Forest Home Historic District
The Forest Home Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Forest Home Historic District encompasses 77 properties (66 of which are contributing buildings, four of which are contributing structures (three bridges and a dam), two of which are sites (remains of former grist mills), and five of which are non-contributing buildings) in the historic core of the former mill hamlet of Forest Home. Formerly known as Free Hollow, Forest Home is located along both sides of Fall Creek in the town of Ithaca in north-central Tompkins County, just east of the city of Ithaca and nearby Cornell University. Currently a residential enclave housing many families affiliated with Cornell, the Forest Home Historic District includes a broad range of early nineteenth century to pre-World War II dwellings, three early twentieth century bridges and an early twentieth century dam with related spillway. The predominant natural feature of the Forest Home Historic District — and the driving force behind the development of the entire community — is Fall Creek, which first provided hydropower for numerous early industrial concerns during the nineteenth century, and later offered both dramatic and bucolic backdrops for suburban development during the early twentieth century.
The hamlet is entirely surrounded by land owned by Cornell University (i.e., Cornell Plantations — an expansive arboretum — and Cornell University Golf Course); thus land-locked, the hamlet remains a compact, cohesive concentration of period buildings and structures. The boundary of the Forest Home Historic District is drawn to encompass about three-quarters of the hamlet's approximately 100 properties. Excluded from the district are about a dozen modern and extensively altered older buildings at the east end of the 300 block of Forest Home Drive and about two dozen modern and extensively altered old dwellings along Crest Lane, Fairway Drive and Warren Road to the northeast of the intact historic core of the hamlet.
The Forest Home Historic District's historic building stock consists primarily of one- to two-story frame dwellings on relatively small, irregularly shaped lots; most are modest, yet finely crafted, vernacular interpretations of popular nineteenth and early twentieth century styles such as the Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Bungalow modes. The main thoroughfare of the Forest Home Historic District, Forest Home Drive, winds along the serpentine course of Fall Creek as it meanders westward before cascading over a falls located within a dramatic gorge, then flows into Beebe Lake just west of the hamlet. Some of the Forest Home Historic District's oldest mill-related and residential buildings, as well as the most intact, significant archeological remains — e.g., those of the Red Grist Mill and the Empire Grist Mill — are located along the 100 block of Forest Home Drive (e.g., 136 and 140 Forest Home Drive) and the adjacent Byway (e.g., 2 The Byway) at the northwestern-most section of the district. This area features the most dramatic views of Fall Creek as it plummets over the falls toward Beebe Lake. Just before emptying into the lake, the creek is spanned by Sackett Bridge, a massive, concrete, stone-clad pedestrian bridge carrying foot traffic along a portion of the Beebe Lake Trail.
Immediately east of the 100 block of Forest Home Drive — i.e., just past its intersection with The Byway and just upstream from the remains of the Empire Grist Mill — is the Downstream Bridge, a restored, single-lane, Warren Pony Truss bridge built in 1904. Several yards east of the bridge is a reinforced concrete dam across the creek, built in 1913 to replace the last of several nineteenth century log dams. Above the dam, Fall Creek is wide and meandering, and is flanked by flat, grassy, bucolic banks.
Moving eastward along Forest Home Drive from the dam, the 200 and 300 blocks feature a number of notable turn-of-the-century and early twentieth century dwellings interspersed with a few early nineteenth century Federal and Greek Revival style cottages. A prominent feature of the 200 block, located at 222a Forest Home Drive, is the Forest Home Chapel, a restrained Colonial Revival style, shingle-sided frame church built in 1915. The 200 and 300 blocks of Forest Home Drive are separated by the Upstream Bridge, a one-lane, Warren Through Truss bridge built in 1909.
In the middle of the 200 block, just northwest of the Forest Home Chapel, Warren Road rises northward toward Halcyon Hill, a narrow, winding dead-end road featuring scattered early twentieth century dwellings on densely wooded, steeply sloped lots. Further to the north along Warren Road, but excluded from the Forest Home Historic District, is the Warren Farmhouse at 127 Warren Road (an expanded, Greek Revival style farmhouse) and several dozen modern suburban dwellings along Crest Lane and Fairway Drive, which were built on subdivisions of the former Warren farmstead. (Most of the former farmstead was sold to Cornell University in 1937 and made into the University Golf Course. The former farm was further subdivided in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, resulting in the creation of Crest Lane and Fairway Drive.)
The southern and western portions of the Forest Home Historic District, that is, south of the 100 block of Forest Home Drive, feature a variety of fashionable, early twentieth century dwellings along both sides of Judd Falls Road and McIntyre Place. A prominent visual focal point of this section of the hamlet, as well as the Forest Home Historic District's southern anchor on Judd Falls Road, is the Forest Home School, a two-story, hip-roofed, stucco clad former elementary school, which currently serves as administrative headquarters for the surrounding Cornell Plantations. (Several nearby outbuildings associated with the headquarters, including the Guy Nearing Summerhouse, the Cool Greenhouse, and the Cornell Plantations Field House, are not included within the district.)
There are five non-contributing buildings in the Forest Home Historic District. They are located at 212 and 217 Forest Home Drive, 111 and 115 Halcyon Hill Road, and 110 Judd Falls Road.
The Forest Home Historic District is historically significant in the area of community development as a cohesive collection of nineteenth and early twentieth century residential, religious and educational buildings whose evolution chronicles the hamlet's growth from a bustling mill hamlet during the early 1800s to a prestigious residential enclave populated by some of nearby Cornell University's most prominent academicians during the early twentieth century. The physical development of the community was shaped by the dramatic topography in north-central Tompkins County at the head of Cayuga Lake, one of New York's most impressive, glacier-formed Finger Lakes; traversed by Fall Creek, the terrain of Forest Home and nearby Ithaca is characterized by spectacular gorges, rocky cliffs and steep hills rising out of the hollows. Thus, the predominant, character-defining feature of the Forest Home Historic District is its striking rugged setting and the consequent man-made features: narrow roads winding along the course of the creek, single-lane bridges spanning the creek, and dramatically — even precariously — sited buildings on highly irregular lots, many of which include lavish natural and man-made landscape features. Secondary significance is derived from a broad range of representative examples of early nineteenth through early twentieth century residential, religious and educational architecture. Archeological significance is derived from the extensive remains of numerous mills along the banks of Fall Creek.
In 1790 Simeon Dewitt surveyed what was then known as the town of Ulysses and laid out military lots to be assigned to veterans of the Revolutionary War. Forest Home lies within military lots 92 and 93, which were granted to Lieutenant Benjamin Gilbert and Samuel Weekly, respectively, around 1791. It is not known whether Gilbert or Weekly ever occupied this land, though they may have been among the four settlers who were in the area when Joseph Sydney arrived in 1794. Sydney built a grist mill on the banks of Fall Creek near the present Downstream Bridge, a Warren Pony Truss bridge built in 1904 by the Groton Bridge Company.
The hamlet was called Sydney's Mills until 1799, when the mill was destroyed by fire and Sydney moved to a new site on nearby Cascadilla Creek. In 1812 a Mr. Phoenix built a grist mill near the ruins of Sydney's mill, and the community was renamed Phoenix Mills. Many other mills were soon built, and the name of the community was changed to Free Hollow. (The name was changed to Forest Home in 1876.)
The availability of virtually unlimited hydropower from the swiftly flowing Fall Creek ushered in a period of rampant, mill-related development in Free Hollow during the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Early industries included a sawmill, a turning shop, a wood-working mill, a paper mill, a woolen mill, a knitting mill, a foundry, a gun powder mill, a slaughter house, a tannery and leather shop, a cider mill, and a cabinet shop. Dwellings — usually small, vernacular, late Federal or Greek Revival style cottages — were built to house the workers and their families, and a school and several small commercial ventures were established to meet the needs of Free Hollow's families as well as patrons from outlying areas.
Significant resources that recall the heyday of Free Hollow as a bustling mill hamlet include extensive archeological remains of many of the mills, as well as several intact late Federal and Greek Revival style dwellings. Remnants of the Empire Grist Mill are located on the bank of Fall Creek at the intersection of The Byway and Forest Home Drive, and remnants of the Red Grist Mill are found along the creek behind (west of) 4 The Byway. Notable early nineteenth century dwellings are located at 137 Judd Falls Road; 2 The Byway; and 140, 200, 206, 214 and 300 Forest Home Drive.
A number of nineteenth century mill-related structures — such as small warehouses and work rooms — were later converted into residences. Examples include the dwellings at 12 and 16 The Byway, formerly associated with the Edwards Woolen Mill; 228 Forest Home Drive, the former Hazen Knitting Mill building; and 229 Forest Home Drive, once the sorting and rag room for the Andrus and Gauntlett Paper Company.
The last new mill in Free Hollow was built in 1860, but the hamlet continued to thrive as a prosperous industrial center and a minor focal point of social, religious and educational activity for north-central Tompkins County throughout the remainder of the century. (The major focal point of such activity was the nearby city of Ithaca). In 1876 Free Hollow was renamed Forest Home. By the 1890s, the hamlet's importance as a mill center had declined: the many small, water-powered factories along Fall Creek could not compete with larger industrial complexes elsewhere in the state and Northeast. The woolen mill closed in 1892; the Empire Grist Mill burned in the 1890s and was not rebuilt; most of the other small, independent mills met similar fates. The Red Grist Mill (ultimately torn down in 1918) continued to operate until nearly 1900, and Bool's woodworking mill — forest Home's last functioning mill — closed in 1926 and was demolished the following year.
As Forest Home waned as a manufacturing center, the hamlet began to wax as a desirable residential community for professors associated with nearby Cornell University, particularly when the New York State College of Agriculture was burgeoning under the directorship of Liberty Hyde Bailey. Between 1902 and 1912, the size of the agricultural college's faculty increased from 9 to 129; the student body increased from 114 to 1,263. Prospective home builders, most of whom were directly affiliated with the college, looked northeastward to the quaint hamlet of Forest Home as a possible site for suburban expansion. Locally prominent professors who moved to Forest Home in the early 1900s included Byron Robb, James Rice, and George Warren. Dozens of new homes, mostly vernacular Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style cottages, were erected along Forest Home Drive, Halcyon Hill, Judd Falls Road, and McIntyre Place during the first quarter of the twentieth century; many of these houses were built by local contractor William McElwee, Sr., whose company offices were located on McIntyre Place. Notable examples of dwellings dating from this period are found at 101 and 210 Forest Home Drive, 116 McIntyre Place, 101 Halcyon Hill, and 122 Judd Falls Road.
As the population expanded during the first quarter of the twentieth century, the former Forest Home School — a Greek Revival style, one-room schoolhouse — was quickly outgrown. A state-of-the-art elementary school was erected in 1921 at the south end of Judd Falls Road to accommodate the professors' children. A community church, the Forest Home Chapel, was built in 1915; still used as a church, for many years this building served as the focal point of a variety of social and civic — as well as religious — activity for residents of Forest Home and the surrounding community.
Also dating from this period are three bridges and a dam. They are the Upstream Bridge, a 119'-long Double Intersection Warren Through Truss bridge built in 1909, the Downstream Bridge, an 80'-long Warren Pony Truss bridge built in 1904, the Sackett Bridge, a 75'-long, stone-faced concrete pedestrian bridge carrying a portion of the Beebe Lake Trail over Fall Creek, and a 12'-high reinforced concrete dam and related spillway, built in 1913 to replace the last in a series of old wooden dams across the creek. Archeological remains of a number of nineteenth-century industrial ventures, including a cider mill and two saw mills, are evident in the immediate vicinity of the dam. Also during this period, the creek itself — formerly serving the hydropower needs of industries — became an aesthetic and recreational resource for the hamlet's inhabitants.
An important community development-related event that occurred during this period was the creation of the Forest Home Improvement Association, a grass-roots organization founded to improve and ensure the quality of life in the hamlet. Still a vital organization, the Improvement Association continues to be closely involved in the well-being of Forest Home.
Forest Home continued to thrive as a popular residential enclave for Cornell-related families during the second quarter of the twentieth century; several dozen more dwellings were built in the hamlet before the late 1940s, with vernacular Colonial Revival and bungalow style cottages prevailing. Intact, representative examples of the type and period are located at 103 and 116 Judd Falls Road and 310 Forest Home Drive, which is an excellent example of a Sears-Roebuck catalogue house.
By the 1940s, virtually all of the available lots and sub-lots in Forest Home were developed; the hamlet itself could not expand outward, because it was surrounded on the east, south and west by the expansive acreage associated with Cornell University Plantations and on the north by the Warren farmstead, an extensive working farm operated by the Warren family on Warren Road. (The Warren farm was later subdivided; modern suburban housing was erected along the newly created Fairway Drive and Crest Lane, and the Robert Trent Jones (Cornell University) Golf Course was created.) Continued land-use constraints imposed by the hilly topography, the meandering creek, the narrow, one-lane bridges, and the fixed boundaries of the adjacent Cornell-owned land, have contributed to Forest Home's ability to maintain a quaint, old-fashioned sense of place and community.
[†] Nancy L. Todd, New York State Division for Historic Preservation, Forest Home Historic District, Forest Home, Tompkins County, N.Y. nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.