Civic Center, 2 Park Street
Potsdam, NY 13676
(315) 265-6910

Azel Lyman


The Lyman Exodus was the result of a wave of religious fervor which swept over the eastern area of the country in the 1830s.  In 1833, the American Sunday School Union passed a resolution to put a Sunday School into every place in the Mississippi Valley where one could be sustained.

Responding to this plea was Azel Lyman of Potsdam, who had come here from Vermont in 1810 and who was a founder of the Presbyterian Church.  He was a deacon of the church and superintendent of three Sunday Schools in the county, traveling 18 miles each Sunday to teach them.

Deacon Lyman and his four brothers and their families decided to go to Illinois.  He interested others in the trip, so on August 22, 1833, a total of 52 people gathered in covered wagons in front of the Liberty Knowles house on Market Street (now Kaplan’s Department Store).  Included were 26 adults and 26 children.  The trip took nine weeks and one day.  The group stopped each Saturday at noon “so that the women could wash and bake and word could be sent to the surrounding area that a Sunday service would be held the following day at 11 o’clock.”

When the group reached Springfield, Illinois, it organized a church and also the first Temperance Society in Illinois.  Azel Lyman organized Sunday schools in 35 counties in the southern part of the state.  He died in Illinois in 1873.


Very important was a funeral procession in the early days.  There was no hearse; the coffin was borne on the shoulders of the men, while the pall-bearers walked on either side holding the pall which covered it.  Those on the street would pause and raise their hats as the procession passed by, preceded by the clergyman – slowly winding its way to the old Knowles burying ground which was at the foot of Willow Street where Potsdam Feed and Coal is now.  The first funeral in the “Academy Church” on Union Street was a child of Azel Lyman’s.