhouse clustered around the area known as Podunk. (Cropped image from Bill Hecht’s Scanned Images of Maps, nytompki.org/hecht_index.htm#1.)

The first known reference that names this area in writing appears in the Town of Ulysses “Record of Commissioners of Highways, 1846-1898” as part of the description of another road described “running as per record of servay [sic] entered in the Town Book April 21, 1866 ending at the Podunck Road.” (Today’s Podunk Road (CR 146) runs between Trumansburg’s South Street Extension and Mecklenburg Road/NYS 79 in Enfield.) While Stone and Stewart’s New Topographical Atlas of Tompkins County of 1866 clearly shows a cluster of residences and businesses at the location, no identifying name is given.

Perhaps the best descriptions of Podunk at the high point of its residential and commercial development are to be found in two newspaper articles published in 1890. The first, published in flowery editorial style in The Sentinel in January 15 of that year, identified the numerous businesses that had flourished in the hamlet in the post–Civil War era, beyond the original saw and grist mills that relied on water power. The Spicers operated a “steam barrel factory.” The “Pollay Brothers carried on a sash, blind, and door factory.” Mr. Franklin operated a “carriage (wheel) ironing blacksmith shop.” There was a cobbler shop. There was an ice house. There was a grocery store and a saloon. The “Daggetts made the best brick that were ever made in this section.” The Podunk School (District # 4) housed its pupils in a neat brick school house! On the periphery were several prosperous farms whose owners considered themselves “Podunkers.” The writer of this article also felt it necessary to rehash the details of the murder of Ann Cox Mason that had occurred in the hamlet in 1888.

A second article appeared in the competing Trumansburg Free Press of January 25, 1890. The writer was simply identified as “A Podunker.” The writer states: “History to be history, should be correct,” and went on to detail the names and occupations of the then current residents of the hamlet. From this listing it is clear that Podunk’s commercial and manufacturing days were past and the hamlet had become more of a residential suburb of Trumansburg. Community pride was still evident in that the writer identified Orin Clark (1817-1898) as the presumptive mayor of the hamlet.

MAP Podunk crop TCDA Ulysses 1937
An inset in the 1937 Tompkins County Development Association map of Ulysses features residences and road names in Podunk. (Note that local historians have found discrepancies on these TCDA maps, and road names sometimes differ from those commonly used today. For example, today’s Rabbit Run Road is labeled Halsey Creek Road on this TCDA inset map.)

The radio journalist Lowell Thomas (1892-1981) alleged in a December 1930 national radio broadcast that there was no such place as “Podunk.”[4] Long-time resident and self-appointed mayor Milt Cuffman (1863-1946) set the record straight in an interview with the Ithaca Journal published on June 6, 1931. First, admitting that at the time of this interview that only “eight homes make up the ‘town’ proper,” he described the Podunk of his youth and recounted the disappearance of the several mills, retail businesses, and the district’s one-room schoolhouse.

Several years later, Cuffman was writing a regular column for the Trumansburg Leader called “History on the Cuff.” In the April 28, 1939 edition of that publication he gave his explanation as to how the hamlet got its name:

“The legend of the name is that a mill was erected on Bolter Creek with a large ‘Flutter Wheel’ for power. The builder over estimated the constant flow of water and when the stream was a little weak, it was all the poor Bolter could do to turn the wheel, so that each time a paddle hit the water, it was with a slow motion that resulted in a loud noise like, ‘po-dunk’.”

PHOTO Geneva There is a Podunk IJ Apr 17 1949_edited
Amy Costley points to “Podunk” on this ca. 1940s wooden directional sign. The Podunk signs were stolen so often by souvenir-seekers that the Ulysses Town Board suggested printing extras to sell during the Trumansburg centennial in 1972. (Photo of undated newspaper clipping; courtesy of The History Center in Tompkins County, Scrapbook Collection.)

Notably absent from all historical accounts of the hamlet is mention of a Podunk post office. Having a named post office put hamlets on maps and into “official” records as independent entities. Living less than a mile from the center of Trumansburg, hamlet residents have always received their mail through that village’s postal designation.

Perhaps it is best said that our Podunk has long been a state of mind, an independent community with a pride of place expressed through the local use of its unofficial name.

 

PHOTO John Wertis_smallJohn Wertis worked part-time cataloging historical collections at Cornell’s Department of Regional History and University Archives as an undergraduate student. Upon graduation in 1956, he was employed as the university’s Assistant Archivist, while pursuing a graduate degree in science education. He interrupted his archival and historian career with a 35-year hiatus as a public school educator in the Trumansburg, Newfield, and Ithaca school districts. After a second career as a livestock raiser on his farm in the Town of Ulysses, he was appointed Ulysses Town Historian in 2013.

ENDNOTES

[1] Read, Allen Walker. “An Updating of Research on the Name ‘Podunk,’” in Murray Heller (ed.). Names, Northeast Amerindian Names, Publication II, Northeast Regional Names Institute, Saranac Lake, NY, North Country Community College Press, 1980, pp. 86-99.

[2] Read, p. 87.

[3] Read, Allen Walker, “The Rationale of ‘Podunk’,” American Speech, Vol. 14, No. 2, April 1939, p. 100.

[4] “Podunk Doesn’t Exist? Lowell Thomas Wrong; It’s Near Trumansburg,” Ithaca Journal, December 20, 1930.

A Tavern at the Corners: The Van Dorns of Enfield, New York

By Deborah Martin-Plugh

In 1821, in the first year of the Town of Enfield’s establishment, 27-year-old Peter Van Dorn built a tavern on Mecklenburg Road (State Route 79) on what was then known as the Catskill Turnpike. A New York state historic marker stands on the site. The road that runs north and south past Peter Van Dorn’s inn was subsequently named Van Dorn Road.

Peter Van Dorn (1793-1866) and Mary Irwin (1789-1834) of Enfield, New York

Peter Van Dorn of Ithaca
Peter Van Dorn. Image is from The van Doorn Family in Holland and America (1909). It was submitted to the compiler by Peter’s son John.

Born on the Van Doren family farm in Peapack, Somerset County, New Jersey, in 1793, Peter was one of eight children of wealthy farmer Jacob William Van Doren and his wife Margaret Hunt.

According to The van Doorn Family (Van Doorn, Van Dorn, Van Doren, Etc.) in Holland and America, the original name “van Doorn” has been estimated to date back as early as 1088 in Holland. Almost without variation it continues to be the form of the name in general use in the Netherlands, particularly in the region of Utrecht.

The first van Doorn to arrive in the New World was Christianse Pieterszen van Doorn, who settled in New Amsterdam in the 1650s. His son Jacob moved to New Jersey from New Amsterdam and within a generation or two the surname had been modified to Van Doren. At one time the large Van Doren family held some of the richest farmlands in New Jersey. In modern-day Somerset County, the Van Dorn/Doren/Doorn name remains a notable historic family name.[1]

New York state was developing steadily in the late 1700s and early 1800s. By 1818 Peter Van Dorn had sold off his New Jersey holdings and purchased 52 acres of land in Enfield (then Ulysses) and by 1821 moved his wife Mary and young children–daughters Deborah and Mary (my maternal two-times great-grandmother) and son John to their new home above Cayuga Lake.

The Military Townships

Many Revolutionary War soldiers were given land grants when it became impossible to pay them with redeemable currency. Using a lottery system, the government issued Revolutionary War veterans land in 1782 in the Finger Lakes region of central New York, which included 28 townships in the present counties of Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Cortland, Oswego, Wayne, Schuyler, and Tompkins.[2] After being separated from the town of Ulysses in late 1820, Enfield was formed in 1821 from 36 lots of the southern portion of Ulysses, Military Township Lot No. 22.[3]

The Town of Enfield is located on the west-central border of Tompkins County and is bordered on the east by the Town of Ithaca, on the north by the Town of Ulysses, on the west by the Town of Hector in Schuyler County, and on the south by the Town of Newfield. A sketch of Enfield in the 1894 publication Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York describes the terrain:

“The surface rises to a mean elevation of from 500 to 700 feet above the lake and is diversified by rolling slopes and level tracts. The soil is principally a gravelly loam adapted to grain and grass growing. The town contains 23,086 acres, of which nearly or quite 20,000 acres are improved. The principal stream is Five Mile Creek, which has its rise in the northwest part of the town and flows southeasterly, receiving the waters of several smaller streams, and in the southeast part enters a deep gorge over a precipice, forming one of the many beautiful cascades in this region, called Enfield Falls. Above the falls the ravine presents many scenes of great natural beauty, and its wild and picturesque scenery has commanded the admiration of the many who have visited it.”[4]

Once in Enfield, Peter and Mary Van Dorn welcomed more children into their household: sons William, Charles H., Norman, and Thomas Jefferson and, finally, daughter Margaret. The Van Dorns had left behind the established farms, schools, churches, and social life of Somerset County to become part of the dynamic environment of pioneer life in Enfield, New York. A good number of Peter’s kin settled around Cayuga Lake as well. Van Doren, Van Dorn, and Dorn families are found in the earliest records.

The Tavern as a Hub of Social and Political Life

The ensuing decades were ones of challenge for the Peter Van Dorn family and our young country. Van Dorn Corners Tavern and the Peter Van Dorn family were an important part of American history.

A passage in the Enfield History Book published in 2002 by the Enfield Historical Society reveals a unique insight into the inn’s local history:

“Van Dorn’s Tavern is also only described in its last years. It was situated on the south side of Mecklenburg Road and had a barn associated with it. The barn had hidden basement rooms where stolen horses were rumored to be kept and before them, escaping slaves. It was torn down in 1916.”[5]

1847 Poco Loco conference article Van Dorn Tavern w bannerThe tavern was a center of social and political activity during the economic and political turbulence of the 1840s. An article in the Ithaca Daily Chronicle dated September 24, 1847 reported on the Loco Foco Party convention held at “Van Dorn’s in Enfield.” The Loco Focos were a faction of Jacksonian Democrats based in New York state that favored free trade and generally opposed policies that they deemed anti-democratic or in favor of special privilege. Another piece published in January 1848 describes a Loco Foco resolution that sports such lofty language about “demagoguery and democracy” that it fairly rattles the spirit.

Active in local politics himself, Peter was a delegate at the Radical Democratic convention held in Ithaca on September 22, 1849. As reported in an article in the Ithaca Journal published on Wednesday, September 26, 1849, attendees were from all over Tompkins County and were “opposed in the extension of slavery over territory now free, and in favor of its prohibition therein by an act of Congress.”[6] Peter also played a role in Enfield’s civic life as Enfield supervisor in 1855 and overseer of the poor in 1858. He was also a U.S. postmaster and a merchant.

The tavern was not just a way stop for weary horses and drivers, buggies, cutters, and their passengers and for the drovers and their cattle along the rough, muddy challenge of the old turnpike; it was full of the lives of the citizens along the lake. It was a place where neighbors picked up their mail, dropped off their produce to sell to the turnpike travelers, and exchanged news and ideas.

Van_Dorn_Tavern-Henry_Waite
This is the only known image of Van Dorn Tavern. The author’s distant cousin had this among his grandmother’s photos. Bertha Van Dorn and her husband Henry Waite “motored” to Ithaca to visit her Van Dorn cousins and stopped to take a photo before the building was razed.

After Peter’s death in 1866, operations of the tavern were taken over by my great-great-grandfather Oliver S. Williams, Peter’s son-in-law. Oliver ran the tavern and livery until sometime in the 1870s with one of his sons-in-law, Albert Johnson. When Oliver died in 1888, his wife Mary Van Dorn Williams was the last of the family to own the inn before the property was sold out of the family.

In 1917, after the recent razing of the old inn, one of Peter’s great-granddaughters fondly recalled the family story of the Van Dorn Inn and Peter Van Dorn in an article in the Ithaca Daily News:

“With the razing of the old Van Dorn Hotel a famous landmark is gone forever. In its day, noted for its cuisine and fine hospitality, many famous gatherings have been held under its roof and many noted personages have stayed there. . . . Peter was a fine judge of horses and fitted them for the New York market. He was a gentleman of the old school, a firm believer in right and wrong and a zealous churchgoer. He helped to build the church at Kennedy Corners which recently burned and reserved and held the title deeds to three pews for himself.”[7]

Peter Van Dorn and his wife Mary are buried in Christian Cemetery in Enfield in the family plot with their daughters Deborah (widow of Samuel Burlew and Obadiah Chase) and Margaret (widow of Samuel H. Holmes) and Mary Van Dorn Williams and her husband Oliver S. Williams (my maternal two-times great-grandparents).

Christian Cemetery Van Dorn Wide View
Van Dorn headstones at Christian Cemetery, Enfield, New York.

DJMP photoDeborah J. Martin-Plugh is the 3rd-great-granddaughter of Peter Van Dorn and Mary Irwin and author, contributing writer, historian, and genealogical researcher. Born in Ithaca, New York, Martin-Plugh has roots that run deep in Tompkins County, including pioneer settler ancestors Peter Van Dorn, Samuel Weyburn, Samuel Ingersoll, Lewis Purdy, Dr. Parvis Austin Williams, Ira Smith, John Learn, John R. Case, John Bowker, and Jacob Powers. Genealogy without history is just a list of names and dates, and so Deborah’s blog was born to tell the story: www.ginkwell.com.

ENDNOTES

[1] Honeyman, A. Van Doren. The van Doorn family (VanDoorn, Van Dorn, Van Doren, etc.) in Holland and America, 1088-1908. Honeyman’s Publishing House, 1909, Plainfield, NJ.

[2] Hall, C. Edith. Early History of Military Tract. Monograph, NEHGS Library and Adirondack Research Library Collection/Union College, no date, Baldwinsville, NY.

[3] Pierce, Grace M. “The Military Tract of New York State,” The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 40, No. 1, January 1909: 15-22; Ferris, M. Frances (compiler). Index. The balloting book and other documents relating to military bounty lands in the state of New York. New York Secretary of State, 1825, Albany, NY.

[4] Selkreg, John H., ed. Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York. D. Mason & Company, 1894, Syracuse.

[5] Thompson, Sue, ed. The Town of Enfield, New York; Christian Hill to Enfield, Enfield Historical Society, 2002: 49.

[6] “Radical Democratic Convention,” Ithaca Journal, Vol. XXXIV, No. 13, September 23, 1849.

[7] “Van Dorn Inn, Enfield, Was Historic Landmark,” Ithaca Daily News, October 26, 1917.

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