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Waterwall Wednesday: Ithaca Falls

There’s a lot of waterfalls in Ithaca – a LOT – but this one is one of my favorites and the first that I visited – Ithaca Falls.  When it comes to waterfalls in Ithaca, I’m a bit of a newbie.  I knew that Buttermilk Falls existed but until this year I hadn’t visited it and the rest of the waterfalls hidden within the city (and just outside) were a complete mystery to me until my project of 50 New York Waterfalls this spring/summer.  


Ithaca Falls, photograph, 2018

I don’t quite remember how I ended up first hearing about Ithaca Falls, but it was two years ago during the fall that I first visited.

Ithaca Falls is an urban waterfall located in downtown Ithaca along Fall Creek just about where Lake Street and Falls Street meet.  It’s easy to get to, but it located on enough of a side street that you wouldn’t ever pass by it if you just go to the Commons or drive through the city on Route 13.    


The waterfall is quite large.  It is about 105 feet high and 175 feet wide.  In the photo above if you look closely you can see a guy standing in the creek fishing on the left side of the photo. 

Ithaca Falls is great because it is one of the waterfalls that you can see from the road and it’s only a short walk down to the falls.  There’s a small decline at the start of the trail but the rest of the trail is level.  When I visited this spring they had installed a railing on the decline and where in the process to installing new signage on the overlook spot on the Lake Street Bridge.  This photo is a view from the street of the falls.  I love that it’s visible even from the road.   

Here’s a quick video clip from when I visited this past spring for the project.  The video is taken almost exactly where the reference picture was taken for the painting.  Though I generally wouldn’t recommend it, I balanced on rocks out from the shore to take the photo.

Fall Creek Gorge

Ithaca Falls is located along Fall Creek Gorge.  Fall Creek starts about eight miles northeast near Fillmore Glen State Park in Moravia and travel through Ithaca to empty into Cayuga Lake.  The gorge of Fall Creek is about a mile long and includes six different waterfalls.  Ithaca Falls is the last waterfall before Cayuga Lake.  Last month I shared about Lower Triphammer Falls which is towards the top of the gorge and runs through the Cornell University campus.  

There’s a rich history that surrounds this gorge as I am finding is the case for a lot of the waterfalls that visited for the project.  Some highlights I found include:

Ithaca Falls tree roots, photograph, 2018

In the early 1800’s local entrepreneurs tapped into the economic potential of water power and created a complex of mills along the gorge.  One of these people was Ezra Cornell, who built a dam to divert water towards the top of the gorge near Beebe Lake that helped to power the mills.  The mills supplied flour, lumber, cider, gun powder, plaster, paper, oil, and wool locally and throughout the region. 

Ithaca Falls, photograph, 2018

The Wharton movie studio (The Whartons, Inc.) was located in Ithaca in the early 1900’s prior to the popularity of Hollywood.  The studio was located in Renwick Park where Stewart Park is now.  The movie studio produced several silent films that featured Ithaca Falls and Fall Creek.  The studio’s most famous stunt was dropping a trolley car from the Stewart Avenue Bridge over Ithaca Falls into the creek below.  There’s now a Wharton Studio Museum in Ithaca that celebrates the history of this company and silent film.

Raceway ruins from Ithaca Gun Co, photograph, 2018

In the 1880’s the Ithaca Gun Company was located alongside Ithaca Falls where it manufactured shotguns and rifles until closing in 1987.  The remains of the raceway that carried the water that powered the plan can be seen in the small park next to Ithaca Falls.  In the 1990’s testing showed that the soil near the falls was contaminated by lead from the shotgun tests.  The area had a major clean-up effort by the EPA in the early 2000’s.

Painting Ithaca Falls

I’ve painted Ithaca Falls twice – once for the Summer Mosaic 2017 project based on my first visit from the prior fall and once for the Summer Mosaic 2018 project this year based on my spring visit.   I’ve decided that I’m going to make a point to get some reference pictures from this winter also.  I bet the waterfall is beautiful in winter as well.  

The most challenging part of painting the waterfall for this year’s project was finding a new way to portray it since I had previously painted it.  Sometimes when you’re on site taking reference pictures you just know when you have the shot.  When I saw the broken tree in front of the falls and all the rocks in the creekbed, I just knew that would be the shot that I would use.  

Ithaca Falls, 6x6 acrylic on wood panel, 2017
Ithaca Falls, 6x6 acrylic on wood panel, 2018

Ithaca Falls from this year’s Summer Mosaic project is currently available to view at First Heritage Federal Credit Union in downtown Corning as part of my Waterfalls of the Finger Lakes solo exhibition.  The show is available to view through December 14th during regular business hours.  The paintings are also available to own (or gift).

Have you visited Ithaca Falls before?  Do you have a favorite waterfall?

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