City Admin Committee

City Administration Committee meeting on Sept. 23.

The DeWitt Park monument that memorializes the “first white settlers” in Ithaca is officially coming down after the City Administration Committee voted unanimously to remove it on Sept. 23.

The monument, which has recently been repeatedly vandalized by unknown persons, reads: “First white settlers in Ithaca were revolutionary soldiers Jonathan Woodworth and Robert McDowell in 1788. Cabin sites near this marker erected in 1933 by Cayuga chapter of D.A.R. [Daughters of the American Revolution] and State of New York.” 

According to local historian, Carol Kammen, not only is this monument inaccurate in its depiction of Woodworth and McDowell as the very first white settlers, it ignores the history of Native American ties to the land prior to their ejection as well as the large community of Black and brown people who have contributed to and currently reside in the Ithaca community.

Mayor Svante Myrick sent a letter to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Committee on Sept.1 calling for the removal of the monument after his office received complaints detailing the exclusionary message it sends to people of color in the Ithaca community.

Though the vote passed, it wasn’t without discussion.

“I support this resolution [but] I have a problem with several of the [sections],” committee member George McGonigal said, adding that he doesn’t think the meaning of the monument was accurately portrayed. 

“Aside from the unfortunate use of the word white, and the claim that it marks the area where the first cabins were built, which is probably not true, this marker simply states where two cabins were built by early settlers. If the marker said ‘This marks the spot where two Revolutionary War veterans built their cabins,’ I don’t think we’d have a problem with it.

He also objected to the section in the proposal that stated “the D.A.R. focus on white Americans and the promotion of an intentionally limited American history,” after receiving an email from an Ithaca resident that said the original markers included sites of Native American villages.

He went on to call several other sections “problematic,” including one that states “…the marker has become a local symbol of exclusion, oppression and injustice.”

Alternatively Graham Kerslick stated that he fully supported the resolution of the monument’s removal.

“In the current climate, I think this is a very good step we can take,” he said. “There is an intent to put something in its place and I saw in a letter of recommendations from Historic Ithaca that we reach out to other communities to replace this with something that does recognize the more inclusive of the development of this area.” 

Ultimately, Chair of the Committee Deb Mohlenhoff said that McGonigal’s concerns with the wording were unclear and not brought to the floor procedurally. McGonigal will have until Sept. 30 to provide his list of suggested edits, which will be presented along with the original wording to the Common Council.

As for the statue itself, Benjamin Sandberg from the History Center in Tompkins County said the organization would have a legal responsibility to care for and preserve the monument. It would be part of their rotating exhibits, and the community would be able to access it through the Center’s archives when it wasn't on display. 

The next City Administration Committee meeting is October 28 at 6 p.m. and the next Common Council meeting is October 7 at 6 p.m. A link to their YouTube Channel where their meetings are live-streamed can be found on their website, cityofithaca.org.

(5) comments

Nathanael Nerode

I'm glad this inaccurate and confusing "monument" is gone. The not-quite-as-bad "Original Lane" sign -- which *still* refers to "first settlers" meaning European-descended settlers, disregarding Native American settlement in the area -- is still up: https://www.ithacajournal.com/story/news/local/2014/12/12/pieces-past/20295999/

Patricia Fischer

If the basic problem is the wording on theplague, then just change the plague to read a more PC racially friendly verbage. WHy destory the monument. This was erected by well meaning (at the time ca 1930s) people who were PROUD of their heritage. By erasing heritage you are destroying any thing that is considered AMERICAN. Are we NOT ALL AMERICANs.?? We are not all hyphenated in how we describe ourselves. Do a DNA test if you want to find out what you are part of ehtnically speaking. We must recognize the hardships that these men went through to leave civilizations and came to the frontier (at the time) and carved out a homestead, cleared the land with only their guts and their hands. The built block houses to protect them(some brought their women and children) against the Native Americans. Let us STOP THIS WHOLESALE ERASING OF WHAT THIS COUNTRY beginnings stands for. PLEASE.

Nathanael Nerode

I'm sad to see uninformed bigotry showing up in the comments here. As those who have studied the area know, the local Haudenosaunee were friendly and civilized. The local European settlers in this region did not need to "protect themselves against the Native Americans", and did not do so. Because the Native Americans *here* were friendly to settlers who bothered to actually purchase their land legitimately (though not to thieves and fraudsters).

Ms. Fischer was clearly brought up on the sort of inaccurate, falsified history which demonized our local Native Americans. And that's why this sort of inaccurate monument needs to be removed.

We can put up accurate monuments perhaps. But our official County Historian says that this monument which is being removed is wildly inaccurate and doesn't even have the identities of the first European settlers correct. Truth should matter.

Franklins Ghost

There are plenty of roadside historical signs to native American settlements and locales around the county. Can we assume that those will be removed in the name of fairness, or does "diversity" work only one way in the Peoples Socialist Republic of Ithaca? Just another example of revisionism trying to remove as much history of the work done to advance this nation by the majority Caucasian population from the official record as possible

Nathanael Nerode

"Caucasians" are people from the Caucusus mountains -- Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia, for example. I wouldn't use that word to refer to anyone else, it was misused to mean "Europeans" based on debunked racist 19th-century theories. We certainly have plenty of accurate monuments to European-descended settlers around here. The names of Renwick Heights, Stewart Park, Green Street, Cass Park, Belle Sherman, none of these are changing.

We should get rid of the inaccurate and bogus monuments (the County Historian says this one doesn't even get the first European-descended settlers right).

Welcome to the discussion.

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