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Old Lisle Village Hall: A Small Town Election Goes Down In History

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Blink and you'll miss it. No historic marker, no plaque... What looks like a 2-door garage in Lisle isn't something that would compel you to stop on your way down Main Street. That "garage" was once the Lisle Village Hall, and it has a claim to fame as the place where the first women voted in New York State.

“It’s a well kept secret, I don’t think anyone really knows that this played such a big role in the women’s suffrage movement," says historian Roger Luther.

Even the current owners, the Call family, had no idea about the rich history of the building they bought as an investment property back in 2014. 

"My band used to have band practice upstairs," says Corey Call, "I had no idea at all."

Until this May, when they got a call from the village historian, who told them the story.

It all started with Orlando Burtis. He owned "The Dudley," a local hotel that used to stand just down the street from Village Hall. Burtis wanted to open a bar, but Lisle was a dry town.

He wanted to be able to serve liquor.

— Roger Luther, Historian

Burtis petitioned the powers at be to arrange a special election, scheduled for January 5th, 1918. The residents would decide whether or not liquor could be served in their town. What he hadn't counted on was New York State giving women the right to vote just two months before that special election... And boy did they turn out to exercise their rights.

“They came in wagons and there’s even a picture of a whole bunch of them on a sleigh," says Luther.

It was a cold, snowy day. The women bundled up in their coats and furs and showed up at Village Hall to start lining up at 6am. When the doors opened, it was a woman named Florence Chauncey who was the first to step over the threshold and place her vote into the ballot box. This didn't sit well with the other ladies in line.

“She was the wife of the pastor of the Methodist Church," says Luther.

The preacher's wife was no activist, but wanted to keep Lisle dry. The mayor's wife, R.H. Edwards, was a big time suffragist and was not at all happy that Florence Chauncey got to cast that historic first vote.

"She was a little upset that Florence was the one to get the credit for being the first to vote," says Luther.

Rumor has it, there were words exchanged.

So there was a long standing feud going for a while.

— Roger Luther, Historian

By the next day, the Mayor's wife was mad at the preacher's wife, the preacher's wife was mad at the hotel owner, and the hotel owner was really ticked off at all the suffragists.

“He said ‘I challenge the vote of every woman in this election,'" says Luther.

He was unsuccessful in that challenge and he didn't get his liquor license. When the votes came in, the overwhelming majority had voted in favor of keeping Lisle dry. The totals: 335 for dry, 94 for wet. It was a victory for the Ladies of Lisle, but not for those 94 voters. Orlando Burtis sure could have used a drink, but he would have to travel out of town for that.

A lot has changed since those Ladies of Lisle cast their votes. The Call family uses Old Village Hall for storage and right across the street... is a bar.