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.