Built as His Home by Ezra Cornell
Built as his home by Ezra Cornell, Llenroc is a nineteenth century Victorian Gothic stone villa. It is elegant, imposing, and unique. As the Daily Sun observes, “With McGraw and Morrill Halls, this home represents Cornell as its founder first knew it.”
Design and Construction
Ezra’s personal tastes were plain in most respects. But when it came to Llenroc, Ezra built what Professor Kermit Parsons in his book, The Cornell Campus, calls “his only architectural extravagance". Ezra’s son Alonzo Cornell wrote in his biography of Ezra that “with his exceptional prosperity came the ambition to build a dwelling which should be an ornament to the locality". And Professor Burt Wilder recalled, “Perhaps the best exemplification of the duality of his nature was offered by his indifference to the impression made by his rather shabby vehicle, horse, and even hat, as contrasted with his genuine and superior artistic pleasure in the execution of carvings for his projected residence.”
Llenroc was designed by the Albany firm Nichols & Brown, which had earlier designed Cascadilla Hall. It was completed in 1876. Ezra recruited skilled craftsmen from all over Europe to work on the house. Robert Richardson, one of many craftsmen who came from England, was one of the house’s primary stonecarvers. He went on to work on the A.D. White House, Sage College, Sage Chapel, and Barnes Hall. A.D. White so admired the quality of Richardson’s work that he dubbed him Magister de vivis lapidibus, Latin for “teacher of living stone.”
At White’s suggestion, 'True and Firm' was carved on the stone riband above the house’s front door. Alonzo Cornell stated, “True and Firm—the motto which surmounts the principal entrance—is indeed characteristic of the building in all of its details.”
Ezra died in 1874. While Llenroc’s interior was not quite finished, his body was laid in state in the house the night before his funeral. The Ithaca Daily Journal noted that the funeral ceremony included a life-sized portrait, “and above it in large evergreen letters Mr. Cornell’s talismanic motto, ‘True and Firm,’ the same which is carved upon his new residence.” A hymn sung at the funeral included the lyrics “True as the steel to star . . . ,” and “Firm as the oak’s tough grain.” Ezra is buried in Sage Chapel. Much of the stonework that houses his tomb was done by Llenroc’s stone carver Robert Richardson.
The Cornell family, headed by Ezra’s wife Mary Wood Cornell, lived in Llenroc from 1876 to 1911. The property was originally fifteen acres, and included the land now owned by Alpha Tau Omega, the 660 Stewart Avenue Co-op, and many of the other houses that now line Stewart Avenue. Among those houses is Cayuga Lodge, which was originally the Cornell family’s carriage house and the home of the family’s coachmen. The Cornells’ use of Llenroc diminished at the end of the 1890s, and the family began selling off portions of the property. By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the family was closing the house for extended periods while spending time elsewhere.
Art Gensler '58
Delta Phi at Llenroc
The chapter purchased Llenroc in 1911 from Ezra’s daughters Mary Emily Cornell and Emma Cornell Blair. A.D. White wrote the chapter a letter of congratulations, in which he stated, “. . . the music of the University chimes comes down from the library tower upon the whole place morning, noon, and evening, as a benediction. I am glad to see a house so dear to me in the possession of so distinguished a fraternity as yours, and trust that the occupation of the place hallowed by so many cherished memories will bring a blessing on all who enter it.”
A.D. White’s wish was fulfilled: more than a century later, Llenroc continues to bring a blessing on the chapter and its brothers. Grey and gracious, our home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. It is featured in many books about the University, Ezra Cornell, and Central New York State. It is the subject of a 1994 master’s thesis written by a graduate student in the Architecture College. It is currently lectured about in Cornell: The First American University, one of the most popular classes on campus. It’s no wonder that our brother Art Gensler ‘58, the founder of Gensler, the world’s largest architectural firm, called Llenroc “one of the great buildings in America.” Our chapter is immeasurably enriched by owning this singular home.
A House for Today
While Llenroc is a living piece of Cornell history, it is not a museum.
In addition to its sumptuous living spaces, the house includes a library for studying, a card room, a music room with piano, a basement recreation area that includes a pool table, seating, and other amenities, and a multi-acre yard with long-range views of Cayuga Lake, the Ithaca Valley, and spectacular sunsets.
Brothers enjoy a meal plan in the house’s oak-paneled dining room, prepared by a talented chef in the house’s modern commercial kitchen.
The house is equipped with state-of-the-art wifi.
During the 2021-2022 academic year, the chapter spent close to $600,000 on renovations to bedrooms, bathrooms, and common spaces.
'True and Firm', Llenroc stands ready to meet the needs of its next generation of brothers.