Lafe (Greene County)

Latitude and Longitude:

36°12’15″N 090°30’50″W

Elevation:

318 feet

Area:

2.098 square miles (2010 Census)

Population:

458 (2010 Census)

Incorporation Date:

May 21, 1974

Historical Population as per the U.S. Census:

1810

1820

1830

1840

1850

1860

1870

1880

1890

1900

1910

1920

1930

1940

1950

1960

1970

1980

1990

2000

215

315

385

2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

458

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lafe is a town situated on Crowley’s Ridge in northern Greene County. Much like similar communities on the Grand Prairie farther south, Lafe was founded by German-American settlers, and the community has remained centered around the Lutheran church.

No settlers had made a home in the area that was to become Lafe before German immigrant Herman Toelkin arrived in 1886. Toelkin had previously settled in Franklin County, Missouri, and his family was still there when he arrived in Greene County by train. Toelkin took a job with the St. Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad, harvesting trees and making railroad ties. When he had saved forty dollars from his earnings, he bought forty acres of land, constructed a log cabin, and brought his wife and children to Arkansas. Their cabin was located in the part of town that would later be called “Upper Lafe.” Toelkin eventually owned 1,000 acres of land in the area, and he became a prosperous farmer.

Toelkin advertised in the Germania, a German newspaper published in Minneapolis, Minnesota, alerting German Lutherans to the affordable land available in northeastern Arkansas. He was soon joined by several families like his own, coming mostly from Illinois and Missouri. In 1887, the community formed St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church near Toelkin’s cabin, naming Toelkin as their first pastor. Several stores were built, and a sawmill was constructed by W. W. Newberry. The railroad stop was named Newberry, but when the community applied for a post office in 1889, the U.S. Postal Service refused to allow the office to be called Newberry. Postmaster Carl Gilg fashioned the name Loulyma from the first names of his three daughters—Louise, Lilly, and Mary. The name was used for more than ten years, but freight continued to be posted to Newberry. The first public school was built around 1888.

A second Lutheran church, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, was established in 1891. The new congregation also sponsored a private school. That same year, Peter Mueller, his wife, Anna, and their four sons arrived at the settlement. Lafayette (Lafe) Mueller, Peter’s son, opened a store and a photography studio, and his brother Charles became postmaster. In 1901, the citizens of Newberry/Loulyma petitioned for a new name for their community, and Charles suggested the nickname of his brother. A cotton gin and a flour mill were built, and a larger flour mill, the Lafe Roller Mill, was built in 1914; it was the leading employer in town until it closed in 1934. The two Lutheran churches were combined in 1911, using the building and the name of St. John’s. A bank was established in 1926, but it closed in 1929. Lafe also was home to three mercantile establishments: Bambauer and Scheer, which changed its name in 1923 to the Lafe Mercantile Company and closed in 1929; Breckinridge Mercantile Company; and the Farmers Mercantile Company. Lafe suffered from several downtown fires over the years but always managed to rebuild.

The Lutheran church and school continued to use German rather than English until 1934. A new public school was built in Lafe in 1938, combining the rural districts of Upper Lafe, Providence, Scatter Creek, Hooker, Union Hill, and Meadow Grove. St. John’s Lutheran School closed in 1952, with its students transferred into the public school. The post office closed in 1966. Rather than allowing the community to vanish, the residents decided to seek incorporation as a town, which they accomplished in 1974. By 1984, Lafe had several grocery stores, a garage and service station, a Baptist church, a Methodist church, and a community center established in a former medical clinic building. The new town government received state and federal grants for improvements, including the paving of streets in Lafe.

The Lafe school was annexed into the school district of Marmaduke (Greene County) in 1984. Some elementary classes were housed at the Lafe school until it burned during Christmas break of 1989. The town has several businesses, including a mowing service, a game and hobby shop, an auto sales business, and a convenience store. The Lutheran church remains a central landmark of the town.

For additional information:
Greene County, Arkansas, History and Families. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 2001.

“Lafe Was Named Three Times.” Greene County Historical Quarterly 2 (Winter 1966): 7.

Mueller, Myrl Rhine. A History of Greene County, Arkansas. Little Rock: Parkhurst Book Design, 1984.

Starnes, C. W. “Breckenridge Township.” Greene County Historical Quarterly 7 (1972): 4–24.

Steven Teske
Butler Center for Arkansas Studies

Last Updated: 06/13/2017

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