Each and every hometown is different. Some are big and some are small. But they all have a history that explains where the community stands today and what lies ahead for the future. In Lewis County, the small village of Lyons Falls is home to a little more than 500 people. It's had its good times and its tough times.
In this edition of Your Hometown, our Brian Dwyer and photojournalist R.D. White take us to Lyons Falls and tell us the story of how the village is ready to rise back up once again.
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LYONS FALLS, N.Y. -- Nestled deep in the heart of Southern Lewis County, we've made it to the small village of Lyons Falls. In fact, it's so small Olympic runners could go from end to end in less than four minutes. It's only a mile long. But you know what they say, good things come in small packages.
Roy Hammecker, Lyons Falls Alive Vice President said, “The French first settled here in the late 1700's. After they endured the first winter, I think the majority of them, I think, decided they were better off where they were."
The French didn't stay long, but the Lyons Falls community had something that couldn't be ignored. The Moose River and the Black River Canal.
Hammecker said, “Potatoes and the lumbering finally got a route to the major areas in New York and west. It was a great boon to the community."
One of the biggest names to realize the potential, Gordias Gould, buying property at the water's junction and opening a massive paper mill.
"At one time it employed almost 300 people," said Hammecker.
The water also helped create one of the most unique things in the world. A three-way bridge.
"There's only three of them in the world. One in Ohio and one in Japan or was,” said Hammecker.
Built in 1849, the structure connected Greig Road, Laura Street and Franklin Street.
Hammecker said, "When I was a kid, people would ask directions on how to get over where you just were today. You'd go halfway across the bridge and turn right. That drew some very strange replies from the public."
But as the mill and other companies started getting into big trucking in the 1960s, it became too impractical for use.
"Once they got into the 18-wheelers, it was pretty tough to get that truck through the bridge so the state came along and forced us to take it down," said Hammecker.
The village also has another rarity, a local independent pharmacy that's now into its third generation, in Hammecker's own family. It's a museum all its own.
"The pharmacy was started in 1899. My daughter is now the third generation pharmacist here. My father came to Lyons Falls in 1939 and I'm the second and she's the third. People have been loyal. In a small town there's that comradery and we've been very locally orientated. It's been quite successful," said Hammecker.
Unfortunately that paper mill can't say the same. After its high successes in the early 1900's it was sold several times, before shutting down for good in 2000.
Hammecker said, "Like many other paper mills in the North Country, it just lost its advantage to the south."
The mill shutting down was devastating for the employees and their families. Many had to pick up and move out. But a select few, the luckier ones were able to stay home and join a growing company that's now one of the most successful in the area.
Doreen Garrett, Otis Technology owner said, “Otis Technology started in 1985. We manufacture the world's finest gun cleaning kits. We're primarily a defense contractor selling to our U.S. military under several long term contracts and to our hunters and law enforcement agencies. We picked Lyons Falls because it's where we live and where enjoy to live. Fortunately for me I get to travel all over the world, but I always love coming home."
Home, where Garrett got the idea to start Otis begging her father to take her to the 1985 Shot Show in Vegas, even though she wasn't old enough to attend.
"I was a junior in high school at the time and I wanted to do some market research to see if it was a marketable idea. Went to that show but I had to lie to get in. I was 16 and you had to be 18. It was the 80's so the hair went higher and the heels went higher. I received orders from the nation's two largest distributors at that show,” said Garrett.
And as Otis Technology helps Lyons Falls keep going, there's a group of people dedicated to keep it growing. They're called Lyons Falls Alive.
Rocky Fawcett, Lyons Falls Alive President said, “We basically started as a group of us who wanted to see a rejuvenation in Lyons Falls and the area. This will be our fourth year of a farmer's market. This will be our 3rd year of a Spring Black Moose Kayak event. I think we've made an impact here in Lyons Falls and the area. I think you can go out and see smiling faces today."
But Fawcett said the best is yet to come. The Lewis County LDC bought the old paper mill last year, and is starting plans to clean it up.
Lyons Falls is looking for people to join its Alive group. For more information you're asked to call Peg Abbott at (315) 348-5542.