A century and a half ago, the rural village of Cortland gathered in what is now downtown’s Courthouse Park for what one historian described as “the largest, grandest, most elegant and most imposing demonstration ever witnessed in Cortland County.”
That event was the dedication of the cornerstone for the Cortland Normal School; essentially the physical birth of SUNY Cortland.
That inscribed block of stone was one of the few things that survived the tragic fire of 1919 that leveled the original structure and gave rise to the construction of Old Main on campus hill. Since then, the cornerstone has been hidden away and largely forgotten.
Until now. On Wednesday, May 8, the cornerstone will be dedicated a second time in a visible place of honor in the lobby of Old Main, as part of SUNY Cortland’s year-long sesquicentennial celebration.
President Erik J. Bitterbaum is inviting all faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends in the community to participate in the rededication of the Cortland Normal School cornerstone at 2 p.m. that day in the building’s Dorothea Kreig Allen Fowler ’52, M ’74 Grand Entrance Hall in Old Main. Refreshments will be served.
“The cornerstone is a physical representation of the many students who have learned here, the many that will learn in the future, and how the knowledge obtained at SUNY Cortland profoundly impacts the world,” said Erin Boylan, executive director of the SUNY Cortland Alumni Association and co-chair of the College’s Sesquicentennial Committee. “We are excited to rededicate the cornerstone in a place of honor during our milestone year.”
In addition to the cornerstone, the rededication will highlight the installation of an interactive touch-screen allowing people to search for historic College events along a digital timeline created by SUNY Cortland history students.
“It was a real thrill to work with History majors on the digital historical timeline for the sesquicentennial,” said History Department Chair Randi Storch, who spearheaded the timeline project with History Department student interns. “Not only did we all learn about the College’s 150-year history, students got to sharpen their historical thinking skills while creating a lasting artifact for Cortland.”
Storch and President Bitterbaum will both speak at the re-dedication, as will History Professor Kevin Sheets and Student Government President Sophie Umansky.
Storch and Sheets worked together to craft Our Common Ground, a fully-illustrated history of SUNY Cortland from 1990 through 2017. The book, intended to update an earlier history that ran from the College’s origins through the 1980s, was a special sesquicentennial project. It can be purchased online or at the Campus Store.
“Our Common Ground builds on the pioneering work of the earlier histories of the College to bring the story up to our recent past,” Sheets said. “It is a remarkable story of perseverance. Despite challenges and setbacks, the College — students, faculty, staff, alumni and committed friends — built momentum around an idea of a College that was inclusive and dedicated to offering the transformational opportunities capable of changing lives.”
SUNY Cortland is nearing the end of its sesquicentennial year, which kicked off at Alumni Reunion 2018 and will end with a final celebration this summer during Reunion 2019.