September 23, 2019
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Artifacts of the City

Evansville's History in 30 Things
View the full feature in Evansville City View 2015. Photo by Heather Gray.

Each object has a story. Even the smallest of items can connect us to big events, to long lost places, or to a time fondly remembered. Here we present our own series of carefully curated things, each with its own truth about Evansville’s past. From repurposed relics to pieces of architecture (literally), we’ve scavenged the city for those items that tell us more about who we are.

1: No. 16 Grand Success Roelker Stove

(Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science)

John H. Roelker came to Evansville from Cincinnati in 1854 to establish a foundry manufacturing stoves and plows. His firm, Roelker Stove and Plow Company, became incorporated on Aug. 1, 1891. This No. 16 Grand Success Roelker Stove, which was patented in 1874, is on display at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science after being purchased in 1974 for the Rivertown, USA exhibit, which allows visitors a look at Evansville during the turn of the 20th century.

2: Air Mail from Airport Dedication

(Evansville Regional Airport Collection)

Planes actually had been landing in Evansville since 1928, but Evansville Municipal Airport wasn’t formally dedicated until June 16, 1930. Along with the small terminal, it had a weather bureau, hangar, and runways. This piece of airmail was sent, at the price of 5 cents, to Mr. J.E. Whyte of Niagara Falls, New York.

3: 150th Birthday Bow Tie

(City of Evansville, Mayor’s Office)

In 1962, Evansville celebrated its sesquicentennial. At that time, promotion and event companies would travel the country helping cities with their centennial and sesquicentennial celebrations. Bow ties like this one were some of the kitsch that they regularly offered to sell in the communities. This particular tie is kept in the Evansville Mayor’s Office. 

4: Bayard Park Dog Statues

(City of Evansville)

The two dog statues originally “guarded” 726 S.E. First St., the home of Samuel and Martha Orr Bayard. It was Martha who donated the 10-acre park to the city in 1901, on three conditions: that it be named after her late husband, that she be allowed to landscape the area, and that the city was to provide maintenance. She also requested that the dogs be moved there as a memorial to Samuel. They currently sit on opposite corners of the park on S. Kentucky Avenue.

5: Sheet Music for Evansville Song

(Dennis Haire Collection)

Yes, there is an official song of Evansville. Col R.H. “Dick” Sturges was visiting Evansville in 1945 for a barbershop quartet convention, when he found himself without a room at the McCurdy Hotel. The hotel management set up a cot in the hotel’s actual barbershop, where he spent the night. Six years later, Sturges copyrighted “Evansville (In Old Indiana).” Evansville Mayor E.F. Diekmann then officially proclaimed it to be the song of the city.

6: State Hospital Plaques

(The Recreational Trespasser)

Southern Indiana Hospital for the Insane, later renamed the Evansville State Hospital, opened in 1890. Much of the original building was destroyed by fire in 1943, and was rebuilt and reopened in 1945. New facilities were constructed in the 1990s. Before the old structure was torn down in 2008, a few of the old door plaques were removed and preserved by “The Recreational Trespasser.” This anonymous person goes inside abandoned buildings of historical significance and posts photos of the interiors to a Facebook page as a means of preservation. These plaques will be donated back to the Evansville State Hospital for its planned museum.

7: Clock Face from Old City Hall

(Evansville Museum Transportation Center)

The face on the clock of the EMTRAC tower at the Evansville Museum of Art, History and Science is from Evansville’s former City Hall, which stood from 1887 to 1971 at the corner of Third and Walnut streets. Before the building was razed, two history professors from the University of Southern Indiana salvaged the clock face. .

8: USI Presidential Medallion

(University of Southern Indiana Collection)

The University of Southern Indiana presidential medallion signifies the authority invested in the president. The medallion’s obverse carries, at its center, a 3-inch reproduction of the university seal and, surrounding the seal, a half-inch rim. The medallion was fabricated by Honorcraft for the 1995 inauguration of USI President H. Ray Hoops. On the back of the medallion appear the names and dates of appointment for the university’s presidents. The president wears this medallion for all formal academic ceremonies.

9: Central High School Painting

(Central High School Collection)

In 1967, University of Evansville Art Professor Fred Eilers created a 4-foot-by-6-foot oil painting of Central High School in Downtown Evansville, including its iconic tower. The school left that location in 1971 and the building was razed in 1973. The site today is the parking lot for the YMCA. The painting had hung on the third floor conference room of Old National Bank for many years, but in January, the bank donated it back to Central High School, where it now is on display.

10: Bunny the
Elephant’s Stand

(Mesker Park Zoo Collection)

This stand hasn’t been used since 1999, when Bunny the Elephant left Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden. Bunny packed her trunk and retired to The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, where she died in 2009. Bunny arrived at the zoo in 1954, and entertained generations of children in Evansville.

11: Bosse Championship Basketball

(Bosse High School Collection)

The Bulldogs were just 9-7 in the regular 1943-44 season, and lost four of their final five games headed into the sectional tournament. But then, a victory over LaPorte sent Bosse into the state championship game against Kokomo. A 39-35 victory brought home the first state championship for an Evansville school. The game ball from that night in 1944 now sits in the trophy case outside Bosse’s main gymnasium.

12: “A League of Their Own” Signage

(Bosse Field Collection)

In 1991, Bosse Field was used as a filming site by Columbia Pictures for the movie “A League of Their Own,” about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The movie was released in 1992. Bosse Field was a stand-in for a ballpark in Racine, Wisconsin. The movie signage urging fans to “Support the Racine Belles” never has been removed.

13: Centennial School Bricks

(University of Southern Indiana Collection)

Bricks from Centennial School, the site of the University of Southern Indiana’s founding location as Indiana State University Evansville (ISUE), still are housed in the USI Archives, some of which bear metal medallions depicting the ISUE logo and a metal placard with the words “I.S.U.E. Centennial School Campus 1965-1969.” The bricks were sold as an early fundraiser for the university. The school was located on the west side of 12th Avenue, between Indiana and Illinois Streets. Centennial School was razed in 1972.

14: Mead Johnson Infant Diet Materials Lid

(Dennis Haire Collection)

Starting in 1912 — three years before the company moved to Evansville — Mead Johnson began marketing infant diet materials, marketed to the medical profession. The idea was that a baby’s diet should be under the care of a doctor. The formula, called Dextri-Maltose, was meant for babies who could not get an adequate supply of breast milk. This lid would once have topped a tin can of the formula.

15: Keys and Fob from City Plaza Hotel

(The Antique Market)

The Hotel Sonntag opened, along with the attached Victory Theatre, in 1921. But by the 1980s, it had been converted into a type of welfare hotel, providing long term, low-income housing, known as the Civic Plaza Hotel. It lasted only a few years, but these keys still carry the Civic Plaza name, and are on display inside The Antique Market in Downtown Evansville. The structure has been renovated and incorporated into the campus of the Signature School, Indiana’s first charter high school, located on Main Street.

16: L&N Railroad Depot Pieces

(Evansville Museum Transportation Center)

In February 1985, Evansville Materials, Inc., which owned the old Louisville & Nashville (L&N) Union Station Depot at 300 Fulton Ave., suddenly began to demolish it despite opposition from citizens. Several pieces of the Richardson Romanesque-style depot managed to be salvaged. Made from Green River Limestone, these architectural elements are now on display at the Evansville Museum of Art, History and Science’s EMTRAC building.

17: State Hospital Cherrybark Oak Tree

This majestic tree is more than 220 years old and has a circumference of 22 feet. At more than 95 feet tall, with a spread of approximately 133 feet, it is believed to be the largest cherrybark oak tree in Indiana, and is listed in Indiana’s Big Tree Registry. It is located on the grounds of the Evansville State Hospital, once known as Woodmere because of its many large trees, and is easily seen from Lincoln Avenue.

18: Willard Carpenter’s Watch and Glasses

(Willard Library Collection)

Willard Carpenter was among the most colorful characters in Evansville’s history. His obituary in the Evansville Journal noted: “Mr. Carpenter was not without his enemies.” His own children had little involvement with Carpenter, who was repeatedly sued over various deals. Carpenter donated land for a library, which, by his own choice, would take his first name. He died more than a year before Willard Library was completed in 1885. Today, a few of his personal items, including his pocket watch and glasses, are stored away inside the library.

19: Cook’s Goldblume Sign

(The Glass Factory, Owensboro, Kentucky)

The F.W. Cook Brewing Company was located at 11 N.W. Seventh St., on the site of what is today the Civic Center. Its signature beer was Goldblume, and in the 1930s the brewery sponsored a semi-pro baseball team known as Cook’s Goldblumes. The Evansville brewery closed in 1957 and was razed in 1965. The Goldblume brand was produced elsewhere until 1972, and was revived by the Evansville Brewery from 1988 to 1997. Many metal Goldblume advertising signs still exist today, but particularly special is this near-mint example that dates to the early 1940s. Measuring at 4-feet-by-8-feet in its original wood frame, the embossed sign currently hangs inside The Glass Factory store in Owensboro, Kentucky.

20: Alhambra Chair Arm

The Alhambra Theater opened in 1913 as a movie theater. It spurred new business in the area, now known as the Haynie’s Corner Arts District. It closed in 1956, later falling into disrepair, with Alhambra Theatre, Inc. taking possession of the building in 2003. Thanks to that organization, its supporters, and regular fundraisers, the historic landmark is currently going through phases of restoration. The goal is to return the Alhambra to working order by 2017. Though only some of the original interior remains, the cast iron sides from the original theater seats were salvaged.

21: Tennessean Letters

(The Antique Market)

In 1949, the first Tennessean restaurant opened in Evansville at 313 Locust St. The owners soon launched another Tennessean at 101 N.W. Fifth St. The 1950s-style diners were known for polish sausages and hamburgers. Both restaurants closed by the late 1990s. Today, the letters from the original Tennessean hang on the wall of The Antique Market at 211 S.E. Fourth St.

22: Oldest Tombstone in Oak Hill Cemetery

The sandstone marker of 20-year-old Elizabeth Harrison actually predates Oak Hill Cemetery by more than 30 years. The first person to be buried at Oak Hill was 2-year-old Ellen Johnson who died Feb. 18, 1853. But the marker for Harrison — and, presumably, her remains — were moved to Oak Hill, possibly from the city’s former graveyard at the corner of Fourth and Vine streets.

23: St. Boniface Grotto

St. Boniface Church, the twin-spired Catholic church on Wabash Avenue, was rebuilt after a 1902 fire, but the “Our Lady of Lourdes” Grotto wasn’t dedicated until 1914. The 72-foot-long room underneath the church could, at one point, seat up to 100 people. The grotto was badly damaged in the flood of 1937 and did not reopen until 1972. A glass case inside displays church relics, including the salvaged, melted remains of the church’s bells after the historic fire. St. Boniface offers tours of the grotto, modeled after the grotto at Lady of Lourdes in France, on Sundays in May and October each year.

24: Reitz Chalice

(Diocese of Evansville)

In 1929, jewelry acquired by the Reitz family was used to create and embellish a gold chalice designed by David M. Cohn, one the original founders of Kruckemeyer & Cohn. The chalice, one of many Reitz family lasting legacies, is studded with 507 diamonds, 15 rubies, seven sapphires, several emeralds, and pearls. The chalice, under the care of the Catholic Diocese of Evansville, is rarely on display, though it was seen in September 2014 at the Jewel of the City Ball.

25: McCurdy Plate

(Private Collection)

On June 17, 1917, Frederick Harold Van Orman opened the McCurdy Hotel on Riverside Drive, where it stands still today (empty of tenants and in disrepair). The 8-story luxury hotel played host to celebrities like Katherine Hepburn and Richard Nixon before bankruptcy forced its closure in 1969. The Onondaga Pottery Company of Syracuse, New York, made this plate exclusively for the McCurdy.

26: Albion Fellows
Bacon Charm String

(Willard Library Collection)

This string of buttons, currently on display at Willard Library in the Children’s Services Department, was created by Evansville social activist Albion Fellows Bacon. It inspired her 1929 book of fairytales “The Charm String.” Bacon is known mostly for her work to improve public housing standards, but she also published five books. “The Charm String” was her last book, published in 1929. Bacon died in 1933. Fellows Bacon founded the YWCA and the Albion Fellows Bacon Center, which provides services to victims of abuse.

27: University of Evansville Memorial Plaza

On Dec.13, 1977, a plane carrying the University of Evansville men’s basketball team, coaches, two fans, and five members of the UE staff crashed shortly after takeoff from the Evansville’s Dress Regional Airport (now Evansville Regional Airport). All on board died in the crash or from crash-related injuries. Within a week, UE made plans for a campus memorial to those killed, designed by three Evansville architects. The groundbreaking was March 30, 1978. The centerpiece is a fountain that emits an 8-foot diameter spherical spray, recalling a basketball.

28: The Kneeling Man

(Replica kept at Angel Mounds, actual statue stored at Indiana University Art Museum)

From 1939 to 1942, some 250 workers excavated Angel Mounds, the site of a Middle Mississippian Native American settlement 1100 to 1450 A.D., under the direction of archeologist Glenn Black. One of the pieces they found was the “Kneeling Man,” a figurine made of yellow fluorite. The object was discovered in 1940 in the temple mound. It is believed that Kneeling Man was placed in the mound as a guardian of some sort,
to watch over the settlement.

29: Rotary Wall of Civic Hall of Fame

(Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science)

The Rotary Club of Evansville was founded in December 1913, and began handing out an annual Rotary Civic Award in 1927. The award is given to “a person or persons for outstanding civic, charitable, humanitarian, and/or cultural services to the City of Evansville.” The first winner was Edward Mead Johnson Sr. The winners’ names are displayed in the sculpture garden outside the Evansville Museum of Art, History and Science.

30: Painting of Dora

(Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science)

Dora Dean Greiss, the daughter of an Evansville grocer, was a special friend of artist James Thomas Poindexter. But Greiss became ill with scarlet fever, and died. The artist was moved to offer her bereaved parents a portrait of their daughter, which he painted from memory in 1880. Poindexter created portraits and daguerreotypes of many Evansville citizens. Today, the oil painting of young Dora Dean Greiss hangs in the Evansville Museum of Art, History and Science.

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