Lights Out on Lynxville

Lynxville, WI – Takeaway its river banks, its forested bluffs, its three taverns, one motel and not much is left of Lynxville, except for the 174 people who still call the 1.4 square-mile village home. They have their reasons for being there, but I’d venture to guess none would offer up it’s because Lynxville is a remarkable place. It’s perfectly unremarkable. Even Mitchel Caya, who founded the village in 1848, later moved to Seneca, where he lived until dying.

Most of Lynxville, its buildings as well as its people, are old and dying. Its population is shrinking. Its homes are losing value. There are no jobs. There is no one trying to make it a better, more prosperous place. Without a promising future and no meaningful past, Lynxville has an all but certain date with obscurity.

It’s too bad that love isn’t enough to keep dying things alive.

I fell in love with Lynxville as a child. It’s there that my grandfather built a house on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, where he and my grandmother lived in their retirement. After he died in 2002, it was just my grandmother and Sally, a mangey stray she kept fat but never allowed in the house. When Sally died, only grandma was left. She lived there until her health made it dangerous to be alone. In 2008, she returned to Madison, where she lives in an assisted-living home. The house has been on the market since.

Growing up, my sisters and I spent parts of our summers there. There wasn’t much for entertainment or other kids, so we had to amuse ourselves. My sisters splashed around in a washtub they pretended was a pool and I shot things with my pellet gun and slingshot.

Now, no one is there to plant flowers, mow the lawn, pull weeds, plant vegetables, chop wood, can food, feed the birds or sweep away the spider webs. Gone is the tire swing, the hummingbird feeder, the rubber scorpion and tarantula affixed to the metal web in the garage window. Few things remain. The little bird house used by the wrens for laying eggs. The bench I used to sit on while watching the barges on summer afternoons drift lazily down the river. And an air compressor in the garage built from an old air tank, rubber hose and lawnmower engine, evidence left behind of my grandfather’s cool ingenuity.

Many mornings, before dawn, I would wake to a freight train rumbling down the tracks. In the kitchen, my grandfather would already be awake, listening to old country songs on a crackly AM radio as the coffee gurgled to a brew. In winter, the snapping and popping of wood burning in the stove accented this comforting cacophony of scents and sounds further. These scents and sounds still evoke memories of these early moments in so many mornings.

I never have learned the story behind the Three Wise Men displayed above Caya’s Corner. They can be seen from miles away. After a two-hour drive from Madison, seeing these guys was always a relief, because it meant we were minutes away for grandma’s house, where candy and cookies awaited.

Of Lynxville’s three taverns, Withey’s was always the center of civic life. The bartender there not only poured drinks but also functioned as town crier, dispensing news and messages to patrons. My grandfather came here each morning to shake dice, sip brandy and to stay abreast of the local gossip. Sometimes our second stop would be the Falling Rock Tavern, further south. In his later years, he’d nap after making the rounds, which we’d make again just before dinner.

The one major change visited upon Lynxville since I was here last is that Withey’s is now a bar called Hoochies II. The inside has been remodeled, including the bar being moved to the opposite side. The change has altered the character of Lynxville in a less than satisfying way. The new owners have corrupted sacred ground. Surely, my grandfather would have grumbled about it, too.

Walking into town from my grandparent’s house was always an adventure for my sisters and I. After buying candy and chocolate milk from the bait shop, we’d go down to the boat landing and skip rocks in the river and place coins on the railroad tracks to be flattened. Several years ago, my nephew Alex and I, on a snowy afternoon, walked down to the river to place coins on the tracks and wait for a train to flatten them. Once the train passed, we spent a long time looking for the coins in the snow. I later put mine in a shoebox full of keepsakes I gathered for him after my sister died.

Caya’s Corner refers not just to the two corners at the intersection of HWY 35 and Spring Street, but also to Lynxville’s landmark building. When I was young, a pet store did business here, complete with a parrot the proprietor promised could say words that the bird never blurted in our presence. Next door was the post office, which, until it closed, was a stop along my grandfather’s morning rounds. These days, there isn’t much Corner in Caya’s. The building could be a wonderful something were Lynxville a different kind of place. Instead, it is empty, slowly rotting like everything else.

My grandmother and I talk often of Lynxville, about the ways we miss it. She’ll update me on who has died, joking about how, at this rate, she soon won’t have any friends left. She’ll talk about which of her children have been up there recently tending to the property, sharing with me any village gossip they returned with. Though most of her friends there have passed away, my grandmother, who turns 90 in August, misses Lynxville dearly.

In her small apartment in Madison, a bowl of candy still sits on the coffee table. The pictures and wall hangings are the same, as are the furnishings, all artifacts from her house. But there are no hummingbirds fluttering at the feeder, no barges to watch, no bluffs to admire, no stray dog to feed, no trains to disturb the silence of time passing.

It’s like a piece of Lynxville boxed up, an exhibit almost, with all the stillness of a museum and the sadness of a shrine.

One day, this will be gone, too.

25 Comments

  1. Mark Golbach says:

    Thanks.   –Mark

  2. Nathan – that was lovely and very much captured Lynxville. My garden hat is a cap that says Falling Rock Bar and Bait. I love wearing it on the proper west side in Madison.

  3. Vicky Martin says:

    Nathan is it? I’m not sure I’ve ever met you, but I knew your Grandparents well. My husband mows the grass at the house once a week or so for Max, and comments he over your grandfather’s cool ingenuity often! We also have 1 of their old hummingbird feeders in our front window. I bought it at the garage sale so I’d have a little piece of them with me always.  My father was Jim Caya and we moved into my parents home just after your Grandma moved to Madison. My father and Hank were the best of men. We lost 2 characters when we lost the 2 of them! Memories help me with the losses I’ve experienced, and it sounds as if yours will serve you well. I prefer to think of Lynxville as a sleepy little fishing village stuck in a time warp. Many of the old ways are long over due to be swept out with the cobwebs. I believe that as the older generation passes and mine begins to take over things will change. The ratio of younger families to retired people is starting to change. It’s nice to see the play ground at the Community Center busy with children again. I would like to see Lynxville become the quaint and charming little historical site it should be. Unfortunately you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the biggest eye sore in the village. They’ve taken a 100 yr old business and turned it into a joke, a bar you used to be able to take your children to is now a watering hole with NO personality, a boat landing and camp ground that was once pristine is now a weed infested addition to the swamp and a hotel you could get a good nights rest at a reasonable rate is now nothing more than a flea bag motel behind a trashy bar. It’s a sad state of affairs, to be sure. BUT the people of Lynxville can change things. There are a few of us with visions of a Lynville more reminiscent of the old fishing village it once was. One where you can walk into a bit of the past and can see pride of heritage.

    • Rodney Boardman says:

      Vicky,Do you know who his grandmother is? I am sure my mom would know her since both are about the same age. I would also like to know who he is. Thanks for the help.Rod

  4. Vicky Martin says:

    Oh and PS, Lynxville was cut out of what was originally Seneca township. Mitchel Caya moved south of Lynxville and owned all of the land you know as Lock and Dam #9. His decedents still own and live on the land across from the dam.

  5. Jack Campbell says:

    I moved in from the west coast in ’89, and met a Wisconsin cutie shortly after.  We used to float into town occasionally and hit Withey’s and stay at their motel.  The bar was someplace that she could wear her little leather miniskirt and be met with respectful appreciation instead of the usual catcalls and depreciating comments.  The river boys were always gentlemen, good times or bad, no matter what.  I loved Lynxville for what it was… A perfect little quiet slice of heaven on a remote part of the great Mississip, that oozed with the spirits of the past.  It may end up eventually as nothing more than a wide spot in old #35 some day, but the spirits of all of us that were there at one time or another will roll on like the moon above old man river, a piece of our lives that will be there forever.  I moved back here to find America, and I found it in Lynxville.

  6. […] to Wisconsin, a friend and I spend a day in Lynxville, a special, but unremarkable […]

  7. Andrew Dyb says:

    Thank you for this, it brings back memories of the best time in my life, growing up oblivious to the worlds concerns in Lynxville. Seeing the river everyday, the trains and Dad’s gas truck, all are great memories.

  8. Rachelle Miller says:

    When I was a girl, Caya’s Corner was the grocery store in town.  Oh, Bock’s Mobil across the street had a few groceries, but it was to Caya’s we went to get a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, and a couple of packs of cigarettes for my parents.   After all, the nearest grocery store was in Seneca. Walt had a bar there, too, but most folks stopped at Bea and Speech’s on Hwy 35 or wandered over to Withey’s if they were in the mood for a beer and a game of Euchre.  Walt kept his shelves stocked with necessities, and kept the “unmentionables” tucked way on a high shelf in the back. Thurley Turnipseed often helped out.  I loved just saying that name!  The bait shop had a real boat harbor, and Milo and Juanita served the boaters and villagers with aplomb.  Harold Stagman fished the river and had a shop next to Caya’s.  I’m sure the fishy smell of his nets drying must still be there.  Bill Vanderbilt had his TV shop up Spring Street, and the Congregational Church had services every Sunday.  The school was new, and it had 2 rooms.  Miss Shepherd taught grades 1-4, and Mrs. Wolcott (and her hair brush paddle) had grades 4-8.  Soon, Seneca built a Junior High and the older kids moved on.  Too soon, we all moved on.  I think the old school is the community center now.  The “new” boat harbor we celebrated at the ’69 Sesquicentenial is now weed infested.  Caya’s is rotting away.  All we have are wispy memories of summer days at the riverbank, or climbing up to see the Wisemen, too soon forgotten.

  9. Steve says:

    Parts of this I could have written. My grandparents owned the cottage at the top of Bench Street, overlooking the Mississippi. I spent my summers there from 1967 to 2000.Same exact thoughts on seeing the Wise Men after the drive up Hwy 35! The power for the wise men was attached to our cottage.

  10. Jessie Griffin Davis says:

    My grandfather Frank Griffin was born in Sparta in 1858 and died in Lynxville in 1918. His wife Jessie Withee ( same roots as Withey )  was born in Seneca in 1859 and died in Lynxville in 1922. I am Steve’s mom. My father grew up in Lynxville in the little house of his parents which was expanded by my Aunt Mayme Griffin Allen and Grover Allen in the forties. This house became the Wilhite’s house. Aunt Anna, Maymes sister had owned it after her mother and father Jessie and Frank passed. The first time I remember coming for the summer was 1946 after my father Lloyd died.I was 11 yrs old that summer. We lived in Chicago and Lynxville was a revelation to me. Aunt Mayme let me be free with only the admonition to stay away from the RR tracks. We got to watch the movies shown on a screen across Spring street from the stairway below her house in the evening.  I did not like the bats that came out after dark and swooped overhead. I often went down to Caya’s to shop for candy or ice cream. Later when I was grown up we came back to visit Aunt Mayme and ultimately my Mother and I bought the little A Frame that Steve mentioned. We came on vacations as often as possible, with all 7 kids,  who were admonished to stay away from the RR tracks. I spent my time searching the genealogy of the Griffins of RI, NY and PA and  the Withees of ME.  Lynxville was a huge part of my young life. I think of it often. My Mom Gladys and her husband Bill Ryan also spent many weeks there in the summer. Bill died in 1995 at the age of 95 and I think he loved it as much as anyone. My Mom is now approaching 97 yrs of age. We live in an area that has many natural settings like Lynxville in Shasta county CA.  I still have a copy of a booklet put out for Lynxville’s 100th anniversary (?) I believe. 

  11. LLOYD GRIFFIN says:

    I ,LLOYD ALSO LOVED LYNXVILLE, MY WIFE AND I SPENT OUR HONEYMOON THERE, CAN YOU IMAGINE THATWE CAME BACK THERE AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE.WE MOVED TO LACROSSE IN1971. I EVEN RODE MY BIKE FROM LAX TO LYNXONCE TO SEE MY SISTER JESSIE. THE THING I LIKED MOST ABOUT LYNX WAS THE FISHING, IT WAS THE BEST FISHING AREA THAT I EVER EXP.ONE TIME OUR FAMILY WENT TO LYNX FOR A VAC, I DONT REMEMBER HOW OLD MY BRO AND I WERE BUT WE WERE QUITE YOUNG AND OUR MOM TOLD US NOT TO GO DOWN BY THE RIVER WITHOUT HER OR OUR NEW STEP FATHER PERRY STEVENS SO WE SNUCK ACROSS HYWAY 35 TO GO DOWN BY THE RIVER AND AS WE WERE CROSSING THE TRACKS I SAID SOMTHING TO MY BRO AND HE DTD NOT ANSWER ME ITURNED TO SEE HIM A ATRAIN BLEW ITS WHISTLE AND I SAW MY BRO STANDING ON THE TRACKS FROZEN , THIS WAS IN THE SUMMER, I RAN BACK AND DID A FLYING TACKLE ON HIM THE TRAIN FLEW BY AND I LOOKED BACK AT MY FEET AND THEY WERE ABOUT 6 INCHES PAST THE TRACK. IGUESS THE ENGINEER NEVER SAW US BECAUSE HE NEVER EVEN SLOWED DOWN . WHEN WE GOT UP I TOLD MY BRO TO NEVER TELL MOM ABOUT IT , TO JUST FORGET IT HAPPENED SO SHE DIDNT KNOW ABOUT IT TILL AFEW YEARS AGO, AND THATS A GOOD THING BECAUSE WE KEPT GOING BACK TO LYNX .I AM 73 NOW ANDWOULD LOVE TO GO BACK THERE AND ENJOY THAT WONDERFUL RIVER AND THE GREAT MEMORIES OF LYNX

  12. Cathy Davis says:

    Wow Nathan,  thank you for capturing my favorite place in the world.  I am Steve’s little sister, Jessie’s youngest daughter.  I recently purchased land in Redding, CA because it was on a bluff like canyon, with a creek and a freight train.  It feels like home.  Because for me Lynxville was home.  To me the most wonderful place to vacation was “Our Cottage”.  Ice pops at the “Box” (Bock’s), sitting with my grandpa Bill Ryan at Caya’s, eating my first bag of Doritos, pumping water to drink, from the pump on the corner of Bench and 35, and even the pony rides at the little fair in the clearing on Spring Street, are valuable memories for me.  I even remember catching tadpoles that grew into frogs in a cup at our cottage while we were out, and sipping honysuckle from the wild plants at our aunt Mayme’s place on Bench, as well as my brother showing me how to drink the spring water.  Thank you for this.

  13. Kathy Caya says:

    Wow, all this takes me way back! I am the eldest daughter of Walt and Mary Caya, who owned Caya’s Corner until my father’s death, when my mother finally closed the business. I spent a lot of time in that old place, waiting on customers and tending bar, stocking shelves, unloading the grocery trucks, and re-filling the coolers, especially on busy summer weekends. I went to the little Congregational Church and attended elementary school there – Rachelle and I were both in band at the same time in Seneca. My dad was also a commercial fisherman, and sold his catch at Hagensick’s Fish Market, which was right next door to our old place. I remember thinking, when I was growing up, that Lynxville must be the single most boring place in the world – I didn’t understand it’s charm and simple beauty until I grew up and moved away – then I realized it was one-of-a-kind; in some ways, a place that Garrison Keillor might have also have described as a “little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve”. Thanks to all of you for your contributions to this stroll down memory lane!

  14. Billy Keene says:

    my memories of lynxville ive been reading some postings from some people that have lived in lynxville that have good memories of lynxville but growing up there i cry i laugh every time i think about home long ago. friends were so close growing up ,hen so long ago from the time of my fifth birthday in the community hall on main street. then all of a sudden we were in school in first grade me , roe , david , jimmy, and mickey with mrs. webber (remember Her guys) now as we move on, the reason i’m here is because me and my son Dustin Should i give away his last name of course he is my son. love him bunches. the reason i got here was we were searching for the wisemen that sit on the bluff overlooking lynxville wisconson one of the lovelyest spots in america (maybe even the world in my book) when we came across this article saying that they didnt know how thay came to be well my name is william keene (billy) i am one of the original boy scouts that helped build the original Wise Men. the man that came up with the idea was a barber in town his name was henry (hank) cooper im not really sure if he went to the city council to see if he could do it or who owned the land. I think it belonged to the wrights but im not sure. any how it was approved and now things started happening he got the design from a christmas card (not many know about this but yes he got this from a christmas card he told me and the rest of the scouts)and so he got lumber from artel caya’s lumber yard we got the materials and started to cut out and paint the wise menand the scouts like jimmy, Eddie, Bobby And the other scouts i was about 10 or 11 when we built this magnificent work.we carried the wise men in sections up the bluff then we touched up the dings on the wise men when we brought then up there ( the trail was better then than it is now i guess 40+ years will do that) then we began building the star on the oppsite bluff many of the other younger children helped to build the trail to reach the star.in 1965 the twin sister tornados distroyed the original wise men but thank fully it was rebuilt and is still a land mark on the mississippi river overlooking the scenic river vally for years to come. thank all of you for even reading but its the truth as far as i can remember but my photo is in the lacrosse tribune in 1961 62 or 63 find me it will be a rush im with my brother Tom. To the person who wanted to  know how the wise men came to be . if anyone knows anymore about this please chime in. Thank You — Billy-

  15. Vicky Caya Martin says:

    Thanks Bill! I’ve heard the same story! =D I still giggle when I hear people call Dad Jimmy! The Wise men have had an overhaul this summer and are looking as amazing as ever!

  16. Jack Porter says:

    OK – old thread but I’ll take a chance. My great grandfather was the minister at the Congregational Church in Lynxville around 1892-4. I was told he was a “circuit minister”. He may have been based in Mazomanee WI or Maquoketa IA. Does anybody know of a way to find history of Lynxville from that long ago? The Congregatonal Church Archives has no record. I went through Lynxville about 1998 or so. There was an abandoned church on the right side of the road as it climbed out of town. I was told it belonged to an elderly couple who lived across the road and used it to store antiques or other old stuff and they didn’t like people anywhere near it. I heard there had been a church bell and the church register and they had both vanished. There’s not much left of the town but it must have been a good place to live way back then. 

  17. Vicky says:

    Jack, Carol is the Village Librarian and has lots of records on Lynxville. Her’s her facebook page…https://www.facebook.com/carol.crusan?fref=ts

  18. Andrew Dyb says:

    Sorry to say but Caya’s Corner is now gone and the old church also fell in and was removed. Lynxville may decay but will live on in the hearts and minds of the families who were lucky enough to call it home.

  19. Rod Boardman says:

    What is Nathan’s last name? I grew up in Lynxville and I probably knew his grandparents. I really would like to keep in touch with some of the older Lynxville residents and their children and grandchildren.

  20. Kate FitzGerald says:

    Just a note to say that my husband Bill and I bought the Lynxville State Bank Building earlier this year and are looking forward to spending time here.  We have been coming up to this stretch of the river for 30+ years and would love to become involved in bringing attention to Lynxville’s fantastic birding, fishing and natural beauty.  If anyone has any stories about the bank ( we heard there used to be a jail next door!) please post them here, or any other stories you think would add to the magic of this beautiful place. Thanks!

  21. J.L. Sheasley says:

    My 2x great grandfather, Thomas S. Findley lived in Lynxville when the Civil war broke out. He enlisted in the 18th Wisconsin Infantry, fought at the battle of Shiloh, and died of his wounds shortly afterwards at Corinth Mississippi. He’s buried there at the national cemetery.

1 Trackback

  1. […] to Wisconsin, a friend and I spend a day in Lynxville, a special, but unremarkable […]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Subscribe without commenting