The Twin Icons: Bi-State Vietnam Gold Star Bridges

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

Another local icon in the Tri-State is the Twin Bridges, officially known as the Bi-State Vietnam Gold Star Bridges. For over eighty years, a bridge has connected Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky. Many locals would talk negatively about the bridges because they have suffered numerous structural issues and traffic headaches for motorists over the years. Without the bridges, the cities of Evansville and Henderson may not have grown into what they have become today.

Audubon Memorial Bridge between Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky.
Audubon Memorial Bridge between Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky, n.d. Source: Evansville Postcard Collection (RH 033-313), n.d. University Archives and Special Collections, USI.

Construction started at the beginning of 1932 and was completed by mid-July 1932; however, there was only one span (the original span is the current north bound bridge). The bridge had a toll for many years. When the bridge was first built, it was referred to as the Henderson-Evansville Bridge because it connected the two cities together. Once completed, Indiana and Kentucky threw a huge celebration to launch the opening of it with a parade featuring Kentucky governor, Ruby Laffoon and Evansville mayor, Frank Griese. After them, the parade presented the advancement of cars (going from horse and buggy to gasoline cars). Once the bridge was opened, it was named the James John Audubon Bridge, honoring the famous ornithologist who lived in Henderson, Kentucky in the early 1800’s.

Audubon Memorial Bridge, between Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky.
Audubon Memorial Bridge, between Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky, n.d. Source: Evansville Postcard Collection (RH 033-315), University Archives and Special Collections, USI.

The bridge allowed traffic from US Route 41 to travel on because the route goes north and south from Miami, Florida to the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan (covering over 2,000 miles of road). Within its first year, it was estimated over one million people used the bridge and would increase by 48,000 cars in the following five years. The bridge did have a small toll, which would be eliminated in March 1941.

By the mid-1950’s, Kentucky and Indiana were exploring the idea of adding a second span to the bridge (currently the south bound bridge) to alleviate traffic congestion. The construction was supervised by Indiana and opened in July 1965. Unlike the original opening in 1932, there was no grandiose celebration. The following year, the north bound bridge was closed and underwent much needed repairs. The bridges would experience one more major change that would occur four years later.

Cars approach to Ohio River Bridge in Evansville, Indiana, 1937.
Cars approach to Ohio River Bridge in Evansville, Indiana, 1937. Source: Thomas Mueller Collection (MSS 264-2414), University Archives and Special Collections, USI.

Over Memorial Day weekend on May 31, 1969, the bridges were official named the Bi-State Vietnam Gold Star Memorial Bridge. It was an tribute to Vietnam War veterans for all Hoosier and Kentucky soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. The dedication began with a luncheon at the University of Evansville, where over 300 people attended (including local family members of soldiers who were killed in Vietnam). Major General S. H. Matheson from Fort Campbell, Kentucky spoke, and memorial poems were read shortly before the ceremony moved to the Twin Bridges. The northbound bridge was closed for the on-site ceremony. Carl Henze, whose son, Randall, was killed in Vietnam, stated, “I think the rededication of the bridge as a memorial to the war dead is wonderful. This is one of the finest things that could be done. It seems the boys who are killed in Vietnam don’t get much recognition. So, this is really wonderful” (Wersich, 1969). This had to be an honor to be a part of because renaming two bridges for those who fought and served in an unpopular war like Vietnam is a real tribute and sign of love to them. Though the bridges have been a sore subject for many, the bridges are a true icon for the Tri-State after eighty-eight years of faithful service.

Construction of southbound twin bridge between Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky, c. 1965.
Construction of southbound twin bridge between Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky, c. 1965. Source: Sonny Brown Collection (MSS 228-0074), University Archives and Special Collections.

The photographs in this blog are from various collections at the University Archives and Special Collections (UASC) at the David L. Rice Library at the University of Southern Indiana. There are over 44,000 photographs, videos, audio files, and documents available for research. If you need assistance, please contact UASC at or (812) 228-5048.

References Consulted

Boyett, F. (2019, May 23). Twin bridges renamed in 1969 to honor Vietnam War dead. The Gleaner. Retrieved from

Bridge dedication. (1932, July 5). Evansville Press. Retrieved from

Croft III, J. H. (1965, December 17). Dedication of span, bypass climaxes states’ program. Evansville Courier. Retrieved from

Lents, A. (2007, June 28). Twin bridges: 75 years old and counting. 14 News. Retrieved from

Luncheon to start bridge dedication. (1969, May 31). Evansville Courier and Press. Retrieved from

New bridge opens door to greatest era of progress. (1932, July 25). Evansville Courier. Retrieved from

New bridge over Ohio opened late in 1965. (1965, December 29). Evansville Courier. Retrieved from

Wersich, C. (1969, May 31). Relatives of Viet causalities proud of memorial. Evansville Press. Retrieved from

Posted in Architecture, Evansville, Indiana, Local history | Leave a comment

Walking the Plank

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

Does this conjure up an archetypal bloodthirsty pirate saying, “Arrr!” as a scurvy knave faces a horrible, watery death? It does for me, but today I want to share with you another use of the plank.

Transportation has come a long way—just look at how much easier it is to get to parts of Indiana via Interstate 69! That said, it’s not always easy — witness the flooded streets in parts of Evansville after a heavy rain. At least those roads are paved … think of how much more difficult it was for our ancestors in pre-automotive (or early automotive) days as they attempted to go from place to place. Before any sort of paved roads, walking, riding a horse, or riding a wagon over dirt paths wasn’t easy. Depending upon the soil type, it could be muddy or sandy and just plain treacherous. And slow! “Slowly they dragged their way through timber, streams, and swamps and over prairies covered with native grasses until then marked only by the trails of Indians, trappers, and traders. Two or three miles a day was good progress even in the more settled areas. … Teams bogged down, then wagons were unloaded, the whole family carrying the contents forward and returning to put their shoulders to the wheels. With every passing group of settlers, however, such trails as these widened, for each immigrant wagon sought to avoid the mud holes caused by preceding vehicles by seeking a new and firmer foundation for wheels and animals. What had been a narrow buffalo trail or a single set of wheel tracks thus soon became a widely extended maze of ruts and quagmires.” Once a town was established or a farm settled, the inhabitants needed to get their goods to market and be able to acquire other materials–clearly this wasn’t going to suffice. One solution was a plank road.

Just what is a plank road? “A plank road is a dirt path or road covered with a series of planks, similar to the wooden sidewalks one would see in a Western movie. Wagon roads surfaced with plank, kept the road open for traffic during the entire year which otherwise would be impassable during wet weather. Plank roads are similar to corduroy roads. A corduroy road or log road is a type of road made by placing sand-covered logs perpendicular to the direction of the road over a low or swampy area. The result is an improvement over impassable mud or dirt roads, yet rough in the best of conditions and a hazard to horses due to shifting loose logs.

On the left, you can see people traveling along the plank road. On the right, there is a diagram of how the plank road was made.
Images courtesy of the Wade House.
Travel along the plank road during harvesting season.
Image courtesy of the Wade House.

As primitive as it sounds to us today, the plank road was a boon to those early travelers. The earliest example of a plank road in the New World was built near Toronto, Canada in 1836. (The concept for such roads originated in Russia.) About 10 years later (1845-1846) the United States was able to claim its first plank road, built to cover the 14 miles between Syracuse, New York and the foot of Oneida Lake. Construction of these roads was done by private companies, not the federal or state government. Application was made to the state legislature for special charter plank road companies. “The provisions of the New York law, which was the pattern for many of the other states which likewise experimented with plank road construction, required that stock to the amount of at least $500 for each mile of proposed road must have been subscribed and at least five per cent of the subscription paid in cash before the articles of the company could be filed. The supervisors of the counties in or through which the road was to be constructed had to approve before work would commence. Stockholders were liable for an amount equal to their stock. Work on the project was required to be commenced within two years and completed within five.

Central Plank Road certificate of stock for a road to be built in Alabama.

From the late 1840s until the business depression of 1857 Americans invested some $10 million in more than seven thousand miles of plank roads concentrated mostly in New York and the Midwest….” Investors were paid back via tolls charged on the plank road. In Alabama, and this practice was probably similar for other plank roads, “there was a charge of 2 1/2 cents a mile for a four house private pleasure carriage; a loaded wagon with two horses was 3 cents per mile. Also there were bridges that charged tolls. However, there were no charges for funerals or for people going to church, to mill, to a blacksmith, or to a doctor.

Looking the at the list of Sources Consulted below, you can see ample evidence of some of those 7,000 plus miles of plank roads. One of the oddest experiments, in my opinion, was the road built across the Imperial Sand Dunes portion of the Algodones Dunes in Imperial County, California. The 8 miles must have been a nightmare to build—just picture vast amounts of constantly shifting, blowing sand! “From 1916 to 1926, crews of workmen struggled incessantly against nature to keep the road passable. Hard winds blew drifting sand across the road an average of two or three days a week, rendering the road nearly impassable about one-third of the time. The crew routinely worked the road with Fresno scrapers hitched to a team of draft animals, and travelers huddled in their vehicles while the sand swirled around them.

Pulling off the road onto the turnouts so that others might pass tried the patience of motorists. Traffic jams in the midst of desert vastness were not uncommon. On one occasion, a caravan of 20 cars encountered a lone traveler going in the opposite direction. Whether through timidity or stubbornness, the driver refused to back up to a turnout behind him. Finally, the party took matters in hand. The men lifted the car and set it on the sand, while the women proceeded to advance the caravan. When they were past, the car was lifted back up on the road, and all continued on their way.

In northeastern Indiana, the Lima Plank Road was constructed 1847-1849 “to connect Fort Wayne, the area’s center of commerce, to such promising outlying towns as Lima, Goshen, Yellow River, Kendallville, Piqua and Van Wert, Ohio, Winchester and Huntington.” In southeastern Indiana’s Floyd County, there were 5 plank roads built between 1851-1863: the New Albany, Lanesville, and Corydon Plank Road, the Old Vincennes Road, the New Albany-Jeffersonville Plank Road, the Slate Run Plank Road, and the New Albany and Charlestown Plank Road. Of more local interest was the September 1849 Indiana Plank Road Act which authorized construction in Posey County. Robert Dale Owen was one of the directors of this company. The road between New Harmony and Mt. Vernon (some 15 miles) was crucial to getting goods to market, but it wasn’t easy to travel due to mud, streams, etc. Why not use river transport? Well, there were dangerous rapids south of New Harmony on the Wabash River, so goods needed to be transported over land to Mt. Vernon to access the Ohio River. Owen hired an engineer to plan the road, following the path of least resistance and using the highest ridge possible to lessen drainage issues. Only perfect logs were used—hewn and floated down Big Creek to a steam sawmill called “The Mammoth.” The road was graded to 18 feet on its surface. There were actually two roads – one plank, one dirt. Which one you traveled on depended upon your mode of transportation. From Big Creek to Mt. Vernon the plank road was on the west side and the dirt on the east. This pattern was reversed in the Big Creek to Mt. Vernon stretch. Planks were 8 ft. long and 2 ft. thick, with width varying from 4 to 18 inches. Mile posts were painted white with black lettering and numbering. There were 3 toll stops – one just outside Mt. Vernon at Green Farm, then another in an old house ¼ mile south of Smith School, and a final one south from the Gentry house on Old New Harmony Rd. Toll houses were built with an extension over the roadway to protect the collector, who lived there with his family, collecting tolls and keeping records. The road was completed in 1851. Remley J. Glass provides these further details about its construction.

Although it was thirteen years after the first plank road was built in Canada, Owen realized his, and his fellow directors’, abysmal ignorance of plank roads all too well, and began an investigation of highway problems and plank road construction in the Empire State where such roads had been in use for two or three years. Fortunately, he embodied the information he gained in a thin, little sedecimo volume with the title Owen on Plank Roads embossed in gold on its cover. … Twelve or fifteen men formed a crew in charge of a foreman, equipped with “a wooden roller composed of a butt end of a large burr oak,” shovels, a “stout road plow of large size,” a strong iron rake, and iron crowbar, a heavy wooden maul, a scraper requiring two horses and two men, “a stout ox cart and three or four good yoke of oxen.” Two and one-half or three-inch planks sawed in eight-foot lengths were placed in convenient piles on one side with the stringers on the other, ready for the men to put them in place. Short lengths of plank were put under the joints of the stringers to avoid sinking during wet weather. Mr. Owen reckoned the cost of this lumber, “good and sound timber free from sap, bad knots, shakes, wanes and other imperfections impairing its strength and durability,” at $7.00 to $8.00 per thousand board feet. The eight-foot strip of hemlock, pine, or oak planking, with yellow poplar on the steeper inclines to give the horses a surer footing, was laid on one side of the grade on stringers imbedded in the earth with additional sections every two hundred yards or so for turn-outs. With this equipment of men and machinery thirty or forty rods a day, or perhaps half a mile a week, allowing for rainy weather, could be constructed at a labor cost of about $200 per mile.

Plank roads, as it turns out, were somewhat like a fad—very popular, with many areas jumping on the bandwagon, but short-lived. “From the late 1840s until the business depression of 1857 Americans invested some $10 million in more than seven thousand miles of plank roads concentrated mostly in New York and the Midwest, an investment which literally rotted away before their eyes. … Builders had projected a life span of at least seven years for the wooden roads, in reality they lasted only one or two years in the wet prairie areas of Indiana and Illinois. Even in drier areas the sun warped the top boards while ground moisture rotted the stringers.” Maintenance was troublesome: “after a few years of wear, the planks began to warp and rot away. The cost of repair, more lumber, gravel, toll buildings, employees, and management all came into play. As the planks deteriorated, gravel was used to compensate, making for a slower and bumpier ride.” Alabama’s plank roads suffered from warping in the winter and dry rot and insect damage in the summer. Plank roads there were used for only some 5 years. The Old Plank Road in California across the sand dunes lasted 10 to 12 years.

Timing, as they say, is everything. “It was the misfortune of these road projects … to come quickly into competition with the railroads, actual and dreamed of, which spanned Iowa. The expense incident to grading and planking of turnpikes coupled with the ever-present danger that a railroad might parallel the highway was a serious deterrent. The financial and civic interest in plank roads was unable to withstand the more compelling interest in subsidized railroad construction which would connect the newer regions not only with the Mississippi River, which was all the plank roads could do, but also with Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and the Atlantic seaboard. The final construction of railroads in and across Iowa marked the end of the Plank Road.” What was true in Iowa was true elsewhere. “Scholars suggest that plank roads were doomed from the start. First, they competed with railroads, a faster mode of transportation. Also, the timing of plank road construction was bad; in 1856 the North Carolina Railroad connected the mountains with the coast. Second, travelers cheated road companies by avoiding tolls. Third, the economic panics of the 1850s discouraged many investors. Fourth, plank roads required continual and costly maintenance. And fifth, the circumstances of the Civil War damaged or destroyed many plank roads.

Doomed as they were by the advent of railroad travel, plank roads still serve a purpose, some of today’s highways and roads are built atop the old foundations. You may not walk these planks, but apparently you can still drive them!

Check out this link for a blog on another infrastructure project doomed by its timing.

Sources Consulted

Causey, Donna R. “Imagine Traveling on Plank Roads Like This Between Cities in Alabama.” Alabama Pioneers website.

DeLeers, Michael. Plank Roads. Wisconsin 101: Our History in Objects online.

Gagen, Bob. “Traveling the Lima Plank Road.” November 29, 2007.

Glass, Remley J. “Early Transportation and the Plank Road.” The Annals of Iowa 21 (1939), 502-534.

Kelley, Anna E. The Plank Road. Greenfield, Ind.: Old Swimmin’ Hole Press, 1951. General Collection F526 .K3

Kickler, Troy L. Plank Roads. Encyclopedia entry in the North Carolina History Project online.

Longfellow, Rickie. Back in Time: Plank Roads. Highway History–United States Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration.

Old Plank Road.

Old Plank Road:Imperial Sand Dunes.

“The Plank-Road Craze .” American Eras . 19, 2020).

”Plank Road, New Albany to Corydon.” Southern Indiana Genealogical Society Quarterly, v. 9:no.4, October 1988.

Posted in American history, Transportation | Leave a comment

Raymond Frederick Diekmann Chrysler Wartime Collection

University Archives/Special Collections (UASC) at the David L. Rice Library is pleased to announce the acquisition and publication of the Raymond Diekmann photographic collection, MSS 253.  Diekmann (1913-1993) is probably best known as the owner of RaJo’s Gun Shop, but earlier in his career he was in charge of security at the Chrysler Plant/Evansville Ordnance Plant at 1625 North Garvin Street.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, “the Army Ordinance Department asked Chrysler if the Evansville plant could produce vast amounts of .45 automatic ammunition to supply the war effort. Chrysler President Kaufman Keller replied that they could.  Keller’s confidence in the Evansville plant’s abilities paid off. Between 1942 and 1944, the Evansville Ordinance Plant produced more than 3.26 billion cartridges – about 96% of all the .45 automatic ammunition produced for all the armed forces. In addition to the ammunition, the Evansville Ordinance Plant rebuilt 1,600 Sherman tanks and 4,000 military trucks. Plymouth car production resumed after World War II.” The plant closed in 1959.

Although he was not the photographer, Diekmann, in his role with security, would have been in many, if not all parts, of the plant and seen what is pictured in the more than 900 images of this collection, which all deal with the World War II work at the plant.

August 3, 1944 saw the arrival of the largest number of tanks needing repair, 32 train flatcars. MSS 253-0478
After repair and/or retrofitting, tanks were tested on this track. MSS 253-787
After repair and/or retrofitting, tanks were tested on this track. MSS 253-787
The “powder farm” for the ordnance plant was the current location of the Vanderburgh County 4-H Center. MSS 2583-586
Women working on wire harness assembly. MSS 253-805
African American man and women packing 30-caliber ammunition into boxes. MSS 253-433
African American man and women working at a 30--caliber carton machine. MSS 253-254
African American man and women working at a 30–caliber carton machine. MSS 253-254

If this brief peek at the collection intrigues you, click here to browse the Raymond Frederick Diekmann Chrysler Wartime Collection, which is also keyword searchable.  These photographs will be of use for sociology, history, engineering, and gender and race studies purposes.  And besides, it’s just plain fascinating!  It’s a portion of the more than 40,000 digitized images and documents held by UASC, covering the history of the University of Southern Indiana (USI), formerly Indiana State University Evansville (ISUE), as well as the history of Evansville, Indiana and the Midwest Region, along with various communal groups in the United States and around the world. Of particular interest is the African Cultural Diversity Showcase, a collection of 233 artifacts from Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, South Africa, and Ghana.  To explore any or all of these other collections, visit the Online Digital Galleries at the University Archives and Special Collections. In the future there will be other blogs that delve a bit deeper into the tank, truck, and ammunition work at the Evansville Ordnance plant…in the meanwhile, enjoy!

Posted in American history, Evansville, Indiana, history, Local history | Leave a comment

Robert Owen, the Voice of Reason

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

If you’re from this area and/or have ever visited New Harmony, Indiana, then you’ve heard of Robert Owen. You may also know that New Harmony is the site of two historic experiments in living communally, and that Owen was the source of the second of these experiments. And if you’ve heard of none of this, check out Visit New Harmony for a brief overview, or better yet, get in your car and physically visit. It’s a short drive from USI. This blog is going to focus mostly on Owen and his views on society.

Robert Owen (1771-1858) was born in Newtown, Montgomeryshire, Wales, the 6th of 7 children of the local postmaster/saddler/ironmonger) and his wife. His official schooling ended at age 10 when he was apprenticed to a cloth merchant in an English town about 100 miles north of London. He was, however, an avid reader, talking full advantage of his employer’s library to educate himself. By age 18-19, he had learned the trade sufficiently to be employed as a superintendent of a cotton mill in Manchester. “The population of Manchester increased by 1,000 per cent from 25,000 at the time of Owen’s birth to nearly a quarter of a million fifty years later. The demand by the cotton mills for labour was insatiable.” At that time, the Industrial Revolution had brought great prosperity to Manchester’s textile industry, so Owen found himself in a particularly good situation. The mill became “one of the foremost establishments of its kind in Great Britain. Owen made use of the first American Sea Island cotton (a fine, long-staple fibre) ever imported into Britain and made improvements in the quality of the cotton spun.

The story to be told in this blog really begins in 1799, when Owen married Caroline Dale, the daughter of a Scottish philanthropist and owner of a large textile mill in Lanark, Scotland. Owen and several partners purchased this mill from his father-in-law, David Dale, and at the beginning of 1800, Owen became the mill’s manager. This provided him the stage to implement many of his ideas about social reform.

Life as a mill worker was hard. “The noise from machinery was deafening, many workers became skilled lip readers in order to communicate over the noise. Ear protection was not compulsory leading to many workers becoming deaf. The air in the cotton mills had to be kept hot and humid (65 to 80 degrees) to prevent the thread breaking. In such conditions it is not surprising that workers suffered from many illnesses. The air in the mill was thick with cotton dust which could lead to byssinosis, a lung disease. Although protective masks were introduced after the war, few workers wore them as they were made uncomfortable in the stifling conditions. Eye inflammation, deafness, tuberculosis, cancer of the mouth and of the groin (mule-spinners cancer)** could also be attributed to the working conditions in the mills. Long hours, difficult working conditions and moving machinery proved a dangerous combination. Accidents were common and could range from the loss of a finger to fatality.” (Personal story: I’ve toured the historic textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. We were given disposable ear plugs and shown into a room with just a very small number of machines working. I thought the noise level was very tolerable, and I could easily hear and understand the guide. At the end of that room, we could dispose of the ear plugs as we moved to other areas. Once I removed the plugs, I was stunned at how incredibly loud it was, and remember that only a few machines were in operation. Clearly those ear plugs were far more important than I had realized. I cannot imagine working without any ear protection at all in a fully operational mill.) Hours were long (at least a 13-hour day, probably 6 days per week), with children as young as 7 (and quite possibly younger) employed. New Lanark had some 2,000 people, “500 of whom were young children from the poorhouses and charities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. The children, especially, had been well treated by the former proprietor, but their living conditions were harsh: crime and vice were bred by demoralizing conditions; education and sanitation were neglected; and housing conditions were intolerable.

Recall that Robert Owen was a great reader. He was also a deep thinker and philosopher, seeking to put the things he’d learned in his reading into practice. “Owen set out to make New Lanark an experiment in philanthropic management from the outset. Owen believed that a person’s character is formed by the effects of their environment. Owen was convinced that if he created the right environment, he could produce rational, good and humane people. Owen argued that people were naturally good but they were corrupted by the harsh way they were treated. For example, Owen was a strong opponent of physical punishment in schools and factories and immediately banned its use in New Lanark. David Dale had originally built a large number of houses close to his factories in New Lanark. By the time Owen arrived, over 2,000 people lived in New Lanark village. One of the first decisions took when he became owner of New Lanark was to order the building of a school. Owen was convinced that education was crucially important in developing the type of person he wanted. He stopped employing children under ten and reduced their labour to ten hours a day. The young children went to the nursery and infant schools that Owen had built. Older children worked in the factory but also had to attend his secondary school for part of the day.

Owen’s plan for reforming/remaking society started young. “Much good or evil is acquired or taught to children at an early age. Many ‘durable impressions’ are made even in the first year of a child’s life. Therefore, children uninstructed or badly instructed suffer injury in their character during their childhood and youth. It was in order to prevent this that the workers’ young children were to receive Owen’s closest attention. In the playground which was built for them at New Lanark each child would be told on his entrance in language he could understand that ‘he is never to injure his play-fellows: but that, on the contrary, he is to contribute all in his power to make him happy’. If this simple precept was followed—and the employment of superintendents was to ensure that there would be no deviation from it—then this behaviour would in time be transmitted to the population as a whole. To this end, Owen prescribed that the curriculum should be the best possible, eschewing traditional attitudes towards the education of the poor. Recognizing that each child had different aptitudes and qualities, he later pointed out that the intention of his system was not to attempt to make all human beings alike. Education was to make everybody ‘good, wise and happy’. Owen did not simply equate education with schooling. The role of parents in the process was stressed: the mother from the birth of a child onwards and certainly in the early years, was a key figure and both parents were urged to display great kindness in manners and feeling.”

With success at New Lanark, Owen’s horizons began to expand beyond education. As he developed his ideas, he became more of a communitarian and searched for opportunities to put his ideas into practice. In 1826, he “bought 30,000 acres of land in Indiana … from a religious community, renamed it New Harmony and began an experiment of his own. After a trial of about two years, [it] failed completely. … Under Owen’s guidance, life in the community was well-ordered for a time, but differences soon arose over the role of religion and the form of government. Numerous attempts at reorganization failed, though it was agreed that all the dissensions were conducted with an admirable spirit of cooperation. Owen withdrew from the community in 1828, having lost £40,000, 80 percent of all he owned.

Just as the Industrial Revolution brought advances and great wealth (to the upper class), so it brought the opportunity to take advantage of the worker. Owen himself left school at age 10 to go to work, and so he addressed some of the child labor issues in his reforms at New Lanark. The climate was ripe for labor unions. “The growth of labor unionism and the emergence of the working-class into politics caused Owen’s doctrines to be adopted as an expression of the workers’ aspirations, and when he returned to England from New Harmony in 1829 he found himself regarded as their leader. The word “socialism” first became current in the discussions of the “Association of all Classes of all Nations,” which Owen formed in 1835.

Eventually Robert Owen began to believe that no less than the total reform of society would be necessary to see his vision fulfilled. He wrote OUTLINE OF THE RATIONAL SYSTEM OF SOCIETY, FOUNDED ON DEMONSTRABLE FACTS, Developing the First Principles of the Science of Human Nature: Being the only effectual Remedy for the Evils experienced by the Population of the world; the gradual adoption of which would tranquillize the present agitated state of Society, and relieve it from moral and physical Evils, by removing the Causes which produce them. (One could never accuse Owen of thinking small!) He established Five Fundamental Facts on Which the Rational System of Society is Founded.

It should not be surprising to learn that Owen’s views were not universally accepted. It was well known that he was not a staunch, by the book, Church of England, believer. “His reading of books on religious controversies led him to conclude at an early age that there were fundamental flaws in all religions.” Indeed, in his “Declaration of Principles” Owen wrote, “I believe that to worship, by mere words or formal ceremonies, any object on the earth or in the heavens, or any thing of human device, is most opposed to the feelings of every conscientious intelligent mind, and that all such worship is necessarily destructive of the rational facilities of those trained in the practice of it.

… I believe that man cannot discover truth except by accurately investigating facts, that is true wisdom now to found a New Religion on facts only.”´(Social Bible, p. xxxiv-xxxv) Although his intention for writing this cannot be fully known, this is clearly a throwdown of the gauntlet for most church members of his time. In 1838, Frederic R. Lees, Secretary to the British Association for the Suppression of Intemperance, published Owenism dissected: a calm examination of the fundamental principles of Robert Owen’s misnamed “rational system.” He pontificated, “The principles of Christianity are now sought to be superseded by the wisdom of Robert Owen! In an insidious and roundabout way, Infidelity [by Infidelity he meant error in thinking] now demands that admittance which she could not gain by an open attack! For the Book of God, we are modestly requested to substitute the book of Robert Owen! a book, we confess, which eclipses all others, in crudeness, folly, and absurdity!

Still, Owen had his followers, his adherents. UASC has, within a miscellaneous collection of materials about the various historical communal experiments in New Harmony, Indiana (CS 445-1-6), a copy of a document entitled Social Bible. Laws & Regulations of the Association for all Classes of all Nations. Social Hymns for the use of the Friends of the Rational System of Society. It’s dedicated to Robert Owen, and the preface says that “the disciples and admirers of the Social System have long wanted a Compendium of the principles, in a small and convenient form, for reference. …The friends of Manchester and Salford [a town near Manchester] have ever been the firm advocates of the System, and here, by their exertions, kept it in view before the public. Some few years ago they established a School upon the System, and opened their Room on Sunday evenings for Lectures and discussions on that subject, thus claiming the attention of many thinking friends, and further, to make impressions on the mind of the principals thus taught and explained” (p. iv-v). It goes on to say that since music is nearly universally popular, congregational singing or professional singing is included in the meetings to make them more pleasant. Just as hymns in a traditional church service serve to further the message, so these Social Hymns “cause the minds of the persons who attend to reflect and consider on the new principles taught to the world” (p. vi). The hymns have themes of truth, reason, charity, union, sympathy, community, peace, freedom, knowledge, temperance, and festival. A few stanzas from the hymns celebrating reason will illustrate the divergence of Owen’s and Lees’ belief systems.

Lo! Knowledge comes, and from the mind
Drives error and its dreams afar;
Now truths we all will seek and find,
Mankind no more shall practice war.
Rule, fair reason!
(no. 14, p. 11)

Tis reason’s sacred lamp supplies,
These glorious works with light;
Her truths upon the nations rise,
And guides our wand’ring sight.
(no.13, p. 10)

Rise, Reason! Shine on all our race,
Shed confidence around,
For where thou guid’st our wand’ring steps,
Is sure, is solid ground.
(no. 15, p. 11)

Perhaps a future blog will delve more deeply into Robert Owen in New Harmony, but for now, enjoy this account of how he attempted to change the world.

**A spinning mule was a machine used to spin cotton. The mule spinners had to work in close proximity to the machine, bending over it. The spindles of the machine were lubricated with mineral oils, and threw off a mist of this oil as they spun. It is the constant exposure to this oil that caused the cancer.

Resources Consulted:

Donnachie, I. (2003) ‘Education in Robert Owen’s New Society: The New Lanark Institute and Schools’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education.

Dowd, Douglas F. Robert Owen. Encyclopedia Britannica online. May 10, 2020.

Early History & Robert Owen. Undiscovered Scotland webpage.

A Factory Worker’s Lot: Conditions in the Mill. BBC: Nation on Film, 2014.

Gordon, Peter. “Robert Owen (1771-1858). Prospects: the Quarterly Review of Education, v. 24, no. ½, 1994. P. 279-66.

Lees, Frederic R. Owenism dissected a calm examination of the fundamental principles of Robert Owen’s misnamed “rational system.” Leeds, England: H.W. Walker, 1838.

New Lanark. website—World Heritage list.

Owen, Robert. Manifesto of Robert Owen: the discoverer, founder, and promulgator, of the rational system of society, and of the rational religion: to which are added, a preface and also an appendix … . 6th ed. London: Social Institution, 1840.

Owen, Robert. Outline of the rational system of society …. London: Home Colonization Society, 1841.

Robert Owen. British Library’s Business and Management Portal (the Portal). 

Robert Owen. New World Encyclopedia website.

Robert Owen. Spartacus Educational website.

Siméon, Ophélie. Robert Owen: The Father of British Socialism? Books & Ideas website, December 10, 2012.

Social Bible. Laws & Regulations of the Association for all Classes of all Nations. Social Hymns for the use of the Friends of the Rational System of Society. Manchester, England: Froggatt and Richmond, 1835. CS 445-1-6 (a miscellaneous collection of materials about the various historical communal experiments in New Harmony, Indiana)

Welcome to New Lanark, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Posted in European History, Local history, New Harmony | Leave a comment

ArchivesFest 2020

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

It’s time once again for ArchivesFest, a fun contest featuring interesting items from area museums and libraries, in celebration of October as National Archives month.  Contestants were invited to nominate items in these categories:

Curators Pick

Funniest Item

Oddest Item

Oldest Item

Not every contestant will have an item in each category….that’s OK, but we do promise some beautiful and interesting items for you to enjoy.  With no further ado, let’s meet the contestants and their artifacts.

Located in Shawneetown, IL, the historical society and John Marshall Museum nominated this1800s four poster barn loom.  Historian Christy Short says this of her nomination for Curator’s Choice: “Its size alone is amazing as well as the number of moving parts. I am in awe of the skill and creativity of the weaver’s craft that enabled them to create beautiful works of art that were also useful, functional, and durable.”

The USS LST Ship Memorial, Inc., located on Evansville’s riverfront, contributed two items. The first, in the Funniest category, is this Curt Teich & Co. Sailor’s Prayer Postcard from 1941.  It’s a novelty postcard featuring a cartoon image of a sailor sleeping and snoring heavily in a hammock aboard a ship.  The LST museum nominator Andrew Schade says, “Both the cartoon and the poem poke fun at the experiences of sailors and provide a humorous glimpse into their lives aboard ship. The final stanza offers an abrupt shift in tone, similar to the final verse of Allan Sherman’s 1963 song, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.”

Chcago: Curt Teich, [1941]. “C.T. Art-Colortone.” “U.S. Navy Comics.” 1B-H527 / USN-11

Curator’s Choice is this set of 3 small glass bottles “intended to hold holy water or holy oils, meant to act as a good luck charm for the L-144 HS Syros [formerly and currently LST-325] while in service with the Hellenic (Greek) Navy.  The LST-325 served in the Hellenic Navy as L-144 Syros from 1964 until approximately 1999 when it was obtained by the USS LST Ship Memorial, Inc. for restoration and return to the United States as a museum ship. 

The first bottle is decorated with a print showing the Panagía Evangelístria, or “Our Lady of Tinos” temple located on Tinos Island as well as painted- or drawn-on red and blue flowers and a pink ribbon.

The second bottle is decorated with a print showing the virgin Mary and child as well as painted- or drawn-on yellow and red flowers and a pink ribbon. The final bottle is decorated with a print showing the virgin Mary and child as well as a blue ribbon.  The bottle contained cotton which was likely soaked in oils or holy water.”

“This set of items does not particularly fall into any of the other categories but offers a wonderfully unique expression of the LST-325’s “dual citizenship” thanks to her service with both the U.S. and Hellenic Navies.  The items also offer a colorful and eye-catching reminder of the practices that can bridge cultures and peoples, such as superstitions of sailors looking to bring their ship good luck.”

The Audubon Museum, John James Audubon State Park, Henderson, KY selected 4 items for the Curator’s Choice category, nominated by curator Heidi Taylor-Caudill.  The first is this piece of artwork by John James Audubon.

The world-famous artist and naturalist John James Audubon lived in Henderson, Kentucky with his family from 1810 to 1819. During this period, Audubon followed his passion for observing birds and made an effort to improve his drawings of them. He created this original watercolor and crayon drawing of a golden-winged woodpecker, or flicker, around 1819 at the Henderson home of his friend, Judge Thomas Towles (1784-1850). The drawing shows a single male flicker with brown feathers and black spots perched on a tree branch. It was cut out and pasted onto a paper backing.  Audubon gifted the Golden-winged Woodpecker to Judge Towles. The drawing was passed down through the family and later given to the Henderson County Historical Society, who in turn donated it to the Audubon Museum in 1938.”

John James Audubon (1785-1851) Golden-winged Woodpecker, circa 1819 Watercolor and crayon on paper.
Source: Henderson County Historical Society Collection, JJA.1938.141
Photograph of the Executive Committee of the Indiana State Audubon Society, 1914, photographer unknown. Gelatin silver print.
Source:John James Audubon Museum Collection, JJA.1938.197

Next is this “group photograph of the Executive Committee of the Indiana State Audubon Society taken in Evansville, Indiana in 1914. Seven men and two women are shown posing outside in front of the summer home of Mrs. George S. Clifford. All are seated on lawn furniture. Pictured in the back row on the right is the guest of honor, Harriet Bachman Audubon (1839-1933), granddaughter of John James Audubon (1785-1851) and daughter of John Woodhouse Audubon (1812-1862).   Front row: Amos W. Butler, Indianapolis; Judge Robert W. McBride (chairman), Indianapolis; Elizabeth Downhour (secretary), Indianapolis; George Clifford, Evansville; Edward Barret, Indianapolis; and Dr. Stanley Coulter of Purdue University, Lafayette. Back row: Dr. David Dennis, Richmond; William Watson Trodler, Indianapolis; and Harriet Bachman Audubon, Louisville, Kentucky.”

Third is this “scrap of parchment paper with what is believed to be John James Audubon’s writings. It contains his signature and numerous ink blots and doodles, including a poem about George Washington on one side and drawings of a man’s head on the other side. The scrap was found in the ledger book of Dr. Adam Rankin, a close friend and benefactor of the Audubon family during their time in Henderson, Kentucky. It is one of five scraps of paper with Audubon’s writing that came with the ledger.”

Brooch, circa 1850, unknown maker. Gold, glass, human hair.
Source: L.S. Tyler Collection, JJA.1938.1204

The Audubon Museum’s final item is a “brooch made with twisted and woven human hair that was owned by Lucy Bakewell Audubon (1787-1874), wife of John James Audubon (1785-1851). It is believed to contain the hairs of John James Audubon and his sons, Victor Gifford (1809-1860) and John Woodhouse (1812-1862) Audubon. The brooch consists of braided white and dark hair set in an oval gold setting with a glass cover. Dark hair twisted into an open lattice form is woven through rings attached to the central setting. Three beads of similar dark twisted hair dangle from the bottom of the brooch. The hair beads have gold end caps.”  Read more about the hairwork jewelry in the Audubon Museum collection at

The Newburgh Museum’s Suzanne Byers sent in 4 items for Curator’s Choice.  The first is a violin made by C. B. McCormick in the 1800s.  As only an apprentice carpenter, McCormick used his wooden tools and forms to make this exact replica of a Cremona violin.  The city of Cremona, Italy has had a reputation for stellar violins since the 16th century.

Next is a map cabinet from 1890, used in the Jefferson St. Colored School.  This hand-carved cabinet contains seven relief maps, each surrounded by carved wooden frames.  Maps include: Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, USA and the World.  Because they have always been stored in this cabinet, they are in remarkable condition with most reliefs intact.

Newburgh Museum’s third selection is an 1891 toy fire wagon, given to 5-year old Henry Warren as a Christmas gift.  It is complete with horses, wooden ladders, and firemen.

The final item is this replica of a Civil War era Philadelphia derringer. “Due to their compact size, they were perfect guns for concealment in a coat pocket or a lady’s purse and useful in extremely close-range confrontations.  A derringer like this one was used by John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of President Lincoln.”

Evansville’s Reitz Home Museum selected these items to display for ArchivesFest

The first is a Chinese cabinet, date unknown.  Charles Denby of Evansville was the first American diplomat to China, where he purchased this ornate cabinet and gifted it to the Reitz family. On the top shelf are 8 carved ivory Chinese immortals. Charles Denby cigars were made by the Fendrich Cigar Factory of Evansville.  The Museum’s Duane Myers calls this his Most Fun entry, hoping to educate others about Denby’s role as a statesman.

Next is this cranberry glass cracker jar.  Made in France circa 1875- 1920, it measures 9”H x 5”W and has a metal neck with handle.  It’s the museum’s Curator’s Choice, both for its beauty and because it’s the museum’s newest acquisition, just received in September 2020.

The Oddest Category item from the Reitz Home Museum is this late 19th century cigar band bowl.  “These bowls were popular in the late Victorian Period. They were made with cigar bands glued to the back of a clear bowl. This bowl features Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Prince George of England is also found on one of the cigar bands. It is believed the Wilhelmina Reitz was named after Kaiser Wilhelm I. (5” diameter x .5” deep).” It is uniquely Victorian—not many have seen such a piece.

The last piece is this massive (10 ft. tall) white onyx fireplace designed by Tiffany and Co.  “This mantel is one of a kind purchased in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Wilhelmina Reitz was one of the two women managers representing the State of Indiana at the World’s Fair 1892-1893. Notice the ormolu decorative features.  This is the Oldest Item Category.  It is one of the museum’s oldest permanent fixtures installed during the redecoration period of the Reitz Home.

The Evansville Wartime Museum selected this item from its collection for the Oddest Category.  From February 1945, this is a WWII casket shipping container, the outer container for shipping casketed remains of deceased troops.  Its exterior dimensions are 31” d x 87” w x 25” h. Museum curator J. Kenneth Grant provided this information.  “This artifact served as the outer container for the transit of Pvt. Andrew C. Harris, killed in action in Germany, February 1945, to Evansville’s Ziemer Funeral Home. Shipping information appeared on the container’s lid and end panel. The lid’s stenciling was later overpainted using white paint. The casket container was among the supplies allocated by the American Graves Registration Command to Graves Registration Service. This service provided respectful care of deceased members of the armed forces who died in theater and who were temporarily or permanently interred outside the US. How many containers came into private hands after used for their intended purpose? A story published in the June 2016 issue of “Mortuary Science Minutes,” by the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science (CCMS), claimed three casket containers were known to exist. The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, held two, plus one at the CCMS. Subsequent searches revealed three containers in the Veterans Memorial Museum collection, Terre Haute, Indiana, and one very similar container in an online auction. Add to these the container held by EWM. No matter the number of casket containers that remain, the use for which they were designed forever links them with our country’s fallen. We’ll likely never know what led to the reuse of this container as a storage unit. Still, that odd reuse ultimately led to the container’s home within the Permanent Collection of Evansville Wartime Museum.”

This museum’s Oldest Category item is a Spanish American War Veteran’s Medal from 1902.  This 3-piece bronze medal is 2 5/8” x 7/8” x 1/4″.  “Members of the United Spanish War Veterans received these medals. The organization consisted of veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, and the China Relief Expedition (Boxer Rebellion). It was among numerous fraternal societies created by veterans to stay in contact. The United Spanish War Veterans ceased to exist with the passing of its last member in 1992. (Sources: Library of Congress and Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)” At the top an “American eagle in flight, a laurel wreath forms the background, with a stars and stripes shield overlay. An American flag-inspired ribbon connects the medal’s elements. [Above the medal is a] crossed calvary saber, infantry rifle and navel anchor suspension with two-sided war cross.”

The front of the medal “reads Puerto Rico, Cuba, Philippine Islands, U.S.A., plus Spanish War Veterans,1898–1902, encircling a center scene.”’
The reverse of the medal “reads North, South, East, West, with “United” over a stars and stripes field.

The Wartime Museum Curator’s Choice is this 5 gallon gasoline container with an original 1937 design. “President Franklin Roosevelt observed in November 1944, “Without these cans, it would have been impossible for our armies to cut their way across France at a lightning pace which exceeded the German Blitz of 1940.” ( These 5-gallon cans were the link from the two PLUTO (Pipeline Under the Ocean) systems between Britain and France in 1944-45 and the fuel depots and the frontline troops – a link allowing combat vehicles to get the fuel they needed to advance. Efforts by the Allies to make a container for fuel or water were miserable failures. They leaked. They were hard to handle. They weren’t quickly produced. Thanks to an American engineer named Paul Pleiss and an odyssey worthy of a spy novel, a stolen sample of a superior German version and complete manufacturing specifications made their way to the Allies. The British began production, with more to follow. Millions of Allied-made Jerrycans were scattered across Europe by V-E day. Some were made by Corcoran Metal Products in Washington, IN. The Allies knew a good idea when they saw it, even if that good idea was the German-developed Jerrycan. The Jerrycan was developed under strict secrecy in the late 30s when the Germans realized they needed a way to make fuel portable. The design had two stamped-metal halves, welded together, for a 5-gallon capacity and weighed 45 lbs. when full. It could float and included a spout for spill-free pouring. After a long period of bureaucratic foot-dragging, the Allies became making exact copies of the Jerrycan in fantastic quantities. This particular artifact became part of the Evansville Wartime Museum Permanent Collection in 2019. Others at the Museum are mounted to vehicles on exhibit, showing the Jerrycans in use, carrying extra fuel or water.”

To the left, “Corcoran Metal Products Corporation, in Washington, Indiana, received contracts totaling $800,000 from the U.S. Army for water containers and container parts by February 1943. Corcoran received both contracts in June 1942, with the water containers due in October 1942 and the parts in January 1943. Shown: Loading containers for shipment. Photo: Evansville Wartime Museum Permanent Collection – Gift of Harold Morgan, 2017 3”

To the right, “An Army private refuels an ambulance using a Jerrycan. Notice the number of snow-covered Jerrycans in the foreground. These 5-gallon cans kept vehicles fueled and allowed the Allies to advance. An article by Richard Daniel attributes the nickname to the British who found them during the German invasion of Norway in 1940 – the Germans were “Jerries” to the Brits. Image:”

University Archives Special Collections in the David L. Rice Library at the University of Southern Indiana has selected an item for each category as our entries into the 2020 ArchivesFest.

Our Funniest item is this ISUE bowling jacket (UA 108-446 (108-18-12).  Before we became the University of Southern Indiana, USI was Indiana State University, Evansville (ISUE).  ISUE’s bowling league were champions for many years. This jacket is from Dr. Donald Pitzer, Professor Emeritus of History, who coached the league for several years in the 1970s.

Our Oldest category item is this 1603 alchemy book by Paracelsus: The archidoxes of magic : celestial medicines, magical cure of diseases, mysteries of the Zodiac, occult philosophy, secrets of alchemy, spirits of the planets, supreme mysteries of nature.  Paracelsus (1493-1541) was a German-Swiss physician and alchemist (alchemy was the study of turning lead into gold).  He did not hold with contemporary medical thinking, urging that the wisdom of old wives, sorcerers, gypsies, and the like held equal value.  He must have held a very high opinion of himself—the very name he gave himself, Paracelsus, means above (para) Celsus, a very respected 1st century Roman medical writer.  Note the zodiac on the picture of the open spread of the book.

For the Oddest Category, we chose this 3-dimensional topographic map of Stelle, a communal land trust community in northern Illinois. The group focused on early childhood development and education. The community formed in 1963 and formally disbanded in 2006, although many former members still live in Stelle, IL and the group has annual reunions. 

This map was made by a community member.  It’s very detailed and pretty large—we included this photograph of Archivist Jennifer Greene holding it to give you an idea of scale.

Our Curator’s Choice is this stunningly beautiful dress from Benin City, Nigeria.  It’s part of our African Cultural Diversity Showcase collection.  This collection is a visual display of African cultural artifacts. The first showcase was in 2013 at the University of Southern Indiana. The showcase was envisioned and developed by Joseph Uduehi with the assistance of Dr. Michael Ndemanu and Dr. Amanual Beyin. Other contributors included Dr. Sweet Ebeigbe, whose cultural artifacts from Benin-City, Nigeria have enriched the collection, and Provost Ronald Rochon, now President, and Professor Michael Aakhus, both of whose collections have made a valuable impact on the showcase.  The goal of the African Cultural Diversity Showcase is to educate the public about African culture through African artifacts that are physically available in a public place. This public place is the USI Rice Library, which houses these African visual artifacts. The artifacts are available to teach basic elements and principles of art as they pertain to lines, color, shape, form, texture, etc. at the elementary to college level.  The artifacts are also to showcase the common elements of cultural similarities across the African continent.

That’s it! There’s an incredible amount of diversity here—odd, funny, fun, beautiful, old, and some probably the secret favorite of the curator.  We hope that you enjoy this event and these items, and if you haven’t visited these institutions, that you are inspired to do so to see more of what you’ve been missing.  ArchivesFest 2020 will run October 5-16.  This blog will remain here, plus there will be individual social media postings.  Have fun!!

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