Auburn has a fascinating history that includes new inventions in agriculture and industrialization, organized advancement in women’s rights and abolition, and unprecedented breakthroughs in prison reform. A small selection of noted people from this area of New York State and the Finger Lakes Region include abolitionists Harriet Tubman, Secretary of State William H. Seward; suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Emily Howland, Susan B. Anthony and Martha Coffin Wright, entrepreneurs D.M. Osborne (International Harvester), John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil) and Henry Wells (American Express, Wells Fargo & Wells College), and T.M. Osborne (prison reformer).
Housed in the Willard-Case mansion (built in 1836), the museum offers permanent and changing exhibits on local figures, events and items pertinent to the development of Cayuga County. The Case Research Lab is the site where the first commercially successful system of sound film was invented in 1923. This invention made history as the Movietone sound system of Fox Films, now Twentieth Century Fox, and Fox Case Movietone News.
Auburn Correctional Facility Exhibit
The Cayuga Museum’s original exhibit entitled “Both Sides of the Wall,” has re-opened as a permanent display in one of their newly restored galleries on the museum’s 2nd floor. The display features artifacts, photos and memorabilia from Cayuga County’s number one employer: the Auburn Correctional Facility. Built in 1816, the prison has played a vital role in the development of Auburn and the surrounding area, as well as the evolution of America’s penal system. From the early days of the “Auburn System” through the first execution by electrocution to the more recent riots and state legislation, “Both Sides of the Wall” gives visitors a glimpse of history through the eyes of inmates and the men and women charged with their rehabilitation.
The Auburn Schine’s Theater has a proud role in the history of America’s golden age of movie exhibition. The theater was built in 1938 as part of the Schine Theater Chain, the largest independent circuit in the country at the time. The Schine brothers, J. Myer and Louis W., wanted a spectacular and unique theater for Auburn. Theater architect John Eberson fused the art deco and atmospheric styles and concocted a wondrous creation. A wholly unique outer space atmospheric was unveiled on September 15, 1938.
After the breakup of the Schine’s Theater Chain in 1965, a succession of owners came and went, each taking less care of the treasure than the last. The Schine’s days as a movie theater ended in April 1979. Thereafter the building housed a club for awhile, then a video store. In 1992 the video store closed and the building stood vacant. In February 1998 the Cayuga County Arts Council purchased the building and the rehabilitation efforts began in earnest. FAST (Friends of the Auburn Schine Theater) was formed as a subcommittee of CCAC to take on the monumental task of bringing the theater back to life. In October 1998 the theater roof was finally replaced, and work on the doors and box office was unveiled in January ‘07. The newly refurbished theatre facade will be a bright addition to downtown landscape and will highlight the future possibilities for the theatre’s restoration.
The Cayuga County Historian’s Office provides information and services to historical organizations, Town and Village Historians and the general public. They maintain an extensive on-site resource library and historical compilations that relate to all aspects of the history of Cayuga County, NY.
The office staff spend considerable time assisting researchers who wish to learn more about the proud history or family genealogy within Cayuga County. They also actively work with various organizations to promote the utilization and preservation of historical sites and resources throughout the county.
Two miles west of Seward House visitors can tour Fort Hill Cemetery. Set on a hill overlooking Auburn, this land was the site of Native American burial mounds dating back to 1100AD. Gravesites include those of William Seward, Harriet Tubman, suffragette Martha Coffin Wright, and Myles Keogh, who fought with General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. There is also a stone monument dedicated to the Native American orator, Chief Logan.
After her own escape to freedom was behind her, Harriet Tubman made numerous trips south, to rescue family members and slaves. For her bravery and cunning, Tubman was dubbed the “Moses of her People,” and has become an international icon. During the Civil War, Tubman rendered invaluable service to the Union Army as a spy, scout and hospital nurse. After the war, her friend William H. Seward encouraged her to settle in Auburn, where she started a home for aged blacks, which visitors now tour.
Seward House has an enviable, intact collection of original items used by the Seward family. Family portraits, clothing, diaries and china all serve as a visual diary of Seward’s experiences while based in Auburn. Visitors are led through 17 Victorian-appointed rooms, each arranged with original furnishings and preserved as if the Seward family was about to return and host one of their famous dinner gatherings.
The Seward House also displays an eclectic collection of souvenirs from Seward’s extensive travels and fine art works by renowned artists such as Thomas Cole, Emanuel Leutze, Daniel Chester French, Henry Inman and Chester Harding that grace the mansion walls. Seward House has been declared a Registered National Historic Landmark since 1964.
The Seymour Library Association was established in 1876 with a bequest from the estate of James S. Seymour, former president of the National Bank of Auburn. The Seymour Library moved to the Case Memorial in 1903. Designed by the New York City firm of Carrere and Hastings, the building took two years to complete, with much of the woodwork being done by European craftsmen.
An expansion and remodeling program was completed in 1973, providing shelving capacity for 120,000 volumes. A second building project in 1993 enlarged the overall size of the library to 19,400 square feet, and provided a new entrance with easier access, an elevator and security system. Since 1980, the Library has been listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Veterans Memorial Park
160 Genesee Street next to Cayuga County Office Building
Pass through the steel arch entrance to the park honoring Cayuga County veterans, from the Revolutionary War to the present, commemorated with memorials, engraved pavers, memorial benches, landscaped plantings and flags.
Step back in time to the turn of the century and life on the farm. See tools made from the 1800s to the 1940s, spanning the years of farming’s greatest changes- from hand-held to horse-drawn tools, and to later tractor power. Open mid May – mid September. (315) 252-7644 or (315) 252-5009
In addition to its art historical importance, the Willard Memorial Chapel and adjoining Welch Building are all that remains of the original Auburn Theological Seminary campus which was established in 1818. The Seminary was home to generations of Presbyterian scholars, missionaries and ministers, and became an international center for students of religious education. In 1939, the Auburn Theological Seminary relocated to New York City where it exists today as an educational and research theological center. The Willard Memorial Chapel is part of the second oldest Presbyterian Seminary in the country.
In 1990, the Community Preservation Committee acquired the Willard Memorial Chapel and attached Welch Building. The structure was then threatened with an auction of the Tiffany pieces and destruction at the time of acquisition. Efforts to preserve and restore the Chapel complex continue. It is both a treasure and jewel, as the only complete chapel interior known to exist featuring a total Louis Comfort Tiffany design.