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County History

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125 East Court Street
Ithaca, NY  14850
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County History

Tompkins County History

Cornell University Overlooking Cayuga Lake
courtesy of University Photography


It was the establishment of Cornell University in 1865 that stabilized the economy of the Tompkins County. The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 provided land to states for the support of agricultural and mechanical education, and training in military tactics. It was through his interest in agricultural education and providing education for boys from poor families—reflecting his own background--that Ezra Cornell staked his own newly–made fortune and his Ithaca farm to bring the Morrill Land Grant College in Tompkins County. But Cornell knew little of universities. The school that emerged was the product of the experience and ideas of Andrew Dickson White, who had been born in Homer, grown up in Syracuse, and who had been educated at Hobart and William Smith College, Yale University, and in Europe. Together the two men founded Cornell University attracting students, faculty, and many new residents to the county. Some families even moved to Ithaca while their children attended the university.