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Plans Unveiled to Mark Tompkins County Bicentennial in 2017

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Plans Unveiled to Mark Tompkins County Bicentennial in 2017

Thursday, April 7, 2016

On April 7, 1817, by act of the New York State Legislature, the counties of Seneca and Cayuga were divided, and Tompkins County was formed.

April 7, 2017, will mark Tompkins County’s 200th anniversary, and exactly one year in advance of that date, the Tompkins County Bicentennial Commission, co-chaired by Tompkins County Historian Carol Kammen and Tompkins County Legislature Chair Michael Lane, announced the County’s plans for a year-long celebration to commemorate that significant milestone.

“In 2017, Tompkins County will celebrate its 200th anniversary—a most unique and noteworthy event,” said Mr. Lane. “We look forward to a year-long celebration that will allow our residents to become better educated about the county’s rich history; that will better acquaint them with the diversity of our people and the services we provide in the present; and that will give us a time to look forward as to how we can best progress into the future for the benefit of all of our people. With the help and participation of residents and groups throughout the county, there will be activities that are serious, glorious, and fun for all.”

At its meeting of April 5, the Tompkins County Legislature passed a resolution officially declaring the year 2017 to be the Tompkins County Bicentennial Year. The Chair of the Legislature, at the beginning of last year, established the Tompkins County Bicentennial Commemoration Commission, charged with planning and recommending events and activities for the year—“to inform and educate the people of our county and beyond about its rich history and its role in the health, welfare, and safety of our residents;…[to] celebrate the diversity of our populations,…inclusive of the contributions of all,” working to include participation by residents throughout the county.

Among activities and programs the Commission has planned to date:

Recognizing our municipalities and their importance to Tompkins County:
- Updating and reprinting of brochures highlighting the history of each of our towns.
- Cast-iron historical markers are being offered to each town, and to the City of Ithaca.
- “Thank you” celebrations planned in each of the towns and the City.

Faces, Places, and Spaces:
- An individual “map” project (in collaboration with the Tompkins County Public Library) that will invite people to identify the “Faces, Places, and Spaces” in Tompkins County that make the county special for them.
- Creation of e- and virtual house/building/people signs, denoting significant built locations in the County.

Explaining Tompkins County:
- A series of video vignettes, to be posted online beginning in 2016, will showcase County employees, and how their work serves County residents.
- In 2017, video vignettes will be added that focus on County departments, and how their operations to serve the public have changed over 200 years.
- A pamphlet will be published on the history of County government
- A “State of the County” lecture, planned for the actual anniversary date, beginning a series of “county conversations” at the public library.

County Historian Kammen stresses that what has been planned to date, and will continue to be developed, is only the beginning, and that it’s important for everyone to become involved. “The Bicentennial Commission is eager to hear what sorts of activities might be proposed from the towns, from residents, and from groups that could mark the bicentennial of Tompkins County,” Ms. Kammen said. “These might be picnics, theatre programs, recognition of town officials and their duties, a photographic exhibit, or material from the town archives.

“In addition, the Bicentennial Commission is planning to hold celebrations in each of the towns, and then a giant whole community celebration to mark our two hundred years. The programs being planned will entertain, educate, introduce residents to the workings of the county about which they might not know, and will involve using our history up to the present and to leave information about the county to the future. There will be a focus on what people appreciate about the county, how they live and work here, what places are of particular importance, and people of today and the past we might celebrate.”

To advance an idea, suggestion, or proposal, contact the Tompkins County Historian Kammen by e-mail at or  or mail suggestions in writing to Tompkins County Bicentennial Commission, care of the Tompkins County Historian, 125 E. Court Street, Ithaca, NY 14850.