Brief History of the Coal Yard Cafe


The Coal Yard Café at 143 Maple Avenue, Ithaca, recently opened as a duly

permitted, “neighborhood commercial facility”, with approval as a restaurant by the

Tompkins County Department of Health. The Café is located in a residential zone in

front of the newly constructed Coal Yard Apartments and between the Fairview Heights

Apartments and Townhouses and Cornell’s Maplewood Park. The Cafe seeks to

provide high quality food to residents of the neighborhood, those who work or visit in the

neighborhood and those attracted by the Café’s eclectric and high quality offerings. To

insure the Café’s success, we welcome comments and suggestions on our offerings

from our patrons.

Some may recall that a café operated in the historic Perry Coal Office building

since 2006 under three different operators. First, the “Queen of Tarts”, operated by

Leslie Muhlhahn of “Just Desserts” fame, offered fine pastries, bread and several lunch

treats prepared off-site because cooking was not permitted in the café at that time.

Later John Kadar, the former operator of “Oliver’s” on College Avenue operated a café

that stressed Hungarian pastries and chicken and matzo ball soup. After a short time,

Diane and Mike Carberry operated the cafe as the “Coal Shack Café” before moving

operations to Aruba in the Caribbean.

In winter of 2012-13, the Beer family assumed responsibility for the café and

transformed it into a small restaurant with full cooking abilities. Commercial-scale

cooking facilities were installed along with an exhaust system, all according to

regulations of the Tompkins County Department of Health.

The Coal Yard Café is under the management of Chef-Manager Gene Marks, a

graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park N Y. Gene brings a history of

What with the peculiar name? One needs only to see the huge chunk of coal at

the side of the original entrance to the café building. Chiseled into the chunk are two

words, “COAL OFFICE”. For many years, the building housed the office of businesses

that sold coal for heating to Ithaca residents. The building housed the workings of a set

of truck scales that weighed trucks loaded with coal as they left the coal yard and then

on their return following delivery of their load to customers in the Ithaca area. Coal

selling apparently began in 1901 at 143 Maple Avenue by the Stevens and Cornell East

Hill Coal Yard, which was located in the older section of the present café structure. The

coal yard had a succession of names and owners until 1960. The last purveyer of coal

was the Perry Coal Company. Its sign (authentically restored by V. Romanoff and

Associates) hangs on the east wall of the café building. Coal, that arrived by train from

Pennsylvania formerly was widely used to heat Ithaca residences and Cornell University.

The coal yard was located at a side track of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. A

terminus of the line was located across Maple Avenue where the East Ithaca Railroad

Depot was located. From 1876 to 1936, many past Cornell University students first set

foot in Ithaca at the Depot. The depot building was moved to Judd Falls Road (now Pine

Tree Road) where it houses the Agave Restaurant. .

The Beer family, David, Beverly and Steven, acquired the then underutilized coal

yard property in 2005 from William Lower. Over the following 8 years, the family

planned and constructed the Coal Yard Apartments (see

cya. ) designed to house mature students and career persons. To provide sufficient

access to the newly constructed buildings, a two-lane driveway was required. Thus the

mammoth truck scales, used to weigh the coal trucks that entered and exited the coal

yard, adjacent to the Coal Office building were removed. You can see the mammoth

brass balance beam in the dining area of the café. Also preserved is the original safe of

Franklin C. Cornell. To provide seating space, a modern highly energy efficient addition

was added in 2010 to the west of the original coal office building.