Two villages became one when state stepped in

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Ginny Hall | February 7, 2014

Did you know that the village of Lyons was once two communities?  Lyonsdale was situated on the south side near the water supply for the mill. Lyons Station was to the north by the railroad tracks. These communities were located in the Town of Hudson.

On January 23, 1844 the state legislature changed the township name to Lyons. This was to avoid confusion with the similarly named community in northwestern Wisconsin. Lyons was platted by Z. B. Burk and Mrs. Peter Campbell.

Thomas K. Hudson, for whom the township was originally named, was born in Utica, New York. He and his wife, Benjamina Valentine left Westchester, N. Y. and came to Section 10 in 1846. He died in 1891.

The first settler was Allen Perkins who came to the county in 1836 and lived in both Delavan and Spring Prairie before coming to Lyons in 1837 to pitch his tent. The Lyon brothers, Thomas and Fletcher, came from New York soon after and settled in Section 10.  In 1840 they built a sawmill. In 1846 they built a gristmill.

Thomas Lyon was a Revolutionary veteran. British Tories confiscated his father's home in New York and they fled to Connecticut. His father became a captain in a New York regiment, later was captured and died as a British prisoner. Thomas signed up as an Army ranger and was in many skirmishes before the war ended. In 1840, he came to Wisconsin to join his sons who were already settled. He lived in Lyons only ten years before his death. He gave the town one acre of land for a cemetery in which he was buried. 

The first child born in the township was Wendall Lyon, son of Fletcher, in 1840. Thomas' grandson, William Penn Lyon started out as a lawyer and Justice of the Peace in Lyons in 1846. After a few years of practice in Walworth County he moved to Racine where he was district attorney for three years. He served two terms in the state assembly, serving as speaker in both terms. 

W. P. Lyon enlisted at the onset of the Civil War. Although he had no military training he became a captain, serving in the Eight Wisconsin Infantry. This was the unit that had “Old Abe” as their mascot. He gained the rank of Brigadier General. While he was still serving in the Civil War he was elected as a circuit judge. In 1871 he was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In 1892 he became Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He retired from this court in 1894. He, also, taught law classes at UW-Madison from 1871 until 1873. He moved to California and died in 1913.

In 1843 the Post Office was established at Lyonsdale. Thomas Lyon, Jr. was the first Post Master. He was not liked by the people and they sent a petition for his removal. The first batch of mail received by the Post Master contained an order for his removal. Dr. John Stacy, a physician, was appointed in his place. Dr. Stacy was the community's first doctor; he came in 1839. The office was then moved to Lyons Station.

Joshua Applebee opened the first store in the village of Lyonsdale in 1844. The first tavern, built by Benjamin Goodwin, was located near the Lyon mill/dam and was operated by Geo. P. Smith in 1843; it burned in 1852. Soon another tavern was opened by Mr. Richardson at Lyons Station after the railroad came through the area.  In 1856 there was a "general stampede" from Lyonsdale to Lyons Station because of the Western Union Railroad.  Soon the name, Lyons, was adopted.

Peter Strassen built a hotel in Lyons Station in 1860; it was originally called the Lyons Hotel. It had up to fourteen rooms. In the early day it was a popular stopping place for cattle dealers, who came to the area by railroad. Over the years this location has served as a bus station, a place to pay electric bills, and a dry cleaning pick-up place. 

Some of the other owners of this hotel include Herschel Rogers, Dell Stroupe, Peter May, Benjamin Hollencamp, Henry Hallen and Henry, Benjamin and William Hofner. It stopped being a hotel in 1969 when the current owner, Joe Schaefer, bought the establishment.  It is now a restaurant/bar. The hotel used to have a 10 or 12-hole privy in the back.

By 1856, Lyons was a thriving community, thanks to the Western Union Railroad with 300 people, a two story hotel (26 x 76 feet), one grist and feed mill with the capacity of 50 barrels of flour and 250 bushels of feed per day, two warehouses which were a part of the mill, and a cheese factory which made up to 300 pounds of cheese per day. 

Other businesses included a wagon shop, a farm implement depot, three blacksmith shops, two general stores, two hardware stores, two shoe shops, two harness shops, a meat market. The community had three churches, a doctor, one district school with two teachers and the Post Office.  The last train came to this village in 1982.

On April 28, 1845, William and Catherine Lyon gave a parcel known as the School House lot ... 4 rods wide by 8 rods in length. Ames Pierce was the teacher in 1890-91 with 32 students. Arbor Day, 1899 was a gala day. School districts in the township paid tribute to William Penn Lyon, Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, who spoke at that ceremony and told of his early days in the village. 

The first Catholics arrived in the area in 1850. In 1867 St. Joseph's church was organized by Rev. Benedict J. Smedding, who was then serving St. Francis de Sales Church in Lake Geneva. Twenty two people began that first congregation. The first church for the twelve families began in 1870 as a frame structure, 32 by 48 feet at a cost of $1,700.  A lean-to parsonage, 10 by 24 feet, was built next door. 

St. Joseph's School was built on Lot 3 in 1888 at a cost of $700.  The first classes were held in 1888/89 with 23 students. This was the only Catholic school in the county for 60 years. Prior to this, the children attended public school or an occasional private school. One such was located south of the village - "Die Deutsche Schule" taught the rudiments of "Readin', Ritin' and Rithmetic'”.

In 1877 Lyons Hall was built under sponsorship of stockholders who paid $25 per share.  The hall was used for meetings and gatherings of various kinds, providing "...always that no gambling with any device or implement shall ever be allowed in said Hall or in any shed or other building, or structure pertaining to the same; nor shall any meeting ever be held in said hall, the teaching or tendency of which would be in any way immoral." The construction of the hall was a community effort with a variety of people donating supplies and manpower.

In the late 1800's people would drive for miles around to attend dances.  The hall has a "spring floor" which would bounce as much as three inches during dances. When the hall was remodeled in 1987-88, the floor was nailed down so you can no longer experience that bouncing effect. 

The Lyons United Methodist Church dates back to 1837 when the Aztalan Mission circuit conducted occasional services. The first regular church services at the home of William Fletcher Lyon were held in 1839. 

In the early 1880's a group of German Lutherans decided to form a church.  At first services were held in the homes of members. Later, they were held in the White River School House, located 2-1/2 miles southwest of Lyons. Eventually the group decided to build a church which was completed in fall, 1882 when it was dedicated. All services at St. Paul's Lutheran Church were held in German until 1916. 

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