Although the names of most of the places settled by African-American pioneers in the nineteenth century have disappeared from current-day maps of Indiana, one remains. Lyles Station in Gibson County not only still appears on the map, but serves as a living memorial to its settlement roots.
In 1849, freed slaves Joshua and Sanford Lyles traveled up the river from Tennessee to this spot, four and a half miles west of Princeton, Indiana. The brothers purchased and reclaimed bottomland near the convergence of the Wabash, White and Patoka rivers. Their venture was such a success that after the Civil War they invited family members from Tennessee to join them. On a farm eventually comprising1200 acres, they cultivated corn, melons, timber and hay, easily dispatched to market after the establishment of a railway station in the town in 1870.
The first black postmaster north of the Mason-Dixon line reported to work in the town’s own post office in 1886. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Lyles Station boasted 800 residents, who occupied 55 homes, attended two churches and an elementary school, patronized two general stores and labored at a lumber mill. The settlement’s proximity to three rivers accounted for the bounty of its harvests, but also ultimately spelled its decline–a flood in 1913 left most of the town under water. As floodwaters were drained, so were the town’s young people, who left for the increasing opportunities for employment and education that existed in the state’s bigger cities.
Though the railroad stopped offering passenger service from Lyles Station in the 1950s, it’s not just a historical site. A number of families, half of whom are descended from the original settlers, still inhabit the town. Some of the original homes remain, as does the Wayman Chapel, African Methodist Episcopal Church, a grain elevator, and the schoolhouse. The Lyles Consolidated School, which dates to 1919, was restored and reopened in 2003 as a Heritage School, where visitors may experience a day in the life of African-American school children a century ago.