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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Ithaca

Unveiling History: The Colonial Building and Ms. Cecil S. Hunter's Legacy

Did you know? The building currently known as the Colonial Building on the Ithaca Commons has a rich and varied history. One of its most remarkable stories is that of the Martin School of Dance, once run by Ms. Cecil S. Hunter, a trailblazing deaf-disabled individual. According to a 1919 article from the Ithaca Daily News, “Miss Hunter, who is a talented dancer and a good businesswoman, will be perhaps the only deaf-mute in the country in charge of a dancing school.”

Despite the challenges she faced, Ms. Hunter made a lasting impact on the community through her dedication to dance and education. Her story is a testament to resilience and determination, inspiring generations to come.

The Colonial Building, constructed in 1829, has witnessed numerous transformations over the years. Originally built as a bank, it has served various purposes, including housing the US Post Office, Atwater’s Grocery, and other businesses. Its Greek Revival Style, characterized by its majestic columns (which were halved during a 1934 remodel), adds to its historic charm and significance.

We extend a special thank you to Lynn Thommen for bringing the remarkable story of Cecil Hunter to our attention. Her contributions have enriched our understanding of the building's history and the incredible individuals associated with it.

Take a journey through time with these images (click the arrow to the right to see more):

Image 1(above): A firefighter climbs to the top of a ladder during the fire that ravaged the Colonial Building when it was Atwater’s Grocery. Smoke can be seen escaping from a hole in the top of the building. Image 2: Clippings from multiple Ithaca Daily News articles from 1919 about Ms. Cecile Hunter, the deaf dance teacher and new owner of Martin’s School of Dance.

Image 3: A detailed history of the businesses that have resided in the Colonial Building from 1829 to 1940.

Image 4: Mail carriers stand in front of the US Post Office before 1910.

Image 5: Grocers lined up in front of Atwater’s Cash, Grocery, & Bakery in the Colonial Building, circa 1920.

Image 6: Historic Ithaca’s Field Inventory form from 1968. When Historic Ithaca was newly founded, these forms were used to get an overview of buildings within city limits.

Image 7: An Ithaca Journal article from the 1970s detailing Historic Ithaca’s involvement in the saving of the Colonial Building at 109 E State St.

Each image offers a glimpse into the Colonial Building's storied past, highlighting its importance as a landmark and a witness to Ithaca's evolving history. Join us in celebrating the vibrant legacy of this iconic building and the remarkable individuals who have shaped its story.

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