Natural & Cultural History
The indigenous peoples of Cayuga Lake founded the village of Neodakheat in the area where Stewart Park is now located.In the late 1790s, Andrew Moodie received Military Lot No. 88 as part of his land grant after service in the Revolutionary War. James Renwick, a prominent American architect, bought part of this grant.
In the early 1890s, the Cascadilla School purchased forty acres of land to develop athletic facilities.Then a trolley line was constructed to the lake and the Cayuga Lake Electric Railway Company developed an amusement park. These forty acres and Port Renwick became Renwick Park, which opened in 1894 to the general public.
In the early nineteen-teens, the Renwick Park and Traffic Association privately leased the park to the Wharton brothers to use as a film studio. The City purchased the park from the Renwick Park and Traffic Association in 1921. One month before the park’s formal opening, Mayor Stewart died and the park was renamed Stewart Park in his honor.
In the mid-twentieth century, the park contained a zoo, a merry-go-round, and the renovation of the dance pavilion for use as Ithaca’s first vaudeville theater. In 1908, due to the decrease in ridership, the Cayuga Lake Electric Railway Company was dissolved and the Renwick Park and Traffic Association was formed to replace it. Sometime around 1915, trolley access to the park was discontinued.
At this same time, 55 acres south of the park were set aside as a bird sanctuary and maintained by the Cayuga Bird Club.The area at the southeastern end of Cayuga Lake where Stewart Park and the Newman Municipal Golf Course was a marsh until the early twentieth century, when the marsh was filled in to extend available area for homes and businesses in the West End.
In 1927, Fuertes died in an automobile accident in Ithaca. At that time he was the President of the Cayuga Bird Club. The club, in his honor, renamed this part of the Renwick Estate Fuertes Bird Sanctuary.
Today, Stewart Park is a regionally active park with several facilities including tennis courts, a playground with several play structures including a carousel, athletic fields, a duck pond, a spray pool, a municipal golf course, and a bird sanctuary. Swimming is no longer allowed due to pollution and turbidity. An initiative led by a coalition of area partners including the Friends of Stewart Park, the Cayuga Waterfront Trail Initiative and the City of Ithaca has updated some of the existing facilities and completed a section of the Waterfront Trail through Stewart Park in fall 2010.