Lyles Station is an indigenous community west of Princeton, Indiana. It is the last remaining historic African-American settlement in Indiana.
It was one place freed Blacks or enslaved people of African descent in the early 1800s ran to and had no cause to look over their shoulders, according to the Historical Marker Database.
The foundations of Lyles Station were laid in the 1870s when a free Black man by the name of Joshua Lyles gave out six acres of land to the old airline railroad to construct a rail station in what was christened Switch Settlement.
It was officially named Lyles Station in 1886 in recognition of Lyles and his generous efforts that led to the creation of the settlement. It was one of the thriving Black settlements in the 19th and 20th centuries which became home to approximately 800 inhabitants.
Aside from Lyles’ generosity, there is more to how the land for the settlement was acquired. In 1813, one Charles Grier bought 20 acres of farmland. By 1825, he had purchased more of the lands hitting 268 acres.
According to Courier & Press, he began advocacy to get other settlers to join him in the then-small community because the land was fertile. It laid between two rivers and enabled bumpy harvests.
Grier in the years to come met Thomas Cole, who subsequently married into the Lyles family. Cole bought 800 acres of the land there and named it Switch Settlement, a refuge for fugitive slaves who needed protection and sustenance.
After the Civil War, Lyles bought more land and also urged his friends and family who had been freed to come so that they would start afresh at the Indiana settlement. The Lyles by the mid-1880s had purchased more than 1,000 acres of land.
By 1887, the community members had built the Wayman Chapel AME church, 55 households, a public school, two general stores, a post office, a lumber mill and a railroad station. These strides were almost wiped out by a devastating flood that destroyed almost everything they had built. The Lyles Consolidated School was then opened to the public in 1919. It remained an integrated school until 1922 before becoming an all-black school and later integrated once again in 1950. The school was shut down in 1958 and reopened as a museum in 2003.
What is left of Lyles Station today is a handful of homes which serves as a reminder of its glory days. The population residing there are descendants of the indigenous Black settlers. The Wayman Chapel A.M.E. Church, a grain elevator and the schoolhouse are surviving to symbolize the sophistication of Lyles Station, Indiana.
What didn’t die in the floods are the spirit of independence and resilience which live in the heart and minds of the descendants who have since 2002 worked to restore some of the structures.