Honeoye Falls

Honeoye Creek meanders under streets, past backyards, behind the historic buildings of the village of Honeoye Falls, and through the Town of Mendon like an old friend tipping a hat to each of his neighbors along the way. Behind the village’s main business block tumbles the picturesque falls itself – frozen and half-shrouded with icy mist in the winter, plunging and powerful during the spring, then settling into a lazy flow for the summer and fall.

New Englander Zebulon Norton, a miller by trade, arrived at the waterfall with his family in 1791, and erected a gristmill and sawmill on opposite sides of the creek. As factories and businesses prospered and other settlers arrived, the present village (first called Norton’s Mills) took shape. Life in Honeoye Falls was humming.

The village today boasts not one but two surviving stone mills. The first, a venerable structure at falls edge, quarters the Mendon Town Hall. Just downstream, the Lower Mill has become a focal point of the village’s lively and vibrant art community. It houses The Peacock Oriental Art Museum, Talulah’s fancy handmade jewelry and gift shop, The Rabbit Room and The Mill Art Center & Gallery. The Mill Art Center offers drawing, painting, and ceramics classes for children and adults.

Residents Denise and Bob Heischman, instructors at RIT, are among the 50 to 75 talented painters and other artists living in the area. “Local artists have been drawn to the community and excel in specialties from glass blowing to photography to furniture design and beyond,” says Denise. “The art environment and front porch friendliness brought us to Honeoye Falls. Historic architecture and the beauty of the Finger Lakes region only added to the charm.”

One artist, semi-retired Henry Besanceney, mixes pastel painting with barbering. As he admits, “It’s an unlikely combination.” Using his waiting room as a display gallery, Henry dabbles at his easel in the next room between haircut appointments, mixing business with his artwork. “A love of painting is a lifetime itch that I continue to scratch.”

In addition to stone mills and Victorian homes, another imposing piece of local architecture is the Honeoye Falls Village Hall. The bell tower-topped brick building has occupied a proud perch high above the creek since 1886. “The hall once served as the fire department, a rifle range, and even an air raid shelter during the World War II years,” says Mayor Rick Milne. “Today it houses our village court and offices, and that original bell still chimes twice an hour.”

Village Hall has a wonderful old second floor auditorium. “It was used in the early 20th century for everything from basketball games to dances and vaudeville shows, often concocted by Ben Peer, a flamboyant local promoter,” adds village historian Lynne Menz. “We plan to refurbish that historic space with its stage, original drop curtain and classic tin coffered ceiling. The goal is to recreate a once-proud village asset.”

The brand new Mendon Public Library opened its doors in June of 2011. A cutting edge facility in every way, its architecture and mill-like stone façade suggest the village’s heritage. Director Laurie Guenther calls it “a rich and relaxed space with the feel of a community living room.”

Community activities have always been a spirited part of life in Honeoye Falls. A recent association with Sister Cities International has village folks assisting the needs of the residents of Borgne, Haiti. “It’s an important community venture that strikes at the heart of what we can do for one another,” says Joan Haviland who helps direct the growing effort.

Currently, the 70-plus member Honeoye Falls Community Concert Band continues a proud tradition that began with a nine-member brass band in 1859. Energetic and accomplished, the group presents summer concerts, tours neighboring towns, and takes part in music festivals. “We have a generational camaraderie within the band,” says director Lindsey Borden. “Teenagers, senior citizens, and multiple family members perform side by side, sharing their passion for music.”

Like so many other communities, Honeoye Falls celebrates the 4th of July, the Christmas season, and other special times with traditional events. Yet the village’s largest get-together, the Festival on the Green, is reserved for a normally more subdued occasion – Fathers’ Day weekend. During the three-day gala centered around Harry Allen Park and its gazebo, there’s food from barbecue to the famous Iron Man Plate, competition from a 5K race to a Frog Jumping Contest, and music from jazz to rock to a community sing-along. Arts and crafts, spectacular fireworks, and much more are thrown in to create quite a celebration.

“We’re a close-knit, friendly community,” says the mayor. “We encourage visitors to enjoy the balance of traditional charm and varied businesses that maintain our village vitality.”

Mike Alcorn arrived from California in 1997 with one such business, Custom BrewCrafters. It offers tours and tastings while producing and distributing almost 70 custom craft brews, many available at local eateries.

There’s creekside dining at three local restaurants. The Brewery Pub & Grill offers great food and in-season deck seating overlooking the falls. Recently arrived, Flaherty’s Three Flags Inn has “something for everyone on its menu, served formally or pub-style” says co-owner Terry Flaherty. The Rabbit Room is a fine dining restaurant and art gallery located at the Lower Mill.

With all it has to offer, one area resident sums up her frequent visits to Honeoye Falls quite well. “Rich in culture and history, to me the village fits with the warmth and comfort of a well-worn sweater.”

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by James P. Hughes

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