“Water, Water, Everywhere, nor any Drop to Drink”

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge penned this in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but I’m going to co-opt it for this blog about the 1937 flood of the Ohio River. You may be thinking, oh, no, not another article about Evansville and the flood … and you’d be right! I’m going to focus on other locations, and there won’t be much text, concentrating on telling the story visually with some explanations.

The Ohio River is 981 miles long, beginning in Pittsburgh, PA where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet, and it ends in Cairo, IL where it empties into the Mississippi River. In January 1937 there were torrential rains. There were about 14 inches of rain in Cincinnati, nearly 15 in Evansville, and almost 20 in Louisville. “Overall, total precipitation for January was four times its normal amount in the areas surrounding the river. In fact, there were only eight days in January when the Louisville station recorded no rain. These heavy rains, coupled with an already swollen river, caused a rapid rise in the river’s level.” Flooding was inevitable.

Everyone knows that water flows downstream, so the Ohio River thus flows northeast to southwest. The unusual thing about this flood is the way or order in which the various tributaries flooded and thus contributed to the flooding of the Ohio. The tributaries on the lower Ohio (i.e., those nearer the mouth of the river in Cairo, IL) flooded earlier than those near the headwaters in Pittsburgh dd, giving the odd appearance that the flood moved from the mouth (near Cairo, IL) to the headwaters (Pittsburgh, PA). This was not true, but that is how it appeared, and this is how we’re going to take a look at the pictures.

Let’s head back to 1937 and up the river!

Sometimes the aftermath of the flood had ironic consequences, such as this picture of a mule pulling a car! At other times, there was pathos – a family’s ruined belongings, possibly even family heirlooms, piled up by a shed.

Skipping Evansville, we now come to Henderson. While the low-lying areas around the town certainly suffered flooding devastation, the city itself held the distinction of being the only town along the river without water within its city limits. As of “Feb. 1, … Henderson was safe and dry. Utilities were working, refugees were being housed, food was well supplied and businesses continued to operate, some of them around the clock. “Our visitors are well-fed and well entertained,” The Gleaner reported the next day. “Thousands of toys have been given to the children, and games and magazines have been distributed to the adults. We are just one big family, thankful that our forefathers selected the highest point on the Ohio River for our homes.”” Just because the city itself wasn’t flooded didn’t mean it got off scot-free. The bridge across the river flooded and was unavailable for a period of time. Trains could not get through. Getting in and out of Henderson meant a circuitous route “via Zion, Niagara, Robards, Dixon, Slaughters, Hanson and Madisonville.” Water availability was lost twice and residents were ordered to boil all water. Finally, through the generosity of Hendersonians, there were 16 refugee camps within the city, but this brought its own challenges. “At least 2,649 refugees were housed here temporarily increasing Henderson’s population by about 22 percent so diseases such as typhoid fever, scarlet fever and influenza were a very real concern. At least 33,000 vaccinations were administered locally. Mandatory immunization for typhoid fever was done on all refugees, and vaccines were also provided by the U.S. Public Health Service for tetanus, diphtheria and smallpox. At least nine people with scarlet fever were quarantined, as of mid-February, and 7-year-old Reba Daugherty died of it.

The small town (2010 Census: 238) of Leavenworth, IN was laid out in 1818 on the banks of an oxbow bend in the Ohio River, below the bluff. The picture below is ample evidence for why the entire town, in 1938, moved to a location atop the bluff, although there are still some businesses in the lower town. I’m NOT a paid spokesperson for them and will not be compensated for this, but a trip to Leavenworth and a meal at the Overlook Inn are well worth your time. The food is good, and the views of that oxbow bend from atop the bluff are spectacular.

This photograph from New Albany, IN demonstrates just how “capricious” a flood can be. Note the homes in the foreground are not in water, but those in the background are, as evidenced by the house in the middle of the street that has come off its foundation. Furthermore, merely one block away from this view of Spring and Jay, the water at Spring Street and Silver Street just touched the bottom of the traffic signal there at the January 27 cresting of the flood water.

Moving on to the largest city in Kentucky, we find that on “the morning of January 24 the entire Ohio River was above flood stage. In Louisville, the river rose 6.3 feet from January 21-22. As a result, the river reached nearly 30 feet above flood stage. Louisville, where light and water services had failed, was the hardest hit city along the Ohio River. On January 27, the river reached its crest at 460 feet above sea level or 40 feet above its normal level, which is well over a 100-year event. Almost 70 percent of the city was under water, and 175,000 people were forced to leave their homes. The U.S. Weather Bureau reported that total flood damage for the entire state of Kentucky was $250 million, an incredible sum in 1937. The number of flood-related deaths rose to 190. The flood completely disrupted the life of Louisville, inundating 60% of the city and 65 square miles.

On Jan. 26, 1937 a fifth of the city of Cincinnati was under water and across the river conditions were worse, with about one-third of the river cities of Kenton and Campbell counties under water. Nearly one of every eight people in the Tristate were left homeless. … At Coney Island, carousel horses became unglued and floated away to later be found in Paducah, Kentucky, according to the amusement park’s recounting of the flood. In Cincinnati, residents were not just dealing with homelessness. High water forced the power plant offline and limited power was diverted from Dayton, Ohio. At least 10 gas tanks exploded and there were oil fires on the Ohio and in Mill Creek Valley…. Still, somewhat remarkably there were only two deaths in Cincinnati as a result of the flood.

In Point Pleasant, OH, Ulysses S. Grant's birthplace was nearly submerged by flood waters on January 26, 1937. Source: https://bit.ly/3o0jGoG
In Point Pleasant, OH, Ulysses S. Grant’s birthplace was nearly submerged by flood waters on January 26, 1937. Source: https://bit.ly/3o0jGoG

Getting near the end of our trip now … just a couple of pictures from West Virginia and finally Pittsburgh, PA where the river begins, and the flood ended.

The flooding on the Ohio River caused its tributaries to back up, causing flooding in places like Hazleton, IN and Patoka, IN that aren’t near the banks of the Ohio. Advances in engineering, etc. have given us a better handle on flood control, rendering another flood of this magnitude unlikely. Still, never say never to Mother Nature!

Artistic rendering of map of the Ohio-Mississippi Valley Flood Disaster of 1937, showing American Red Cross locations.  Not to scale. Source: UASC, MSS 272-1164.
Artistic rendering of map of the Ohio-Mississippi Valley Flood Disaster of 1937, showing American Red Cross locations (not to scale). Source: UASC, MSS 272-1164.

Resources Consulted

1937 Flood: U.S. Army Corps of Engineer Photographs, Huntington, WV, During the 1937 Ohio River Valley Flood, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Huntington, W. Va. District) dispatched Corps photographers to capture the extent of the damage in the Huntington area. These photos are a portion of the Marshall University Regional Photograph Collection, a continually expanding collection of photographs of individuals, groups, buildings, locations, and activities of the Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia region. The manuscript collection accession number for The Regional Photograph Collection is 1978/04.0227.

Beyer, Richard. “Hell and High Water: The Flood of 1937 in Southern Illinois.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, March 1938, Vol.31 (1), pgs. 5-21.

Boyett, Frank. “Floodless city: Henderson was a refuge during historic 1937 flood.” Henderson Gleaner, January 28, 2017. 

“A Business Survey of the Flood.” Barron’s, February 1, 1937, Vol. 17(5), p. 9.

Eleven Days of Rain: the Ohio River Valley Flood of 1937. January 12, 2020. Orangebeanindiana.com

Flooding History in Louisville. Louisville MSD

The Floods. ExploreNewAlbany.com

The Great Flood of 1937. National Weather Service (Louisville, KY office)

Historic Ohio River Flood of 1937. National Weather Service (Wilmington, OH office)

LaBarbara, Jane Metters. The Flood of 1937. Blog posting from West Virginia University Libraries, January 26th, 2015.

Noble, Greg. From The Vault: Great Ohio River flood of 1937 was biggest event in Tri-State history. WPCO, Cincinnati ABC affiliate, January 25, 2018.University of Pittsburgh Library Systems Digital Collection

Posted in Evansville, Indiana, Indiana history, Local history, Natural Disasters | Leave a comment

ArchivesFest 2021: UASC and Posey County Historical Society

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian, and James Wethington, senior library assistant at the University Archives and Special Collections.

Though #AmericanArchivesMonth is over, the University Archives and Special Collections (UASC) thanks all of this year’s participating institutions. In our final post for #ArchivesFest, the focus is on the UASC and the Posey County Historical Society.

University Archives and Special Collections (UASC)

UASC Logo, n.d.

Hours: Monday-Friday: 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM (by appointment only!)

8600 University Boulevard, Evansville, IN (3rd floor of the David L. Rice Library)

reservation and processing of regional material. At the end of the third year the University was to assume responsibility for continuing the growth of the Special Collections. It started with just a few regional history books on Indiana from the library’s own collection. Today, the University Archives and Special Collection has over 850 unique collections, 800 oral history interviews, 6,500 rare and unique books, and 30,000 digital resources.

To learn more about the University Archives and Special Collections (UASC), please visit https://usi.libguides.com/uasc and follow their social media accounts:

Posey County Historical Society logo.

Located inside Hedges Central Community Center, 716 Locust Street, Door #4, Mt. Vernon, IN

Hours: Wednesdays, 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM

“The Posey County Historical Society was established in 1922. After the collection was vandalized in the 1930’s, the Society disbanded. In 1972, a group re-organized the Historical Society and has been going strong ever since!”

Be sure to follow the Posey County Historical Society on their social media at:

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ArchivesFest 2021: Willard Library and Newburgh Museum

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian, and James Wethington, senior library assistant at the University Archives and Special Collections.

As #AmericanArchivesMonth comes to a close, the University Archives and Special Collections (UASC) thanks this year’s participants for another successful ArchivesFest promotion and Annalise Snyder, who created these wonderful videos. This week’s focus is on Willard Library, Newburgh Museum, and UASC. Enjoy!

Willard Library.

Hours: Monday-Tuesday: 9:00 AM – 8 PM; Wednesday-Friday: 9:00 – 5:30 PM;

Saturday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM; Sunday: 1:00 – 5:00 PM

21 First Avenue, Evansville, Indiana 47710

Willard Carpenter was born in Vermont in 1803 and came to Evansville in 1837 to continue to pursue his fortune. Desirous of leaving a lasting legacy, in 1876 he expressed his intention “to establish and endow a public library, to be located in a public park, on land owned by me, situated in the city of Evansville. I am induced to do this in the well-grounded hope that such an institution may become useful toward the improvement of the moral and intellectual culture of the inhabitants of Evansville, and collaterally to those of the State of Indiana; and also toward the enlargement and diffusion of a taste for the fine arts.” The library opened in 1885, 2 years after Carpenter’s death.

For more information on Willard Library, please visit https://willard.lib.in.us/ and follow their social media accounts at:

Hours: Friday and Saturday, 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM

503 State Street, Newburgh, IN 47630

“The Newburgh Museum’s mission is to preserve, exhibit and educate all visitors about the history and culture of Newburgh and the surrounding area’s unique river town heritage. Located on the first floor of the Old Newburgh Presbyterian Church, the museum opened in July 2012. The permanent displays at the museum include information about the town’s founding, how it got its name, its early industry, a period of decline and how it has changed in modern times. The main exhibit at the museum is changed every few months.”

For more information on the Newburgh Museum, please visit https://www.newburghmuseum.com/ and follow their social media accounts at:

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Evansville State Hospital

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

Mental illness. That’s a term that has long scared us, that has terrible stigma attached to it. I delved into this in a January 21, 2019 blog entitled “It’s Bedlam Here!!” There I focused on the history of the St. Mary of Bethlehem mental facility in London, founded in 1247. The corruption of the word “Bethlehem” led to the term “bedlam.” Today’s blog focuses on another mental hospital, this one here in Evansville. To talk about it, we’ll first take a brief (I promise!) look at the history of the treatment of mental illness.

Throughout history there have been three general theories of the etiology of mental illness: supernatural, somatogenic, and psychogenic. Supernatural theories attribute mental illness to possession by evil or demonic spirits, displeasure of gods, eclipses, planetary gravitation, curses, and sin. Somatogenic theories identify disturbances in physical functioning resulting from either illness, genetic inheritance, or brain damage or imbalance. Psychogenic theories focus on traumatic or stressful experiences, maladaptive learned associations and cognitions, or distorted perceptions. Etiological theories of mental illness determine the care and treatment mentally ill individuals receive.” One of the weirdest (in terms of today’s knowledge of anatomy) somatogenic (i.e., physical) explanations was the wandering uterus theory from ancient Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. “The uterus could become dislodged and attached to parts of the body like the liver or chest cavity, preventing their proper functioning or producing varied and sometimes painful symptoms.

The Greeks called this condition hysteria, and you can easily see where negative stereotypes of “hysterical women” arose. A particularly chilling example of treating mental illness physically is the prefrontal lobotomy. First performed in 1936, this involved severing the neural connections to the frontal lobe of the brain. As gruesome as this is, there were those that believed in psychosurgery, among them an American physician named Walter Freeman (1895–1972). “Prefrontal lobotomies were both inefficient in terms of resources and of questionable therapeutic value, so Freeman developed a cheaper and more efficient technique: the transorbital lobotomy. An ‘ice pick’ or orbitoclast was inserted above the patient’s eyeball and through the boney orbital ridge to sever connections to and from the prefrontal cortex. A mallet was used to drive the orbitoclast through the thin layer of bone and into the brain, and the procedure was repeated in several directions. The procedure allowed Freeman to perform ‘assembly line’ lobotomies at state mental hospitals, where the resident psychiatrists would identify patients for the procedure and have them ready for when he arrived. On one occasion he lobotomised 228 patients over 12 days for the West Virginia Lobotomy Project.”

Now that you’re screaming and have chills up your spine, it’s time to acknowledge that the treatment of the mentally ill took a long time to become enlightened, what we might call humane. This is certainly not to say that today’s society always deals with mental illness well, but progress has been made. Even in the “bad old days” there were those who argued for compassionate, moral care, but sometimes the system was overwhelmed and care reverted to harsh, strictly custodial treatment. “Moral treatment had to be abandoned in America in the second half of the 19th century, however, when these asylums became overcrowded and custodial in nature and could no longer provide the space nor attention necessary. When retired school teacher Dorothea Dix discovered the negligence that resulted from such conditions, she advocated for the establishment of state hospitals. Between 1840 and1880, she helped establish over 30 mental institutions in the United States and Canada (Viney & Zorich, 1982).”

If you live or drive on the east side of Evansville, you’ve surely seen that large piece of property along Vann Ave., between Lincoln and the Lloyd Expressway. It’s lovely-wooded, with a small lake on Lincoln, and people use it a lot to walk their dogs and/or otherwise enjoy a stroll. There are soccer and baseball fields along the Vann Avenue side. This impressive piece of property houses the Evansville State Hospital. Founded in 1890, the state appropriated funds in 1883, as the Southern Indiana Hospital for the Insane, it was built on the former Howard farm property on Newburgh Road, now Lincoln Avenue, purchased for $17,000 and at the time, 3 miles outside of Evansville . Partially to de-stigmatize it, and partly to celebrate its wooded acres, it was dubbed “Woodmere.” More land was added, and Woodmere at one time covered where UE, St. Vincent’s Medical Center, Wesselman Park Nature Center, and the land that once held Roberts Stadium, now are. It admitted only 2 patients at its October 30, 1890 opening, but had a peak of an estimated 1500 in 1954.

Postcard of Woodmere, date unknown
Source: UASC Brad Awe Collection, MSS 184-0743

While I have no information about the treatments offered there, in general the State Hospital (as its named was changed in 1927) was custodial in nature, offering a tranquil setting for its patients. It was believed that patients would benefit from the good, hard work, and this hospital was able to offer this in spades. With all that space, it had gardens, a poultry operation, a dairy herd, and orchards—plenty to keep the patients occupied and also to make the hospital self-sufficient. It even had its own power plant.

This 1927 view shows some of the gardens
Source: UASC Brad Awe Collection, MSS 184-0907
Dummy Railroad advertisement. Although this poster is not dated, it’s probably from the early 20th century
Source: UASC Brad Awe Collection, MSS 184-0544

All that land meant that the public could still enjoy the grounds. Apparently there was actually an amusement park built here, and an inexpensive ride on this Evansville Suburban and Newburgh Railway Co. “dummy railroad” transported visitors there. A passenger service of 5 trips a day and freight service was scheduled and 3 Baldwin dummy locomotives powered the passenger and freight runs. To accommodate the passengers, 12 double truck passenger trailers, 8 open and 4 closed, were secured. It’s possible that some of the patients were also able to enjoy the amusement park. In 1943 the X-shaped main building seen below was set ablaze by an employee, resulting in the death of 8 patients. One source claims that once the patients were moved to an interim facility, the employee tried to set fire to that, too, but that fire was quickly extinguished. This source then claims that this employee joined the patients as she was deemed to be mentally ill!

This elevated photograph, from the early 1920s, shows the shape and size of the main facility. NOTE: this picture was sharply cropped to show the building, so you have no sense of all the grounds.
Source: www.therecreationaltrespasser.com

This administration building replaced what the fire destroyed in 1943, although this photograph was taken in May 1997.

Current Evansville State Hospital.
Source: VPS Architecture

But, to quote Bob Dylan, “For the times, they are a-changin.” The 1960s introduction of antipsychotic drugs meant that many patients no longer needed to be institutionalized. The 1960s also produced the concept of mental health care in the community. “In 1963, Congress passed and John F. Kennedy signed the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act, which provided federal support and funding for community mental health centers (National Institutes of Health, 2013). This legislation changed how mental health services were delivered in the United States. It started the process of deinstitutionalization, the closing of large asylums, by providing for people to stay in their communities and be treated locally. In 1955, there were 558,239 severely mentally ill patients institutionalized at public hospitals (Torrey, 1997). By 1994, by percentage of the population, there were 92% fewer hospitalized individuals (Torrey, 1997).” While there are many good community based mental health programs today, this vision and reality never totally merged, and the homeless and incarcerated populations have a large percentage of mentally ill people.

Resources Consulted

Evansville State Hospital. Asylumprojects.org

Evansville State Hospital. IN.gov

Farreras, I. G. “History of mental illness.” in R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers, 2020.

Mental Health. Science Museum: London, England.

“Mental Health Treatment: Past and Present” in Introduction to Psychology. lumenlearning.com

Smith, Daniel. “History Lesson: Evansville State Hospital.” Evansville Courier and Press, March 13, 2017.Woodmere. Therecreationaltresspasser.com (lots of photographs here, if you’d like to see more)

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ArchivesFest 2021: USI Art Collection, Working Men’s Institute, and Historic New Harmony

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian, and James Wethington, senior library assistant at the University Archives and Special Collections.

It is the third week of #ArchivesFest2021. This week, our participating institutions are the USI Art Collection, Working Men’s Institute, and Historic New Harmony.

USI Art Collection

The University’s art collection is primarily made up of two-dimensional prints executed during the 1970s and 1980s and includes student and faculty work. As the University Art Collection expands, the goal is to acquire a better balance of photography, ceramics and sculpture. The Art Collection Committee develops the collection through its art collection management plan. Students working with the collection learn art management, gallery work and art collection management.

For more information on the USI Art Collection, please visit https://www.usi.edu/liberal-arts/art-center-galleries/university-art-collection/.

Working Men's Institute Logo, n.d.

Hours: Sunday, 12-4 PM; Tuesday-Thursday, 10 AM-7 PM; Friday-Saturday, 10 AM-4:30 PM

407 Tavern Street, New Harmony, IN, 47631

Established by philanthropist William Maclure in 1838, the Working Men’s Institute (WMI) set as its mission the dissemination of useful knowledge to those who work with their hands. After 170 years of continuous service, this goal is still at the heart of our mission. Maclure, who was a business partner with Robert Owen in the communal experiment in New Harmony from 1825-1827, was devoted to the ideal of education for the common man as a means of positive change in society. At New Harmony, The Working Men’s Institute was one manifestation of this ideal. The Working Men’s Institute in New Harmony was the first of 144 WMIs in Indiana and 16 in Illinois. It is the only one remaining. Many WMIs were absorbed by township libraries or Carnegie libraries. Yet the one in New Harmony remained. Today, the WMI is a public library, a museum and an archive. In each of these areas, the WMI tries to stay true to the original mission of William Maclure.

For more information on the Working Men’s Institute, please visit https://workingmensinstitute.org/ and follow their social media accounts at:

Historic New Harmony Logo, n.d.

Historic New Harmony, 401 North Arthur Street, New Harmony, IN 47631

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM

New Harmony was the source of two communal experiments in the 19th century: religious separatists from Germany who aspired to Christian perfection, and later, followers of Robert Owen who wanted to establish a model society of educational and social equality. “Historic New Harmony is a unified program of the University of Southern Indiana and the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. By preserving its utopian legacy, Historic New Harmony inspires innovation and progressive thought through its programs & collections.”

For more information on Historic New Harmony, please visit https://www.usi.edu/hnh and their social media accounts:

Be sure to stay tuned next week for the final week of #ArchivesFest2021.

Posted in #ArchivesFest, Indiana history, Local history | Leave a comment