Tompkins History Center Readies For Exhibit Of Ithaca White Settlers Monument

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ITHACA, NY (WSKG)ー The Tompkins County History Center is developing an exhibit to display a monument of the first white settlers in the area.

Dewitt Park in Ithaca had been home to the monument. (Anna Canny/WSKG)

The monument was removed from Dewitt Park in Ithaca last month. The Ithaca Common Council voted to remove it after a debate over its exclusionary language.

The plaque, which was formerly mounted on a large stone, honors the first two white settlers in Ithaca. It was dedicated in 1933 by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Now, it is being temporarily held in the History Center’s archives.

Over the past few years, critics have claimed that the plaque’s language fails to acknowledge indigenous inhabitants, as well as the people of color who have been a part of the Ithaca community. Repeated vandalism, which occurred as recently as this summer, has stained the plaque with red paint.

Benjamin Sandberg, Executive Director of the Tompkins County History Center, said displaying the plaque in the context of the museum will allow audiences to engage more deeply with its complex history.

“Any monument, regardless of its topic, offers communities and audiences an opportunity to further explore history, but people may not take the opportunity to delve further when it is the public park,” Sandberg explained.

“If you happened on that monument in public, you may only look at the names that are on the plaque,” he added. “But within the context of the museum, you have the opportunity to then look at all the people and places that are not mentioned in that monument, and that list is much more extensive than the people recognized on it.”

There is no set date for the opening of the white settlers monument exhibit, but the history center hopes to create an exhibit which will help to capture the current moment in history as well. Sandberg has said that the museum’s staff is working to develop mechanisms to capture visitor reactions to the plaque to add to their archival collections.

“As stewards for the future, we want to makes sure we are working to benefit future generations as much as possible by capturing the breadth and the depth of our communities reactions to and thoughts on this plaque,” Sandberg said.

The exhibit for the monument is being developed by members of the History Center’s executive board members and other local historians.