TRR photos by Owen Walsh

The Wayne County Historical Society’s Museum, inside and out, exemplifies the best of old Honesdale, the history and tradition that are an essential part of its flavor and are still well preserved in many of its historic buildings, both commercial and residential. 

The Honesdale revival

Honesdale is a town fueled by the old and the new, tradition and change. While the town remains rooted in its history, and long-standing businesses continue to make up the heart of the town, the arrival of many new businesses and cultural venues over the past several years have contributed to the renaissance Honesdale is currently experiencing.

The intersection is evident as soon as you arrive downtown, passing by seasoned establishments but soon reaching what many consider to be the epicenter of Honesdale’s reinvigoration: The Cooperage Project.

The Cooperage Project has always been all about community. “[The founders] really wanted to bring what was missing from our area: some culture, some entertainment, some things that bring people together around what they have in common and remind them that they have more in common with their neighbor than they think,” said Ryanne Jennings, the current director.

Now in its seventh year, The Cooperage remains dedicated to its original vision. However, the scope of that vision seems to grow every year, an attribute of the project that Jennings calls both a blessing and a curse.

Walking past The Cooperage, you’ll soon find that Honesdale offers an assortment of small businesses catering to esoteric passions and needs. You’re also sure to find trusty stalwarts that have served the community for decades.

One thing to keep an eye out for is local art in unsuspecting places, like The Harvey Agency. When walking into an insurance office, one usually doesn’t expect to walk into an art gallery at the same time. But that’s exactly what happens in Honesdale. David Harvey, who serves as the treasurer of the Wayne County Arts Alliance (WCAA), is just one of the several business owners who have made the walls of their work spaces into venues for local artists to display their work.

The WCAA has been a part of many popular initiatives in the area, including the Great Wall of Honesdale that showcases local artists’ creations on a massive scale. They also helped kick start Second Saturdays, during which local businesses stay open late and feature live music, comedy, games and other events.

If you continue walking downtown, you’ll eventually approach the Here and Now Brewing Company. This and Irving Cliff Brewery are some of the first breweries in the area since the days of prohibition.

Aside from craft beer, Here and Now is passionate about providing the community with organic, locally sourced farm food. “It wasn’t until I put my hands in the soil at Anthill Farm that I gathered this appreciation for the work that goes into it,” said Chef Ben Cooper, on discovering his love for organic, farm-to-table eating.

Co-owner Allaina Propst says that since the creation of Here and Now, she’s discovered the value of community spirit among other small businesses in the area: “I think everyone in town has the intention of making a more sustainable economy for everyone… That like-minded community is what makes us strong and the town in general very attractive to everyone else.”

After getting a bite and a beverage, stroll on down to Basin and Main. Created five years ago by local artist Sam Greene, Basin and Main has been home to a variety of community projects, including pop-up shops and art galleries. Currently, however, it is home to the famous “Paper Caves,” an art piece by Greene herself. It’s a stunning architectural creation that no description can do justice, so you’ll just have go see it for yourself. Greene also features musical acts frequently in this unique setting.

Greene says that the community response has been mostly fantastic, although some residents remain hesitant to linger in such a visually striking environment for very long. “There are definitely people who kind of poke their heads in and realize it’s not for them. But I still like the idea that it’s here, and maybe—even for a second—they’re experiencing something outside of their comfort zone,” she said.  

Art and music are clearly an important aspect of this revival. But it all goes deeper than a few extra walls for artists to hang their work on, or a few more bands to perform live on the weekends. It’s about the preservation of Honesdale itself. “This is not a dying community. This is not one of those stories of small-town America that is dying and needs Amazon to pop in and renovate it,” said Jennings.

Honesdale is indeed different. When such change comes to an old town, there is always a risk that the community will be transformed into something unrecognizable to long-time residents. But there is hope that such disenfranchisement will not happen in the borough. For the most part, the change-makers are not outsiders moving in to take over the town, but Honesdale natives who are passionate about making the community stronger.

In fact, Jennings of The Cooperage, Propst of Here and Now and Greene of Basin and Main are all examples of these prodigal change-makers, growing up in the area, moving to a large city and eventually coming back home. “I realized that everything that I wanted in the city was here, but better,” said Propst, echoing the sentiments of the others interviewed.

Perhaps the most striking thing you’ll find walking down Main Street and visiting all the places Honesdale has to offer is the inclusiveness of this culture shift: Everybody, young and old, seems to be working together to both preserve the proud history that Honesdale holds dear and moving forward with ideas that will make the town a healthier, more exciting place.

A lot of change has happened already, and these community leaders show no signs of slowing down. They want to work on strengthening Honesdale’s economy, mitigating poverty, increasing sustainability and creating more opportunities to experience culture.

“More breeds more,” says Propst. “And things are going to keep getting better.”

 

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