*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian
There are a lot of buildings that once stood proudly in Evansville, but no more. Let’s take a look at some of these lost treasurers.
The Orr Iron Company was founded in 1835 by Samuel Orr (1810-1882), an Irish blacksmith. For the first 80 years of its existence, the company did business at 10-12 Sycamore St. In 1913 the growing company built a new facility at 1100 Pennsylvania St. (originally the address was 17-25 E. Pennsylvania St. By mid- 1988 the construction of the Lloyd Expressway was complete; part of the Lloyd followed the path of Pennsylvania St. Thus, in 1988, the Orr Iron Company stood at the corner of Fulton Ave. and the Lloyd Expressway, complete with a traffic light. As traffic increased, it became clear that this stoplight was hindered the flow of traffic and, in 2008, the stoplight was replaced by an interchange. Unfortunately, the Orr Iron Company building had to be razed to make room for this. The building on Sycamore St. was razed in the 1970s. Before the Pennsylvania Ave./Lloyd Expressway building was completely razed, the lintel from the original doorway was saved and repurposed when USI remodeled its University Center.
Does that name Orr sound familiar to you….as in, the Orr Center building on campus? That building is named in honor of former Indiana governor Robert Dunkerson Orr (1917-2004; governor 1981-1989). Robert Orr is the great-grandson of that Irish blacksmith who came to Evansville in 1835.
Evansville, as you might expect from a city with a strong German ethnicity, had a lot of breweries. One of these was Sterling at 1301 Pennsylvania Ave, on the corner with Fulton Ave. It was originally built at 330-340 Fulton Ave. in 1863. In 1880 a new building was built across the street and known generally as the Fulton Avenue Brewery. A severe windstorm on March 28, 1890, destroyed parts of the building. According to the Historic Evansville website, “The ice house cupola toppled over and a the wall facing Fulton gave way. The damaged half was torn down for a new stock house.” What resulted was the iconic building that many people remember. Again, from Historic Evansville, “Like many others during Prohibition, the company renamed itself Sterling Products Co. They made soft drinks, near beer, and malt extract (which was used by illicit homebrewers). It became Sterling Brewers Inc after Prohibition was over in 1933.” In 1972, the G. Heileman Brewery bought the company, closing it in 1988. A group of local investors managed to keep the brewery afloat for a bit longer, but after bankruptcy was declared, the brewery was razed December 1998.
In the days before everybody owned a car, railroads were a major source of transportation. In a November 2018 blog I talked about the razing of the C & EI (Chicago and Eastern Illinois) railroad depot in the 1960s. Another railroad station for the L & N (Louisville and Nashville) railroad was located at 300 Fulton Ave. Built in 1902, it also served the C & EI after its depot was razed in the 1960s, and was often called Union Station. Although there were highways before 1956, the growth of the interstate highway system got a big boost in the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, championed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This, in addition to the popularity and affordability of air travel, eventually brought an end to the popularity of passenger railroads. This magnificent building was vacated by 1975 and sat empty for a decade. In 1985, despite public protest, it was torn down.
The year 1868 saw the opening of the first public high school in Evansville, at least in its “permanent” home at 203 NW 6th St. Classes had been held in various buildings over the years (with a founding date of 1854, this is the oldest free public high school in continuous operation west of the Allegheny Mountains), but this was to be the home of Evansville High School. Originally a 3-story building with 12 rooms, in 1898 it was expanded with the addition of a tower and north and south wings. In 1918 another high school, Reitz, was opened and Evansville High School was renamed Central. By 1971 growth and housing patterns for the city had changed, and Central High School on 6th St. closed and moved to a new facility at 5400 N. First Ave. This explains the seemingly odd name of a high school that is no longer by any measure in a central location. In 1973 the original Central was razed, with the exception of the gymnasium.
A building that has long been gone, and was not long in existence, is the Evansville Taxi Cab garage at what was 124-128 Upper 4th St. (now NW 4th St.). Built in 1890, it was razed in 1920 for the construction of what became the Sears building in downtown Evansville. That building still stands, although clearly no longer Sears.
Another old building, although not gone quite so long as the garage shown above, is the Keller Crescent building at what would now be 24-8 SE Riverside Dr. The building was built around 1895 as a warehouse for the Bement and Seitz Wholesale Grocery. In 1930/1931 that company moved to a new location and the Keller Crescent printing business moved in. Keller Crescent stayed until 1961 when it moved to a newer location. In 1962, the vacant building was razed. Today, Old National Bank (with an address of One Main St.) occupies this location. The advertisement below for Bement & Seitz has a good illustration of the building as well as a listing of its best products.
Although this image was taken during the 1937 flood, it is a good view of Keller Crescent (on the left) and the Hotel McCurdy on the right. There was a dock or catwalk between these buildings that was used for boats and staging during the flood.
Below is a photograph from 1962, with the Keller Crescent building almost entirely gone. The building that is seen in the middle is the Hotel McCurdy.
Earlier I said that Old National Bank’s headquarters were at One Main St., where Keller Crescent once stood. That’s the newest ONB headquarters. Before 2003/2004, the headquarters were at 420 Main St. That building opened in 1969, and was razed at 7:00 am Sunday, November 21, 2021. What is seen above towers above the skyline no more. Interestingly, ONB has had a number of its previous buildings razed.
The Old State National Bank was established in 1834 as a branch of the Old State Bank of Indiana in a temporary location at the corner of Main St. and Water St. (now called Riverside Dr.) In 1835 it moved across the street into a new building at 20 Main St. and changed its name to Old National Bank. The Greek temple façade seen here dates to 1855. When the bank moved to a new location in 1916, the Moose Lodge used this building. The façade was changed again in 1950, with the final end to the building coming in 1960. Back to 1916—the bank moved to this building (below, left) at 420 Main St. It was modernized a bit in 1927, which is reflected in this image. The bank moved in the 1960s to an adjacent and built the tower seen in UASC MSS 184-0440 above.
This is the latest Old National Bank headquarters, at One Main St.
The Old National Bank tower on Main St. may be the latest Evansville building to be razed, but the one that probably had an impact on the largest number of people was Roberts Stadium. “Roberts Stadium opened on October 28, 1956 and hosted a total of 109 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famers through the years and the NCAA College Division (now Division II) national tournament from 1957 to 1977. It hosted the Division II Elite Eight in 2002.”[i] Named for the 1952-1955 mayor of Evansville, Henry O. “Hank” Roberts, the stadium was a place where many enjoyed circuses, saw concerts, graduated from high school or college, attended basketball games, political rallies, etc. It was the home arena for University of Evansville basketball. After the Ford Center opened, Roberts Stadium was seen as unneeded and razed in 2013.
I’ve just scratched the surface of buildings that once stood in Evansville but have been razed. This stanza, from a poem by Isaac Watts, describes this well. (You may also recognize this text from a hymn entitled “O, God, Our Help in Ages Past.”)
Time, like an ever-rolling stream, Bears all its sons away; They fly forgotten, as a dream Dies at the opening day.
Engelhardt, Gordon. “Roberts Stadium put Evansville basketball on the map, hosted 109 hall of famers.” Evansville Courier and Press, November 23, 2017.