Names on the Land

The following article by Bruce Brittain from 2017, describes the history of the various names that have been given to the hamlet of Forest Home since it was first settled.  It was originally published on the ‘Names on the Land–Tompkins County’ web site.

Forest Home grew from mills along Fall Creek to a residential neighborhood

Forest Home is a small residential hamlet located on the banks of Fall Creek in the Town of Ithaca. First settled in 1794, it quickly evolved into a water-powered industrial and milling community. Early names for the community included Sydney’s, Phoenix Mills, Phoenixville, and Free Hollow (aka Flea Hollow).

Free Hollow Cider Mill

Free Hollow Cider Mill, circa late 1800s. The History Center.

In 1874, a letter to the Ithaca Daily Journal suggested that if street trees were planted in Free Hollow, it could deserve the name “Forest Home,” just as Ithaca was known as “Forest City.” In 1876, when a lodge of the Good Templars was formed in Free Hollow, it took the name of “Forest Home,” which was said to be appropriate, since the woods were increasing. Later in 1876, when a Post Office was established, it, too, took the name of “Forest Home.” In November 1876, the name “Forest Home” was painted on the end of the Empire Grist Mill, thereby cementing the change.

The hamlet that we see today is the result of four distinct phases of development:

1800–1850: Mill Era

This was a time of rapid development, using the strength of Fall Creek to power some 10 to 15 milling operations. Roughly 30 houses were constructed at this time.

Map of Forest Home. From the 1866 Atlas

Map of Free Hollow circa 1866. The community was renamed Forest Home in 1876.  From the 1866 Atlas.

1850–1905: Stability

Milling continued, but water power was gradually giving way to other forms of energy, and improvements in transportation allowed more efficient, centralized milling elsewhere. Some houses were enlarged or updated, but few new houses were built.

Empire Grist Mill

Empire Grist Mill circa 1880. The mill burned in 1886 and was not rebuilt. Today, remnants of the mill can still be seen adjacent to the downstream bridge. Cornell University Archives.

1905–1915: Cornell-Related Growth

Under the leadership of Liberty Hyde Bailey, the NYS College of Agriculture grew rapidly at this time. Many of the new professors chose to settle in Forest Home, and around 30 new houses were built, doubling the population of the community. This was a time of social turmoil, as the established mill-related families took exception to the new University-related upstarts who were disrupting their neighborhood. The community’s two iconic steel truss bridges spanning Fall Creek were built during this period.

Car on upstream bridge

The upstream bridge at Forest Home, circa early 1900s.  Photographer unknown.

1915–Present: Continued Evolution

The last of the mills shut down, and Forest Home became a strictly residential community, with infill development adding another 30 houses. The University acquired the surrounding farms, and the hamlet is now completely encircled by lands belonging to the Cornell Botanic Gardens and Robert Trent Jones Golf Course. This separation from other neighborhoods has allowed Forest Home to retain its distinct identity.

Bruce Brittain