Maps and history

By Chris

If you own one of the many old Upstate New York houses you’ve probably wondered about or even researched the history of your home. You may even have thought about the traces on our landscape left by indigenous people and the early Europeans who supplanted them. Traces of the lives of the latter can often be found along the roads we travel today.

During the past few months my friend Joel Rabinowitz and I have been researching early European settlement along one of our local roads. Though our work was only a quick glance at a lot of information we walked away with more than we expected, uncovering a remnant of the founding family who gave their name to Hanshaw Road east of the Town of Ithaca.

Historic maps can show changes in the locations of roads and families and changes to the landscape. Knowing the locations of long-since demolished barnyards speaks to the agricultural roots of early Ithaca. Streets and homes in the City of Ithaca and within the villages are generally depicted in more detail and on a greater variety of maps. But homes from throughout the county are depicted on maps as far back as 1853 and roads across the county are depicted on maps from 1829 on.

Hanshaw Road is one of a half dozen older arteries out of Ithaca, in this case heading to Dryden, Owasco Lake and the Northeast. The lands along the road were originally part of the Revolutionary War Military Lots from which Cayuga Heights was formed. Some of the first European settlers in Tompkins County drew these lots as payment for their service in the war.

Deed research and the 1829 map of the county revealed that the road changed names from Dryden to Hanshaw reflecting its early importance as an upland track and the later importance of the Hanshaw family in their community.

A half dozen homes are shown from 1853 to 1900 along the portion of Hanshaw Road within the current East Cayuga Heights. All of these homes are still standing. The Greek Revival homes you pass along that road can be matched with names on the 19th century maps such as Raub, Cline, Manning, Morris, and Hanshaw. A detailed map from 1931 also shows the lost remains of one of the great farmsteads that prospered along this now busy suburban thoroughfare.

Taking these maps and records into the field we searched for the old barnyard of James Hanshaw. With help from long-time Tompkins County residents we finally found the ruins of a small part of this family’s enterprise. George Krizek has saved photographs of the home and barns as they appeared before 1930. How did we know that we had found the Hanshaw farm? There on the same spot marked on the maps as the Hanshaws’ since 1853, underneath a bit of sod and next to the foundation stones was an iron plow blade.

The written history of the Hanshaw House is incomplete. Was this homestead one of the rare Finger Lakes hog farms or was it an important dairy providing milk and even bovine patients to the blossoming University down the road? Investigations continue and many of the pieces of the puzzle are available at our local Historical Societies. Please send any questions or comments to Chris Hazel at Chris@HAZExplorations.com.

Leave a Comment