15 Intriguing Facts About Ithaca, America’s Best College Town

Home to both Ithaca College as well as Cornell University, Ithaca is a city whose students & residents agree on one truth – it is the best college town in America.

They’re not the only ones who think so.

Recently ranked by reviews.org as the very best college town in America, Ithaca routinely rates among the best cities for the college-oriented student.

Active & youthful culture, outdoors activities, music festivals, a liberal culture – and a unique system of currency way before Bitcoin was cool – are just some components of the Ithaca experience.

However, Ithaca is more than just about its students.

It’s also home to tens of thousands of residents who work both in and out of the city’s higher education institutions.

So what makes Ithaca such an intriguing place to live? Here are 10 amazing facts about the nation’s best college town.

15. Ithaca Has Its Own Currency Called the HOUR

photo by Bill Maurer via Flickr Creative Commons

Equaling roughly $10, one HOUR has been functional since 1991, and is the oldest local currency system in the country, according to this article

People can use the HOUR for nearly anything; groceries, doctor visits, buying clothes, and more.

The system has been so successful, other cities throughout the US have adopted their own currency systems, including Madison, Corvallis, and Santa Barbara.

Started by Paul Glover, a prominent activist, the HOUR is one of this college town’s most distinct features.


14. Their Mayor Won the Position At Age…24

photo by HoJfellas via Wikimedia Commons

Defying typical expectations of political careers, Svante Myrick won the mayorship just two years after graduating from Cornell University.

During the election, Myrick was pitted against two other Democratic candidates for the position. Myrick ended up winning with well over half of the city’s vote.

Reviews of his tenureship as the Mayor have been extremely positive; he has helped reform drug policies, partnered with former President Barack Obama, provided support to the city’s students when speaking out in favor of climate justice, and more.


13. “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” Almost Certainly Was Inspired by Ithaca

Judy Garland from The Wizard of Oz – photo from Wikimedia Commons

We all know the Wizard of Oz and its classic Yellow Brick Road.

According to historical record, this was almost certainly inspired by the city of Ithaca.

The author of the Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum, most likely was a frequent visitor of Ithaca New York. Why would this legendary author come to Ithaca routinely?

His wife attended Cornell University before they were married. 

And here’s the best part…

At the time, yellow bricks did indeed pave the roads in Ithaca.

Ithaca is no stranger to inspiring some of the world’s most widely read novels and music, as you will see in this article…


12. It Has a Sister City in Kenya

Eldoret – photo by Shadychiri via Wikimedia Commons

Ithaca’s sister city is Eldoret, the fifth largest is all of Kenya with a population of nearly 300,000 people.

The purpose of this partnership, initially, is similar to that of other sister-city agreements throughout America; to promote an understanding of different cultures, world travel, tourism, trade, and more.

However, Ithaca’s particular relationship with Eldoret, Kenya is special.

Ithaca’s liberal community has taken a significant interest in helping the residents of Kenya, sponsoring drives, fundraisers, and more to further help the citizens of the amazing developing country.


11. Ithaca Has Not 1, Not 2…But 150 Waterfalls

Ithaca Falls – photo by Stilfehler via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, you read that one right. 

There is a common phrase Ithacans hold dear; Ithaca Is Gorges.

This is a simple wordplay – not only is Ithaca naturally very beautiful, but the city is literally home to gorges, essentially narrow canyons of water.

Within 10 miles of Ithaca’s downtown, over 150 waterfalls can be found throughout this college town. I think it’s safe to say that no college town in America has nearly this many waterfalls.

Ithaca holds the rare combination of not only natural beauty, but also a bustling, active college town merging the best of city and scenery.

7 COMMENTS

  1. The residents of Ithaca celebrate their community every June with a festival that takes place the weekend after Cornells graduation, and kicks off with a parade that demonstrates the uniqueness of the community. For example, Ithaca has more non profits per capita than anywhere and these are largely evident in the Ithaca Festival parade.
    Ithaca is also a foodie town, with more restaurants per capita….

  2. About movie making, Wharton Inc was not formed until April of 1914 and they did not have a studio in Renwick Park until April of 1915. Also they made no silent movies in the park in 1919 or 1920 because they had sublet the grounds to other studios, after there 2nd bankruptcy. They filmed in the park from 1915-1918.

  3. Not sure if it’s still true, but during the 1970s and 1980s, Ithaca has more bars per capita than anywhere in the US (as a great college town would).

  4. Great article, however #5 is inaccurate. The Moog synthesizer invented by Robert Moog and used by The Beatles, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, etc. was an ANALOG instrument not a digital one.
    It utilized analog oscillators and filters to create its unique sound.
    Digital instruments came much later.

  5. The first Long distance telephone/telegraph line started in Ithaca and went to Auburn. Developed by Ezra Cornell. Alex Haley, author of Roots was born in Ithaca. Rod Serling lived on Cayuga Lake and was a professor at IC as was Opera dive Beverly Sills.

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