*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.
You’ve heard all of this before. No pain, no gain. Progress comes at a cost. In Inherit the Wind, author Jerome Lawrence notes, “Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it.” This blog, and others in this series, will look at the cost in terms of lost buildings, structures that have been razed in the name of progress. This is the flip side of the February 25, 2019 blog entitled “Everything Old is New Again…” and the August 28, 2018 “Recycling … It’s not what you think.”
Indiana became a state in 1816, Vanderburgh Country was established in 1818, and Evansville was incorporated as a town in 1819. In 1847, the city received its official charter. Any time you have people living and working together, there will need to be rules, contracts, laws, etc. established to (essentially) maintain the peace. In short, you need government. Indiana and Evansville may have once been on the western edge of the burgeoning United States, but the “every man for himself,” Wild West mythos could not be sustainable as the population grew. In 1850, the first Census after the city received its charter, Evansville had a population of 3,235. One hundred years later, the 1950 Census gave Evansville’s population as 128, 636. As the population grew, so did the complexity of the government which needed physical spaces in which to operate. Courthouses, city halls, and the like were built.
“During the 1960s downtown Evansville underwent extensive renewal. The subject of building a new Civic Center was first raised in the mid-1950s. Federal, city, and county government offices, school corporation facilities, and law-enforcement departments were all operating from fragmented, outmoded, inefficient quarters. The first task was to form a committee qualified to determine what was needed, what departments and agencies should be included, and where it should be located, so in June 1961 the Evansville-Vanderburgh County Building Authority was created. In 1963 a group of interested community leaders formed the Central Evansville Improvement Corporation for the purpose of acquiring and holding the desired 40-acre building site until the various governmental units were able to raise the money to pay for the land through special appropriations and bond issues” (McCutchan, p. 93-94). “The complex was completed at a cost of 27 million dollars and six years of planning and construction. [It]opened with a new “centrex” phone system, Indiana Bell’s first digital switching system and the first in the state, which allowed for 650 new phone lines for city and county government without the need for a full-time switchboard operator.”
If you’re not sure where the Civic Center is, its official address is 1 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. The complex is bounded by Sycamore St. to the northwest, SE 9th St. to the northeast, Locust St. to the southeast and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, formerly 7th Street, to the southwest. Situated at the foot of Main Street, the Civic Center is the reason that Main Street and North Main Street are now 2 “separate” streets. To be clear, this was NOT 40 acres of unoccupied land. There were already many buildings here that would have to be razed. Let’s look at “before and after” images.
Now that you know what and where the Civic Center is, let’s take a look at what had to go to make space for this.
The F. W. Cook Brewing Company or Cook Brewery was at 11 NW 7th Street and had a long history in Evansville. “Frederick Washington Cook opened the small City Brewery, with his stepfather Jacob Rice, in 1853. [Rice had a brewery with his brother-in-law 1837-1854.] Within two years, he would split with his former partners and incorporate the business as F. W. Cook Brewing Company, building a large brewery located at the corner Seventh and Sycamore streets. The company became massively successful, selling several brands of beer throughout the Midwest and South. [At its peak, the brewery covered the entire area bounded by 7th and 8th Sts., Sycamore and Main Sts.]. The brewery operated in downtown Evansville for decades, surviving prohibition by selling near beer and Cook-Ola soda. Tony Hulman, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, purchased a controlling share of the company in 1943. Management stopped production of beer during a labor dispute in 1955, though the company sold reserves for more than a year before closing. The brewery was torn down in 1965, making way for the Civic Center Complex.”
Assumption Catholic Church was located at 119 West 7th Street, originally 106 Upper 7th Street. According to the Historic Evansville website, “Assumption Parish was the first Catholic congregation south of Vincennes, and it was the only Catholic church here until the year 1851 when Holy Trinity parish was organized by those Catholics who spoke only German. Assumption held separate services for Germans until that time.” The congregation dates to 1840, and the original church was on 2nd Street. The building seen here was built in 1872. The tower was added in the 1900s. In 1944, it became the cathedral for the newly formed Diocese of Evansville. The church was sold to the city in 1965 and the last mass heard January 17, 1965. The building was razed in May 1965 to make way for the new Civic Center complex. The Winfield K. Denton Federal Building, seen above, now stands on this site.
The Chicago and Eastern Illinois (C & E I) Railroad station was at 22 SE 8th Street. It was built in 1907 to replace the station for the former Evansville and Terre Haute railroad. During World War II, this building served as a USO, and after the war as a community center. It was razed July 1965.
The Farmers Trust Company was at 700 Main Street, seen in here in front of Cook Brewery, discussed above. The bank’s grand opening was August 11, 1919. It was still listed in the 1924 city directory but was not found in the 1931 edition.
Holt and Brandon Ice and Cold Storage’s facility was built around 1890 at 820 Walnut St. and later expanded across 9th Street. The sign in the image on the left references Maxinkuckee Lake ice. Lake Maxinkuckee is the 2nd largest natural lake in the state of Indiana, located in Culver.
The Ziliak and Schafer Milling Company was built in 1890 at 900 Walnut Street. This would be the facility taken over by the expansion of Holt and Brandon Ice and Cold Storage when it expanded across 9th Street, as above.
The Evansville Vanderburgh County School Corporation now operates out of a building in the Civic Center complex, but at one time the General Offices of the Evansville Public Schools were at 200 NW 7th Street, in this circa 1860 building originally built for the German Reformed Church. In 1868 it was purchased by the school board and remodeled into Vine Street School. Next came use as a library. From 1877-1897 a portion of the building was used to ease crowding at the Colored High School until its own building was built; at that time this building was remodeled. In 1887 the superintendent’s office located here and continued to operate from this location until this was razed in 1969.
The Imperial Hotel at 800-802 Main Street, it was also known as the Main Street Hotel, is the last structure discussed here to be demolished to build the Civic Center. Not much information could be found about this building, which is believed to date to 1922. No clear photograph could be located, either. What is seen here was taken in the 1937 flood. The hotel is upper left.
All these buildings were razed because they were physically in the same space that the new Civic Center would occupy. Once the Civic Center was built and occupied by government offices, the buildings those government offices occupied were no longer in need. Some of these were repurposed; two were razed. City Hall, at 126 SE 3rd Street, on the corner with Walnut Street, was built in 1887. Before this city government operated out of the second floor of old Hose House No. 2, which itself was razed to build City Hall. Its clock tower was removed in the 1920s, and the building abandoned after the 1969 opening of the Civic Center. City Hall was razed in 1971.
The Police Department moved into the new Civic Center, too. Prior to this, it had been in two different buildings, both of which were razed, at different times. The first location, at 312-314 Walnut Street, was built in 1882 and was behind the Cith Hall seen above. In 1915-1916, it moved across the street to a new building at 200 SE 3rd Street. The original building was razed in 1923 for an expansion of City Hall. The newer location was vacated in 1969 and razed in 1971.
Other former government buildings remain standing, serving new purposes. One is the Old Vanderburgh County Courthouse at 201 NW 4th Street. “The Old Vanderburgh County Courthouse is considered by architectural historians to be one of the most important examples of 19th century governmental architecture in the country.. It was designed by Henry Wolters of Louisville, Kentucky and exemplifies Beaux Arts architecture which was just coming into vogue at the time of the Courthouse’s design, replacing heavier Victorian styles. Wolters himself studied at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris. It occupies a full city block bound by Fourth, Vine, Fifth and Court streets in downtown Evansville which was once a turnaround basin for the Wabash and Erie Canal. Franz Engelsmann of Chicago is credited with carving the fourteen main statues that surround the courthouse. Much about the history of Vanderburgh County can be gleaned from the sculptures which were all carved onsite. The building is constructed of Bedford Stone, limestone native to Indiana, and the interior boasts marble floors, Ettewa pink marble wainscots, slate stairs and wrought iron and brass handrails. At its tallest point, 216 feet, the courthouse’s bell tower dominates the skyline of Downtown Evansville. Construction on the courthouse began in 1888 and was completed by 1890 at a cost of $379,450. County government personnel started moving into the courthouse in early 1891. The courthouse was the epicenter of community life and for the big events of its day. The Commissioners room served as the military headquarters during the 1937 flood when martial law was declared and the courthouse was a stop on the campaign trail for President Harry Truman in 1948 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. Both gave speeches from the courthouse steps. The building was vacated in 1969 when county government offices were moved to the new Civic Center Complex.” The building now houses office and rental space.
The Vanderburgh County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence at 208 NW 4th Street was built in 1891. “This castle-like fort, designed by architect Henry Walters, was modeled after the Castle of Lichtenstein in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. Therefore, the structure is familiar to Evansville’s German-born residents. This Gothic-inspired building was originally crafted from stone, which simplified its construction a good deal. Evansville’s natural environment has rich subsoil, which combined with abundant rainfall and high mean temperatures, yields an abundance of stone, sand, and fine clay for bricks. Evansville’s prime location along the Ohio River also allowed a direct shipment route for imported stone products. In addition, natural deposits of coal and iron in the area provided inexpensive means of operating brick kilns and iron foundries. The building itself is designed to invoke fear in the observer. Its exterior consists of step-gables, projecting turrets, crenelated roof lines, simulated portcullis, and a central keep, or rounded tower. The entrance presents pointed arches to lengthen the appearance of this part of the building. All of these elements add to the castle-like appearance of the structure. The Vanderburgh County Jail is also connected to the former Courthouse, which lies across the street, via an underground dungeon-like tunnel. During the time of the jail’s use, the tunnel served as a passageway to transport prisoners to and from court.“ The jail was on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the Civic Center when it first opened, but since 2005 has been located at 3500 North Harlan Avenue. and the sheriff, assuredly, has his own private residence! The old jail, after a number of years sitting vacant, was purchased and remodeled by the law firm that now inhabits the building.
Today’s main post office is located at 800 Sycamore Street, behind the Winfield K. Denton Federal Building United States Court House seen above. At one time it operated out of the building at 200 NW 2nd Street, now called the Old Post Office. “Construction started in 1873 and the Old Post Office and Customs House was completed in 1879. The Old Post Office was designed by A.B. Mullett and Company in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, featuring round arches, stone masonry and towers. This building, like many other historical downtown buildings was built by Charles Pearce and Company. In 1971, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.” The wings seen here were added to each end in 1918. The federal government abandoned this facility in 1969 and the city acquired it in 1977. Today, it houses an event venue.
1850 Census: Compendium of the Seventh Census. Population of such Cities, Towns, Townships, Hundreds, & etc, in the United States (p. 353)
Evansville Historic Photo Collection. Willard Library.
Indiana City/Town Census Counts, 1900 to 2010. STATSIndiana
McCutchan, Kenneth P. et al. Evansville at the bend in the river: an illustrated history. Sun Valley, CA: American Historical Press, c2004. F534.E9 M38 2004, 2 copies available: General Collection and UASC Regional Collection
Old Post Office Plaza. History.
Old Vanderburgh County Courthouse. About the Old Courthouse. The Old Courthouse Foundation.
Smith, Daniel. “History Lesson: Civic Center Complex in Evansville.” Evansville Courier and Press, November 19, 2016.