An Innkeeper’s Story
It was by accident that I learned the history of the Coddington Guest House. I was first brought to the house via a vague but sentimental family connection and I knew the neighbors at the time I bought the property through my own local past and friends. The aunt of one of my best friends from high school lived on one side and schoolmates ran Centini’s restaurant on the other property line.
The first time I noticed the sale sign I called my Realtor to ask about the ‘Capalongo’ house. When I walked through it, I felt the presence of my own grandfather in the dining room, which made absolutely no sense to me since he was a Danby farmer for much of his immigrant life in this country, at least according to the stories. I could not shake the mystery of it though, and impractically found myself making an offer on the house – a purely emotional act.
The summer after closing on the house I came to town to paint it. I was outside chatting with the neighbor aunt, Anastasia Iacovelli (born a Centini), while she planted pumpkins along our property borders. I mentioned to her that, according to my abstract, the house first appeared on the tax rolls in 1921. She laughed and said that she was born in the house in 1917. She also mentioned it was the old ‘train station.’ I almost dismissed that comment. For one thing…what train? What was she talking about? For another thing I was totally distracted by the next exchange.
On a whim I heard myself asking her, “Nasa, did you know my grandfather?” I expected her to ask me his name but instead I heard, “Oh sure, Joe Peter, right?” My eyes widened and I almost croaked, “You knew him?” She replied: “Are you kidding? Every Friday night he showed up with tomatoes for the restaurant and spent hours playing poker with the men in the dining room there!” The chills that blew through me made me forget all about the train and the station.
I have only dabbled at historic research on the fly, but a series of details strung together. Early on, one guest who stayed in the upstairs suite, a contractor for historic homes, told me that the second floor windows are the original 1850s windows. “Are you sure?” I couldn’t imagine this. He swore up and down he knew his windows. Then I read up on all trains that existed in Tompkins County and the only known train on South Hill was the switchback train that was pullied up from the southwest flats to near IC and then switched back to Coddington Road, along the front of my house, then off to Brooktondale/Owego where the South Hill Recreation trail now stretches to Burns Road on the old railroad bed. Finally I got a look at the 1853 map of Ithaca and there it was: the notation says ‘Depot’. I recalled from my reading that the train only operated for twenty years and was discontinued in the 1870s.
What happened to the building after that?
It is possible that the structure remained vacant for about 40 years until a couple of Capalongos (brother and sister) purchased it around 1910. Later they divided it into two lots. The sister married a Centini and they opened the Centini restaurant, alternately called the Coddington Inn, Centini’s Coddington Restaurant and Angelina Centini’s which operated within the family for 80 years. Most native Ithacans over the age of 40 or so recall this popular family restaurant well. I loved eating bottomless salads and pasta there when growing up and later enjoyed Angie’s friendship as she kept the restaurant going through its last incarnation and I was getting the B&B on its feet.
Vito, and later his son Henry, Capalongo raised over ten children in this house. A family of stone masons, at least one of them worked as a mason for the city of Ithaca and installed many a curbstone and other assorted materials as needed. I am occasionally contacted by a grandchild of a Capalongo who was raised in the house. It seemed appropriate to name the suites after the two connected families that settled on the property. I bought the house from the widow, Margaret Capalongo and her sons in 1992. She knew I am the granddaughter of Joe Peter, but I never had the opportunity to discuss this with her or learn if that meant anything to her. She died shortly after I moved back to the area and into the house in 1999. The Capalongo family had basically inhabited this house for an entire century, save for a decade on either end of it.
The neighborhood was known through most of the last century as Italian Hill. According to local historian Carol Kammen, at the turn of the 20th century South Hill was called “Tent City” and women were not allowed to venture here. It seems the factory owners of the Industrial age (and there were several factories then as now on South Hill) brought whole villages of men from Italy to work. There was a drastic shortage of housing, so a community of male occupied tents sprung up along Coddington Road where the Hudson Heights apartments are now. Important Italians visiting the community – even mail order brides – were hosted here, at the current Coddington Guest House.
John Peter is the eldest of my father’s siblings, currently 97 years old and healthy. A few years ago I learned from him that every Monday morning on the way to work at the Morse Chain factory, he and ‘Pa’ (my grandfather) arrived at this front door to pick up Vito and take him to work. Evidently the two were more than poker buddies; they were fast friends. The connection that I sensed when I first set foot in the house is stronger than I had ever imagined; I am so glad I acted on it.