July 3, 2010


Kane pens new history book about Cortland

Retired historical society director chronicles city’s past

KaneBob Ellis/staff photographer
City historian Mary Ann Kane stands with her new book on the city of Cortland.

Staff Reporter

Mary Ann Kane’s love for history grew from her father’s influence and her wish to enter marketing research as a career.
Her father, John, read three newspapers every day, absorbing information. He savored Cortland’s history.
Her possible career path ended because in the 1950s, there were few jobs in marketing research. She turned to history itself to satisfy her need for digging up facts, serving as a teacher and as director of the Cortland County Historical Society for almost 20 years.
Kane has written her second book about Cortland’s history for Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series of local histories.
Her first, published in 1999, was about the county.
Her latest book, “Cortland,” focuses on the city and will be published next week.
Arcadia has produced hundreds of such books about cities and towns, counties and entire regions.
Kane will sign copies at the Historical Society’s tent at Holiday in Homer on July 17 and at Walgreen’s in Cortlandville on July 31.
She retired as the society’s director in 2008. She taught social studies in Mattydale and at St. Mary’s School for 25 years.
Kane said that her intentions in writing a book are the same as when she gives a talk about local history: to have residents think more about their community and know its roots.
The book traces Cortland’s origins from a village incorporated in 1853 to a city, growing as new industry moved in. It contains 200 photographs from the Historical Society and Kane’s own collection.
The cover of “Cortland” shows an image of the Cortland City Band of 1898, with the men smiling slightly, with the book’s title in white type against a black emblem.
“Cortland didn’t become a city until two years later, but these men called themselves the Cortland City Band,” Kane said Friday. “The company asked me to send five images for them to choose from, for the cover, with room at the top for the book’s title. Two of the ones I sent were of this band, and Arcadia chose this one.”
Kane said her favorite material is about houses, those still existing and those torn down over the years or converted into student housing. She often thinks, as she travels around the city, about what used to exist in certain buildings, or what buildings used to stand where some newer building does now.
Sitting in Courthouse Park, she gazed across Church Street at City Hall and recalled that the two-story building was constructed to have more stories added to it.
“So much of this comes down to money,” she said.
She said piecing together history from primary sources such as newspaper articles, diaries, journals and interviews brings a researcher as close as possible to events and people’s lives — but only so close. History is pieced together from different sources that do not always agree, which is part of the challenge.
“Newspaper reporters have to be careful because what they write is history,” she said.
Kane said she majored in home economics at Cornell University and took marketing courses in what was then called agricultural economics. That department is now called applied economics and marketing, and recently received a $25 million gift to become a school of its own.
Kane laughed at the idea that marketing has become such a huge field in America.
“I did live long enough to see a cousin of mine, Brendan Daly from Victor, graduate from that department two years ago,” she said.

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