It is evident that the Black River Canal played a major role in the economy of Lyons Falls in the late 1800s, but it is unclear to people today as to how great an impact this truly was. This influence is exemplified by a one Watson Shaw and his general store in 1895.
Watson Shaw was the son of Abraham and Mary Reid Cook Shaw. He was born in Lowville and came to Lyons Falls when he was young. He never left. In 1891, he married Florence Higby Jones and they lived together until Mrs. Shaw’s death in 1935. He died in 1943 after a long battle with an illness.
Mr. Shaw opened Shaw’s general store when the Black River Canal was booming. The original store was located on lower McAlpine St, right on the bank of the Canal. The purpose of the store was to manage the lively canal trade. There were four stories at the back of the store, reaching down to the canal and specially designed to lift goods from the boats to the store. In 1895, a new store was built on Center St to accommodate the switch in business from the Black River Canal to the Black River Railroad and the new local business, Gould Paper Co.
The new building contained two floors for the retail business and basements for storage. The store contained groceries, drugs, medicines, boots, shoes, crockery, clothing, and furniture. Plus, Shaw was a wholesaler, meaning he sent boatloads of goods, such as potatoes, on the canal to New York City. He was the leading merchant in Lyons Falls for 54 years, until he was forced into retirement as a result of a broken hip.
In 1940, the Village bought the building. The ground floor soon became the Lyons Falls Free Library while a bowling alley was put in the basement. The front of the ground floor became the fire house. The second floor became the center for the village board, club rooms for the Vigilant Hose Co., American Legion, and the Auxiliary and Women’s Club. The building was torn down to accommodate the expansion of the paper mill in 1981, but people still remember Shaw’s general store.