*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.
Some images are just evocative, aren’t they? You immediately recognize them. You probably recognize most, if not all of these, even if you don’t know who designed and built them. For the record, the images goes as followed: Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1935 Fallingwater house in Pennsylvania; the Gateway Arch in St. Louis designed by Eero Saarinen in 1947 and built 1963-1965; the Sydney Opera House, located in the harbor in Sydney, Australia, designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon and completed in 1973. Finally, everyone knows the Eiffel Tower in Paris, designed and built by Gustav Eiffel, 1887-1889.
Evansville had its own well-known architect around the turn of the 20th century. Clifford Shopbell never became as famous as these architects (although his name would have been easily recognized here), but he designed and built many local landmarks. Shopbell was born December 8, 1871 in Princeton, Indiana. His father, George W., was a contractor and builder, so from an early age he was exposed to architecture. After high school graduation, he worked in Indianapolis for 5 years before returning to Evansville to work with a local architect named C.J. Brehmer for several years. In 1897 he partnered with William J. Harris to open Harris & Shopbell. This partnership lasted until Harris’ death in 1910, when the firm became Clifford Shopbell & Company Still later it morphed into Shopbell, Fowler & Thole.
One of Shopbell’s most recognizable buildings is the Coliseum.
The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Coliseum is located at 300 Court Street. “The Coliseum, a 66,000 square foot neoclassical facility at the axis of Fourth and Court streets, was erected in 1917 as a tribute to Vanderburgh County’s veterans of both the American Civil and Spanish-American wars. … This venue can still seat 2,400 visitors (more than 4,000 if they’re standing).” In 1922, the funeral for Evansville Mayor Benjamin Bosse was held at this venue.
Bosse (1874-1922) was a very popular Democratic mayor of Evansville from 1914 until he died in office. He lived in a house (still standing) at 813 SE 1st Street, built for him by Shopbell in 1916. Here’s that house, circa 1940.
Shopbell also built the home of another mayor, John W. Boehne, at 1119 Lincoln Avenue. Built in 1912/1913, this house still stands and has housed, in the past, various businesses as well as TKE fraternity for the University of Evansville.
Reitz Memorial Catholic High School, at 1500 Lincoln Avenue, was designed by Edward Thole, a member of Shopbell, Fowler & Thole, in 1923.
The Shopbell firms built many Carnegie libraries throughout Indiana and in Illinois and Kentucky. Brief background: Scottish industrialist donated $60 million to build 1,689 public libraries in the U.S., roughly between 1883-1929. Commissions to build these were highly sought after, and Shopbell was successful in building both East and West branches in Evansville, 1911-1913.
There are many more buildings designed and built by the various Shopbell firms over the years—too many to list/picture here. For more information, take a look at this YouTube video created by Reitz High School history students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uFks2ApUuA
Clifford Shopbell’s Legacy in Evansville Indiana (FeeltheHistory YouTube video)
Historic Evansville database
Reflections upon a century of architecture, Evansville, Indiana. Evansville, Ind.: The Junior League of Evansville, c1977. Regional Collection, University Archives & Special Collections Call Number: NA735.E9 R4