In Ithaca you can buy t-shirts and bumper stickers that say “Cornell University,” “Ithaca College,” and even “Ithaca is Gorges.” The play on the word “gorges” refers to the natural canyons that bookend Cornell’s central campus. Created by 12,000 years of flowing water, Cascadilla and Fall Creek Gorges are home to just a few of the 100+ waterfalls that can be found within a 10 mile radius of campus.
WHERE IT IS
Cornellians happily joke that their alma mater is “centrally isolated” in upstate New York. And well, it is! 4.5 hours from Manhattan, 3 hours from Buffalo, 5 hours from Boston; it’s not really convenient to get to unless you’re starting from Syracuse or Binghamton. But, once you get there, you’ll understand why Cornell’s rambling campus is routinely ranked as one of the most beautiful in the world.
WHAT IT IS
Cornell University opened its doors to men of all races and religions in 1868 and by 1870 was allowing women to enroll (although they had to enter through their own doors for quite awhile).
Cornell is not only the largest member of the Ivy League but also New York State’s Land Grant University. With seven undergraduate colleges and seven graduate divisions, the Ithaca campus hums with the intellectual and physical activity of more than 18,000 students. Off campus programs, including a world-renowned medical college in Manhattan, put the total number of Cornell students well above 20,000.
SIGHTS TO SEE
Many of Cornell’s historic buildings are clustered around academic quadrangles, like the pre-World War I Arts Quad. Just south of the Arts Quad is Uris Library, the main undergraduate library. Two of my favorite spots here are the “cocktail lounge” – an underground study area that provides terribly distracting views -- and McGraw Tower. Attached to the library, the tower is home to the Cornell Chimes, 21-bells played by student chimes masters. Concerts are performed three times each day (when classes are in session) and are open to any brave souls willing to climb the tower's 161 steps. If you make the climb, you will be treated to an unforgettable concert that will rival the views. Bring ear plugs – it’s really loud!
The Herbert F. Johnson Art Museum was designed by I. M. Pei and has a permanent collection of more than 30,000 works of art. Like so many other buildings on campus, the Johnson Museum offers fabulous views of the great outdoors, but its highly respected art collection provides great eye candy inside, too. In the late 20th century, Cornellians referred to the building itself as “the sewing machine.” I’m not sure how many 21st century students would make the same visual connection (do current day high school students even know what sewing machines look like?).
Check out some of the collections: the brain collection on the second floor of Uris Hall, the gem collection in Snee Hall, and the extensive (3,000+ titles) Witchcraft collection in Olin Library.
Take a walk in the Cornell Plantations where there are botanical gardens and a 150 acre arboretum. Guided tours of the Cornell Plantations are available.
Cornell Campus tours leave from Day Hall, smack in the middle of central campus. I highly recommend the Freshman Experience tour for prospective students. While the general tour is extremely informative, the FE tour takes you to dorms and dining halls and really gives you a good look at day-to-day life.
Cornell students rave about their dining plan food, and it really is good! However, if you’re a bagel or sandwich lover, I recommend taking a few steps off campus into Collegetown and grabbing lunch at Collegetown Bagels. If it’s a nice day, you can sit out on the terrace and soak up the sun as well as the Collegetown atmosphere. If you’re just looking for a quick snack, go to Willard Straight Hall (next to McGraw Tower) where students gather during the school day for lunch and for facetime (a Cornell term for seeing and being seen). You can grab a snack in the Ivy Room downstairs.
As you’re preparing to leave town, check out my favorite quirky sight: Start on Stewart Avenue (along the edge of West Campus) at the entrance to the Ithaca City Cemetary (Dewitt Place) and follow the zig-zagging route as it winds tightly past cottage-y homes and gardens along side the Cascadilla Creek Gorge. Cascadilla Park Road is a residential road, so the residents will like you a lot more if you walk rather than drive. But, if you drive, keep in mind that CPR is a two-way street, and most of the road is too narrow for two-way traffic, so keep your speed LOW. This will also make the sightseeing more enjoyable.
For more information about Cornell University, click here.
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