View of A.D. White Reading Room

Uris Library's ornate A.D. White Reading Room

We Heart the Hill: A Celebration of Beloved Campus Spots

From study nooks to Beebe’s shores, alumni recall their go-to places to cram, chill, explore, and recharge

By Joe Wilensky

When Margaret McFadden Carney ’80, BArch ’81, was an undergrad, she had a favorite spot on campus: a comfy seat with a superlative view.

“The black chair in the A.D. White Reading Room was in the center of the large bay window, looking west over Libe Slope and the West Campus Gothics,” she recalls.

“Nearly every Sunday for over five years, I would get to the library before noon to stake out that spot for the day, reading everything I had to read for my classes.”

Students study in Olin Library as students walk across the Arts Quad in the snow outside
Baby, it’s cold outside: While the weather outside is frightful, the warmth of Olin is delightful.

Carney returned to her alma mater in 2018 as University Architect, and today is familiar with pretty much every campus building. But that location—at the center of the distinctive space within Uris Library that boasts ornate iron scrollwork, spiral stairways, crosswalks, and balconies—remains her favorite.

“The chairs are different now,” she notes. “But the view and the sense of quiet and peacefulness are still there.”

Given that the Ithaca campus is vast and bucolic—with myriad green spaces, buildings in a variety of architectural styles, and many nooks and crannies betwixt and between—any list of “favorite spots” will be long.

At Reunion ’22, alumni recalled their go-to places on East Hill for work and play.

The iconic spaces are many: the breathtaking vistas and resonant setting at the top of McGraw Tower during a Chimes concert; the alternating busyness and quiet of Ho Plaza; the trees and grassy expanses of the quads; the Balch Arch and Schoellkopf Crescent; sunsets on the Slope; gorge-spanning footbridges; the restrained elegance of the Memorial Room in Willard Straight Hall; hubs for socializing like the Dairy Bar and Big Red Barn; and more.

We asked alumni to recall their own favorite places on the Hill—whether it’s a well-known location, an outdoor spot inviting introspection, a tucked-away alcove ideal for studying, or some other corner of campus whose memory still resonates, years or decades later.

Book Nooks

The University Library (which includes 20 locations across campus) offers not just reams of physical volumes and digital resources, but a bevy of spaces.

They range from large reading rooms to individual study desks cozily tucked away between stacks or along windows.

A student studies in a window nook at the Cornell Law Library
In libraries across campus, students carve out their own quiet spaces.

Given the amount of time many alumni spent cracking the books (or their laptops), libraries loom large in their memories.

Like Carney, Randall Nixon ’78 also loved the lavish, 19th-century-detailed A.D. White Reading Room.

“You had to be so quiet because of the iron steps and walkways—but it was always special to me,” he says.

View from within Kroch Library
Kroch’s visually arresting depths.

“The collections there were so interesting that I would pick up books I had no business reading; I discovered my second major there, and it changed my academic trajectory.”

Across from Uris is Olin Library and its underground Kroch Library, home to the University’s Asia Collections and the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

The below-ground-level walkways, reading rooms, and common areas include spacious views of the upper levels; high above, translucent skylights give hints of the daylight beyond.

“When it rained, one could feel the sounds—you could hear and see the drops,” recalls April Tan ’96.

Myron Taylor Hall is home to the famed and formal Law Library, with its wood paneling, plush carpet, quaint desk lamps, chandeliers, and soaring arched ceilings.

Interior view of Law Library in Myron Taylor Hall
The Law Library attracts studiers from around the Hill.

“A secret study buried in the stacks there saved my career and raised my GPA,” says Lanning Mosher ’61, BS ’62.

Even though Ken Li ’94 wasn’t a law student, he often visited the library with a friend.

“It was so beautiful that we would take study breaks to walk around and enjoy it,” he says.

The Engineering Library in Carpenter Hall—a more austere, mid-century facility—had three levels of dense book stacks until 2011, when it closed its circulation desk and was transformed into a 24-hour study space, optimized for electronics.

The seclusion of those stacks was key to good study habits for Bill Gallagher ’79—though he notes dryly: “If someone passed away in there, it would be weeks before the body was found.”

Kevin Gamble ’99, MILR ’01, returned often to the stacks in the Catherwood Library at the ILR School: “Nothing better than the focus and solitude I found inside that hidden gem!”

Interior view of Lynah Rink during a Big Red Hockey practice
One cool—OK, chilly—study spot?

Others carved out study venues in the most unlikely of places.

Evan Earle ’02, MS ’14, who today is the University Archivist, was a frequent visitor to Lynah Rink, though not only when Big Red hockey took the ice.

Says Earle: “Spreading out on a bench there, when no games were going on, provided a bright study spot, with cold air and stiff seating to keep me focused.”

Outdoor Idylls

There are dozens of natural areas on the 2,300-acre Ithaca campus, from the Cornell Botanic Gardens to winding paths behind and between buildings and myriad other outdoor gems.

“For a quiet outdoor meetup with a friend, the Willard Straight Rock Garden offers a touch of a secluded grotto feel right in the midst of a usually busy area,” observes Earle, member of a large, multi-generational Cornell family (which includes brother Corey Earle ’07, the University’s unofficial historian, and dad Brian Earle ’67, BS ’68, MPS ’71, a now-retired faculty member in CALS).

Willard Straight Hall Rock Garden exterior view
The Rock Garden offers a shaded respite.

Other idyllic spots include several curated gardens spread out between the A.D. White House and the Big Red Barn, where Irene Hendricks ’86 used to take a sandwich and seek quiet time.

“There were only a few weeks when it was nice enough to study there, though,” recalls the ILR grad.

“Those gardens, and Minns Garden on Tower Road, were both convenient to Ives Hall as well as being a nice spot for a quick decompression break.”

Minns Garden, near the Plant Sciences Building with Weill Hall in the background
CALS’ Minns Garden boasts distinctive, plant-themed ironwork.

The Botanic Gardens’ ample acres include not just individual plantings and groves, but trails for jogging and walking.

“I ran almost every day for exercise and stress relief,” says Laura Judd Mello ’89. “It was my favorite place to run, with the wide open spaces and beautiful plantings.”

The arboretum at the Cornell Botanic Gardens in fall
The Botanic Gardens Arboretum is a favorite among Cornellians and visitors alike.

Other byways—some well-trod, some more secluded—connect campus buildings.

“My ‘secret’ hangout was the wooded path that started behind Martha Van and ended up near Stocking Hall,” says CALS alum Cindy Fuller ’78, PhD ’92.

“Walking that path was a great way to decompress after labs or long lectures in Morrison or the Vet college.”

Gardens behind the A.D. White House
The A.D. White House’s lovely formal gardens trace their design roots to Daisy Farrand, wife of President Livingston Farrand.

The gardens behind the A.D. White House were “beautiful in every season and almost always void of people, a good place to think,” Carney says. “It was another world—one that spoke to me, a kid from Ohio without a car and in search of an open field.”

Beebe Lake and the trails circumnavigating it comprise yet another beloved campus oasis—from the arched stone Sackett Bridge to its numerous, multilevel stairways and paths.

Students cross Sackett Bridge over Beebe Lake during an afternoon walk
Beebe Lake’s stately Sackett Bridge.

“There was a little footbridge I liked to dangle my feet from over the shallow water,” says Tessa Bloom ’04, describing a short wooden crossing along a Beebe trail.

As she recalls, she’d often encounter a cat there; while she never knew his name, she dubbed him “Socrates.”

“He had a tag that said he wasn’t lost—that he lived nearby and just liked to go to the lake and think,” Bloom says. “Me too, buddy.”

From A to Zeus

Directional sign at the shops in the sub-basement of Risley Hall
The RIsley sub-basement, an artistic enclave.

Other treasured locations around campus—from student centers and eateries to specialized facilities—offer the promise of sustenance, socializing, or even artistic inspiration.

“The Risley Hall sub-basement was an eerie place, but it warmed my amateur thespian heart,” says Eric Daza ’00, MPS ’02.

“I wouldn’t hang out there, per se—but I spent countless magical hours with friends roaming through the Risley underworld before, during, and after various and sundry plays, musicals, and performances.”

The Temple of Zeus café in Goldwin Smith Hall was originally housed in the building’s basement, then on the south side of the main lobby—before moving to the adjacent, newly constructed Klarman Hall atrium in 2016.

The popular spot has long been distinguished by its décor of plaster-statue replicas of classical statuary, which have followed it to its various locations.

Temple of Zeus café in its old Goldwin Smith Hall location
The Temple of Zeus, in its prior Goldwin Smith site.

Serving delectable soups and other comestibles, it’s a central spot on the Arts Quad for grabbing a coffee or catching up on studying.

Notes Julia Montejo ’17: “After having spent so many hours there, my friends and I even took graduation pictures with our ‘Zeus soups.’”

Willard Straight Hall, built in the 1920s as one of the country’s first student unions, remains a hub for campus groups, activities, and more.

Some of its most fondly recalled enclaves—like the “pot shop” pottery studio, Ivy Room, and Bear’s Den—no longer exist, but mainstays like Cornell Cinema, Okenshields, the browsing library, and dance practice rooms remain.

Willard Straight Hall and Ho Plaza glimpsed in the fall
The Straight has been at the heart of student life for nearly a century.

“If I was restless after a long night of studying, I could go nap on the comfiest couch on campus in the Women’s Resource Center,” Liz Davis-Frost ’20, now a University trustee, recalls of the many hours she spent in the Straight.

“If I needed a quick snack between classes but funds were low, I could grab some free popcorn from the Campus Activities Resource Center. If I had lots of work to do but was not in the mood to do it, I could hang out on the terrace and soak up some much-needed serotonin.”

Exterior of Sage Chapel view in winter
On one side of Cornell’s nonsectarian chapel, a cozy spot in all seasons.

Sage Chapel—which has offered a respite for quiet contemplation on Central Campus since the 1870s—is home to elegant stained-glass windows, a soaring apse, two organs, and the crypt where several University dignitaries and their families are interred.

But in addition to the chapel’s calming interior, its footprint creates an intimate patch of outdoor space.

“I always loved the little area tucked into the north side—outside the building, between the side door and the memorial chapel,” says Jinny Van Deusen ’89. “I remember it as filled with ferns and a lovely, meditative spot.”

Golf and Gorges

The Robert Trent Jones Golf Course
Eighteen holes, Big Red style.

Recreational and athletic facilities around campus are also notable spots where alumni have passed many a happy hour.

They range from the Helen Newman bowling lanes to the Teagle pool to the Lindseth Climbing Center in Bartels Hall to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Course.

“I’d gather my clubs and play a round of nine holes by myself,” recalls Stephen Saperstone ’60, BEP ’62.

“I could concentrate on my game, enjoy the pastoral setting of the surrounding woods, and escape the pressure of studying.”

Toward the outskirts of campus are more locations that connect Cornellians with farther-flung natural areas, the surrounding community, and beyond.

Sapsucker Woods pond and view
The pond at Sapsucker Woods, home to miles of nature trails—and a mecca for birders.

They include destinations such as North Campus’s Fuertes Observatory (which offers glimpses of the cosmos on regular public viewing nights) and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, whose 230-acre Sapsucker Woods sanctuary is a birder’s paradise.

Fall Creek Gorge and its several waterfalls pass through the northern parts of campus on the way to the south end of Cayuga Lake. South of Central Campus, Cascadilla Creek—which traces the edge of Collegetown—features eight waterfalls and a scenic gorge trail that offers an alternate pedestrian route between Collegetown and downtown Ithaca.

Two people walk along the Cascadilla Gorge Trail near campus
The Cascadilla Gorge Trail offers a rustic (if stair-laden) commute.

“In good weather, I would walk up the gorge trail and sit on the rocks along Cascadilla Creek to study for spring finals,” recalls Wade Amos, ME ’95.

“The gorge was nice and cool compared to the engineering buildings on campus—and a lot more beautiful.”

Top: Uris Library‘s ornate A.D. White Reading Room. All images and video in this story by Cornell University.

Published September 16, 2022


What’s your favorite spot from your student days?

Comments

  1. Mark C. Elsaesser, Class of 1981

    Too many places could be called a favorite for me. Visiting the Johnson Museum to view the Hudson River paintings and cinnabar boxes was a great way to while away a rainy Saturday.

  2. Diana Scarselletta Straut, Class of 1996

    I had a favorite spot in the basement of Mann Library. It was cavernous and comforting and all mine.

  3. Diane Newman Gruel, Class of 1965

    Newman Arboretum…beautiful and quite.

  4. Camille Solbrig, Class of 1991

    I liked the Alfalfa Room coffee shop in the Basement of Mann(?) Library (or the building connected to the library). Also the large tables in Mann for spreading out work while studying.

  5. Mark Harrahy, Class of 1997

    Everything about Willard Straight Hall called to me. As a student-employee of both the Front Desk and Oakenshield’s I spent an absurd amount of time in that amazing structure. Favorite spots include Browsing Library, Memorial Room (especially at Prelim/Final time), the Patio, Oakenshields, 5th floor student group offices, The Guest Room (little known accommodations that remind me of something out of “Being John Malkovich”), 6th floor Meeting Lofts, the Game Room, and the Cash Office.

    • Catherine “Cat” Holmes

      Mark! How wonderful to see your post! I remember you working at the Straight and being involved with the Willard Straight Hall Program Board. Love the Being John Malkovich reference, by the way – one of my favorite movies!

      WSH is certainly my favorite place on campus and I had the great fortune of working – and practically living – there for 24 years. The hardest thing about moving from student affairs to alumni affairs was giving up my Master Key to Willard Straight Hall!

  6. Heather, Class of 2003

    I feel like Oxley Equestrian Center needs a shout out. I spent many an afternoons escaping campus there before stopping in Ivy Room for dinner. The War Memorial has a special place in my heart after living in McFaddin too.

    • Alyse, Class of 2009

      Yes, agreed! Made some of my best friends there!

  7. Linda Chateauneuf, Class of 1977

    My late sister, Nancy Adams, was an alum who also worked at the Botanic Gardens. There is a tree there with a dedication tag to her. I love that spot – and she did too.

  8. Connell Fanning, Class of 1979

    Uris Library and the Pancake House

  9. Paula Friedman, Class of 1960

    In May 1957, I first stepped into the Music Room, in the southwest corner of Willard Straight Hall, and found what would be, for the next four years, my heart’s home. Only classical music was allowed in the Music Room then, played by a “requests” system on the room’s monaural record-player. After placing one’s request, one might leave, perhaps with a friend, for coffee in the Ivy Room, or lounge on a couch or easy chair to wait for one’s selection. Nearly all of us who would regularly spend hours there were intensely serious in our studies, disproportionately in math, philosophy, literature, or the physical sciences and, for the most part, Leftists or bohemians. The intensity of intellectual curiosity, the wondrous combination of the music and the place (the sunset view across the lake!), and our own insistent currents of mutual interest, combined into a vibrancy of scholarship and social awakening, of interior peace and simply *being,* that I have rarely if ever known since.

  10. Wendy Alberg, Class of 1976

    NW corner of 3rd floor ADWhite library, next to the spiral stairs and the nesting pigeons.

  11. John Mitchell, Class of 1965

    My favorite place(s) are all the class rooms and labs in the Ag quad that I attended. The best memories are being with my classmates in class, in the labs, and socializing between classes. I often think that I’d like to re-attend Cornell just to experience those times again.

  12. Jack Salberg, Class of 1970

    Taking over an entire classroom for an all-nighter with study mates at Goldwin-smith or Morrill hall before an Engineering prelim or final.

  13. Karen Buglass, Class of 1977

    The arched vestibule in Anabel Taylor Hall had the best acoustics! I have vivid memories of going there with friends and singing “Amazing Grace” in multi-part harmony. Still get goosebumps just thinking about it. And of course on Sundays, Bound For Glory offered the best of folk music just a bit further along in ATH.

    • Ron Klein, Class of 1976

      I would play my flute in that vestibule!

  14. Ron Klein, Class of 1976

    Putting in “face time” on the steps of the Straight and greeting my friends as they came by.

  15. Kate McGinnis, Class of 2007

    I loved the Tower Cafe under the clock tower, particularly when it was snowing. Sitting there studying with the view out over Ho Plaza, the comfy chairs, and the warm coffee and pumpkin bread are some of my favorite memories of feeling like a Cornellian!

  16. geoffrey+hewitt, Class of 1979

    A nook in sage hall that was a graduate dorm while I was in school and it is now the BUSINESS school

  17. Sara Straw Winship, Class of 1968

    There was a special small window in the top floor of Goldwyn Smith overlooking the Arts Quad. Nowhere to study there while I was a student, but I would pause occasionally to glance down at the many passersby below, knowing that my own time at Cornell would be treasured but fleeting. At one reunion years later, I tried to locate the small window again but could not. Had it existed only in my imagination? And was my experience at Cornell also a dream? Such a long time ago.

  18. Marjorie Herendeen Harris

    I have many memories of Cornell, as a regular visitor to Campus, starting in 1954, where I accompanied two high school classmates from Victor, N.Y. on the piano, while they sang a duet. I graduated from Keuka College, with a major in nursing, and dated a Cornelian who was a member of Alpha Zeta. We married in 1955. His name was Clare Irving Harris, who went on to receive his Phd from Purdue University and had a long career with the United States Dept. of Agriculture. He died 11 years ago.

  19. Lisa Sotir Ozkan, Class of 1988

    I loved the Williard Straight Rock garden for quiet alone time, as well as walking the path from collegetown (oak and College Ave), north along the gorge, and over the foot bridge by the low falls. Also loved walking in the pool under that footbridge. And loved the stacks in Olin, where I would work for hours, when I took grad level classes and was able to go into those stacks.

  20. James E. Strub, Class of 1952

    Along the back of the stage in Bailey Hall was a massive pipe organ, with its “show pipes” being the background for everything on the stage. The organ console (my “favorite place”) had four manuals and could be pushed around to just about anywhere on the stage. The organ included bass pipes that were about 32-feet high, beginning in the basement. Playing low pedal notes together could make plaster drop from the ceiling.
    As a member of the Glee Club I was privileged to offer intermission selections on the organ, sometimes photographed — an example of which I could provide if there were some way to attach it to this note.
    The organ needed expensive repair and was eventually removed.

  21. Stephanie Nealer, Class of 1976

    Big comfy chair in the bay window of Andrew Dickson White libe with terrific views overlooking the slope for studying; solitary walks around Beebee Lake for nature and peace; coffee, hot chocolate or soup in Temple of Zeus (Goldwin Smith) for escaping blustery winter weather and meeting friends.

  22. Melissa Yorks, Class of 1975

    My study spot was in the stacks at Uris. Quiet, isolated, overlooking Libe Slope – and I was at the end of a row of fiction and I remember reading several Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries during short breaks while studying there. Studying for finals in December 1973 I looked out to see an engineering nerd slip on the icy slope and watched as his slide rule slid down the hill and beat him to the bottom. (neither was hurt) Since learning that Bill Nye would have been a freshman engineering nerd then I now fantasize that it was him sliding down Libe slope.

  23. Eric Key, Class of 1977

    The city cemetery below West Campus.
    And my dorm room, the single on the top floor of Founders.

  24. Daryl Goldgraben Smith, Class of 1965

    That chair overlooking libe slope in the AD White reading room and the IVY room.

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