It’s Cornell’s version of a town square: the bit of acreage where Central Avenue dead-ends. As the real estate adage goes, location is everything—and that particular patch is at the heart of the Hill. It’s contiguous to major student hubs (the Straight and the Cornell Store) and to campus’s iconic McGraw Tower. It stands as the gateway to Collegetown in one direction and West Campus in another. And several schools and colleges—Arts & Sciences, Engineering, Law, Business—are just steps away.
In the Big Red’s early days, Central Avenue was lined with professors’ cottages, including one built for T. F. “Tee Fee” Crane of “Give My Regards to Davy” fame. As Kermit Parsons, MRP ’53, wrote in The Cornell Campus, his 1968 history of East Hill’s planning and architecture, the road “was not graded and graveled until 1873, when large-scale grading and road projects needed to make the campus walkable in all seasons were carried out.”
The street got its most notable resident in 1891 with the completion of the tower, which stands guard over its northern terminus. Like its neighbor East Avenue (soon to be known as Feeney Way), Central was once distinguished by towering elm trees whose branches met above the roadway to form a graceful canopy—but, sadly, they perished of Dutch elm disease in the Sixties. Up until the mid-1990s, cars could access the block in front of Gannett Health Center (as it was then known). The pedestrian friendly Ho Plaza was dedicated at Reunion 1995; except for a generation’s worth of arboreal growth, the area has looked roughly the same ever since.
In the following pages, CAM offers a photographic tour of this beloved Big Red hub—which has borne the footfalls of tens of thousands of students, faculty, staff, and visitors over the past century and a half.
We encourage you to use the full-screen viewing option (last icon on the right) for the most detailed view.Campus Crossroad
Then and now