Mystery Place: Lyons school named for original property owner

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Ginny Hall | August 15, 2014

Lyons Central School is located on the south side of the community of Lyons. On April 28, 1845, William and Catherine Lyon donated a parcel known as the School House lot for a school.

The next schoolhouse was built in 1868.  It was larger than the first building, boasting 108 square feet of blackboard. It is interesting going through the old school records. Questions about the size and type of blackboard were standard questions. In some cases it was painted board, in others it was cardboard. Only a few answered slate in the early days.  

At the Lyons Central School, Ames Pierce was the teacher in 1890-91 with 32 students.  
Arbor Day 1899 was a gala day.  School districts in the township paid tribute to William Penn Lyon, chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court who spoke at that ceremony and told of his early days in the village.  

The Lyon brothers, Thomas and Fletcher, came from New York and soon settled in Lyons in 1840. There they built a sawmill and then a gristmill in 1846.

Thomas Lyon was a Revolutionary veteran. He lived in Lyons only 10 years before his death. He gave the town one acre of land for a cemetery in which he was buried.  

Thomas' grandson, William Penn Lyon, started out as a lawyer and justice of the peace in Lyons in 1846. After a few years of practice in Walworth County, he moved to Racine, where he was district attorney for three years. He served two terms in the state Assembly, serving as speaker in both terms. He enlisted at the onset of the Civil War.  

Although he had no military training he became a captain, serving in the Eighth Wisconsin Infantry. An eagle named Old Abe was their mascot.

Lyon gained the rank of brigadier general. While he was still serving in the Civil War he was elected as a circuit judge. He also taught law classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1871 until 1873. In 1871 he was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, becoming chief justice in 1892. He retired from the court two years later, moved to California and died there in 1913.

Most of the time, the school had two  teachers. In 1909, Rose McCrossin received a salary of $50 a month; her assistant V. Montgomery received $40 a month.  

They had 42 students ages 4 through 15. In those days the students needed to pass a standardized test in order to receive their diploma. A 1939 newspaper article refers to the Lyons State Graded School.  

New land was purchased in 1960 and construction began on the current building.  The three rooms plus gymnasium were finished in spring 1961. In 1966 it became a part of the Burlington School District. For some years, kindergarten through fourth grade was taught here. Then all children were bused into Burlington. After extensive renovation in 1998, the building once again is used as a school.
Ginny Hall, a historian from Delavan, is author of the “Walking around ...” and “Meandering ... ” books, which highlight the history of Walworth County communities.

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