Story of Indiana town founded by freed slaves to be part of new Smithsonian museum

September 2, 2011

The Associated Press

(AP/Michael Conroy)
The old Lyles Consolidated School in Lyles Station, Ind. in 2000.

A southwestern Indiana community that was founded by freed slaves in the 1840s expects its annual Labor Day weekend events will be busier than usual as word spreads that its story will be included in the Smithsonian Institution's new African-American history museum.

Some 1,500 people typically visit Lyles Station in Gibson County over the weekend for festival activities, tours of the community's old schoolhouse and family reunions.

Stanley Madison, chairman of Lyles Station's New Beginnings Celebration, said last month's announcement that artifacts from the community's early days will be part of the new museum in Washington has generated extra interest.

"I've just got tons of phone calls and emails," Madison told the Evansville Courier & Press.

Lyles Station, located along a rail line about 30 miles north of Evansville, reached its peak in the late 1800s with about 800 residents, a post office, a railroad station, an elementary school, two churches, two general stores and a lumber mill. The area started to decline following a major flood in 1913, and today only a handful of buildings remain.

The community's school underwent a $1 million renovation about a decade ago to transform it into a museum chronicling the town's history with numerous photos, books, tools and mementoes.

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is set to open in 2015 on the National Mall in Washington.

Museum curator Paul Gardullo said he is interested in telling the stories of black pioneers through one of its exhibitions.

"What I really see as a tremendous possibility is the window that this community provides into the unknown story of African-American pioneers," he said. "What you find when you get there and learn about it is the story of persistence and resilience and staying power."

Madison said he anticipates the Smithsonian exhibit will help drive interest in Lyles Station for years to come.

"We've got a lot of good plans for our future," he said.