ITHACA, N.Y. – Henry Hinckley isn’t exactly a household name, but anyone who’s wandered around Ithaca has seen his traces. The State Theatre building, formerly the Security Garage and Car Dealership, was designed by Hinckley in 1915. He worked as an architect for the Thomas Morse Aircraft Corporation, a signal operator for the Air Force, a city building commissioner, property manager and investment banker.
“He pops up where you don’t expect him,” said Susan Holland, executive director of Historic Ithaca.
Soon, Ithacans will have more opportunities to engage with Hinckley’s legacy. Funds from his estate will support exhibits and events at Historic Ithaca, The History Center in Tompkins County and Lifelong.
Hinckley, who was born in Trumansburg in 1888 and moved to Ithaca with his family before attending Cornell to study architecture, was a consummate collector of antiquities and Americana.
Early American decorative arts made up the heart of his collection, Holland said, but he had eclectic taste. Archives of his holdings at Cornell include five dollars in Democratic Wild Cat money (1892), a “Choo Choo Trains” children’s book (1927) and practical hints on football (1891).
When Hinckley died in 1969, his will established the Hinckley Museum Foundation, stating, “The main purpose and object of the said corporation shall be the foundation, operation and maintenance of a museum, for the education and enlightenment of present and future generations.”
The museum opened at his home on 410 E. Seneca St, in a building that had once been the carriage house behind his family’s larger 409 E. Buffalo St. residence before they lost the house during the Depression. Visitors and architectural students could explore items from his collection in the small museum until 2000.
When the museum shut its doors nearly 20 years ago, its board deaccessioned artifacts and sold the property. Some items went to The History Center, while others were archived as “Henry N. Hickley Local History Ephemera, 1823-1976” within the Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare Manuscript Collections. The proceeds from the museum’s sales sat idle until this month, when they were formally distributed to three organizations committed to honoring Hinckley’s legacy.
The History Center received $114,000 from the Hinckley Museum Foundation, while Historic Ithaca and Lifelong each received about $40,000.
Rod Howe, executive director of The History Center in Tompkins County, said the donation “will be used for helping to carry forward Henry Hinckley’s legacy through exhibits, lectures, tours and events in partnership with Lifelong and Historic Ithaca,” adding that funds will also go toward the center’s relocation, operating costs and endowment.
Items from the Hinckley collection will be on display at the new Tompkins Center for History and Culture at 110 N. Tioga St. in Ithaca.
Lucia Sacco, executive director at Lifelong, said she is looking forward to working with the partner organizations to develop programming related to Hinckley, which could include lectures, classes or even an architectural tour. “We’re excited about all the opportunities this will generate,” she said.
Holland echoed that sentiment, saying she’s excited to explore Hinckley’s varied interests at Historic Ithaca. Noting the organization’s prior work to preserve the State Theatre, she said she has a sketch in her office of the building’s original plans with Hinckley’s signature scrawled in the corner. “I’m fascinated by him,” Holland said.
The three organizations accepted the foundation’s gifts at an event on March 22 and expressed gratitude for the work and generosity of the foundation board, led by Joan Heffernan. The date for a fall lecture on Hinckley’s legacy will be announced in the coming months, along with additional programming.
Featured image: A portrait of Henry Hinckley by Christian Midjo, provided by The History Center.