History, art, culture, and community all come together with the installation of four new black metal benches in the Village of Le Roy.
The project is the inspiration of Sarah Farmer, a co-owner of Farmer's Creekside Inn, and a businesswoman who splits time between Rochester and Le Roy.
"This all started in downtown Rochester where we were trying to get away from all the chaos of the riots and all the bad things going on, all the hate. And trying to do some soul-searching with some association members and businesses, and we ended up coming up with this project, called the Black Bench Initiative," Farmer said prior to a ribbon-cutting outside the Creekside Inn on Friday. "Basically, it is something creating a memory of historical significance of different landmarks and important things to each community that they're in."
For Le Roy, the touchstones are fishing in the Oatka Creek, the Barn Quilt Trail, the Jell-O Museum, and a Ginkgo tree.
Rochester-area artist Stacey Mrva worked with Farmer on the themes and designed and built the benches.
Mrva started welding sculptures in steel while an art student at Syracuse University, and she has seen several of her sculptures become public art in the region.
"I'm an artist but also a craftsperson," Mrva said. "I make things and I like to work with my hands, but most of all, I like to create pieces that can be part of our everyday lives, making art accessible."
The project was made possible with the cooperation of the Village of Le Roy and a $15,000 grant from NYS Homes & Community Renewal through the Main Street Program.
"One of the things that we hope to do in the future is get some more suggestions to do six additional benches along Main Street," Farmer said. "It just creates a sense of gathering, an ability to come down Main Street."
Sarah Farmer and her father-in-law Bill Farmer have more plans to help revitalize downtown Le Roy.
They are going to turn the former bank building across the street into a multi-use event space -- a ballroom, a concert hall, a conference space that will accommodate up to 175 people.
"It will have a bar, a small dining room and a full kitchen," Sarah said. "You can outsource it for private events and weddings and we're gonna donate space to the community for youth banquets and proms and stuff like that."
The top floors will be converted to apartments, she said.
The Farmers also purchased the building next door that used to be a coffee house. They hope to turn that into a bakery.
"We have to offer a breakfast at Creekside for hotel guests," Farmer said. "Ideally, it'd be really nice to be able to have a place where they can get breakfast earlier than nine."
Her inspiration for restoration and community involvement is her Bill Farmer, she said, who invested more than a million dollars and several years of work to restore the Creekside after a devastating fire gutted it and left it vacant for more than a decade. It's literally become a cornerstone of the Village of Le Roy since reopening in 2017.
"Main Street has been near and dear to my family," Farmer said. "My fearless leader, my mentor, Bill Farmer, he started this very much in the mentality of restoring historic Main Street and of revitalizing the community. I very much have taken that and been very much inspired by that. And I'm so excited to see what we can do in the future. And I'm just so grateful for being able to get this project (the bench project) here."
Top photo: Sarah Farmer, Stacey Mrva, and Shelley Stein, Le Roy's representative on the Genesee County Legislature.
Photos by Howard Owens