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Evansville
Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Growing Up in Evansville

Do you remember the Peanut Shop? Did your parents take you to see the monkeys at Baynham Shoe Co.? Did you see movies at the Sunset Drive-In or see the Triplets play at Bosse Field? Did you watch “The Peggy Mitchell Show” or “Romper Room” (with Miss Winnie and her Magic Mirror)? Do you remember the rides at Yabroudy Park? Did you get lunch from the Hot Tamale Man? If so, you grew up in Evansville, or at least nearby. We wanted to know about those childhood experiences, so we used social media to ask readers for their recollections, then sought out some specific topics and people to fill in the details. So navigate through the memories of nostalgic Evansville and allow yourself to be transported back in time to the days of growing up in the River City.

Baby Boom

Children’s store remained a Downtown staple for three quarters of a century
By Emily Patton

For hundreds of families in Evansville, the first pieces of clothing their children wore were from The Baby Shop, a Downtown staple at 404 Main St. The same was true for Gordon Schlundt, who was the fourth generation of Schlundts to work at the fixture.

His grandmother, Edna Schlundt, is credited with creating the store out of her Emmett Street residence she shared with her husband Henry in 1915. Edna, the mother of five children, was seeking an easier way for mothers to clothe their children other than working from a pattern and sewing the clothes themselves.

With help from Henry, who would later earn the nickname of “The Baby Shop Man,” the business grew to a third location in the Downtown commercial district. Henry’s father would actually help with its success, too. The store was a high-quality, high-service retailer with supplies for mothers, infants, and children through their teen years.

“If you had never seen it before, you almost wouldn’t understand,” says Gordon. “The store had 10 times the merchandise that any store for children has now. We didn’t have one dress. We had 50. It was a totally different experience. We tried to bring the best of everything to Evansville.”

Gordon’s father, Robert, would later take over as owner in the 1950s. Robert would earn the nickname of “Uncle Bob” seen on many birthday cards and gift ring announcements sent to customers.

Gordon became owner in the late ’80s, but only after working there beginning in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Many memories of his childhood come from playing at the Main Street location.

“I certainly always remember going down there on weekends and running around the many different stairways hidden from the public, including the fire escape. Probably doing some bad things and then later working there,” says Gordon, who planned to be a career officer in the U.S. Air Force, but a shoulder injury stopped those plans.

Gordon’s father pushed for him to join the store and he did after graduating from the University of Evansville in 1971. His sister, Robynn, also helped out in the store and worked in the office before she married and moved away from Evansville. Gordon’s wife Mary Ann Schlundt and their daughter Jill Hill, the fifth generation of Schlundts to work in the store, also helped operate The Baby Shop.

The Main Street store closed in 1981, but other branches were opened in Washington Square Mall, Eastland Mall, North Brook Shopping Center, and even as far north as Terre Haute, Indiana.

The Baby Shop closed its last location in January 1992 at Eastland Mall after the influx of shopping centers and department stores in the early 90s.

“I still remember all the smells Downtown and how much fun it was and how much fun it was to shop in an area,” says Gordon. “I can still smell the candy from the candy store and smell the peanuts from the peanut store. It was a wonderful environment to grow up in. It’s just nostalgia.”

Jane Davies, Harrison High School Graduate:
There weren’t any sports for girls until 1972, so the only things you could do were either cheerlead or dance. I started at Hodgini during nursery school and Mr. Albert Hodges, known as Mr. Hodgini, had a trampoline and would invite the class to jump on it. I took lessons with girls from all over the city who I wouldn’t have known otherwise. When the schools integrated, it wasn’t anything to me, because I was used to being with all different types of children. I continued taking lessons there until I was a sophomore or junior in the 1970s. I remember having end of the school year recitals at Roberts Stadium and Mesker Park Amphitheatre. One of my favorite memories is of Marian Hodges’ perfume. Even after she passed away, Mr. Hodgini continued to spray it.

Cathy Powers, St. Wendel:
As a child, I can remember my visits to Evansville, which we then thought of as being the “big city.” Just as it is now, Mesker Park Zoo was always a wonderful place for a child to visit. This was the era of the famed “Monkey Ship,” and everyone wanted to see them scampering around on their floating home.

When we ventured Downtown for shopping at perhaps The Evansville Store, deJong’s, The Peanut Shop, J.C. Penney, Sears, Kresge’s, or Baynham’s shoe store, our last stop was often the Farmer’s Daughter. It was fun to stick our feet into the X-ray machine at Baynham’s, and see their caged monkeys.

A few months before I was born, my mother went to The Baby Shop and bought all of the necessities to care for an infant. I am lucky that she saved this 1944 receipt and I still have it. Both my husband, Don, and I went to an allergy doctor in the Hulman Building as children. I’ll always remember riding up in the elevator, with a white-gloved “operator” taking us to the correct floor. He and I both remember sitting at the soda fountain in Kresge’s on the swiveling orange stools.

The Santa Claus parade was always a wonderful thing for children to attend, and I remember the Christmas that I won a coloring contest, which was displayed in a window at Shear’s. They also had a yearly exhibit of mechanical toys during the holiday season.

For many years, we passed the iconic Sterling Brewery, on Division Street, on our way Downtown, and it is hard to believe this is now gone. Division was famous for its train tracks, which frequently caused traffic problems. It was then the main artery across the city (see “Divided Division,” page 152). Teenagers of the 1960s headed for the Parkway Drive-In at the intersection of Indiana 66 and Mesker Park Drive. It was the place to show off one’s “ride” and order a burger and one of their famous “wine cokes.”

Attending the Ice Capades at Mesker Amphitheatre was a wonderful experience. This venue drew crowds for many different shows throughout the year. One of my best memories is going to the movies, either at one of the sumptuous Downtown theatres, like Loew’s or the Grand, or perhaps to the drive-in. We usually chose the Sunset Drive-In on U.S. Highway 41, or the Westside Drive-In. Someone always forgot to unhook the speaker from their car window, after the movie, and drove away, pulling it off its stand.

Evansville and the Tri-State area was a wonderful place to grow up, and it left me with many memories I treasure to this day.

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The “Golden Girls” – Best Friends for 62 Years:
We were the first of the baby boomers (1946). We met at Sacred Heart Catholic School in first grade (1952). Back then, we played volleyball, had slumber parties, rode our bikes all over Evansville, swam at Howell Pool, went skating at Burdette Park, swam in the salt water lake at Burdette, and collected paper for paper drives. It was just fun being together and playing games while growing up in Evansville. We were happy girls.

In 1960, we were freshmen at Mater Dei High School. We wore red and gold and went to all the football and basketball games.

At 16, we all started to drive. Gas was 25 cents a gallon. We would drag Main Street, go to the Parkway, and dance at St. Mary’s on Friday nights. Then came the boys. We met paratroopers from Fort Campbell, and danced at the Armory and Lamey’s to the music of Elvis, the Beatles, and Ray Charles.

After graduation, some of us moved away, but we all came back to Evansville. Our home. We all still live here and love it.

In our early 20s, we started getting together once a month to play cards. But soon, we stopped playing games and just talked and laughed.

Times have certainly changed since the 1950s, but we are still here and we still get together often. We meet at the Hilltop for their great fish sandwiches. In the summer, we play water volleyball and many of us are into pickleball. Recently, we held our 50th class reunion. It was a great and fun evening. We love God, family, friends, and our lives in Evansville.

Ross Atkin, Boston, Massachusetts:
This photo of my older brother, Jack “Chip,” and me was probably taken in the mid 1950s on a Sunday at Dress Plaza. We attended church nearby, and sometimes would swing by just to see what was going on with the boat traffic. The smell of driftwood that had washed up on shore was usually in the air, if I recall correctly. Occasionally, a riverboat or barge would be passing through, or in the case of the riverboats (as in this photo), docked right there near Downtown for all to admire. One other thing I remember about our family’s post-church activities: We frequently would stop at the old Penny Can market near the old Lincoln High School to pick up a few items. It was the only grocery store open on Sundays.

Building the Zoo

Bob Haynie’s grandfather was a visionary  By Nathan Blackford

Like nearly everyone who has grown up in Evansville in the last 80 years, Bob Haynie has childhood memories of the famed Monkey Ship at Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden. But Haynie’s connection to the ship is different than most people: it was his grandfather’s idea.

Gilmore M. Haynie became executive secretary of the city parks board in 1916, and later served as board president. He, along with other business leaders, used land on the West Side donated by George Mesker to build a unique zoo, with barless exhibits that were revolutionary at the time.

“I remember those barless pits that my grandfather designed and had built,” says Bob. “The lion pit was very, very intriguing to me as a kid, because you could view predatory animals without them behind bars. He got that idea in Germany and brought it back.”

Bob was born in 1957, just one year before his grandfather’s death. But he grew up hearing stories of Gilmore’s passion for the zoo. Little remains of Gilmore’s designs, other than the Monkey Ship, a concrete replica of the Santa Maria that opened in 1933 with 20 rhesus monkeys aboard. Monkeys lived on the ship until 1991.

“When the monkeys were living on the boat, it just thrilled kids,” says Bob. “It was an unusual and amusing concept, I think, for me and other kids. I am pleased it remains. (Gilmore) was a real visionary. He was always coming up with new ideas.”

Bob has other childhood memories from the area around the zoo, like seeing The Byrds perform at Mesker Park Amphitheatre and riding the Mesker Park Carousel.

“I just remember it being a trio of entertainment opportunities,” he says. “I would love to see the amphitheater renovated and reopened for the benefit of the zoo. But that would not be an inexpensive project.”

The Haynie family has stayed involved with the Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden. Bob, who owns Haynie Travel, a business his grandparents started, has organized a pair of trips where a portion of the proceeds went to the zoo.

Larry N. Lee, Evansville:
I lived at 209 Harriet Street until age 9. Our house was a yellow-painted frame shotgun-style dwelling with high ceilings and a spooky attic that I rarely ever ventured into.

Harriet was lined with old homes back then, and very few still exist today due to the expansion of Berry Plastics. Harriet was also a northbound one-way street back then and for some reason, the intersection of Harriet and Franklin was one of the most dangerous in Evansville.

I attended Baker School while living on Harriet. It was located on Virginia Street just west of North Main where SWIRCA & More is today. Baker was made up of three buildings in an L-shape built in the late 1800s that were connected by halls and a gymnasium in between.

The pony I’m sitting on in the photo was brought around various neighborhoods by a man who encouraged kids to have their picture taken on it.  Of course there was a fee for copies of the pictures, but I remember him bringing it down Harriet Street one afternoon and giving me the cowboy hat as a “prop” to set on my head for the photo. It was taken in front of 213 Harriet, two houses down from ours.

Friday nights strolling Main Street were always pleasant times. I remember Finke’s Furniture having 37 footprints embedded in the sidewalk and leading from Main to their front entrance on Seventh Street (now MLK). Their slogan was “37 Steps from Main on Seventh” and it was true, at least for adults. The footprints were illuminated from beneath at night which I thought was really cool and I often tried to step on them as we walked.

After moving to the East Side and living on Morgan Avenue, it was exciting to live near Yabroudy Park. It was an easy three-block walk away and my sister and I went there more times than I could begin to count. Our mother had gone to high school with Bob Yabroudy, who ran the park, and he knew who we were and often said “hi,” but it never yielded us any free rides.

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Harold Morgan, Evansville:
The Morgan family moved to Evansville in late 1942 when my father, Harold Morgan Sr., took a job with Republic Aviation where he was a tail assembly final inspector. Our trailer home was just west of the Evansville airport along U.S. Highway 41. I grew up with P-47s flying and test firing their big machine guns day and night. I was a lucky kid, but I took it all for granted and all those 6,700 P-47s became as commonplace as wind through the trees.

I have fond memories of collecting family and neighborhood scrap material, which made me believe I had a big part in the war. I would proudly take my scrap and meat grease to Stringtown School on collection days. (Meat grease was nasty to carry; pity the teachers who had to collect the grease.) A proud day was on Friday when we could buy a war bond stamp. That was the day we would all march around our classroom in great military fashion.

We lived only a mile or so from Republic Aviation and Dad normally walked to work, he was a patriot and did not believe in wasting anything, especially gasoline. The Morgan family was allowed to buy three gallons of gas each week.

We made rare trips to Main Street and they were really exciting for me. The sidewalks were crowded and filled with “soldier boys” on weekends. Evansville was the largest town within 150 miles in any direction; the sailors and soldiers hitchhiked to get to Evansville.

One of my strong memories was when President Roosevelt died. Although my dad was a Republican, I did see tears in his eyes when he talked about the death during supper.

Downtown Daughter

Restaurant enjoyed brief but popular run  By Nathan Blackford

For those who grew up in Evansville in the 1960s and 1970s, going Downtown to shop was a big deal. One of the biggest thrills for kids was seeing the monkeys in the front window at Baynham’s, but another was having dinner at the Farmer’s Daughter.

The restaurant, located at the corner of Main and Third streets, was one of the most popular restaurants in town. It was actually the second restaurant of the same name, with the first along U.S. Highway 41. The second location opened Dec. 3, 1962. It took up two stories, making it the largest Downtown restaurant.

A fast-service menu was offered in the street level dining area, with the cellar set up for business luncheons and other functions and offering a full menu. It was an immediate hit, with lines out the door for both lunch and dinner. The on-site bakery was famous for its fresh strawberry pie.

Andrew Guagenti owned the Farmer’s Daughter. The day before it opened, he brought in his full staff and invited passersby to come in and have something to eat at no charge. The dry run, as Guagenti saw it, helped make sure the employees were ready for opening day.

The restaurant had a rustic look with wooden shingles, stucco sides, and and a rock panel front. Radio station WROZ (1400 AM) took up the space above. But the good times lasted less than two decades.

Less than a year after the Farmer’s Daughter opened, Washington Square Mall opened on Green River Road. It was the first enclosed shopping center in the state, and it led the gradual migration of retail to the east. By 1982, the Farmer’s Daughter closed.

The building still stands, though it looks nothing like the former restaurant. Today, it appears much more like its original 1855 appearance, when it was known as the Washington House, a restaurant and hotel.

Though the Farmer’s Daughter has been gone more than 30 years, there is a generation — those who remember the smell of the candy counter at Sears — that will always remember eating there.

Terry Brown, Indianapolis:
I didn’t grow up in Evansville, but lived in nearby Chandler.  Going to Evansville was always an adventure — the big city! My most special memories were of Mac’s BBQ, the Evansville Drive-In, and Yabroudy Park. Yabroudy was like Disneyland and Six Flags. My recollection is that the carousel was huge and that the boats had fish in the pond you rode through. Of course, I really controlled the boat!

Horace M. (Harry) Lukens III, Evansville:
In 1937 our family lived at 710 E. Gum Street. Early in January of that year, this community experienced the worst flood in the history of our city. One day my father opened the door to our basement. The water was up to the kitchen floor. He decided that he had to move my brother Tom and I to a safer place.

I remember looking out our bedroom window and saw water everywhere. I was 6 years old. My dad decided to send us to stay with my mother’s parents in Detroit. My grandmother came to Evansville by train to take us back to Detroit. At that time this was the only transportation out of Evansville.

My father bundled us up and, along with my grandmother, we got into a rowboat and were taken to the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Evans Street, where it was high and dry. We were then driven to the train station on Fulton Avenue. We traveled to Terre Haute, Indiana, on the C&EI (Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railway) where we changed to another train. This was the Big Four Railway. After traveling all night, we arrived in Detroit where we stayed with our grandparents for almost two months.

During World War II, my parents entertained soldiers from Camp Breckenridge over weekends. We always had two soldiers staying with us, and my siblings and I had to sleep on the floor downstairs in order for the soldiers to have our very comfortable beds upstairs.

When the war ended in August 1945, this city went nuts. Fireworks and sparklers were everywhere. Downtown was a madhouse. The city arranged a parade shortly thereafter and Main Street was jammed. My most vivid memory of this parade was the Army marching band as they marched from Riverside Drive all the way to Eighth and Main streets, playing all the time. You could barely hear the music because of the cheering crowd.

One of my fondest memories in growing in this wonderful city was my high school years. I attended Bosse High School from 1945 to 1949. We were blessed with some of the greatest teachers this city has even seen.

I have always said that this community is a great place to raise children and I believe that I was a beneficiary.

Thanks for the Memories.

What it means to grow up in Evansville differs for each individual with those experiences and moments shaped by memories. We would like to thank all the people who took the time to share stories, memorabilia, photographs, and important pieces of their childhoods for this feature. We also would like to acknowledge Willard Library, the University of Southern Indiana, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, and historicevansville.com for their use of photography, articles, and guidance.

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