By: Abbie L. Baumann and Diana L. DeBoer
Lyle is recorded as one of the oldest towns in Mower County. First permanent settlement in Lyle which, was then yet unnamed was made in May, 1854, by Orlando Wilder, Eben Merry, John Tift, Wm. Bean, James Foster and his son, Return Foster. Wilder was a native of Vermont. Coming with him were Wm. Bean, step father of his wife, also his brother, Jackson Wilder, and Lewis West. They drove ten yoke of oxen and brought a small amount of household goods, arriving May 6, 1854. They immediately made a claim in section 33 and constructed a bark covered log house.
Bean also took a claim in section 33. Others of the party fenced 65 acres of land across the line in Iowa and planted corn, potatoes, and garden vegetables. In the fall of 1854, Wilder went to McGregor, a distance of 120 miles to meet his wife, who returned with him. He had replaced his original house with a frame house where they were still living in 1894. Most of the settlers who came in 1855 and 1856 stayed only a short time.
Lyle received its name from Robert Lyle, a native of Ohio, who had accompanied Wm. Pace to Mower County in November 1856. Lyle was a judge of probate and was a representative from this district to the state legislature. He later moved to Missouri in 1868. Lyle's early settlers related that until the spring of 1870 the ground which is now the town of Lyle was part of an extensive prairie extending to the limit of sight on either side except for the fringe of timber along the Cedar River on the west and the noted Six Mile Grove to the east, (which was named thus as the timber stretched for six miles long).
Here no labor's spade or farmer's plow had overturned the sod of rich soil to the light of the warming sun. All was vast, vacant and still. The village of Lyle was originally comprised of 40 acres in Section 36 of Lyle Township. It was platted on June 18, 1870, by Selah Chamberlain, D.C. Sheppard and Charles McIlllrath and was incorporated March 9, 1875. The plat was filed November 10, 870, with the county register of deeds. First officers of the village were: L.W. Sherman, Mayor and Justice of the Peace; John Trodler, O.H. Lucken and J.H. McLaughlin, Councilmen; T. Irgens, Treasurer; John Tasherud, Recorder; F. Knudson, Constable; P. McLaughlin, Assessor. The first village council meeting was held May 17, 1875, when it was decided to hold regular meetings the first Monday of each month.
The first order was drawn for $11.25 to H. Wiseman for painting the village lock-up.
Today, those original minutes and treasurer books may be viewed at City Hall. The council today consists of a mayor, four council members and a city clerk/treasurer. Council meeting are held on the second Wednesday of each month, which was just recently changed two years ago from the original first Monday of the month.
The first house in the village was built by Thomas Irgens in 1870. He opened the first general merchandise store on the ground floor and was also commissioned as the first postmaster. Later that year two more stores were opened, one by George Anderson and John Myhre and the other C.H. Cole. Anderson and Myhre sold groceries and liquors and sold out a year later to Albert Thompson and John Gunderson. The firm later became the first hardware store. Bassett, Huntting & Co. of McGregor built the first grain warehouse in 1870 and their agent Wm. Colton, became the first grain buyer.
A third warehouse was built in 1874. First elevator was built in 1874 by an association of farmers and H.C. Trowbridge conducted the business. The town at once became prominent as a market place after the arrival of the railroad and an elevator to market grain. Wm. Colton had the first lumber and coal trade in 1870. M. O'Brien and T.S. Kilgore were the first blacksmiths. John Reinsmidt took over in 1894 where he had a wagon shop, did general repairing as well as shoeing. Soon more businesses began springing up. First hotel was conducted by Mr. & Mrs. John Trodler; Peter Johnson, the first shoemaker; Peter Hanson, first harness maker; first drug store operated by Wm. & Scarf, who also dispensed "spirituous, vinous and malt liquors"; Wold and Olson, pioneers in the furniture and upholstery business; first watch and jewelry shop was operated by Andrew B. Johnson; John Hadler and Philip Schodron were the first butchers and operated a meat market.
Business continued to progress, and in the early 1900's business places listed then were: 1 dentist, 3 doctors, a bowling alley, 2 pool halls, 2 barber shops, 2 cream stations, 2 restaurants, 1 garage, 2 livery stables, 2 hotels, 2 butcher shops, 1 newspaper, 1 corn canning factory, 1 bank, 1 harness shop, 1 tailor shop, 1 photo gallery, 1 hardware store, 1 shoe store, 2 millinery shops, 1 furniture store, 4 general stores, 3 blacksmiths, 1 feed mills, 1 tow mill, a creamery, culvert factory, overall and glove factory, broom factory, 1 woodworking (door and sash) shop, 3 stockyards and 4 elevators.
The old creamery is still standing today and is owned by Bob Fisher where he works on autos. There were 34 trains a day with 14 of those passenger trains. Railroads came to Lyle the same year it was platted. The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Co. built a cut-off between Austin & Mason City. O.N. Darling was the first station agent. The Chicago Great Western Railway started in Lyle when construction of the branch line from Lyle to Manly Jct., Iowa was completed on November 28, 1885. A line from Hayfield, MN to Dubuque, Iowa was later completed on December 1, 1886. The Great Western Depot in Lyle had a hotel in connection with the depot, and during the holiday seasons as many as one hundred persons a day passed and checked through the depot. This building was destroyed in the big fire of 1891 and later rebuilt.
The railroads really had a monopoly on transportation. Three railroads made it possible for better connections for the traveling public, especially the salesman who often carried as many as 15 to 20 sample trunks. As a result of this travel the livery stables did a good business hauling salesmen and their baggage to outlying points such as Rose Creek, Adams, McIntire, Stacyville and Northwood. With no parcel post at this early date the express companies also had a monopoly on that part of transportation. Postal service was limited to mostly first-class mail, newspapers, magazines, etc. The Illinois Central railroad line from Waterloo, ran one passenger and one freight each 24-hour day. Their passenger train would arrive at 1 p.m., turn the engine at the Round House turn-table, then head back to Waterloo, but first shopping at the Milwaukee station where they would load passengers, mail, express and baggage for the return trip. As, Iowa was a dry state, vast amounts of beer in kegs and whiskey jugs were moved by express.
When the mail route was established from Osage to Austin, mail was left at Orlando Wilder's for distribution in the neighborhood. This was not a regular post office, but the arrangement was a great convenience to the hard working pioneers. The government has been represented in Lyle by a regular appointed postmaster almost since the town was a organized. In 1856 an office was established with W. Means as Postmaster. It was on the route from Osage to Owatonna and mail was received once a week, but later discontinued.
Then in 1885 the records list Thomas Irgens as Postmaster in his general store. The first regular post office dates back to 1889 when O.G. Myhre succeeded Mr. Collins and served for three years. The post office was then located on the property that is now the Parish House of Our Saviors Lutheran Church. Later it was moved to several locations on Grove Street, and then to three different places on Main Street. In September 1965 it was moved back to Grove Street, where it remains today with Barb Kasel as the Postmaster. The first mail carrier was John Carter on route 1 who retired in 1927.
Mode of transportation by the rural carriers in the early days was by horses and sometimes by foot, later snowmobiles and the modern auto. On October 1, 1937 a mail pouch containing first class mail was stolen from the Great Western depot and stirred up some excitement in Lyle. Art Fortun discovered and missing mail pouch when he arrived before 6 a.m. to carry the mail from the depot to the post office. The missing mail had remained a mystery until January 1938 when Ed Gould and Art Dockstader were out fox hunting and came upon the pouch near the old Otranto schoolhouse, along the highway fence. It was folded and tucked down in some brush and was quite well protected.
Mail still in the pouch was delivered. Old age pension checks were not opened or destroyed by the robbers. Only 30 to 40 percent of the missing mail was recovered. It was believed that a hobo was responsible. The village park was founded in 1881 when the village purchased five acres of land and planted hundred of trees. In the southwest corner , a village office 20 by 24 feet and 12 feet high was constructed the first year. The park also had a picturesque fountain near the bandstand. The base of the fountain is still in the park and is now used for a summer flower bed. Benches and tables were scattered in the shade of the trees for picnics. Several band shells have been erected in the park, but the last one was dedicated in July, 1951.
During the summer, there was much entertainment to the folks of Lyle, various tent shows visited the town such as Uncle Tom's Cabin, Indian Shows, Dog and Pony Shows and Magic Lantern. The annual Fourth of July celebration, was also held in the park and is still one of the largest celebrations in a small town to this day. The city water tower was erected in the south west corner of the park in the 1890's. Digging of the ditches for the water mains was all done by hand and the laboring men were paid by the rod and the ditches were 6 to 7 feet deep. The rate of pay was $1.75 per rod. Some of the workers dug a rod a day. The original tower consisted of a wooden tank bowl.. Some years later, around 1897 it was replaced with a 55,000 gallon steel tank bowl. This is the same water tower that you see when you arrive in town.
This past summer a new 100,000 gallon pedestal water tower was constructed just north of the current structure. Unfortunately, in the spring of 2001, Lyle will lose one of its original landmark structures. In 1906 an $8,000 City Hall was constructed. It was a two-story brick building 40 by 80 feet. The ground floor housed the volunteer fire department apparatus, the council chambers, where elections, debates, and meetings of all kinds were held, the marshall's room and the city jail. The second floor was a large hall with a seating capacity of 500. Under the management of the fire department, it was the scene of many amusements and entertainment. After many years of service, the upper story was condemned by the fire department and removed. The first floor was used for City Hall and the fire department.
In the early 1980's the building was condemned and a new fire hall was built across the street next to City Hall, which was in the past a doctors office. The first newspaper in Lyle was the Lyle Tribune, established in 1893 by Elmer Wilson, editor. Several attempts had been made prior to that time, but were of short duration. It was published by John Gould & Co. from 1896 to 1902. December 1, 1902, Wm. Nordland purchased the building and he and his wife supplied the community with Lyle News in the Lyle Tribune for 49 years, until his health failed and he retired in 1951. He sold his equipment to the Austin Daily Herald. In the early days of the paper business an old Washington Hand Press was used and a fonts of type was the equipment until 1907 when a cylinder press and a gasoline engine were installed.
Lyle Telephone Co. was incorporated March 27, 1902, for $20,000 for 30 years. It was located upstairs over the First National Bank on the corner of Grove Street. The first telephone operator was Sadie Bisbee. Mrytle Fortum operated the switchboard from 1919 to 1956, moving with the office when it moved across the street in 1920 to become its chief operator. In 1956 the company converted to the dial system. The office was closed and the building was one of those destroyed in the fire later in 1956. Lyle's first light plant was built and franchised in 1903 and serviced a population of 500. In 1910 the old carbon arc street lights were replaced by 300 watt Mazda tungsten light bulbs.
Lyle was the first community in the area to have electric street lights. Lyle staged a Harvest Festival on August 20 and 21 to celebrate the installation and the whole town was lit up from one end to the other. The plant was located across the street from the water tower and was known as the Lyle Electric and Heating Co. Their original plans were to furnish heat, with exhaust steam to the business places as well as lights, but that never materialized. Lights were furnished in those days only on a limited basis from sunset to midnight and from 5 a.m. to daylight except on special occasions. Warning signals of three blinks were given to enable people to get home before the lights went out.
The first schoolhouse in the village of Lyle was constructed in 1873. A 16 by 26 foot school was constructed on lots 11 and 12 in block 4 and presented to the school board by the proprietor of the town plot. It was seated in the old fashioned way. The desks extended around three sides and were attached to the walls, with benches for seats. S. Anna McCune of Austin was the first teacher. The district was made independent a year or two later. In the year 1877 a large two room building was erected and about 1896 a room addition was constructed. School continued here until 1906 when what is part of the present public school was erected for $15,000. After that the old school was used for a factory (Lyle Corrugated Culvert Co.)
In 1957 the school was remodeled and enlarged in a $530,000 building project, about the time of school reorganizations and redistricting, as many country schools were closed and children were transported by bus to school in Lyle as they are at present. Organized sports dated back to 1897 when Lyle had a baseball team, and on through the years numerous teams were formed to supply about the only entertainment in those early days. Later basketball became a new sport with the men as well as the women. The women in 1906 had three teams and were known as the :Bloomer Girls". The younger girls were the "Chicks", the middle group the "Pullets" and the married group the "Hens". In the early 1940's Lyle claimed to be the Croquet Capitol of Minnesota, boasting the finest croquet court in the state. There was hardly a resident that was not a exponent of the age old sport.
First Religious Services in Lyle
From 1853 and on, many Norwegians came from Norway to the Six Mile Grove forest. Six Mile Grove congregation was permanently organized November 19, 1859, one of the first Scandinavian congregations in Mower County. The first business meeting was held under the "Big Elm Tree" on what is now the Delos Frank farm. Services continued there and at other homes until a church was built in 1867 and completed the following spring. It was dedicated in 1868 by the Rev. Johan Olson. Six Mile Grove is presently still holding worship services, with a addition being added to the front and a dining room added to the rear in the late 1950's.
First religious services in Lyle were held in the waiting room of the Milwaukee Depot, conducted by the Rev. Wm. Lowry, a Presbyterian minister. No other services in English were maintained until the Rev. J.S. Rounce of Rose Creek held semi-weekly meetings in the schoolhouse. These resulted in the first church society the Congregational in April, 1886 and erection of the first church building that same year. A parsonage was built in 1896. Another early congregation was the Gospel Mission later named the Bethel Alliance church. It was bought from the Methodist congregation in 1905 by Halvor Volstad and grandson, Knut Volstad who served as elder and Acting Pastor. The third congregation and church in Lyle, Our Saviors Lutheran was built in 1911. First pastor was the Rev. Esser who also served the Mona and Six Mile Grove Lutheran churches. The newest church and congregation in Lyle is the Queen of Peace Catholic congregation, started in 1946 by Msgr. D.A. Cunningham. It was located on Grove Street, but presently it located on the corner of 3rd Street and Elm Street.
Severe Disaster in Lyle
One of the early disasters was the "Great Blizzard" which struck January 7 through January 10, 1873. It swept over the whole northwest with great violence and severity, causing much suffering and damage to the surprised and unprepared town. All roads and railroads were blockaded and business was suspended for weeks to follow. The wheat crop failures also brought disasters. In 1877, the beginnings of abundance and prosperity, wheat crops were an unrivaled crop and the continuance of these conditions stimulated many into extravagance and debt. But the year of plenty was followed by an almost total wheat crop failure, compelling a radical change in the methods of farming, with a resulting depression of business until the readjustment was effected.
The big tragedy that struck the entire town of Lyle was on May 2, 1891 when fire swept the town and in only a few hours left the greater portion of it in ashes and destroyed most of the early records. The entire block on the east side of Main Street was destroyed and flames leaped across the street and destroyed the grain elevator as well, which was on the present site of Northern Country Co-op. Lyle had no fire department and no fire hoses, only a volunteer bucket brigade. The Austin Hose Co. raced their horses the twelve miles to join the bucket brigade. In the early 1900's the west one-half block of Grove Street was destroyed by fire and again in 1956 when the east half of the same block was destroyed.
In August, 1961, another fire destroyed several business on the west side of the block. This prompted the village to form a fire department. On October 21, 1895, the Lyle Volunteer Fire Department was organized, with 1,000 ft. of hose, hook and ladder, and two hose carts. In 1911 there were 21 members. Today they have three fire trucks, an additional one is used for stand by and there are 20 active members. According to the Lyle City Council proceedings in 1897, there was a cyclone recorded on June 10, 1897. Personal accounts reveal that two clouds came together about a mile north of the Iowa line and five miles west of the village, taking a zig-zag course nearly east, blowing down buildings, uprooting trees and demolishing everything in its path, even blowing freight cars from the track and across the fields. It struck the north part of the village destroying the water wheel from the city water tower (located in the city park), which was used to pump water by the wind (the village did not have electricity yet at this time). Many remarkable escapes and stories were passed from generation to generation about families surviving the storm and injuries.
First Automobiles in Lyle and its First and Only Airport
Before the summer of 1907 Lyle had no automobiles, but that year three cars were bought in Lyle, two touring cars and one roadster. The first cars had no tops or windshields and made a great deal of noise. Many times a driver had to stop his auto to let a horse or team go by, as the horses were terrified of this strange contraption going down the road. An early 1929 airstrip was developed at Lyle, the first in Mower County. Kermit Torkelson, 19, was the owner and leased the land west of the water tower for the strip and hangar. Torkelson sold the plane after he had it two years later and entered the U.S. Air Force and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Social and Fraternal Orders
From early days Lyle has had a wealth of social and fraternal organizations. Some of the earliest were the Alma Masonic Lodge No. 131, receiving its charter in 1878 from the Grand Lodge of Minnesota and the Knights of Pythias Lodge received its charter in 1889. The Lyle Temple No. 54 Pythian Sister were instituted March 31, 1916 and when a fire destroyed their building on February 25, 1970, they started meeting in homes. The Women's Christian Temperance Union of Lyle was organized in the fall of 1887 and was still active after 83 years. The Lyle Farm Bureau was organized in 1921 and in 1954 joined with the Nevada Farm Bureau.
The Lyle American Legion Post 335 was given a temporary charter November 6, 1919. There was a depression and it was hard to pay regular dues and the organization was not active. On May 19, 1932, the Lyle American Legion Post 105 was permanently organized. In 1957 a new building was built and in 1970 an addition was constructed to the front to allow space for a hall and club room. The American Legion Auxiliary Unit 105 was organized March 12, 1934, when a joint meeting was held with the Legion members. Both the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary are still a very strong organization in Lyle today and help the community tremendously. .
Lyle has seen many changes in its 130 years. In the early years it was a bustling community with many booming businesses, largely thanks to many railroads that passed through each day. When the railroads slowed and took different routes it became hard for businesses to survive and people moved to the bigger cities to find employment. Population in Lyle in 1911 was 522 and in 1960, 612. A decline shown in census reports showed a steady decline until in the 1990's. Today the population in Lyle is 516 and is once again starting to grow with new homes being constructed. There were 43 businesses, 2 churches and a school in the late 1890's and early 1900's. Today there are 15 businesses, 4 churches and a school. The 2001 Lyle City Council will consist of Mayor Ron Frank, Council Members Steve Baumann, Dorothy DeBoer, Betty Fisher and Harold Rohne. December 31, 2000 will mark the end of 38 years on the Lyle City Council by Louis "Tip" Taylor.
[Stolen from www.lylemn.org/history.html]