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Pencil sketch by Mary Ann Barr 2021
Town Hall, 1830 Danby Road, Ithaca, NY 14850
The Town Historian is an appointed position tasked with managing and preserving local government records, nongovernmental historical records, and otherwise adding to the knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the community's history.
The Town of Danby is found in the Northeastern part of Turtle Island (North America), in what we now call the Finger Lakes region of New York state.
The history of the land we call Danby, New York, can be traced back to the 12th century when Iroquoian-speaking and Algonquian-speaking cultures lived in this region of Turtle Island.
Today, the Town of Danby is a rural town spread out among the highlands south of Cayuga Lake. The drainage divide between waters flowing north to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and waters flowing south to Chesapeake Bay passes through Danby. Buttermilk Creek runs north through the center of the town on its way to the gorge and falls in Buttermilk Falls State Park. Cayuga Inlet runs north through the western part of the town on its way to Cayuga Lake
Throughout its history Danby has been chiefly agricultural. The northern area of the town was first settled in 1795 by two families from Kingston, NY, named Yaple and Dumond who had lost their claim to land in Ithaca. Two years later, Dr. Lewis Beers from Connecticut formed another settlement in South Danby. In 1811 Prince de Plessis, an African American who gained his freedom by Revolutionary War service, settled here with his wife, Lement, and four grown children. Danby was originally part of the Watkins and Flint land purchase and incorporated as a town by an act of the New York State Legislature on February 22, 1811. Danby was in Tioga County until 1822 when it was transferred to Tompkins County. The Ithaca-Owego Turnpike was a toll road completed in 1810 created an important transportation link between Cayuga Lake and the Susquehanna River, opened the region to commerce. It became a state highway in 1841 and remains so today as Route 96B.
During the early 20th century, Danby developed a significant Finnish population as Finnish people left the lumber and mining camps of Michigan and Minnesota. Today the town has approximately 3,500 people spread across 53 square miles and clustered in two hamlet communities—Danby and West Danby.
The Town of Danby sits on the traditional & ancestral land of the Gayogoho:no’ (Cayuga Nation), one of the five nations to first form the Haudenosaunee. Indigenous peoples were largely forced out of Upstate New York by the Sullivan-Clinton Expedition in 1779. The land that would become the Town of Danby was a part of the Watkins and Flint Purchase, a 336,380 acre patent granted by New York State to numerous eastern investors in 1794.