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?