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Cornell students get a grasp on Skaneateles history with research and survey

Residents around Skaneateles may have noticed groups of people cloaked in backpacks and carrying laptop cases as they wander along West Genesee and West Lake streets.

Each are researching between eight and 10 properties or houses on those roads as part of their master's curriculum in Cornell University's historic preservation planning program.

"We're conducting a historical research survey," Tom Duda said.

"We're also telling the story of the town," Katelyn Wright added.

This project in particular is allowing the students to increase the village's record of what it has while teaching them about their field and how to do the "dirty work," as Stephanie Smith calls it.

Smith, Wright and Duda are just three of the eight students walking around taking photos of the properties they have been assigned. Under the direction of their professor Jeff Chusid, they have been charged with documenting local history and architecture.

"It's both something we're doing for Skaneateles and a learning process," said Nathaniel Guest of Pennsylvania.

According to Chusid, projects such as this began in 1975 with the beginning of the historic preservation program at Cornell.

"To date, we have surveyed approximately 100 communities," he said.

Chusid said throughout the course of the semester his students learn several things.

"First, the students are learning how to do a historical survey. As part of that process, they are learning how to write architectural descriptions, research the legal and social histories of the properties, and photographically document an historic site," he said.

In the end, each learn how to place all the information they receive in a format that meets not only state, but national standards for documentation.

"This is the first time I've done the hands on work," Smith said. "Now I know what goes into historical surveys."

During their travels about town, Guest said they've had people stop them and invite them into their homes to see the intricacies of the interior architecture -- something they wouldn't normally see during their research.

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