Aaron Woodruff Lyon (1797–1888)

Aaron Woodruff Lyon was an early Arkansas settler and pioneer educator who founded the first academy to be chartered by the state of Arkansas and was instrumental in the development of Batesville in Independence County and Elizabeth in Jackson County.

Aaron Lyon was born on July 11, 1797, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the son of Aaron and Joanna Hatfield Lyon. During the War of 1812, he served in Captain Altman’s Pennsylvania Militia. In 1824, he graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York. He entered Princeton Theological Seminary in 1825 and completed the full three-year curriculum. After completing his studies in 1828, his health forced him to move south. Lyon accompanied Major Edward Duval to Lower Township (Crawford County), where Duval was in charge of the Cherokee agency.

In the fall of 1829, Lyon returned to New Jersey and married Elizabeth Agnew of Princeton. She died childless on April 12, 1857. In 1862, he married Caroline “Carra” J. Hutchins; together, they had four children.

In 1830, Lyon opened a private academy at what had been the Dwight Mission in Pope County. In 1833, Lyon and his wife moved from Pope County to Batesville, where he again opened a school. This school, the Batesville Academy, was the first such institution to be chartered by the Arkansas legislature. It is unclear how long Lyon was in charge of the academy. During the same period, however, he also participated in the commercial development of Batesville and purchased and developed land elsewhere. Contemporary records show that, by 1835, he was the receiver in the Batesville land office, and as early as 1838, he was involved in various commercial ventures in the area. In the early 1840s, he and John Ringgold became partners in a mercantile business; he later owned a drugstore in partnership with Dr. John F. Allen and still later with E. R. Goodwin. Along with Noadiah Marsh, with whom he owned half the land, he was instrumental in the development of Elizabeth in Jackson County.

Lyon was a lifelong Presbyterian, serving as an elder in the First Presbyterian Church in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and then as a founding elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Batesville. He was active in Presbyterian affairs, was several times a delegate to the denomination’s General Assembly, and was active in the Sunday school movement. He was on the original board of trustees of Arkansas College (now Lyon College) and served as its vice president from 1872 to 1882.

In 1882, when Lyon was eighty-eight, the family moved to Fresno, California. Here again, Lyon was active in church affairs, participating in the establishment of the First Presbyterian Church of Fresno. He died of pneumonia in Fresno on October 23, 1888.

For additional information:
Griffith, Nancy Snell. “Aaron Woodruff Lyon: Pioneer Educator, Citizen and Christian Gentleman. Independence County Chronicle 35 (October 1993–January 1994): 52–67.

Necrological Report presented to the Alumni Association of Princeton Theological Seminary at its annual meeting May 6th, 1890. Princeton: C. S. Robinson and Co., University Printers, 1890.

Obituary of Aaron W. Lyon. Daily Arkansas Gazette, Nov. 29, 1888, p. 3.

 Nancy Snell Griffith
Presbyterian College, Clinton SC

This entry, originally published in Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives, appears in the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas in an altered form. Arkansas Biography is available from the University of Arkansas Press.


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