by Chris Clemens
Cities all across the state have really wonderful collections of public art. Often times, art fanatics will travel to certain places just to view those pieces. Everything from “unofficial” spots with a rotating exhibit of non-sanctioned graffiti, to high-end, very costly installations that brighten the landscape for passersby. Sometimes the purpose is whimsical and fun, sometimes its meant to inspire, and other times to educate.
There are a lot of smaller towns scattered about the state with often overlooked examples of public art. One such place is Lyons in Wayne County. The county now has so many sanctioned murals throughout the county, the project has been dubbed “Mural Mania”. It began in 2007 on Main Street in Lyons with Noel Dobbins who wanted to feature a series of public art installations along the Erie Canal corridor. I recently paid a visit to the village in search of all the murals and their stories.
Though Noel passed away soon after creating the Mural Mania concept, it has since been carried out with gusto by others. The village continues to create new installations regularly.
I haven’t made it around all of Wayne County yet, but I’ve paid a visit to each and every mural in Lyons. I received some help from a few of the locals, and also got some information from the Mural Mania website.
Here’s what I saw while I was in town!
Installed in July of 2007, the Generations mural located at 52 William Street is forever a view in to the historic Dobbins Drugs. Though the depiction is of a time long since gone, the inside of this building continues to act as a modern pharmacy and gift shop still operated by descendants of the original namesake.
Generations Of Smiles
If you’ve found the Generations mural, finding the Generations of Smiles mural means simply turning around! Opposite of Dobbins Drugs on William Street is a small alley that now depicts a scene of a bygone era. But, much like the Dobbins Drugs mural, this work of art portrays long time Lyons resident Dr. Arthur Santelli, who practiced his dentistry on the other side of the brick wall displaying his legacy. The mural was commissioned by the dentist who now practices in the same spot, effectively making history by ensuring Lyons residents are smiling for generations to come.
Believe You Can Achieve
Encompassing an entire wall of 28 Canal Street, this mural was installed in 2008. Blending the historical Clinton’s Ditch with modern ‘roads to success’, the Believe You Can Achieve artpiece was inspired by the Goal ChaserZ program, a local group that provides a mentorship program to kids in the area.
Street of Dreams
This one had a placard missing at the time I visited, but it was completed in 2007 by artist James Zeger. Located on the side of a building at 1 Montezuma Street, this mural depicts what this street in Lyons would’ve looked like had you visited in 1915.
I was so enthralled with standing on the sidewalk and looking at Street of Dreams, I actually left without realizing that Firefighters was literally right behind me on the wall of Growlers Pub & Grill! Don’t make the same mistake I did, or you’ll miss this great little dedication to those men and women of Lyons that help keep the town safe. This one was installed in 2009 and depicts a 1936 American LaFrance pumper truck inside of what was once the last few stations in the village.
Enlarged Erie Canal
What’s interesting about Lyons and their canal history, is that they are one of the few towns in the state to have experienced all three versions of the canal. You’ll find this mural on the corner of Rt. 14S & Montezuma Street on the back of Lyons Auto Parts, though in the late 1800’s when this scene would’ve taken place, that building would was a blacksmith shop. During the second build out of the canal, it passed along the general line that Rt. 14s now runs. So instead of a sidewalk looking at a mural, you might have been standing on a canal path.
If you’re in Lyons and hadn’t already figured it out from the signage all over town, this was once the worldwide hub of the peppermint oil industry. The building with this mural is the H.G. Hotchkiss Peppermint Museum which tells the story of how Lyons once shipped oils all over the planet.
First installed in July 2009 at 21 Butternut Street, the scene includes farming, canal scenes, and even the iconic blue bottles that housed the famous oil.
This one isn’t exactly easy to find, but if you’re walking the north side of the canal just west of the village, you’ll find Winston’s Dream painted on the abutment of a former bridge right behind the Hotchkiss Museum. Over 100 years ago, there was a bridge spanning the first two versions of the canal in this spot. Skip ahead 100 years, and the grassy, park-like setting along the edge of the current canal was a festering dump of old tires and garbage. Neighbors amassed a collective plan to clean up the area and create a space the community could be proud of.
Installed in the spring of 2006, this mural represents the historic nature of the area, but it also represents the Lyons community. A LOT of volunteers worked on cleaning up the park and ensuring that anyone passing through on the canal is now witness to the fortified small town pride of a New York canal town.
Lyons perfectly embodies what it means to be a “canal town” in New York. Nearly all of their history and much of their modern infrastructure is the result of the canal. That’s why, this mural on the east wall of the Santelli Lumber Company at 16 Forgham Street has three separate scenes, each an homage to the 1800’s canal era of Lyons. This one was originally painted way back in 1990, but in 2010 it was given a bit of a facelift. (Hint: if you’re having trouble finding this like I did, you can see it from the parking lot of McDonald’s.)
I don’t believe this one was officially part of “Mural Mania” but it was still fun to stumble across. Can you find it?
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens