Ask a Librarian

Ithaca Movies

November 29, 2008

Question: I've heard that Ithaca had a major role in the early film industry and was known as "Hollywood on Cayuga." Is this true?

Answer: Many Ithacans are surprised to learn that their hometown once hosted some of the most popular actors and actresses of the early 20th century, but it is in fact true.

The Ithaca movie scene flourished between 1913 and 1920. Theodore and Leopold Wharton established Wharton Inc. in 1914 and began producing films in 1915 in what is now known as Stewart Park. Movie stars resided in and around Ithaca as the studio received orders to produce serials, newsreels, and feature films.

The Library is fortunate to have one of the foremost experts on the local film industry on our staff. During his 30 years of service to TCPL, Terry Harbin has made extensive use of the library's complete microfilm collection of The Ithaca Journal, which chronicled the activities of the bustling early movie business. Harbin became well versed in the lore of Ithaca's filmmaking past by using many different sources including The History Center in Tompkins County and Cornell's Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

Read more about Wharton Studios in Colleen M. Kaplin's Take Two: A Guide to Ithaca's Movie Making Past, Gene Fernett's American Film Studio, and biographies of stars Francis X. Bushman and Beverly Bayne.

Remember that before the glitz and glamour hit California it could be found right here on the shores of Cayuga Lake.

Today's question was answered by the Adult Reference Team at Tompkins County Public Library. Send your questions by e-mail to, or call 272-4557 or visit the library at 101 E. Green St.

Page last modified May 3, 2012