During the 19th century, many of Cornell’s athletic teams trained on Percy Field where Ithaca High School now stands. During the early 1900s, though, Cornell’s population grew quickly and Percy Field was no longer suitable for the growing number of Cornell athletes.
Gradually, the idea of having adequate athletic facilities on campus developed. The Alumni Field Committee was created to consider this possibility and they persuaded the university set aside land for a field. The committee “strove, pled, and prayed” for donations to the proposed athletic facilities.
Because of a generous donation from Willard Straight ’01, the construction of a field house was made possible. The contribution came in memory of his friend, Henry (Heinie) Schoellkopf ’02, an outstanding football player and a “beloved gentle giant.” It is said that he once dove 70 feet into a gorge pool to rescue a drowning dog.
The Schoellkopf family themselves then responded to Straight’s donation and helped finance the project. Finally, construction of Schoellkopf Field, which would be on the highest point on campus, could take place. Schoellkopf Field was ready to open the fall of 1915. The University planned a huge parade from the Arts Quad to the field for the dedication exercises and opening football game. Everyone in Cornellundergraduates, faculty and staff, in addition to alumni and invited guestswas expected to participate.
On Saturday, October 9, 1915, all campus activities were suspended at noon. An estimated crowd of 6,000 quickly gathered in front of Goldwin Smith Hall as instructed by the University. President Jacob Gould Schurman slowly led the procession to the awaiting Schoellkopf Field. The impressive parade was the largest turnout of its kind in the Ithaca area at the time.
Exactly five years after the dedication, the General Electric Company completed work on a flood searchlight system for the field, which was designed to illuminate the field without causing glare visible to the players. The project was of major importance to athletic teams, especially in the fall and winter months, when shortened hours of daylight cut down after-class practice time.
Before 1915, the largest crowd to assemble for an athletic event in Ithaca was less than 5,000. The development of automobiles and improvement of roads brought larger and larger crowds to the stadium. Soon, it became apparent that Schoellkopf’s capacity of 9,000 was no longer sufficient.
In 1921, a study and report was commissioned and in the spring of 1923, University trustees approved the plans to reconstruct the east side stands. Construction began that winter and in September, 1924, the Crescent was completed increasing capacity to 21,500. In June, 1947, permanent steel stands on the west side of Schoellkopf Field were built boosting total stadium capacity to 25,597.
Schoellkopf Field was one of the University’s most valuable, but least used areas on campus until the introduction of an artificial turf. In early 1971, it was announced that an anonymous donor had made a gift for turf on Schoellkopf Field. The person who first benefited from the artificial surface was probably Cornell’s star tailback Ed Marinaro ’72, who eventually broke every school rushing record. The field has since been resurfaced three times, most recently in 1999.
Expansion and growth for Schoellkopf Field continued. The new press box was built in 1986, and the stands have been refurbished. In 2006, the Big Red moved into the newly renovated Schoellkopf Memorial Hall, which includes an addition featuring new locker rooms, meeting rooms, a football tradition room and coaches offices. Schoellkopf Field has become an irreplaceable part of Cornell’s athletic tradition and campus.
Alumni Field had been in use long before the need for a modern field house. It provided a center for outdoor sports and opportunities for recreation within reach of student dwellings. Some major gifts for construction of the field and Schoellkopf Stadium came from prominent benefactors, but most of the cost was covered by relatively small alumni contributions. Alumni Field formally opened with a track meet in May 1915.
Schoellkopf Field received a $3.6 million restoration in the spring and summer of 1986. The crescent and west stands were refurbished, painted and adorned with new aluminum seating and the new press box was also built in 1986-87. The press box is considered one of the best press boxes in Division I-AA and won an award in 1990 from the Sports Writer's Association of America.
Image by David St. George on October 25th, 1996
"Ithaca Falls is a gorge right by Cornell. Schoellkopf Field can be seen at the top. To its right is the Theory Center. Between those two a little below them is the Bell Tower. Slightly below it off to the left, next to the gorge is the Johnson Museum of Art (designed by architect I.M. Pei). The view from the 5th floor gallery is spectacular. Almost as good as from the air. The falls themselves are visible, as is a bridge just upstream from it."
The original stadium was completed in 1915 with funds given by Jacob F. Schoellkopf, Jr., '05, Paul A. Schoellkopf '06, Walter H. Schoellkopf '08 and William G. Schoellkopf '19. The seating capacity is 26,000. The crescent, constructed in 1924 to enlarge the stadium on the east side of the field, seats 20,950. The permanent steel stands were added in 1947 on the west side to accommodate 4,647.
In the summer of 1988, a new surface, All-Pro Turf, was installed. This surface was the third artificial covering on the field since the natural turf at Schoellkopf was removed in 1971 and replaced with Poly-Turf, which was installed as a gift of Joseph P. Routh '17 of New York City, and replaced by AstroTurf in the summer of 1979.
The installation of the artificial turf has enabled the field to be used not only for varsity and junior varsity football games and practice but also for lightweight football games, and field hockey in the fall; and men's and women's varsity and JV lacrosse in the spring.
In the summer of 1986, new light fixtures were installed to make night games possible for television production.
Directions to Schoellkopf Field
From Binghamton, follow Route 81 North and take Exit 8 at Whitney Point. Pick up Route 79 West in Whitney Point and follow into Ithaca city limits. At stop sign, turn right onto Route 366 (Ithaca Road); bear left at "Y" intersection which is Route 366. At second stoplight (flashing red), turn left onto Hoy Road. The parking garage is on your right.
From Syracuse, follow Route 81 South and take Exit 12 at Cortland. Turn left onto Route 281 and follow until Route 13 South. Take Route 13 South and follow until Route 366 (by the New York State Electric & Gas Plant). Turn left onto Route 366. At the first stop sign go straight onto Hoy Road. The parking garage is on your right.
From Buffalo, follow Interstate 90 East until Geneva and take Exit 42. Pick up Route 96 South and follow into Ithaca. At fourth stoplight, turn right onto Route 13 South and take next left-hand turn onto Route 79 East (Green Street). Follow Route 79 East (up Green Street and State Street Hill) and veer left onto Route 366 at intersection of Routes 366 and 79. Follow Route 366 (Ithaca Road) until second stoplight (flashing red). Turn left onto Hoy Road. The parking garage is on your right.
From Elmira, follow Route 13 North into Ithaca and turn right onto Route 79 East (Green Street). Follow Route 79 East (up Green Street and State Street Hill) and veer left onto Route 366 at the intersection of Routes 366 and 79. Follow Route 366 (Ithaca Road) until second stoplight (flashing red). Turn left onto Hoy Road. The parking garage is on your right.
Source: Cornell University Sports Information Office