Museum & Research Library Hours: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 11am-5pm.
A brief History
The DeWitt Historical Society was formed in 1935 as a revival of two earlier historical societies of 1863-64 and 1888-1905. The first, the Ithaca Historical & Scientific Society, was started by Ezra Cornell, and lasted for less than two years. DHS was first formed in 1899 to promote Tompkins County history, and was named in honor of Simeon DeWitt, a prominent early Ithacan. This society met to hear papers, erected commemorative plaques, and started a collection of books and objects that was housed at the public library after the society disbanded in 1905.
In 1935 members of prominent families revived the Society and collected locally relevant objects, books, documents, and newspaper articles. They housed them in a room in a local bank before moving to the county courthouse in 1936, and have received support from the county ever since. From 1943 to 1973, the Society was open to the public on a regular basis and had almost the entire collection on display. They collected both general artifacts and those of Tompkins County heavily over those years, and published short books on local history as well as a quarterly newsletter.
In 1973 the society moved to the recently restored Clinton House and hired its first professionally trained director. Growing steadily, it mounted several temporary exhibitions a year while continuing to publish articles. In the late 1970's and early 80's, the society narrowed its focus and chose the following areas of concentration: immigration, county artists, businesses, occupations and industries, and 20th century social history.
In 1992 the society transplanted to the former Dean of Ithaca building where it currently resides, on 401 East State Street. After being completely renovated as a museum space, the staff began moving the collections and opening its doors to the public for gift shop and research services. Then on March 19, 1994, with the addition of two new exhibitions, the grand opening marked the beginning of a more complete museum setting.