Earlville, N.Y. — A community-based project, “Earlville for Earlville,” is underway to help the village identify and address some of its most basic needs.
The Earlville for Earlville project is led by a partnership that includes the village of Earlville, the town of Hamilton, town of Sherburne, the Earlville Free Library, the Partnership for Community Development, the Upstate Institute at Colgate University, and others.
The community-enriching initiative has been in the works through the like-minds of community members wanting to make a difference. It was only until recently that all cogs of the machine came together to form an alliance and come up with a plan for action.
A local non-profit, The Bell Tree, was one of those cogs that spurred Earlville for Earlville with its addition to the community last year. The Bell Tree’s mission statement “to uplift residents in the area by providing an inspiring space for community members to play, create, learn, imagine and socialize,” as stated on their website, reflects much of the Earlville for Earlville mentality.
As the Bell Tree became rooted to the area and to its residents, several questions began to sprout — What exactly does Earlville need? What resources are in short supply? What do residents want Earlville to stand for? What is Earlville’s identity?
These questions were also swirling in the minds of others, including Hamilton Town Clerk Sue Reymers and Earlville resident Jessica Moquin.
Historic and beloved, Earlville currently faces challenges met by split county lines, Madison and Chenango, and being part of multiple municipalities, Hamilton, Earlville, and Sherburne, making it difficult for the village to establish its own identity, the Earlville for Earlville group explained.
Congruently, the village has also been withered by the effects of technological innovation over the last century. At one point, a mecca for economic growth and community development, the railroads that ran on either side of the village years ago, as well as its connection to the Chenango Canal, were paramount to the small town’s prosperity, Reymers and Moquin explained.
Once cars became popular and businesses changed gears, Earlville’s once-filled streets were slowly replaced with empty storefronts, which largely remain today.
Colgate geography professor and 13 year Earlville resident, Jessica Graybill, had also been pondering what she could do to give back to her community.
Coincidentally, her students last year had studied Earlville to understand the place and research methods.
With the ball already rolling, Graybill saw the opportunity to utilize her geographical and residential expertise along with students’ interest through her 2020 senior seminar to help Earlville define and describe its needs.
And thus, Earlville for Earlville was formed.
Over the course of the spring semester, Graybill’s students will sift through Earlville archives, speak with locals to share their oral history, conduct place-based analyses such as a walk-ability analysis, conduct focus groups, and ultimately formulate a community survey, whose conclusions will point in the direction of Earlville’s future.
Graybill spoke further on her class’s role in the initiative, emphasizing that they were merely giving Earlville the tools and resources to address its needs, rather than imposing their own ideas on the village.
“We aren’t trying to drive the vision, but to help it come out,” she said.
Jennifer Lutter, executive director of the Partnership for Community Development, explained her organization’s interest in the Earlville for Earlville movement. “We want to establish a working group and a relationship with the village of Earlville that’s constantly working on projects,” she said.
“Our organization has a long history of doing things in Hamilton, and we want to establish that same type of relationship in Earlville. We see this as the beginning of something we hope is very long term,” she said.
The group as a whole would also like to see the initiative continue for years to come.
Earlville for Earlville is largely run by a steering committee made up of community members, public figures, local business owners, and others who will serve as guides to the initiative’s goal, listening to the village’s feedback and helping facilitate necessary plans of action.
One leading committee member, Shari Taylor, who is also a member of the Hamilton Town Board, Director of the Earlville Free Library, and long time Earlville resident, didn’t want to leave out the hard work and efforts already being made to energize the village.
The Earlville Free Library, she noted proudly, offers adult and child programming, computer resources and more.
“It’s the hub of the community,” Moquin added in agreement.
Also deserving recognition, “Earlville Days,” Taylor mentioned, recur every summer and offer attendees a variety of activities such as a fireworks display, craft fair, block party, tractor pull, sporting events, yard sales, and much more.
Other notable organizations mentioned by Moquin, Reymers, and Taylor included Viridescent Times Boutique, Black Cat Antiques, the Quincy Square Museum, as well as Earlville’s bowling alley, Hi-Skor Lanes.
The Earlville Opera House was also praised for its central role in the community, providing opportunities for art, history, and volunteerism. Moquin lauded it as a “hoppin’, happenin’ place.”
Moquin also shared that the activities within the Opera House tend to attract people from outside the village, and she wonders if this initiative will help the establishment find ways to reflect the community and become more of a local gathering place in the future.
Speaking from a small business perspective, Angela Wescott, owner of Viridescent Times, said she chose to open her business in Earlville last year not only because her downtown building is gorgeous, but also because she could see the potential. Wescott thinks, “the real estate is here, and the timing is right” to support growth in the small town.
An added bonus, “the people in town are fantastic,” she said.
Along with Graybill’s class, passionate locals and devoted businesses coming together, the Upstate Institute will play a vital logistical role in helping the Earlville for Earlville initiative get off the ground. Lending support for research, funding, space, and facilitation are some of the ways the institution can help, said Upstate Institute representatives.
If all goes according to plan, the initiative will result in a well-researched, Earlville-built framework for where the community would like the village to go in the future. This vision could include new businesses, infrastructure, resources, and more.
It’s all up to residents.
Those who’d like to get involved in the initiative can participate in upcoming focus groups, surveys, and interviews. Community dinners and the like, which will serve as casual catalysts for discussion, are being planned for the future for residents to attend, the Earlville for Earlville group shared.
Youth, in particular, is one focus group the initiative hopes to tap into to understand where Earlville could be headed. “I’m excited to see what the teens have to say because they’re the future of Earlville,” said Taylor. She and others in the group hope to see young people returning and staying in the village, one that hopefully, they can “like and love,” said Taylor.
Though Reymers and others worry that it will be difficult to get widespread participation from the younger demographic, they hope younger residents will see the opportunity to transform the village to fit their vision.
“We’ve got some excellent, wonderful young people here who have both remained and who have had to move away due to necessity with employment and logistics, so how do we improve that for the future and keep them here?” Moquin added.
No matter the outcome of the initiative, the main objective will shine through. “We want Earlville to be for Earlville,” said Graybill.
For those on the neighborhood app NextDoor, The Town of Hamilton will also be sharing updates for involvement in Earlville for Earlville on their account.