The Shoe Trees of Lyndonville, NY
by Chris Clemens
If you’ve been let down by your wish results after blowing out birthday candles or tossing a penny in a fountain, you still have some options left for winning that lottery jackpot. Somewhere up in Canada a while back, the tradition of leaving one’s shoes up in a tree after making a wish became a popular practice. It didn’t take too long for the tradition to make it’s way south of the water into New York.
Lyndonville is a small town in Orleans County that snuggles the south shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively new addition to the state, it was founded in 1903 and named for the original settlers’ home back in Lyndon, Vermont. Today, the population hovers just under 1,000 people, which is probably less than the number of shoes in a collection of trees a few miles north of the village.
Back in the fall of 1986, Diane Bane had caught wind of the shoe throwing thing while watching a tv show about Canada. Thinking it would be cool to have something similar here in New York, she cleaned out a closet and convinced her boyfriend at the time to find them a tree where they could unload a few of the shoes she was prepared to part with. Apparently after they tossed nine of her own pairs, Bane went around to locals in the neighborhood asking if they would donate any shoes so she could toss them up in the tree as well.
The story of the origin of the shoes remained a bit of a mystery for a while because a local conservation officer didn’t find the prank very amusing. Apparently he vowed to arrest whomever started the tradition and charge them with littering, but after a few years of the trees collecting more and more footwear, Lyndonville as a whole started to embrace the idea of leaving it and even celebrating it.
Regardless of the original intention, local lore suggests that all you have to do is tie the laces of your shoes together, make a wish, and toss them up. If they catch a branch, your wish will come true.
Today, the four trees located in a patch of lawn where Foss Road meets Lake Shore Road have possibly more shoes than they do leaves. Boots, running sneakers, Converse and casuals all hang from the branches while shoes that don’t have laces end up nailed to the trunks. Though, I’m not sure if wishes come true by nailing shoes, or if that has just become more of a rural art installation of sorts.
If you want to become part of an Upstate New York landmark, the Shoe Trees of Lyndonville is an instantly fun way to make it happen. While I have added a pair on two different occasions, my wish was only that you would find this blog post and be inspired to go explore yourself! If you still have more shoes and wishes, it’s a bit of a drive, but East Amherst also has a single shoe tree by the side of a road in someone’s yard.
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
Cleveland Mass Mob
August 11, 2015 @ 8:54 am
“…officer didn’t find the prank very amusing…”
yeah, pro forma
Cleveland Mass Mob
August 11, 2015 @ 9:00 am
There was ‘a thing’ once, which asked what is the funnest or your favorite word in English. I answered, ‘shoe’; for the sounds. Someone asked me, “Would ‘oosh’ be as funny”. Well, yes it would, save that is not generally an English word.
August 14, 2015 @ 7:56 pm
before you put up something … peopleshould find out how this realy started… I live near the shoe trees and we were puting are shoes back in the 70’s and my father was doing the same thing in the 60’s …. SO GET THE REALLY TRUTH BEFORE PUTTING UP…. They were not the people that started it …. This is f—- bull shit…..
August 14, 2015 @ 8:53 pm
Thanks for your comment! As you can probably tell from the site, I take historical facts pretty seriously and really like being able to share as much of the truth as objectively possible. No one was standing at the trees when I visited, so I kind of had to go by what I found published online and in books. I think you’ve helped me learn that it’s a good idea to start sharing my sources for information and I’ll try to do that in the future with posts.
For now, I’d LOVE to hear more about your side of the history so visitors to the site can know your truth. Feel free to comment with your story. If you have photos from when your family started it that would be helpful too. Dates? Time frame? Really, anything relevant to the story.
I would ask though that you refrain from using swear words in further comments, as I have folks of all ages and backgrounds who read the site. Many thanks! I’m looking forward to learning more!
August 15, 2015 @ 12:20 am
I remember the shoe trees from when I was a little girl of 12 years old or so. I am now 56, so this special place has been around a long time. If “Judy” wasn’t so angry and vulgar maybe she would and could have been more helpful with the facts she could have provided to make her point instead.
December 26, 2019 @ 4:20 pm
I’m 73 and I through shoes in those trees when I was young. It was a tradition that anyone with knowledge of the trees saved their shoes until they came to Lake Ontario in the summertime to throw on the trees. I was surprised to read Ms Bane started it, because I’m sure she was no more than a “twinkle in her fathers eye” many years after the fact. But nice piece. Brought back lots of memories.
September 13, 2015 @ 5:53 pm
Regardless of how it got started. It is a blast to do it,and even more fun when you come back after many, many years look for them find them and then reminisce over the time you did it and the ones that were with when you did. I lived in lyndonville and really love the area and the shoe tree. James Lowe
October 23, 2017 @ 8:00 pm
I live near this and it is really something to see. There is a saying that the Amish children go there to get shoes in the fall, but, I don’t really think so.
That has been there a lot longer than 1986.
October 23, 2017 @ 8:42 pm
Thanks, Shirley! I had a hard time tracking down exact history because of the folklore surrounding it. Over the years, I’ve heard more and more conflicting details on the origin of the trees. You’re right though, one indisputable fact is that it is really something to see!!
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July 20, 2020 @ 10:12 am
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September 21, 2021 @ 9:58 pm
On your way to the Lyndonville shoe trees, stop at Lynoaken winery and fruit stand. Lots of great wines to taste! Apples and other fruit in season, maple syrup, and a lot of other goodies. It’s on route 104.