The Cascadilla School was founded in the 1870s by two young Cornell University professors, Lucien Augustus Wait (1846-1913) who taught Mathematics & Bela P. MacKoon (1840-99) who taught Latin & German. They established a tutoring school for Cornell students as well as for those who planned to enter Cornell and located it in Cascadilla Place, still a part of the Cornell campus and now known as Cascadilla Hall. Both the School and this early Cornell building take their name from nearby Cascadilla Creek, “cascadilla” being Spanish for “little cascades.” After MacKoon left Cornell, Wait in 1890 launched the Cascadilla School as a full-fledged all-boys prep school. Students from the U.S. came mostly from outside Ithaca and included Japanese, Cuban, and other international students.
The present School Building (originally named Wait Hall) was also built in 1890 and was designed by the noted Ithaca architect, William Henry Miller. Three additional buildings were built or acquired in the vicinity of Summit Street in the 1890s to house four grade levels for 60 to 90 students. The School supported many extracurricular activities which ranged from student fraternities, mandolin clubs, and literary magazines to interscholastic sports, including football, basketball, baseball, tennis, gymnastics, cross country and track. Cascadilla’s crew team established an especially strong reputation with the help of Cornell’s legendary crew coach, Charles Courtney. The School maintained large athletic fields and also built the Cascadilla Boathouse, still in use as an Ithaca City boathouse today. Alumni from this early period were Hermann M. Biggs, who led the fight in the U.S. against tuberculosis, Adolph Coors, Jr. of the Coors Brewing Co. family, and John M. Olin whose name graces Olin Library at Cornell.
Lucien Wait devoted his whole life to the Cascadilla School, contributing much of his own professor´s salary to the development of the School. In 1910, Wait transferred his School to a group of Ithaca businessmen who formed the Cascadilla School Association in 1914. This group owned and operated the all-boys prep school until 1925 when the School was reorganized and became a day school retaining only today´s School building. Clarence Doyle (1876-1947), a Cornell graduate and the School´s chemistry teacher, took over the School and inaugurated Cascadilla´s present accelerated program which emphasizes small classes with individual attention. Female students also began to be admitted in 1925.
In 1946, just as the GI Bill made both college and a high school diploma affordable for returning veterans of World War II, Maxwell Kendall (1909-89), who had studied chemistry at Cornell, took over the ownership and operation of the School from Doyle. Cascadilla provided high school credit for many veterans well into the 1960s and Kendall greatly expanded the School’s campus by acquiring additional buildings for dormitories. The School’s offerings in English as a Second Language were also greatly expanded in the 1950s. In the 1970s, international students began to constitute up to a third of the student body, as Kendall’s son, John, became headmaster. The Kendall family has thus had the greatest impact on the School’s development since Lucien Wait. John Kendall was succeeded in 2002 by his wife, Patricia Kendall, the present headmistress.