The Boatload of Knowledge

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

In the early 19th century, New Harmony, Indiana was the site of two experiments in creating a better way of life. Very briefly, the first lasted roughly 1814-1825 and was formed by a group awaiting the Millenium, the return of Christ. The second lasted only two years (1825-1827) was an effort to put into place the ideas of social reformer and industrialist Robert Owen. This blog addresses the Owen experiment. An October 19, 2020 blog dealt with Robert Owen–read it for some more background if you like.

Sketch of Robert Owen. UASC MSS 247-8206, the Don Blair collection

Robert Owen (1771-1858) was born into a working class family in Wales and had limited educational opportunities, but he had a curious mind and was a voracious reader, and began to work his way upwards. In 1799 he 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. “His ultimate objective was to create a New Moral World, a world of enlightenment and prosperity leading to human happiness defined as mental, physical and moral health enjoyed in a rational way of life. … Educators and scientists were crucial to Owen’s plans because education, science, technology and communal living were the means he felt could effect the New Moral World.”i

Portrait of William Maclure. UASC MSS 247-4564, the Don Blair collection

Owen had a like-minded colleague in the president of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences (now the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University), William Maclure (1763-1840). Born in Scotland, Maclure moved to Philadelphia and became an American citizen in 1796. He had a deep interest in educational methods, influenced by an 1805 trip to Switzerland where he met the progressive educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827). Maclure was also very interested in the sciences. Many of those who came to New Harmony for the second experiment in communal living came because of their relationship with Maclure. “Maclure’s radical social philosophy divided populations into nonproductive and productive classes, the governors and the governed. He argued that knowledge held exclusively by the governing class accounted for the concentration of power and property in the hands of the few. Likewise, knowledge made available to the masses would become the engine for their liberation and the equalization of power and property.”ii

Plans began to come together when Owen came to the United States in November 1824. “He used his fame as a businessman and social reformer to propagandize his new social system among the cultural and political elite of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. And he risked about half his fortune to purchases the town of New Harmony, Indiana, and its surrounding 20,000 acres for an original price of $135,000, which was later negotiated downward to $125.000.”iii With the site established (and a good site it was, as New Harmony at that time already had a reputation as a “wonder” town with some 180 buildings, lots of farm acreage in use, and a strong market for its products), “Maclure and Owen needed to recruit members for their new “Community of Equality,” and they opened it to anyone who wanted to join. By April of 1825, the town had between 700 to 800 residents. To jumpstart New Harmony’s intellectual heart, Maclure organized something called “The Boatload of Knowledge.” On a ship named the Philanthropist, a group of European and American geologists, entomologists, naturalists, zoologists, artists, and teachers took the month-long journey down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to New Harmony.”iv They set out on December 8, 1824.

Not The Boatload of Knowledge, but what a keelboat would look like. Image found here.

Let’s be clear about that method of transport…although a streamboat was originally intended, the water levels were too low, so a keelboat was necessary. The compartment was divided into four sections: for crew, for the men, for the women, and finally, for the children. It certainly was not luxurious, probably not even particularly comfortable, and keep in mind, these travelers were not hardy pioneers, accustomed to discomfort. The journey wasn’t particularly easy, either–just 3 days after they left and only 15 miles from where they started, they were stuck in ice. They were marooned for 28 days at a spot ironically named Safe Harbor.

On January 8, a successful attempt was made to chop a path out into the main channel of the river, and the Boatload was once again underway. They stopped in Cincinnati on January 17 where they toured a museum and heard a lecture, and again stopped in Louisville on January 19. Finally, they reached Mt. Vernon, Indiana on January 23, where some disembarked for a wagon ride to New Harmony the next day, but others remained on board and went further downstream to the Wabash River, then up the Wabash to New Harmony itself.

This portrait of Thomas Say was done by Charles Willson Peale and is in the collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. Image found here.

Let’s take a look at some of these “Boatloaders,” with the fuller list for you to examine above. We’ve already discussed Maclure and Robert Owen. Philadelphia born Thomas Say (1787-1834) was a self taught naturalist, interested in many fields of natural history–entomology, zoology, palentology, herpatology, conchology, etc. He was closely affiliated with the nation’s first natural history museum in Philadelphia as its keeper of collections. He went on several expeditions, including those to the Rocky Mountains and to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. He made a number of discoveries, publishing some of these in the 3 volumes of American entomology or Descriptions of the insects of North America, in 1824-28. Say’s work continued in New Harmony, where he married Lucy Way Sistare, a talented illustrator who had studied with Charles Alexandre Lesueur and John James Audubon. She illustrated much of her husband’s printed works. Say’s health was adversely affected by the climate in New Harmony, but he didn’t want to leave, dying there in 1834 of typhoid. Lucy died in 1886.

Say’s grave in New Harmony, located behind the Rapp/Maclure/Owen house at the corner of Main and Church Sts. UASC CS 662-117sc-0163, the Don Janzen collection
Drawing of Charles Alexandre Lesueur. UASC MSS MSS 247-4525, the Don Blair collection.

Charles Alexandre Lesueur (1778-1846) was a French artist, naturalist, and explorer. He was friends with both Maclure and Say and traveled with them to New Harmony. He had visited the United States previously and in 1833 visited Vincennes and drew the first known drawing of William Henry Harrison’s home, Grouseland. While in New Harmony he continued his drawings and collection of natural history specimens and artifacts, many of which are still in French museums. He remained in New Harmony until his friend Say died, returning to France in 1837.

Madame Marie Duclos Fretageot. UASC MSS 247-4498, the Don Blair collection

Marie Duclos Fretageot (1783-1833) was a French educator who had been trained by Pestalozzi. She was teaching in Philadelphia at this time and was familiar with and enthusiastic about Owens’s ideas on social reform. She was also well acquainted with William Maclure and perhaps helped influence him to join the Boatload of Knowledge. The boatloaders, during the stop at Louisville, met William Neef, a Pestalozzian teacher who later joined them in New Harmony. While in New Harmony, Fretageot and Neef and others eagerly began to implement a new style of education. At the Infant School (what we would call pre-school), Fretageot’s method, ala Pestalozzi, was to teach the children simply, with ample use of all their senses, and without prejudice. “The school curriculum [beyond Infant School] included arithmetic, geometry, mechanism (physics), natural history (science and health), writing and drawing, gymnastics, languages, music, and manual training. The girls followed the same curriculum, taught by Madame Fretageot, as the boys, who were instructed by Neef. Maclure believed that the school students could feed and clothe themselves and this his would be a useful part of their education; thus, both the boys and the girls worked in the cotton and woolen mills and the fields.”v Fretageot remained in New Harmony long after the Owen period, continuing to teach there until 1831 and directing Maclure’s printing press. She died in Mexico in 1833, while visiting Maclure who had moved there for his health a few years earlier. Members of the Fretageot family remained in New Harmony, including her son, Achilles, who came with her on the Boatload. A quick check of that last name shows at least 21 burials in Maple Hill Cemetery in New Harmony, the latest in 1972.

Drawing of Robert Dale Owen. UASC MSS 247-5338, the Don Blair collection

Owen’s oldest son, Robert Dale Owen (1801-1877) came along with his father in 1825 to New Harmony. He remained in New Harmony and promoted educational reform. He served in the Indiana House of Representatives 1835-1838 and 1851-1853, and in the U.S. House 1843-1847. Because of his efforts, free public education was part of the second Indiana constitution, written in 1851. In 1846 he helped establish the Smithsonian Institution, America’s “national museum.” Other Owen sons, although not part of the Boatload, also came to the United States and New Harmony. David Dale (1807-1860) gave up a career in medicine to pursue geology, and commissioned the first geological survey of Indiana in 1837. Under his leadership, New Harmony was the national headquarters for federal geological surveys from 1837-1856, before the U.S. Geological Survey came into existence in 1876. He also served as the state geologist of Kentucky, then Arkansas, and then Indiana. The youngest of Robert Owen’s sons, Richard Dale (1810-1890), succeeded his brother as Indiana state geologist, then became a natural history professor at Indiana University from 1964 to 1879, and served as the first president of Purdue University 1872-1874.

If you recall, the Owen New Harmony experiment lasted only two years. Owen’s utopian ideals, although deeply held and of real value, were not deeply rooted in practicality. “Owen never adequately understood or adopted the secrets that made the three Harmonist and nineteen Shaker communities thrive. In fact, Owen’s own faith in mental freedom and his insatiable urge to travel and speak on behalf of his social system militated against his adoption of the unquestioning commitment of members and the daily authoritarian administration that insured Harmonist and Shaker solidarity and economic success. This basic defect helps explain the monumental debates at New Harmony and the eventual dissolution of the communal aspect of Maclure’s and the other scholars’ involvement with Owen by 1827.”vi

Two years isn’t very much time, but Owen’s, his sons’, and his friends’ and colleagues’ contributions still echo today, and visitors and scholars still flock to New Harmony to partake of the utopian dream.

NOTE: the following two photographs are from the October 1977 filming of “The New Harmony Experience,” the first orientation film shown in the Atheneum/Visitors Center in New Harmony. (This is not the film shown today.) Nor are these photographs of the real Boatload of Knowledge, or necessarily even scale models. These are only the creation of the film’s artists as they sought to show visitors a representation of what the Boatload might have looked. Still, they are interesting and informative to give you a contemporary view of what might have been seen in New Harmony in 1826.

UASC UA 058-00382, the Historic New Harmony collection
UASC UA 058-00557, the Historic New Harmony collection

Resources Consulted

  • Budds, Diana.  “This small Indiana town is a hotbed of utopianism.”, August 5, 2019.
  • Pitzer, Donald E.  “The Original Boatload of Knowledge Down the Ohio River: William Maclure’s and Robert Owens’s Transfer of Science and Education to the Midwest, 1926-1827.”  Ohio Journal of Science, v. 89: no.4 (1989), p. 128-142. 
  • Pitzer, Donald E.  “William Maclure’s Boatload of Knowledge: Science and Education into the Midwest.” Indiana Magazine of History, v.94: no. 2 (June 1998), p. 110-137. 
  • Reynolds, Virginia K.  “Madame Marie Duclos Fretageot—The New Harmony Years.”  Contemporary Education, v, 58: no.2 (Winter 1987), p. 90-91. (journal article located in UA 058-1-18, the Historic New Harmony collection)

End Notes

  • iPitzer/Original, p. 130
  • ii Pitzer/William, p. 111
  • iii Pitzer/William, p. 115
  • iv Budds
  • v Reynolds, p. 91
  • vi Pitzer/William, p. 115-116
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Meet the Face Behind the Place: Pearl Drive

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

Men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl, c. 1995. Source: UASC, UP 01670.
Men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl, c. 1995. Source: UASC, UP 01670.

Basketball is Indiana’s favorite past-time. It doesn’t matter if it is high school, collegiate, or professional basketball, Hoosiers love the sport. At the University of Southern Indiana, basketball is one of the top sports on campus. Even on the west side of Evansville, a prominent drive is named after the USI basketball coaching legend, Bruce Pearl.

Until the arrival of Bruce Pearl, the USI men’s basketball team had six head coaches over a twenty-one-year span. Pearl was among eighty applicants for the head coach position in April 1992. Before coming to USI, he served as the assistant coach for the Iowa Hawkeye men’s basketball from 1986 to 1992 and at Stanford University from 1982 to 1986. By May 1992, USI announced Pearl would become the seventh coach in USI men’s basketball history

Pearl went to work, and the men’s basketball shined throughout the season under his leadership. The results were evident as the team posted their best season in school history at that point. The 1992-1993 team went 22-7, after going 10-18 the previous season. The team entered the 1993 NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball tournament but did not make it out of their region. By the next two seasons, no one realize how much the USI men’s basketball team was going to become a powerhouse.

(L-R): Men's basketball player, Chad Gilbert, coach Bruce Pearl, Dick Stockton from CBS Sports, Scott Boyden, and Cortez Barnes, after winning the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball title, 1995. Source: UASC, UP 00524.
(L-R): Men’s basketball player, Chad Gilbert, coach Bruce Pearl, Dick Stockton from CBS Sports, Scott Boyden, and Cortez Barnes, after winning the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball title, 1995. Source: UASC, UP 00524.

The 1993-1994 season outshined their previous season by improving their record to 28-4 and winning the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) championship and made it to the NCAA Division II championship; however, USI fell to the California State University, Bakersfield Roadrunners, 92-86. As a consolation, Stan Gouard, won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, despite losing. The 1994-1995 season proved to be redeeming as the Screamin’ Eagles dominated and returned to the NCAA Division II championship, facing UC Riverside. Unlike the previous year, the team defeated UC Riverside, 71-63, winning USI’s first ever collegiate championship. Following their win, the Indiana General Assembly honored and recognized the team. After their championship win in 1995, the men’s basketball team continued to be a force to be reckoned; however, the team did not return to the championship round until 2004, where they lost to Kennesaw State.

Pearl would stay at the helm of USI’s men’s basketball team until 2001, when he left for the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, as their head coach. Rick Herdes, an assistant coach for Pearl, later became the next coach for the team. During Pearl’s tenure at USI, he garnered a 231-46 record, a school record, and 146-28 record in the GLVC. He also won the GLVC Coach of the Year in 1993 and 1994. Pearl also became the fastest coach in NCAA history to win 200 games by doing so in 240 games. He was inducted in the GLVC Hall of Fame in 2008 and continues to coach men’s basketball. Pearl has worked for the University of Tennessee and Auburn University, reaching the Final Four in 2019, the first time in school history.

At the University Archives and Special Collections at the David L. Rice Library hosts an online digital gallery containing over 6,800 materials pertaining to USI history. The materials cover a wide array of topics and departments, including USI Athletics. The materials are free and available at


Borgus, H. (1995, April 24). General Assembly recognizes basketball team’s achievement. The Shield, page 8. Retrieved from

Great Lakes Valley Conference. (n.d.). Bruce Pearl.

Smith, N. (2001, April 12). Coach Pearl on his way out. The Shield, page 1. Retrieved from

University Notes. (1992, May 27). Retrieved from

USI Athletics. (2020). University of Southern Indiana men’s basketball all-time records. Retrieved September 11, 2020, from

USI Athletics. (2020). Year by year results for USI men’s basketball. Retrieved September 11, 2020, from

Wendt, B. (1992, April 22). Big 10 assistant basketball coach interviews at USI. The Shield, page 12. Retrieved from

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Meet the Face Behind the Place: Lloyd Expressway

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

Mead Johnson complex in Evansville, Indiana. The road intersection is St. Joseph Avenue and Pennsylvania Street (later becoming the Lloyd Expressway), 1966. Source: UASC, MSS 184-0671.
Mead Johnson complex in Evansville, Indiana. The road intersection is St. Joseph Avenue and Pennsylvania Street (later becoming the Lloyd Expressway), 1966. Source: UASC, MSS 184-0671.

Most Evansvillians have a love-hate relationship with Indiana State Road 62, better known locally as the Lloyd or Lloyd Expressway. It is a common road to travel and one of the few roads that go all the way through east to west, even if an expressway has stoplights. The expressway has a unique history in Evansville and most residents have varying opinions. The story of its namesake is heartbreaking, to say the least.

Aerial view of the Lloyd Expressway in Evansville, Indiana, n.d. Source: MSS 184-1564.
Aerial view of the Lloyd Expressway in Evansville, Indiana, n.d. Source: MSS 184-1564.

By the 1950’s, construction started on the expressway on the west side of Evansville by extending Pennsylvania Avenue. The expressway would extend from the Posey County line on the west side to Interstate 164, now known as Interstate 69, on the east side of Evansville. During the 1970’s, funds were secured by then-Evansville mayor, Russell G. Lloyd, Sr. The expressway was not completed for close to thirty years. Finally, on July 19, 1988, the expressway was officially open for business. The originally renamed of the expressway was Division Street-Pennsylvania Expressway until 1980, when it was renamed to honor Lloyd.

Russell G. Lloyd, Sr., served as Evansville mayor from 1972 to 1980. He was born on March 29, 1932 in Kingston, Pennsylvania. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a law degree. Lloyd would move to Evansville and make a local political career there. He served as an alternate delegate for Indiana in the 1972 Republican National Convention and become the mayor for Evansville, serving two terms. Lloyd would leave office in 1980 but he was assassinated by Julie Van Orden on March 19, 1980. Van Orden had issues with local officials and believed Lloyd was still in office. She decided to voice her opinions to Lloyd at his home and after a belief argument, Van Orden pulled a gun and shot Lloyd. Two days later, Lloyd passed away. In 1981, Van Orden was found guilty by insanity and sent to the Logansport State Mental Hospital until her death in 2014.

Interested in learning more about local history? Check out the UASC Digital Gallery,, from the University Archives and Special Collections at the David L. Rice Library. There are over 50,000 photographs and over 1,000 oral histories relating to local history and various subjects.


AA Roads. (2013). Lloyd expressway: State road 62 and state road 66.

Driving Division was frustrating, scary. (2007, Sept. 27). Evansvile Courier and Press.

Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library. (n.d.). Browning genealogy. Browning Genealogy: Evansville Area Obituary Search. Retrieved May 21, 2021, from

Lutgrieg, T. & Gross, E. (n.d.). Moments that shaped our city. Evansville Living.

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Living in Community….Bethel Colony in Missouri and Aurora Colony in Oregon

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

One of the collections within University Archives and Special Collections is Communal Studies. The Communal Studies Collection began in conjunction with the Center for Communal Studies, which promotes the study of contemporary and historic communal groups, intentional communities and utopias. The key word is intentional. These communities were/are deliberate attempts to live communally, with shared goals and economies. This blog is one of a continuing series….you can search for the phrase Living in Community to find others.

William Keil (1812-1877). Image found here.
Historic photograph of portrait of Louise Reiter Keil (artist unknown). UASC CS 662-40hp-0082c, the Don Janzen collection

The story of these two colonies begins with, is entwined with, and ends with, a man by the name of Wilhelm (William) Keil, born in Prussia in 1812. He worked as a milliner and a tailor, and married Louise Reiter in 1836. He had a curious mind that led him initially to mysticism and a search for “religious truth.” He searched for a universal cure for all ills, a panacea. He and his wife came to the United States circa 1836 and settled for a time in New York, “working at the tailor trade. But a nature like Keil’s is not satisfied with the handling of needle and scissors. He delved deeper into mysticism, theosophy, alchemy, magnetics, and botany and soon moved to Pittsburgh, where he opened a drug store and became known as “Doctor.” He had not been here long before he performed some strange cures. … As a result he was known in some circles as the Hexendoktor or witch doctor.”i

Copy of an oil painting of George Rapp. This is the only known portrait of him, and was done by memory by the artist, who had met Rapp as a child. UASC MSS 247-4230, the Don Blair Collection.

In 1838 Keil attended a German Methodist revival and was converted, renouncing his “witch doctor” ways. He wholeheartedly embraced Methodism, even becoming a licensed local pastor (although the actual licensing seems to be in doubt). He was appointed to a church in Deer Creek, near Pittsburgh, but soon began to chafe under the church’s authority. “Keil’s entire life showed that he was a man who could not conform, and that he was restless under any authority. But notwithstanding his independent spirit, he desired to belong to an established religious denomination. On leaving the Methodist Episcopal Church he joined the Methodist Protestant Church, again taking his entire congregation with him. … Because he refused to obey his superiors in the Methodist Protestant Church, he was expelled from that body. Thus, in less than a year, Keil was in and out of two of the major branches of American Methodism.”ii It is at this time that his story intersects with that of another communal group of local interest, the Rappites or Harmonists that settled in New Harmony, Indiana, and were now living in their third and final colony in Economy, PA. Keil met them and was influenced by their communal lifestyle. Some of those disenchanted with life in Economy, particularly the stance on celibacy, became part of Keil’s congregation and followed him when he moved on.

Seeking to find a place where he could establish his own community, he and his scouts purchased 2500 acres in Shelby County, Missouri, in 1844. Eventually the community of Bethel covered 4000 acres. Bethel is a Hebrew word meaning “house of God.”

UASC CS 662-040ad-0001, the Don Janzen collection.

The hardworking and talented German craftsmen and farmers, after a difficult first winter, were able to build a stable and prosperous town. Nearly all the houses were made of brick, with that brick made right there in Bethel. All farming equipment and all furniture was also made by local craftsmen. “Each family was given a house, while a long two-story brick building near the center of the village served as a hotel and dormitory for the single men. Besides the homes and the hotel, the village consisted of a church, school, tannery, distillery, mill, glove factory, drugstore, and a wagon shop. Agriculture was a means of livelihood in the colony, but apparently the glove factory and the distillery were more important features of the economy of the group. Gloves made by the colonists were so superior in quality that they won first prize at the New York World’s Fair in 1858. The main source of revenue was the distillery which sold whiskey by the wagon load in Quincy, Illinois, for 15 cents per gallon! Bethel boasted the first steam mill in rural Missouri. All clothing, shoes, brick, furniture, wagons, and farm implements used by the colonists were made in the village shops, and the surplus was sold in the surrounding area.”iii

Historic photograph of Bethel Colony looking southward from the balcony of the colony church. The colony school is the large building in the foreground. UASC CS 662-40hp-0070, the Don Janzen collection.
Historic photograph of Bethel Flour Mill c1900 with engine shed in foreground. UASC CS 662-40hp-002, the Don Janzen collection.
Historic photograph of Bethel Flour Mill, c.1890-1910, with north extension (right) and engine shed (left). UASC CS 662-40hp-003, the Don Janzen collection.

Keil’s house, Elim, was about a mile outside of Bethel. It was a large building made of locally-made brick. It had a full basement and wine cellar, paneled walnut doors, and a large ballroom on the second floor. This ballroom was where many celebrations were held, particularly for the holidays and the annual celebration of Keil’s and his wife’s shared birthdays on March 6.

Elim, the William Keil house, photographed May 7, 2009. UASC CS 662-040dc-0299, the Don Janzen collection.
Elim, the William Keil house, photographed May 7, 2009. UASC CS 662-040dc-0302, the Don Janzen collection.
Elim, the William Keil house (south side), photographed May 7, 2009. UASC CS 662-040dc-0308, the Don Janzen collection.
Elim, the William Keil house (looking northeast), photographed May 7, 2009. UASC CS 662-040dc-0312, the Don Janzen collection.

Bethel Colony thrived, but by 1855, Keil was growing restless. “He dreamed of a chain of colonies reaching from his first venture to the Pacific Coast.”iv A site was selected in Washington, and Keil and his followers (some stayed in Bethel and that community continued) got ready to head west. His 19 year old son Willie was very excited that his father had promised to take him along. On May 19, 1855, before the wagon trail could leave, Willie succumbed to malaria. A promise was a promise, though, so his father had him placed in a lead-lined coffin and had it filled the finest locally-made 100 proof Golden Rule whiskey. The body was carried in the first wagon in the train across the Oregon Trail and not laid to rest until November or December when the group arrived in Washington. Ironically, the climate in Washington did not suit the colonists and they settled the Willamette Valley in Oregon, leaving the beloved son behind. Keil also remained in charge of Bethel, even though he never returned.

Aurora Colony Hotel, with the band playing on the roof. Image found here.

The new colony was named Aurora, meaning dawn, also the name of one of Keil’s daughters. “As early as 1860, after the stagecoach line that connected San Francisco and Portland was established, Keil turned of portion of his “Great House” into a hotel and restaurant for travelers. Aurora, located halfway between Portland and Salem, found itself right on the line. Ten years later, Keil faced a new challenge when Ben Holliday’s Oregon and California Railroad also came through Aurora. But this time Keil was ready. He had anticipated the railroad and had the colonists build a large hotel which they completed in 1867. … Visitors coming into Aurora on the train sometimes were greeted by the colony band playing from the top of the hotel. Colony women cooked and served the food and Federal Judge Mathew Deady was so impressed with the food that he wrote in his diary that he wished there was “a Dutchtown” at every stop.”v (Clarification: Dutch is a “corruption” of the German word for German, Deutsch.)

The Old Aurora Colony Museum (formerly the Colony ox barn) with the Kraus house on the left, photographed November 6, 2010. The ox barn was first built circa 1860; what is seen here reflects later renovations into a store and a home. UASC CS 662-216dc-0002, the Don Janzen collection.
George Kraus house dining room/kitchen , photographed November 6, 2010. Kraus was the colony shoemaker. Constructed circa 1864, it was lived in by members of the family until the 1960s. UASC CS 662-216dc-0035, the Don Janzen collection.
The John Stauffer, Sr. farm, photographed November 6, 2010. The log house seen here has 2 stories plus an attic and cellar and was built circa 1867. UASC CS 662-216dc-0043, the Don Janzen collection.
Frederick Keil house in Aurora, built circa 1870, photographed November 6, 2010. UASC CS 662-216dc-0046, the Don Janzen collection.

What were the beliefs and practices of Bethel and Aurora colony members? When he broke completely with the Methodist church, Keil had “found church regulations irksome, and ….declared that he would accept no authority except the Bible, no rule except the Golden Rule, no creed except that of moral living. … In 1844 the plan was made to establish a Colony, based on the Christian ideal of equality and sharing.”vi He refused to have any written constitution, so his word or interpretation was always final. “Practical Christianity was stressed. Each family was given a house, and each person worked as he or she was able. Unlike the practices in most intentional communities, no records of accounts were kept. Attendance at church services, held every two weeks, was voluntary, but the church was usually filled to capacity. Most of the traditional Christian rituals were abolished. There was no baptism or confirmation, but Easter was celebrated. … The practice that caused the most unrest was that of confession and public repentance, but most of the colonists bore Keil’s recriminations from the pulpit for their transgressions with stoicism. Others withdrew from the Colony (but remained in the settlement) or did not join in the communal practices.”vii

Henry Conrad Finck and his children. Finck was a prominent musician, and son Henry Theophilus Finck graduated from Harvard in 1876, became a famous author, and was music critic for the New York Evening Post for 43 years. Image found here.

One thing that characterized both colonies was a rich musical tradition. There were at least two bands in Bethel, the Bethel Band and the Bethel Independent Brass Band (it is believed these later merged into one). The Aurora Pioneer band did a 16-day tour of the Puget Sound area in 1869, headlined the American centennial celebration in Portland in 1876, and were greeted with much enthusiasm and anticipation at an 1877 college graduation ceremony. Aurora also boasted a “Pie and Beer Band” made up of boys and young men, so named for how they were paid. Choral music was also quite popular. “Most of Aurora’s music was borrowed from its German heritage, but some was adopted from the new American culture. … The old, familiar German music reminded the colonists of their Heimat (homeland), but the new, American airs helped to make their musical groups acceptable and popular throughout Oregon.”viii A portion of the music was locally composed, unfortunately not always signed.

Schellenbaum, circa 1910, from the Bethel colony. Although there is testimony that it was used at Aurora, there are no photographs of such. UASC CS 662-040hp-0100, the Don Janzen collection.

“Perhaps the most celebrated instrument of the Aurora band was the Schellenbaum or bell tree. It was made in Bethel by John L. Bauer, a talented craftsman….The Schellenbaum is comprised of three circular patterns of bells (with attached clappers), interspersed with jingles (with unattached clappers). It was carried by respected members of the colony and marked the head of band processions. Resting in a belt much as a flag is carried, the Schellenbaum jingled brightly in time to the steps of its bearer. Common to 19th century German bands, the Schellenbaum….had its origins in Turkey.”ix

William Keil died December 30, 1877. His rule, both in Bethel and Aurora, had been an autocratic one, based strongly on his charisma and ability to persuade others to follow him. Any society so focused on one person will suffer when that person dies; indeed, both Bethel and Aurora were disbanded and dissolved by 1883. There were no half measures with Keil–you either adored and followed him, or despised his despotism. “His friends praised him and considered him a superman; his enemies maligned him and thought of him as a man without principle, integrity, or honor.”x

Resources Consulted

Dailey, Harold.  “The Old Communistic Colony at Bethel.”  The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, v.52:no.2 (1928), p. 162-167.  

Gooch, John O.  “William Keil: A Strange Communal Leader.” Methodist History Journal: July 1967, p. 36-41.  United Methodist Church: General Commission on Archives and History.

Kopp, Jim.  “Wilhelm Keil (1812-1877)”  The Oregon Encyclopedia online.  Oregon Historical Society.

Old Aurora Colony website.   Aurora Colony Historical Society.

Olsen, Deborah M. and Clark M. Will.  “Musical Heritage of the Aurora Colony.”  Oregon Historical Quarterly, v. 79: no.3 (Fall 1978), p. 233-267. (located in CS 044-3, the Aurora Colony collection)

Schroeder, Adolf E.  “Bethel German Colony, 1844-1879: Religious Beliefs and Practices.”   Historic Bethel German Colony, Inc., 1990. (pamphlet located in CS 057-4, the Bethel German Communal Colony collection)

Schroeder, Adolf E.  “The Musical Life of Bethel German Colony, 1844-1879.”   Historic Bethel German Colony, Inc., 1990. (pamphlet located in CS 057-4, the Bethel German Communal Colony collection)

Simon, John E.  “Wilhelm Keil and Communist Colonies.”  Oregon Historical Quarterly, v.26: no.2 (June 1935), p. 119-153.

End Notes

i Simon, p. 120

ii Gooch, p. 38

iii Gooch, p. 39-40

iv Dailey, p. 165

v Old Aurora Colony website: Colony History/Hotel

vi Schroeder/Bethel, p. 14-15

vii Schroeder/Bethel, p. 16

viii Olsen, p. 235

is Olsen, p. 255

x Simon, p. 152

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Meet the Face Behind the Place: Robert D. Orr Center

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

Throughout Evansville, there are numerous buildings and streets that bares someone’s name. The real question is, have you ever wondered the story behind it? You are in luck because several Evansville icons will be discussed in a seven-part miniseries. The first place is in the heart of the University of Southern Indiana (USI): the Robert D. Orr Center.

Former Indiana governor Robert D. Orr at the Orr Center dedication ceremony at USI, 1990. Source: UASC, UA 078-04994.
Former Indiana governor Robert D. Orr at the Orr Center dedication ceremony at USI, 1990. Source: UASC, UA 078-04994.

Robert D. Orr was born on November 17, 1917, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Evansville. He graduated from Yale University, with a bachelor’s in American History, and attended Harvard Graduate School; however, he left Harvard to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II. Orr was stationed in the Pacific Theatre through the war. He did achieve moving in rank from private to major and awarded the Legion of Merit medal for exceptionally conduct in his service. After the war ended, Orr moved to Evansville and worked in the family business, Orr Iron Company.

(L-R): Dr. Patrick V. Corcoran, Lt. Governor Robert D. Orr, Dr. Charles E. Rochelle, Dr. Snively, and Indiana Governor Otis Bowen in Evansville, Indiana, 1975. Source: UASC, MSS 229-529.
(L-R): Dr. Patrick V. Corcoran, Lt. Governor Robert D. Orr, Dr. Charles E. Rochelle, Dr. Snively, and Indiana Governor Otis Bowen in Evansville, Indiana, 1975. Source: UASC, MSS 229-529.

In Evansville, Orr achieved political success and served as precinct committeeman, convention delegate, and the chair of the Vanderburgh County Republican Party. The first elected position Orr held was on the Center Township Advisory Board in Vanderburgh County as member and chair. He decided to move his political career to the state level. It finally happened in 1968 when he was elected to the Indiana Senate. Before he realized it, his political career had skyrocketed. Orr was elected as lieutenant governor in 1972 and 1976, serving alongside Dr. Otis Bowen. During his lieutenant governorship, Orr served as the director of Indiana Department of Commerce, Commissioner of Agriculture, and President of the Senate. As 1980 approached, Bowen couldn’t run for governor because of term limits; however, Bowen gave Orr his approval and he won the Republican nomination. He would win the governorship in the largest margin in Indiana gubernatorial history, 57.7% to 41.9%.

Robert Orr, Joel Deckard, and Gerald Ford in Evansville, Indiana, 1976. Source: UASC, MSS 181-0443.
Robert Orr, Joel Deckard, and Gerald Ford in Evansville, Indiana, 1976. Source: UASC, MSS 181-0443.

In Orr’s first term as governor, Indiana was in a recession. His focus was getting the state out of a deficit, which finally happened in 1982 when the state legislature increased the state income and sales taxes. He continued to focus on economic development into his second term after being reelected in 1984; but he was also centered on education. His “A-Plus” package was passed, which required achievement testing and the creation of a new school accreditation system, and “Prime Time” program, which reduced classroom sizes and increased the school year. After he left office in 1989, Orr served as the US ambassador to Singapore until 1992.

Some maybe asking, what did Orr do for USI? If it wasn’t for Orr, there wouldn’t be USI because it was known from 1965 to 1985 as a satellite campus for Indiana State University (ISUE). On April 16, 1985, then-governor Orr signed Senate Bill #207, allowing ISUE to become an independent university, becoming USI in the process. USI dedicated to honor Orr and his work for USI by naming the next university building after him. The Orr Center was only the sixth building built on the property of USI and first since 1980, when the HYER or Physical Activities Center (PAC) was completed. It was opened and dedicated on June 10, 1990 (“Orr Center dedication”, pg. 1). Orr would receive an honorary degree at the first commencement for USI in 1986, along with his wife, Joanne. Orr passed away on March 10, 2004.

For more information on the Orr Center and the University Archives collections, visit the Online Digital Gallery available at the David L. Rice Library through the University Archives and Special Collections (UASC). The gallery has seven galleries over the history of ISUE and USI, such as university newsletters, the Shield newspapers, yearbooks, and commencement programs.


Associated Press. (2004, March 12). Robert D. Orr, 86 governor who revamped Indiana schools. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Indiana Department of Administration. (2020). Robert D. Orr. Retrieved from

Indiana Governor History. (2020). Robert D. Orr. Retrieved from

Indianapolis Star. (2004, March 15). Governor Robert D. Orr. Retrieved from

National Governors Association. (2020). Governor Robert D. Orr. Retrieved from

Orr Center dedication. (1990, June 6). University Notes. Retrieved from

University of Southern Indiana. (2020). Honorary degrees, 1985-1989.

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ARCHIVES Madness 2022

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

The votes are in and the winner and is…

Evansville Wartime Museum

Congratulations to this year’s winner. You can see the “Coolest Artifact” at the Evansville Wartime Museum. For more information on the museum visit,

And big thank you to all of the participants: Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science, John James Audubon Museum, USI Art Collection, USI Lawrence Library, Willard Library, and Working Men’s Institute.

And thanks to everyone that voted and helped to make this year’s event another great tournament!

University Archives and Special Collections, Rice Library, 3rd floor

University Archives and Special Collections David L. Rice, USI

In the summer of 1972 the Lilly Endowment, Inc. of Indianapolis, Indiana awarded the then Indiana State University Evansville a three-year grant to establish an archival project for the acquisition, preservation 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.

Meet the Competitors

The first entry is this hat from the Beardsley, Montgomery, and Gordon Families Collection. MSS 297.  It’s a cloche hat, a “a close-fitting hat worn by women from c. 1908 to 1930.  Its bell-like shape, which gave the hat its name, is most associated with the 1920s.”[i]  This was the era of the flapper—a young woman who pushed the boundaries of society and pushed hard.  The cloche-wearing flapper was a modern woman. (quote from Baclawski, Karen.  The Guide to Historic Costume.  London: B.T. Batsford, 1995.   General Collection GT507.B33 1995) This brown straw hat dates to 1920 and has grosgrain ribbon around the brim and surrounding the colorful decoration, which is made from bakelite.  Bakelite was the first plastic made from synthetic materials.


The second entry this “blooper” poster advertising the release of the third film in the vastly popular Star Wars series.  The original version was released March 25, 1983.  It’s from MSS 118, the Jeanne Suhrheinrich Collection.  Suhrheinrich was a long time entertainment editor for the Evansville Courier.

Evansville Museum of Arts, History, and Science at 411 SE Riverside Dr. 

Evansville has had a museum since 1906, with today’s location dating to the 1950s.  This appearance dates to a major update/remodel circa 2014

“The Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science houses a permanent collection of more than 30,000 objects, including fine and decorative art, as well as historic, anthropological, and natural history artifacts. Over twenty temporary, regional and international exhibitions are displayed each year in four galleries.  The Koch Immersive Theater houses a 40-foot diameter domed screen with 360-degree digital projection featuring astronomy and science programming.  Evansville Museum Transportation Center (EMTRAC) featuring transportation artifacts from the late 19th through the mid-20th centuries. On exhibit is a three-car train. The museum is home to a model train diorama of Evansville.”

The first item is this doorknob, from the infamous Adolf Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest retreat near Berchstegaden, Germany.  It was taken in July 1945 by U.S. Army Air Corps Captain Henry J. Luerssen, who also provided a notarized document attesting to its authenticity.

The second is this letter written by Abraham Lincoln to David Turnham, a childhood friend from Spencer County, Indiana.  Written just prior to the 1860 election, Lincoln speaks of wishing to see his old friends and old home again.  Turnham was later able to provide historians with information about the assassinated president’s time in Indiana.

John M. Lawrence ’73 Library in Rm. 0119 of the Liberal Arts Center

Lawrence Library is located on the lower level in room 0119 of the Liberal Arts Center of USI’s campus. The concept for this library sprang from the friendship of Patricia (Patty) Aakhus and John M. Lawrence. The library is named for Mr. Lawrence, a graduate of USI’s class of 1973 and an international expert and collector of medieval manuscripts, for his generous support of the College of Liberal Arts. John Lawrence donated many items to the College, including a collection of medieval manuscripts as well as other artifacts, for use as a study collection for students. Patty Aakhus was an associate professor of English and served as the director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies and program director in International Studies. Aakhus also published three novels based on medieval texts that she studied and translated. Patricia Aakhus served as the first caretaker of the space prior to her death in 2012. The Lawrence Library prides itself on the student leadership of the space where student archivists curate exhibitions, research manuscripts and artifacts, and participate in collections management and care.

The first entry is an etching on paper by Francisco Goya entitled “Los Caprichos: Los Chinchillas”, created in 1799.   This piece of art served as the inspiration for the vidual design of the monster character made famous by Boris Karloff in the 1931 film, Frankenstein.

The second entr is this Roman Redware Terra Sigillata Jug, circa 150 CE.  Terra sigillata clay was found in Gaul (present day France).  This jug was excavated in North Africa, once a part of the Roman empire.

John James Audubon Museum in John James Audubon State Park, 3100 US Hwy 41 North, Henderson, KY

The museum interprets the lives and work of John James Audubon and his family within a timeline of world events. Three galleries chronicle the Audubon story, including the family’s 1810-1819 residency in Henderson, Kentucky. Over 200 objects are on display, including artifacts from Audubon’s Kentucky years, a complete set of his masterwork, The Birds of America, and many original artworks.

The first entry this life-sized bronze sculpture of John James Audubon’s White Headed Eagle by Raymond Graf, completed in 2008.  The original Audubon painting was plate 31 in the Double Elephant Folio of the Birds of America.  This sculpture sits outside the museum in Henderson, KY.   Raymond Graf is a Louisville artist and graduate of Murray State University.

The second item is this hand-colored lithograph from 1851 of John Woodhouse Audubon’s painting, “Cat Stalking Bird on Bough.”  John Woodhouse was the son of John James Audubon.

University of Evansville, University Archives in Bower-Suhrheinrich Library/Clifford Memorial Library

University Archives is the repository for archival records pertaining to the history and operations of the University of Evansville.

The first entry is this English moss rose china teapot measuring 37 inches high and weighing roughly 90 pounds empty, 355 pounds filled. This teapot can hold enough tea for an estimated 850 people. The hand-painted teapot was made by Alfred Meakin of Tunstall, England in 1890. It first arrived in Evansville from England as a present to the old Ichenhauser & Sons Company on NW First Street, which claimed to be the largest glass and china dealer in the Midwest. Silas Ichenhauser was a trustee of Evansville College, and when the firm closed in 1927, he presented the teapot to the college, where it was displayed for years in the front hall of the Administration Building (now Olmsted Administration Hall).  This image, with two University of Evansville (Evansville College at the time of this photograph) students gives you a good idea of the large size of this teapot.

The second item is this Japanese mask.  It was sometimes worn on religious occasions, but more commonly by children or adults for amusement.  This white mask has a pointed nose with whiskers along it, and a red painted mouth that opens.  A string tied through the eyes holds it on the face.

Evansville Wartime Museum The EWM focuses on the manufacturing contributions made during World War II by local industries and celebrates the service of hometown and regional members of the armed forces.  It is located in a hanger near the airport, at 7503 Petersburg Rd

The first entry is “Hoosier Spirit II”, a Republic Aviation P-47 Thunderbolt.  This WWII fighter plane was manufactured in Evansville.  Republic Aviation didn’t even come to Evansville until November 1942, but it immediately geared up and by the time production ceased in mid-August 194, some 5,000 employees (about half women) had contributed 6,242 P-47 Thunderbolts to the war effort. Combat pilots loved the P-47.  It did the job, and it brought them home safely.

This specific P-47 Thunderbolt was originally developed as a trainer plane for the U.S. Air Force in May of 1945. In August of 1947, it became part of the Venezuelan Air Force and remained there for 28 years. In 1975, the plane became part of a private collection in France where it stayed for 12 years. In 1987, the plane returned to the U.S. by a private collector who had the plane for 11 years. During that time, the plane was restored and given the name of “Big Ass Bird II” after a plane from WWII. The name caused some booking problems in parts of the U.S., so it was renamed “Tarheel Hal” after another P-47 flown during WWII. In 1998, the plane became part of the collection of the Lone Star Museum in Galveston, Texas, where it remained for 22 years.  On Saturday October 17, 2020, The Evansville P-47 Foundation purchased Tarheel Hal as a symbol for all the planes produced in Evansville during WWII.  Shortly after being flown back to Indiana, the plane was renamed “Hoosier Spirit II”. Following the passing of House Bill 1197 on April 26, 2021, the Hoosier Spirit II became Indiana’s State Aircraft. It is now on display inside the Evansville Wartime Museum located at 7503 Petersburg Road, just a mile from where it was manufactured by Republic Aviation in 1944.

The second entry is the first Evansville gravestone of James Bethel Gresham. The one now standing in Locust Hill is a replacement. When it was replaced it was given to a group of disabled veterans who met at the Coliseum, and they, in turn, donated it to the museum. James Bethel Gresham (August 23, 1893 – November 3, 1917) was one of the first three American soldiers to die in World War I. He was born in Kentucky, but moved with his family to Evansville in 1901, attended Centennial School, and worked in one of the furniture factories. He died in France and was originally buried there, but in 1921 was reinterred at Locust Hill Cemetery in Evansville.

Working Men’s Institute at 407 Tavern St. in New Harmony, IN

“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.”

The first entry from WMI is a Harmonist sewing clamp.  This is a pincushion with a wooden clamp for attaching it to the edge of a table.  The outer portion of the pincushion appears to be cloth which was re-used garment fabric, an example of Harmonist frugality.  The Harmonists were a utopian group that lived in New Harmony between 1814-1825.

The second entry is the “Pat Lyon” fire engine, circa 1804.  It was made for George Rapp, leader of the Harmonists, in Philadelphia by Pat Lyon and brought to New Harmony in 1815.  This engine has been in New Harmony ever since. It is a hand power machine, the pumping may be done by eighteen men. A fire company was organized in 1848, and until 1879 the old Rapp engine was the only one used.

Willard Library at 21 N. First Ave.

Willard Library is the oldest public library building in the state of Indiana.  It was established by local businessman and philanthropist Willard Carpenter, opening its doors in 1885, two years after his death.  For the past 137 years Willard Library has maintained an excellent reputation for its local history archives and genealogy collections.

The first entry is this 1894 bride’s book/scrapbook lovingly made by Emily Orr Clifford (1866-1952) celebrating her marriage to George Clifford (1858-1927).  Clifford was a prominent businessman and citizen who was instrumental in the establishment of the University of Evansville (then Evansville College).  Emily Orr was also from a prominent family—her grandfather, Samuel Orr, was one of the first settlers of Evansville and established the Orr Iron Company.  A first cousin was Robert Dunkerson Orr, the 11th governor of Indiana, 1981-1989.

The next entry are these eyeglasses belonging to Willard Carpenter (183-1883).  The Victorian era frames feature hook temples, and are stored in a thin black sleeve-style case, here seen below the glasses. Born in Vermont, Carpenter was a local businessman and philanthropist; although he did not live to see its completion, Willard Library is his legacy to the city of Evansville.

Vote for your favorite artifact!

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“A Baptisttown Requiem”: Part 2

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

Although vitally important, housing isn’t enough to improve a community. As needed as Lincoln Gardens was, its very existence alone was insufficient to alleviate Baptisttown’s problems. Fortunately, Lincoln Gardens had a neighbor that was deeply invested in its success.

Lincoln High School, 1978. Source: UASC, MSS 229-055.
Lincoln High School, 1978. Source: UASC, MSS 229-055.

Directly across the street was Lincoln High School at 635 Lincoln Avenue. Built in 1927-1928, it “was the first new school in Evansville built for the black minority community. The school cost $275,000 to build. The school included twenty-two classrooms, a gymnasium, auditorium, sewing room, home economics kitchen, study hall, and manual training center. However, Lincoln didn’t have a cafeteria. The library had no books and the board refused to allocate money for that purpose. To stock the library, Mrs. Alberta K. McFarland Stevenson, Lincoln’s first librarian, went door to door collecting books and money donations. Classes were first begun in 1928. It was a K-12 school. Since Lincoln was the only black high school for miles around, black students from Mt. Vernon, Rockport, Newburgh, and Grandview were bussed to Evansville to attend Lincoln. In 1928, the enrollment was over 300” (i).

William Ebenezer Best. Source: UASC, MSS 181-395.
William Ebenezer Best. Source: UASC, MSS 181-395.

Granted, Lincoln was a segregated school, and clearly it wasn’t supported financially as well as non-black schools. (This librarian author is particularly incensed about not allocating money to purchase materials for the library!) What it did have was pride. It had been in operation for about 10 years when Lincoln Gardens was built, and the African American community loved and supported the school. The school had dedicated and forward-thinking teachers and administrators, one of whom was then principal W.E. Best. Dr. William Ebenezer Best (1884-1959), was the first principal of Lincoln School, 1928 to 1951. According to his obituary, Best joined the local school system in 1913 and was formerly principal of Douglass High School. He graduated from Indiana State University, earned a masters from Indiana University, and was granted an honorary doctorate from Wilberforce University.

Best initially “conceived the plan of using Lincoln Gardens as the spark to ignite interest of his people in improved living conditions. Three-fourths of the city’s Negro population of 6,500 lived in the slum area of Baptisttown prior to inauguration of the better housing project” (ii). The first manifestation of this idea was seen at Lincoln’s 1938 graduation ceremony. The theme of the commencement was Lincoln Gardens as a stepping-stone to a better future. In addition to the main speaker, four student speakers discussed “Housing as Related to Citizenship.” They included:

  • “What Constitutes a Housing Problem?” by Hazel Gracey
  • “The Federal Government and Housing” by Sarah Crutcher
  • “Lincoln Gardens: A Contribution to Good Citizenship” by Stephen Wells
  • “Making Lincoln Gardens a Success” by Margaret Bass (iii).

In the fall this idea was incorporated into a complete 16-unit curriculum taught at Lincoln. Each unit was taught as part of some related class already established in the curriculum. Related classes were in the social sciences, health, home economics, industrial arts, science, mathematics, and bookkeeping. There was a plan underway to get permission to use one apartment for demonstration purposes. The foundation was to be laid in the 8th grade social science class, which included “material about early housing attempts and traces the awakening of public interest in housing through modern surveys and legislation. Economic and social aspects of large-scale housing are studied somewhat in detail.” Practical lessons covered studying the relationship between sanitary facilities and possible quarantines, how to maintain a clean and orderly household, basic electricity issues like changing fuses, etc., how to do basic plumbing like shutting off water and fixing leaks, handyman chores, and basic “scientific principles incorporated in the apartment units. This [included] mechanical refrigeration, construction features, heating, and ventilating. …We are attempting to make a practical application of classroom work, and we feel that this course of study will help tenants get the most from the use of their new apartments” (iv). If this seems like very basic knowledge that should already be known, take another look at the housing that some Lincoln Gardens’ residents had lived in previously. If this was the only sort of housing you and your family had ever known, how could you know anything about efficient heating? Indoor plumbing? Cleaning your windows?

Days Row in Evansville, IN, c. 1900. Source: UASC, MSS 181-1368.
Days Row in Evansville, IN, c. 1900. Source: UASC, MSS 181-1368.

Best also intended this as “a challenge to the Lincoln faculty, to raise living standards of Evansville’s Negro people to a much higher plane by inculcating permanent ideals into the coming generation.” What might be considered the capstone classes were taught in two 12th grade “American Problems” classes, which included dealing with community relationships. Evidently the then new educational theory of learning by doing met with approval. “An outline of the 17 study units of the new course on housing, built around every-day living problems and largely demonstrated right in the Gardens, has been released throughout the country by the U.S. Housing authority. The release quotes an Indiana University professor who expressed the possibility that the course may be incorporated in the curricula of all public schools.” The article also indicated that a U.S. Department of the Interior representative was expected to visit soon “to designate an apartment of Lincoln Gardens for use of the school in teaching the new course” (v).

Homes in the 600 block of Lincoln Avenue, n.d. Source: UASC, MSS 284-120.
Homes in the 600 block of Lincoln Avenue, n.d. Source: UASC, MSS 284-120.

Another example of the close connection between the school and the community is this row of houses directly across Lincoln Avenue from the school. Many of these were owned by Lincoln faculty. From the left are Alfred (taught Latin, science, and music at Lincoln for 37 years) and Phoebe Porter’s house, Thomas (Lincoln faculty and coach) and Pauline Cheeks’ house, Boyd Henderson’s house, William (Lincoln principal) and Helen Best’s house, and Raymond (dentist and Lincoln Gardens administrator) and Bessie King’s house.

Our requiem for Baptisttown ends here, with the twin pillars of housing and education serving to revitalize the community. Forward strides have been made, but the struggle for quality housing and quality education for everyone continues.

Reference Consulted

  • (i): Lincoln School webpage—About Us: History
  • (ii): The Evansville Argus, October 8, 1938, p. 6.
  • (iii): Evansville Press, June 10, 1938, p. 18.
  • (iv): Evansville Press, July 4, 1938, p. 3.
  • (v): The Evansville Argus, October 8, 1938, p. 6.
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“A Baptisttown Requiem”: Part 1

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

Interpretive sign from Evansville African American Museum (EAAM).
Interpretive sign from Evansville African American Museum (EAAM).

Baptisttown is an old name for an area of Evansville once a primary African American neighborhood. This area corresponds with the city’s 7th Ward, roughly bounded by Governor Street, Canal Street, and Lincoln Avenue. At the turn of the 20th century, segregation laws had forced some 54% of the African American population to live in this area. There were a number of Baptist churches in this area, and the name was originally a pejorative that played on the stereotype of “all blacks as Baptist.” Baptisttown residents, however, co-opted the term for their own and it became a source of pride. “Over 200 businesses, civic organizations, churches, and social clubs located in Baptisttown during its heyday between 1930 and 1960” (i).

An area with a vibrant social and cultural life, yes, but this area had its share of crime and poverty-related problems. “While no group escaped the economic devastation of the Great Depression, few suffered more than African Americans. Said to be “last hired, first fired,” African Americans were the first to see hours and jobs cut, and they experienced the highest unemployment rate during the 1930s. Since they were already relegated to lower-paying professions, African Americans had less of a financial cushion to fall back on when the economy collapsed” (ii). Housing, in particular, was deplorable. The houses seen below are on Days Row, the northeast side of Canal Street, between 10th Street and Governor Street. The surrounding 10 acres was the site of the city’s worst slum. These dwellings appear ready to fall apart. There was no insulation, inadequate or non-existent indoor sanitation, and certainly no central heating. No one would want to live here; no one should have to live here. In addition, the (iii) that “the district was recognized as a breeding ground of crime and epidemics. Its efficiency in filling jails and hospitals was well known. Scarlet fever, diphtheria, malaria, and typhoid fever thrived. Deaths from tuberculosis ran high.”

Top Image: MSS 181-0936 Bottom Image: MSS 181-1348, Darrel Bigham Collection

The area’s housing stock consisted of small structures, many little more than shacks. Most were rental units. At the turn of the twentieth century, only 9 percent of black household heads in Evansville owned their own home, and in the three census districts in Baptisttown with the largest number of African American residents the figure fell to a miniscule 6 percent. Most of those who did own their dwellings belonged to the small black middle class consisting of teachers, barbers, and owners of small businesses who remained in the area because they had few options. … These dilapidated structures generally had no connection to city sewers and most still relied on cisterns for their water supply” (iv). Several efforts over the years to deal with this failed due to financial constraints. But persistence paid off! In 1933 William Best, principal of Lincoln High School (a black school located on the edge of this area) “approached Mayor Frank Griese “to determine if there is a possibility of cleaning up conditions in Baptisttown,” perhaps with federal funds” (v).

One of FDR’s alphabet-soup attempts to put the brakes on the Great Depression was the Public Works Administration. “Language in the 1933 legislation that created the Public Works Administration (PWA) “broke open the door to the nation’s first significant public housing experiment.” The PWA’s Housing Division conducted that experiment, which continued until the advent of the United States Housing Authority in 1937, and it marked “the first direct federal intervention into the housing market in the United States during peacetime.” Over the course of its brief and often controversial existence, the Housing Division was the direct builder of fifty-one projects in thirty-six cities” (vi).

With federal funding now feasible, the City Plan Commission et al immediately conducted a housing survey and worked to garner public support, enabling it to submit a proposal on April 17, 1934. The Housing Division began work on an internal review, and correspondence flowed between interested locals and federal employees. In August, a site visit was conducted, and Evansville was notified that its proposal had made the cut as one that warranted more detailed consideration. More correspondence and documentation were exchanged, and in March 1935 then mayor William Dress and others were informed that “because of the Housing Division’s “sound standards of construction,” it could not set rents low enough to be “satisfactory for the income group we are trying to rehouse in Evansville.” Since the city had a “limited group of families of sufficient income to meet our rents,” federal officials had deemed it “inadvisable to make final disposition of the Evansville project” for the time being. Proponents should not, however, “abandon all hope”” (vii). Negotiations resolved this issue, and the project was back on track.

There was one final hurdle to cross. Early on there had been debate as to where to build this new housing. Some felt that it was cheaper to use undeveloped land on the outskirts of town, while others argued for replacing sub-standard housing in the same location. The second argument won the day; now, what to do with those who would be displaced during the demolition and construction? Options for dealing with this were ironed out, supported by cooperation with the YMCA. “The final few months of 1935 witnessed a flurry of activity. The Housing Division required that its projects have a local advisory committee, and Mayor Dress had named such a group in May. The eleven members included several businessmen (including [industrialist Richard] Rosencranz, who became chairman of the committee, and A. W. Hartig, who served as its secretary), the city’s superintendent of schools, a judge, a minister, and the president of Evansville College. Two members represented the African American community: Dr. Raymond King, a dentist, and Mrs. L. A. George, a Lincoln High School teacher who had been involved in anti-tuberculosis and child welfare work. In December, officials in Washington approved the plans submitted by the consortium of local architects, and an Evansville company received the contract to demolish buildings in the Lincoln Gardens area” (viii).

Portion of Baptisttown razed for the construction of Lincoln Gardens, 1937. Source: UASC, MSS 181-0354.
Portion of Baptisttown razed for the construction of Lincoln Gardens, 1937. Source: UASC, MSS 181-0354.

The Chicago firm of A. Smith and Company won the construction contract with a bid of $483,333. The land cost $161,480.40 and the foundations $70,335.85. Superstructure costs, architects’ fees, and administrative expenses brought the total to $715,148 (ix). What about those concerns with the original cost making rental costs prohibitive? They were lowered by switching from a brick exterior to a brick veneer, and by eliminating a central heating plant in favor of individual heating stoves. Additional economies of scale were had by increasing the number of units to 191 in 16 buildings, instead of the original 138 units in 12 buildings (x).

Men laying concrete at Lincoln Gardens, n.d. Source: UASC, MSS 284-0119.
Men laying concrete at Lincoln Gardens, n.d. Source: UASC, MSS 284-0119.

By January 16, 1938, the project was 65% complete (xi), with full occupancy expected by June 17 (xii). The cornerstone was laid April 23, 1938. Mrs. L.A. George, a teacher at Lincoln and active participant in the planning process, called it “a requiem to the dead –the old Baptisttown. Today is one of the happiest days of our lives. It marks the building of a different set of men in the colored race, boys and girls who will see beauty in the project and rise to it. Give us more schools, teachers, and slum clearance like this, and we won’t ask anything else (xiii). The Evansville Argus, a black newspaper, carried the glad news of Lincoln Gardens’ grand opening on July 1, 1938. “The apartments are made of 2-3 and 4 rooms that rent from $10.95 to $14.95 per month for the 2 rooms, $16.40 and $18.70 for the 3 rooms, and $19.35 to $23.35 for the 4 rooms. [These] rates include electricity for lights and refrigeration, gas for cooking purposes and hot water. Each apartment has an individual heater. … There are 191 apartments that include 40, 2 rooms; 121, 3 rooms and 30, 4 rooms. Each apartment comes equipped with an individual coal bin” (xiv). Another newspaper provided further information: the ceilings were white, the walls gray, the floors hardwood in the living and bedrooms, with ceramic tile in the bathroom (which included a lavatory and tub), and Havana brown linoleum flooring in the kitchen. The kitchen included the gas hot water heater, electric refrigerator, gas stove, built-in work table and cabinets, and a built-in combination sink and laundry (xv).

Example of a Lincoln Gardens apartment bedroom and kitchen. Photos courtesy of the Evansville African American Museum,
Example of a Lincoln Gardens apartment bedroom and kitchen. Photos courtesy of the Evansville African American Museum,
Example of a Lincoln Gardens apartment living room. Photos courtesy of the Evansville African American Museum,
Example of a Lincoln Gardens apartment living room. Photos courtesy of the Evansville African American Museum,

The local manager for Lincoln Gardens was Dr. Raymond B. King, a graduate of Indiana University School of Dentistry. “Dr. King is well-known in civic affairs of Negroes in Evansville and was an active worker with the Red Cross during the flood of 1937. He has been a member of the Evansville Advisory Committee on Housing and was particularly active in the development of Lincoln Gardens.” King was responsible for choosing which of the applicants would live in Lincoln Gardens (xvi). By July 1, 1938, there were 300 applicants, with only 65 chosen (xvii). “The government employed several criteria in the selection of residents. An applicant’s “fidelity and character” had to be “well established.” The federal George-Healey Act of 1936 specified that families would be eligible only if they currently lived in substandard housing and their monthly income did not exceed five times the rent (or six times for families with three or more minor dependents). … Low income, however, did not mean no income. As Dr. King explained several months later, “public housing is for poor people, yes, but for the poor who show some sign of being able to pay rent regularly” (xviii).

Exterior of the Evansville African American Museum, housed in a unit of the former Lincoln Gardens, n.d. Source:
Exterior of the Evansville African American Museum, housed in a unit of the former Lincoln Gardens, n.d. Source:

The final family moved into its apartment on December 20, 1938. In total, 509 applications were received, 262 approved. Tenant annual incomes ranged from $584 to $1,407, with 39.8% of families representing WPA employment (xix). Although not without its naysayers, Lincoln Gardens was well regarded when it was established, but fast forward through the decades and this is no longer the case. By the 1990’s it had fallen into disrepair, and eventually all but one unit was demolished. That unit was upgraded and remodeled into the Evansville African American Museum. Within the museum is a full-size model of one of the apartments: living room, bedroom, and kitchen. The full text of the historical marker reads: “African Americans settled in Evansville in the early 1800’s and established a vibrant community here in Baptisttown by 1890. Segregation and discrimination led to a section of overcrowded, dilapidated buildings. With citizen support, city officials applied for New Deal funding to clear part of this area in the 1930s and develop a federal housing project, Lincoln Gardens. Opened in 1938, Lincoln Gardens provided low-cost housing managed by and for African Americans. During World War II, occupants started a club for African American service members barred from the local USO. Lincoln Gardens served as a community center for decades. Saved from demolition, this building opened as the Evansville African American Museum in 1999.”

The story of Lincoln Gardens does not end here. Be sure to read “A Baptisttown Requiem,” part 2 when it is published.

Reference Consulted

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Also Rans

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

As this blog is being written, the United States recently completed another presidential election. For every election, there must be someone who did not win. The dictionary defines an also ran as the loser in a contest or race, particularly by a wide margin. The origin of this phrase is believed to be in the late 1800s, when it originally meant a horse which did not finish in the top 3. Let’s look at 8 of these non-winners who visited our area. To be clear, I’m only including those who visited on a non-successful presidential bid, and for whom we have photographs of that visit within University Archives Special Collections (UASC).

James M. Cox, n.d. Source:
James M. Cox. n.d.

Let’s begin 100 years ago, with a 1920 visit from James Middleton Cox. Cox was born in Ohio in 1870, and served as its governor for 3 terms: 1913 to 1915 and 1917 to 1921, the first from Ohio to serve 3 full terms in office. He was also a successful journalist, owning and editing multiple newspapers in Ohio, Florida, and Georgia. Cox’s success as governor made him prominent within the Democratic party, which nominated him as its candidate for president. Cox chose as his running mate the then Assistant Secretary of the (U.S.) Navy a man you may have heard of … Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1920, Cox visited our corner of the Hoosier state, seen here in Princeton, IN. Cox is 2nd from the left, pictured with several men from Evansville, including Mayor Benjamin Bosse, (2nd from right), a Democrat. Cox and Roosevelt lost in a landslide, winning only 127 electoral votes to 404 for another Ohioan, Warren G. Harding, and his running mate, Calvin Coolidge. Cox/Roosevelt only won 11 of the then 48 states, neither man even carrying his home state.

(L-R): Carlton McCullough, James M. Cox (Democratic presidential candidate), Clint Rose, Benjamin Bosse, Felix Hinkle, and Thomas Taggert, 1920. Source: UASC, MSS 264-2957.
(L-R): Carlton McCullough, James M. Cox (Democratic presidential candidate), Clint Rose, Benjamin Bosse, Felix Hinkle, and Thomas Taggert, 1920. Source: UASC, MSS 264-2957.
Wendell Wilkie, c. 1940. Source:
Wendell Wilkie, c. 1940.

Next up was a Hoosier boy, Wendell Lewis Willkie, born February 18, 1892, in Elwood, IN. Elwood is about mid-way between Kokomo and Anderson. He graduated from the Indiana University School of Law in 1916, and after serving in World War I, moved to Akron, OH for a position with the Firestone Rubber Company. After going into private practice, he moved to New York, where he served as legal counsel for the Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, a public utility, eventually becoming its president.

Early in his career Willkie was a Democrat; indeed, he had supported the presidential aspirations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. But, one of FDR’s New Deal initiatives was the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Willkie believed public utilities like he owned would be unable to complete with programs run by the federal government, and thus causing him to move to the Republican Party in 1939. In 1940, he was nominated as the Republican candidate for president. At this point, Willkie had never held any political office. Surprisingly, he won the nomination on the 6th ballot, defeating much better-known candidates, earning the sobriquet “Dark Horse.” He visited Evansville in 1939 or 1940, riding in a motorcade down Main Street. “Despite a well-fought campaign, Willkie lost the election to Roosevelt in a landslide, earning only 82 electoral votes to Roosevelt’s 449. He also lost the popular vote by nearly five million.” Willkie again sought the presidential nomination in 1944 but dropped out after poor early showings. He died October 8, 1944.

Willkie waving to the crowds on Main Street in Evansville, IN, c. 1940. Source: UASC, MSS 264-2429.
Willkie waving to the crowds on Main Street in Evansville, IN, c. 1940. Source: UASC, MSS 264-2429.
Thomas Dewey, c. 1940's. Source:
Thomas Dewey, c. 1940’s.

Thomas Edward Dewey was born March 24, 1902 in Owosso, MI.  He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1923 and received his law degree from Columbia University in 1925.  He remained in New York, passing the bar in 1926.  In 1931 he became chief assistant to the U.S. attorney for the southern district of the state, soon going after bootleggers and racketeers.  In 1935 the governor of New York appointed Dewey as special prosecutor for the County of New York, aka Manhattan.  He continued his crusade against the mob, eventually sending Lucky Luciano to Sing Sing prison. “Between 1935 and 1937, Dewey won 72 convictions out of 73 prosecutions. His success against New York’s biggest mobsters gave him a huge political platform. He was elected district attorney for New York in 1937; he immediately launched an effort to win the governor’s seat in New York in 1938 but lost. He was successful in his second try, winning the governorship in 1942 and two more terms, serving until 1955.

Turning his attention to national politics, Dewey failed to garner the Republican presidential nomination in 1940. He was one of those far better-known candidates who lost to Willkie. Trying again in 1944, he won the nomination unanimously, choosing his former rival, Ohio governor John W. Bricker as his running mate. Dewey himself may well have visited Evansville that year, but we have this photographic proof that Bricker did, here speaking from the back of a train.

John W. Bricker, Republican vice-presidential candidate, running with Thomas E. Dewey for president, on the back of a train with microphones, 1944. Source: UASC, MSS 264-0789.
John W. Bricker, Republican vice-presidential candidate, running with Thomas E. Dewey for president, on the back of a train with microphones, 1944. Source: UASC, MSS 264-0789.

FDR’s wartime popularity proved too much to overcome. Dewey lost, 99 electoral votes to Roosevelt’s 432. They only won 12 of the then 48 states; Dewey won neither his home state of Michigan nor his adopted state of New York, although Bricker was able to garner the votes of his Ohio constituents. Undeterred, Dewey ran again in 1948. By this time, FDR was gone, having been succeeded in office by his vice-president Harry S. Truman after FDR died in 1945. This time Dewey chose California governor Earl Warren to run with him. Dewey was considered a shoo-in, unless he made a huge public gaffe. Truman’s Democratic party was split 3 ways. Dewey made a whistle-stop trip to Mt. Vernon, IN, and the sign on this caboose shows just how confident he and his supporters were!

Thomas Dewey visiting Mt. Vernon, IN, c. 1948. Source: UASC, MSS 022-0079.
Thomas Dewey visiting Mt. Vernon, IN, c. 1948. Source: UASC, MSS 022-0079.

After the dust had cleared, results showed that Truman earned 303 electoral votes to Dewey’s 189, with the remaining 39 going to Strom Thurmond. Dewey carried 16 states, Truman 28, and Thurmond 4 (and one of Tennessee’s 11 electoral votes). The Chicago Tribune made the famous gaffe in its headline seen here on November 3, 1948. Dewey went on to be active in Republican politics as an advisor until his death in 1971.

President-elect Harry S. Truman enjoying "the joke's on you". SourceL
President-elect Harry S. Truman enjoying “the joke’s on you”. Source:
George Wallace, 1968. Source:
George Wallace, 1968.

George Corley Wallace was born in Alabama on August 25, 1919. In 1942 he graduated from the University of Alabama Law School and then served in World War II. After the war, he served in the Alabama House of Representatives and as a state judge. He launched his first attempt at the Alabama governorship in 1958. After losing that race, he “became” what he was known for, a staunch segregationist and populist. His 1962 run for the governorship was successful, and he served from 1963 to 1967. His inaugural speech, written by a Ku Klux Klansman, ended with this sentiment: ”Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” In 1963 he made his famous “stand in the schoolhouse door,” literally standing in the doorway of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama to block the entrance of black students Vivian Malone and James Hood. Term limits prohibited a second term as governor, but no matter, his wife Lurleen won that election, making him governor in all but name only from 1967 until her untimely death in 1968. After successfully amending the Alabama constitution to permit a second term, Wallace served as governor of Alabama from 1971 to 1979 and again from 1983 to 1987. During this time period he also made 4 unsuccessful runs for the presidency. In 1964, he failed to get the nomination that went to Lyndon Johnson. In 1968, he ran on the American Independent Party ticket and got 46 electoral votes, winning 4 southern states (plus one vote in North Carolina). In 1972, he was back in the fray, this time vying for the Democratic party nomination against Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, and John Lindsay. Things were going well for Wallace, who had disavowed his earlier stance on segregation.

George Wallace arriving in Evansville, IN, 1976. Source: UASC, MSS 228-1002.
George Wallace arriving in Evansville, IN, 1976. Source: UASC, MSS 228-1002.

That is, until May 15, when, while campaigning at a shopping mall in Laurel, MD, he was shot 5 times by would-be assassin Arthur Bremer. One of the bullets lodged in his spinal column, rendering him paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. His 1972 campaign ended abruptly, but Wallace was up for one more try at the presidency in 1976, once again as a Democrat. “From the start, aides noticed that the applause dwindled once crowds saw his shiny wheelchair. Mr. Wallace noticed it, too, and in private he disputed friends who reminded him that Franklin D. Roosevelt had won despite crutches and wheelchair. ”Yeah,” Mr. Wallace told his confidant Oscar Adams, ”they elected Roosevelt, but they didn’t watch him on television every night getting hauled on a plane like he was half-dead.”” Wallace visited Evansville, holding a press conference at the airport April 22, 1976. He dropped out of the race in June, just before the Illinois primary. He served one more term as Alabama governor, dying some 11 years later, in 1998.

President portrait of Gerald Ford, n.d. Source:
President portrait of Gerald Ford, n.d.

To date, the United States has had only one non-elected president, Leslie Lynch King, Jr. If you don’t recognize that we ever had any president by that name, you’d be both right and wrong. King was born in 1913 in Omaha, NE, but his mother soon divorced his father and in 1916 remarried a man in Grand Rapids, MI by the name of Gerald Rudolph Ford. “Leslie King, Jr., did not learn of his biological father until he was a teenager, and after graduating from college he officially changed his name to Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr.” Skipping ahead, Ford was elected to the House of Representatives from Michigan’s 5th district in 1948, serving 12 successive terms from 1949 to 1973. Meanwhile, Richard M. Nixon had been elected president in 1968, with his vice president Spiro Agnew; the two were re-elected in 1972. In 1973, Agnew resigned after pleading no contest to tax evasion and money laundering charges that began during his time as governor of Maryland and continued during his tenancy as vice president. Ford, then House Minority Leader, was nominated and elected by both the Senate and House to serve as vice president. During this time the Watergate scandal was spiraling out of control, and Nixon soon faced impeachment. He resigned on August 8, 1974, and the next day, after only 8 months as vice president, Gerald Ford was sworn in as president.

Gerald Ford campaigning for U.S. President, accompanied by Russell G. Lloyd, Sr., then mayor of Evansville, in a motorcade, 1976. Source: UASC, MSS 034-1010.
Gerald Ford campaigning for U.S. President, accompanied by Russell G. Lloyd, Sr., then mayor of Evansville, IN
in a motorcade, 1976. Source: UASC, MSS 034-1010.

In 1976, Ford decided to run for election as president in his own right, winning the nomination narrowly after a heated battle with Ronald Reagan. Ford and his running mate, Kansas Senator Robert Dole, faced the Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter and his running mate, Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale. On April 23, 1976, Ford visited Evansville, seen in company of then Evansville Mayor Russell Lloyd in this photo.

Robert Dole, U.S. Senator from Kansas, at a press conference, 1976. Source: UASC, MSS 034-0799.
Robert Dole, U.S. Senator from Kansas, at a press conference, 1976. Source: UASC, MSS 034-0799.

On October 27, 1976 Ford’s running mate, Senator Robert Dole, also visited Evansville. History puts Ford/Dole in the also ran column, with Carter’s 297 electoral votes to Ford’s 240. Senator Dole stayed firmly in the also ran group, failing to win the Republic party nomination for president in both 1980 and 1988. In 1996, he was successful at winning the nomination, but lost the election to Bill Clinton, 379 to 159 electoral votes. Dole carried 18 of the 50 states. Ford passed away in 2006; at the time this blog was written, Dole was still living.

Resources Consulted

Clark, Justin. “Wendell Willkie: The Dark Horse.” Indiana History blog, the Indiana Historical Bureau of the Indiana State Library, May 17, 2016.

Gerald Ford. Miller Center of Public Affairs, the University of Virginia.

Historical Presidential Elections. 270toWin website.

James M. Cox. Ohio History Central website.

Pearson, Richard. “Former Ala. Gov. George C. Wallace Dies.” The Washington Post, September 14, 1998, p. A1.

Raines, Howell. “George Wallace, Segregation Symbol, Dies at 79.” The New York Times, September 14, 1998, p. A1.

Thomas Dewey. The Mob Museum website.

“Thomas E. Dewey.” Encyclopædia Britannica website, March 20, 2020. Wendell L. Willkie. Ohio History Central website.

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“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:
In Point Pleasant, OH, Ulysses S. Grant’s birthplace was nearly submerged by flood waters on January 26, 1937. Source:

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.

Flooding History in Louisville. Louisville MSD

The Floods.

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

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