01 September 2008

What Happened to Lisle?


While driving back to the City from upstate recently, I passed through a hamlet called Lisle. It's on route 79 right before you reach interstate 81. It's an old, compact Main Street-type town, founded in 1791. Some such villages are well kept up, picture perfect Americana. Some are sad and down on their luck. Lisle was not just sad. It was inconsolable.

Rarely have I seen a town so forlorn, so resigned to the forces of age and gravity. Not a building on the main drag, commercial or residential, was even in what you'd call decent condition. Lisle must be the peeling paint capital of New York State. One haunted house after another.

Some of the houses did appear to be lived in; others were boarded up. I could not ascertain whether any of the few businesses were actually in operation, though I did see some men loading furniture out of a used furniture shop. An "Arcade" obviously hadn't entertained a teenager in a decade or more. The Lisle Inn, possibly once the single hot spot in town, wasn't taking any comers. (The absolutely succinct sign, however, still hung outside. Nice image of a frosty mug.) Something called Miss Cathy's School of Dance seemed wildly incongruous in the circumstances. A dance studio in Lisle? What this town needs is an industrious hardware store.

I did some research. Lisle boasted a population of 4,393 back in 1830, but a legislative enactment divided the town into four parts, each constituting a new township. After that, the residents number only 1,558. Still, much better than today's 286. In 1835, it possessed three grist mills, twenty saw mills, one oil cloth mill, three fulling mills, three carding mills, one trip hammer or forging mill, three tanneries and two places where potash was made. It even had its own newspaper, the wonderfully named Lisle Gleaner.

The median household income in 2005 was $34,500, a good $15,000 less than the NYS average. One would think Lisle would be more prosperous that it is. It's two minutes from the interstate. A river runs nearby. The railroad crosses the town at three different points. So it's not exactly isolated. What happened to Lisle? The Depression? The flight of younger generations? That railroad stopped running? All of the above?







6 comments:

Peter said...

Something must have happened with respect to Lisle. Many parts of Upstate are hard-pressed, of course, but they're not this bad. Could the town be flood-prone, perhaps? It seems to be close to a river and I know there have been floods in that part of the state in the not too distant past.

Phillbo817 said...

Poor Lisle :-(

Cory said...

I just wanted to say that my mom runs the Lisle Library which sits on the main "drag" of Lisle and has worked hard to not only maintain the business of the library but also the building itself. It is a small building and often overlooked, but it stands out on Main St, especially now that the rest of the town has fallen apart. Because of my mom there is one place in that little town where kids can go and be welcome and learn, much better than that gross old arcade anyway!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Cory! I appreciate it, but obviously I have lots of help. I was curious why the photographer didn't turn the camera around and take a picture of the library as it is directly across from the "arcade". The historic Leader building has been refurbished, painted and now houses Mudlick Antiques thanks to the efforts of Michelle and Doug Greene. That also happens to be directly across from the dance school. I just want to say to the poster of this site, there is another side of the street if you had only turned around. This village used to be booming as was mentioned. The floods of 1935 and 1936 devastated it. We came back and Lisle was a beautiful village to travel through in the 50's and 60's until a blight destroyed the canopy of trees lining route 79. There are lot of reasons for the current decay and it is very sad to see Lisle continue to deteriorate.

Ron said...

My family moved to Lisle when I was 10 and I've lived here all my life. As a youngster I enjoyed a grocery store, a general store, a Ford dealership, a milk processing plant, a very active church community, a safe environment, and a village full of IBM'ers and EJ employees who lived in Lisle and commuted "all the way" to the big city every day.

As the big employers decided that doing business in NY was too restrictive and too expensive and moved south, so went the majority of higher-than-average income people who lived in Lisle. These were replaced by a group of families who live "on the dole" and have nothing extra to put back into the community. Small farms were abandoned. Houses and buildings were left to age and deteriorate and most of the little local businesses were closed, as they could not compete with the larger enterprises in Binghamton.

It is a shame that Lisle has "gone to seed." There are some few bright spots where new houses have been built. Small businesses have to compete for the small amount of commerce that is available, but most everyone shops in Wal-Mart and other big-box stores in the big city 20 miles away.

Anonymous said...

The Lisle Inn burned down just a few days ago. I've been trying to find a report of the fire in Binghamton, Ithaca, and any regional newspaper, but it seems that even a major fire and the destruction of a landmark tavern isn't news when it happens in Lisle.