Skip to Main Content

Archives & Special Collections

Brief History of SUNY Cortland

SUNY Cortland was founded in 1868 as the Cortland Normal School. The original building (campus) was located in Downtown Cortland but was destroyed completely by a fire in 1919. The present campus opened in 1923 with the creation of what is now referred to as "Old Main."

Old Main stood alone as the sole building on campus for many years until the 1950's. The College began to expand and in 1941, by an act of the legislature and the Board of Regents, the institution officially became a four-year college providing courses leading to the bachelor’s degree. In 1948, Cortland became a founding member of the State University of New York.

Today SUNY Cortland serves nearly 7,000 students on a campus that almost expands to 200 acres. In 2018 SUNY Cortland celebrated its 150th birthday (sesquicentennial).

History of the Archives

In 1943, Dr. Donnal V. Smith became President of Cortland College and brought with him a keen love of New York State. This interest sparked a program for collecting material related to the state which continued for many years. With completion of the construction of Memorial Library in 1961, a room was devoted to the New York State and other special collections. The archives were established in 1965 with a mission to collect records pertaining to the administration and history of the college.

Today the archives are located in Room B305 on the third floor of the North wing of the Library. This room houses the archival material documenting the history of SUNY Cortland from its days as a Normal School to present. Special collections are a separate collecting body from the college archives. Special collections contain primarily rare books and other unique materials relating to specific subject matter. Materials in both the college archives and the special collections can be made available through appointment.


Group photograph with Jesse Owens

Caption: Jesse Owens was invited by the College chapter of the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation and Men's Athletic Association chapter. In the photo, from left, is Doug Bayly ’69; Director of Athletics Fran Woods ’56; Oleski; Owens; Whitney “Pete” Corey ’43, dean of the Division of Health, Physical Education and Recreation; and Joe McInerney ’70. The photo was taken in Old Main.


This site was originally created by Jeremy Pekarek. It is currently maintained by Brian Jirout.