Lyles Station, Indiana is one of the last remnants of one of the earliest free African American settlements in the U.S.
Founded by freed Tennessee slave Joshua Lyles, the town’s best years were from 1880 to 1912. At its peak, there was a railroad station, a post office, a lumber mill, two general stores, two churches, an elementary school, and 55 homes in the town. After a catastrophic flood of the White, Wabash, and Patoka rivers in 1912, the town began a slow decline. Its turn-of-the-century population of 800 has dropped to about 50, nearly half descended from original settlers.
Lyles Station got its start sometime around 1840 when a benevolent Tennessee slave-owner freed two brothers named Joshua and Sanford Lyles, gave them money and urged them to seek freedom in a northern state.
They journeyed up the Tennessee River to the Ohio, and finally up theWabash River to where they stopped in far southwestern Indiana, on the border with Illinois.
The brothers walked two miles east of the Wabash and bought a chunk of government land. The brothers cleared their ground and planted crops. Eventually, they accumulated more than 1,200 acres of fertile river bottomlands.
Following the Civil War, Joshua returned to Tennessee and encouraged newly freed slaves to join him in this Indiana Garden of Eden, where cantaloupes and tomatoes grew big and plentiful in the sandy soil.