It’s been 25 years since a small group of Lyons residents agreed to dedicate themselves to preserving the history of the Fulton County village. Now plans are afoot to commemorate their accomplishments.
On Sept. 10, the Lyons Area Historical Society will hold a public Anniversary Celebration from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Lyons Community Park. The festivities will include free hot dogs, Sloppy Joes, and lemonade, a classic car show, a kids zone, craft vendors, and a flea market. The village fire department will offer demonstrations and free blood pressure testing.
Assortments of rock, bluegrass, oldies, and Christian music will flow throughout the event. Featured performers include: Gene Zenz, 11 a.m.-noon; Hand Hewn, noon-1 p.m.; The Galbraith Clan, 1-2 p.m.; and Tony and Brad Long, 2-3 p.m.
Everyone is invited to attend, said Mary Cooan, the organization’s president. The historical society hopes attendance will rival that of Hometown History Days in 1991, which drew an estimated 1,000 people. The event included an auction, music, and an open house of historical displays.
The upcoming Anniversary Celebration is long in coming, a way to share the village’s heritage, Cooan said.
“It’s nice to know what happened in town, what was there before, and who ran it. These small towns were thriving at one time. It was exciting,” she said.
The Lyons Area Historical Society was the brainchild of Phyllis Bockert. She was new in the village in 1991, and was already a member of its Literary League when she became impelled to learn the local history.
As a result, the literary society held Hometown History Days. “Then we got more people interested and involved,” Bockert said.
She subsequently enlisted the aid of her husband Bill and residents Fred and Mildred McCance, Gaylord and Joan Hochstetler, Tom Kennedy, and Don Kahle to found the historical society. The group met once a month at the Lyons Fire Department.
Jim Mann became the first president. The non-profit’s first order of business was to copy old photographs of village life and display them in local businesses.
Five years later, the historical society purchased a 1948 Ford, which was restored by a member and raffled off in October after several months of ticket purchases. The classic car raffle became an annual event for the next six years.
Proceeds from the raffle and other fundraisers, $20,000 in private donations, and $40,000 in state funds over 10 years were used to restore the village’s old Toledo and Western Railroad depot building at 136 W. Morenci St. and build an addition. The roof of the 1903 building had been damaged by a falling grain bin during a storm, and the building was earmarked for demolition. It was donated by owner Fred Duncan in 1992.
The grand opening of the Lyons and Area Historical Society Museum was held May 14, 2003.
The organization still meets monthly, and has affiliated with the Fulton County Historical Society. There are presently about 100 members, about 30 of them active. Much of their time is devoted to preserving historical records and photographs regarding Lyons citizens and businesses to computer software, and to presentations by speakers.
“We have tons of stuff about people, not just the prominent (citizens),” Cooan said.
Displays at the museum include class photos from Lyons High School, Native American relics recovered from the area, and village memorabilia including an antique radio with a wooden cabinet, a wood stove, and an early 20th Century wooden chest from the Lyons Post Office.
Citizens’ records offer a look at the village’s Civil War veterans, including James H. Baxter, the war’s first village casualty and namesake of the local VFW post. He died July 18, 1863, during the Battle of the Second Assault at Fort Wagner, S.C. Also included is Frederick A. Slater, who played the fife, a small type of flute, in his regiment.
Another project involved presenting local businesses with framed histories of their buildings.
“Our goal is to keep the history and not let it get lost,” Cooan said.
The historical society has welcomed visitors from as far as New York, California, and Florida who have a local connection.
“They’re thrilled to see photos of their grandparents and great-grandparents. It’s always, fun, because you get to visit with them and find out what’s going on in their lives,” Cooan said.
The museum is open by appointment only, but requests are frequent, she said. Annual fundraisers continue, and each Christmas the historical society hosts an appearance by Santa Claus for village families.
Member Mildred McCance said the Lyons Area Historical Society is always looking for new members.
“We still have a lot of work to do. If we don’t preserve the history of the town, then it’s gone,” she said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.