ITHACA, NY -- More than 120 years after it was built, Cascadilla Boathouse is being restored to its original shingle-style architecture.
Originally built 1894-1896, the boathouse was constructed for the Cascadilla School, a Cornell prep school still in existence on Summit Street in Ithaca.
“If you look at their building now and then look at the boathouse, you’ll see similarities,” Susan Holland, executive director of Historic Ithaca, said.
Since then, it has been used continuously as a boathouse. It was included as part of the sale that led to the opening of Stewart Park in 1921, and was used as a training center for the Cascadilla School’s rowing team.
“Rowing was such a popular sport at that time,” Holland said.
To this day, the boathouse still houses the Cascadilla Boat Club, a non-profit that provides rowing classes and training to crew teams. However, while still functional at the most basic level, the second floor is unusable due to code issues, and overall, the building needs some improvements.
“A lot of repair work had to be done,” Holland said. “There was significant insect damage […] We’re doing all the shingles appropriately, so it will look very different to people because it’ll be super restored. The veranda is getting re-done, the doors, and the toilets are being changed out to make the bathrooms ADA compliant.”
Additionally, there will be repairs to the decking.
“We’re really tightening it up,” she said. “In preservation, that’s the first thing you have to do.”
Luckily, the roof is in good shape, as Friends of Stewart Park Executive Director Rick Manning said the city had replaced it a few years back. And 10-15 years ago they paid to have a new foundation put in.
“It’s sitting on muck down there,” Manning said. “The buildings were not engineered that well because it was the 1890s.”
So he said that while there’s been work done to keep the building alive, it’s “not looking very good.”
The original shingle-style architecture will be restored, a style that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent time along waterfront cities. The shingles are popular near oceans as they weather nicely.
“People will be really pleased with it,” Manning said.
The project started in summer 2018, “when the money was good,” as Holland puts it. In 2019 she was working on getting all the paperwork together, and by the beginning of 2020 they were getting ready to put out a request of qualifications (RFQ) for architects. Their deadline was March 16, 2020. Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 7, 2020, and ordered the state to go on “Pause” on March 22.
“We were shutting down operations, we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Holland said.
But on the bright side, they had received eight “fantastic” responses to the RFQ.
“We weren’t sure about construction, but the money was there and we knew this could go forward,” she said.
The grant funds of $367,000 from the state were already committed, and the city had long set aside the 25% matching funds too. The project was able to move ahead, and Manning and Holland expect it will be done by late fall.
As for what’s next, they aren’t sure, though they have big ideas.
“The big vision is to have it be the special events center for weddings and receptions,” he said. “The building is on the national registry of historic places, so we have to treat it a special way. So we’re talking $1 million to $2 million, just to make the second story usable.”
The funding source that provided the money for the exterior renovation does not offer grants large enough to cover the interior restorations needed, but Manning said there may be national funds or other state funds to explore. He also said there has been some interest from private donors.
“It’s such a beautiful building,” he said. “I think there will be momentum and we’ll get it done.”