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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Hidden Evansville

Every city has its hidden spots — artifacts, historic landmarks, little-known events, and secret food items that make up the fabric of a town. Evansville is teeming with special spots, items of history, and quirky bits, and we’ve strayed from the beaten path to bring you some of our favorites. Whether you’ve lived in Evansville your entire life or just for a few months, trust us when we say there still are some secrets to discover.

Sanborn Maps

(Willard Library)

When it came to assessing fire risk for homes or businesses in urban areas in the late 1800s, agents consulted maps drawn up by the company Sanborn Maps. Detailing the degree of hazard associated with a building’s location, Sanborn Maps served around 12,000 American cities and towns from 1866 until the time of World War II, when usage of the maps declined. Today, Sanborn continues to print copies from their collection of more than 1.2 million maps to help assess various changes. Evansville’s Sanborn Maps are housed on the second floor of Willard Library. 

Roseanne’s House

(Runnymeade Avenue)

Evansville is no stranger to the big screen as fans of the sitcom Roseanne know. One of the show’s producers Matt Williams is an Evansville native and decided to use locations around the city for establishing and transition shots. The exterior shots of the Conner family’s home are of a house located on Runnymeade Avenue near the University of Evansville, Williams’ alma mater. Other locations throughout the city also were used including Talk of the Town Pizza doubling as the show’s hangout Lobo Lounge, the Third and Delaware streets sign, and St. Anthony Catholic Church.

Isaac Knight Memorial

Motorists traveling on Lincoln Avenue may have noticed a stone marker in front of the former Snodgrass Floral Co., but might not know its origins. The story the marker bears is of Isaac Knight, who was captured in the late 1700s by Native Americans when he was 13 years old. For two years and six months, Isaac was held captive at an encampment in Michigan.

He eventually would escape and find his way back south in search of his family, who had moved out of the area. Isaac returned to Vanderburgh County as an adult and established Knight Township on Evansville’s East Side. The memorial along Lincoln Avenue marks Isaac’s original gravesite.

Cold Trent

(White Swan Coffee Lab at WIRED)

At first glance, the coffee menu at White Swan Coffee Lab at WIRED Downtown seems like a simple, straightforward menu. But operator and manager David Rudibaugh’s coffee concoctions prove that going off menu can lead to the best results.

Named after a regular customer, the Cold Trent is a chilled blended drink chock-full to the brim with chocolate and sure to perk up any dull day.

Upside-Down House

(Burdette Park)

Along Craig’s Way in Burdette Park on Evansville’s West Side, just north of the main lake you’ll stumble upon a topsy-turvy art piece. Known as the Upside-Down House, the structure was built by retired University of Southern Indiana art instructor John McNaughten. With a framework that curves and hand-carved features, the piece is a must-see at Burdette says park director Jerry Grannan.

“Children and parents can enter a Dr. Seuss-style environment surrounded by a soothing natural setting,” says Grannan. “The object of art is to open one’s mind to creative, alternative thinking.”

The Vukowich


Peanut butter, bacon, French fries, chili, sauerkraut, mustard, and cheddar cheese aren’t ingredients you would usually combine on a burger. But order the Vukowich at Peephole and that’s exactly what you will get.

“Basically I looked at the menu, looked at all the extra stuff, and got the extra stuff on a burger,” says the sandwich’s namesake and Peephole cook Aaron Vukovich. “Then I tweaked it and perfected it.”

While the Vukowich isn’t a common order, curious customers need to order the sandwich from Vukovich himself, as he is the only staff member who knows how to make the burger.

Zwei Blumchen

(Germania Maennerchor)

Earlier this year the Germania Maennerchor celebrated 118 years in the community. Since the club was founded in 1900, members have gathered every year to celebrate the anniversary of the club and the friendships it has created. As part of the anniversary celebration, members perform the German song “Zwei Blümchen” (or “Two Little Flowers”), written specifically for Germania Maennerchor to sing once a year on the club’s anniversary.

“In the text it explains that ‘Love’ and ‘Friendship’ are the names of the two flowers, which symbolizes love for homeland and the friendship among the club members,” says the club’s president Jim Kluesner.

League of Their Own signs

(Bosse Field)

If you’ve visited historic Bosse Field — home of the Evansville Otters — then you have caught sight of an older sign proclaiming, “Support the Racine Belles.” While long-time residents know the story of the sign, visitors and newcomers to the area might not be aware of Bosse Field’s Hollywood past. The third-oldest baseball park in the country served as the home field for the Racine Belles in the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own.”

Horse Fountain

(Main Street)

While strolling Downtown, you perhaps have noticed a marble fountain at the corner of Main and Third streets; however, you may not recognize it as a horse fountain.

According to Department of Metropolitan Development Executive Director Kelley Coures, the horse fountain was built, placed, and dedicated in 1910 near Willard Library and the old Municipal Market on First Avenue. In service until 1956, the fountain was moved into storage at the Evansville Museum while the intersection at First Avenue was rebuilt. It was relocated to its current position in 1971 after the Main Street Walkway was constructed. 

Abraham Lincoln letter

(Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science)

Many of the exhibits at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science reflect the past of Evansville and its citizens. One display, however, is dedicated to the 16th U.S. president Abraham Lincoln. Among the items is a letter written by Lincoln to his boyhood friend David Turnham.

“It was written in the fall of 1860, shortly before Lincoln was elected president,” says Tom Lonnberg, curator of history. “He talks about how he would like to visit his old home in Spencer County again, among other things.”

The letter still is legible and was gifted to the museum from the estate of a relative of David, Mrs. George (Retta) Turnham, in 1947.

McGary Cemetery

(Downtown Evansville)

The area near Fourth and Vine streets holds a secret most Evansville residents may not know, says Dennis Au. The former Vanderburgh County historic preservation officer has found significant evidence to suggest an early pioneer cemetery existed on the site, which could be what was known as McGary’s Burial Ground named after Hugh McGary Jr., who was the first landowner of what is now Evansville. Au recently presented his findings of this and other hidden cemeteries of the city at an event hosted by the Vanderburgh County Historical Society and Willard Library.

“My pleasure in doing that presentation was to make sure people don’t forget where these cemeteries are in the hope some respect can be afforded to anyone still buried there,” says Au.

Engelbrecht Carousel

(Mesker Park Zoo)

It’s been more than 40 years since young visitors to the Evansville zoo have delighted in a spin on a carousel ride. A staple memory for many of us, the ride left the zoo in the early 1970s, despite many protests from residents and efforts by the city. But with the help of donors, Mesker officials welcomed back a carousel ride in June 2017. Housed in an enclosed pavilion, the Engelbrecht Carousel features 30 endangered animal species and lasts two and a half minutes. It also is connected to an event room.

Reitz Hill Double Dip

Say the words “double dip” to West Siders and you’re sure to get a few grins.

On Rick Davis Way, headed south toward the Reitz Bowl and F.J. Reitz High School, the road dips twice in a decline, creating a prefect opportunity for sledding, daredevils, and more. There’s even a belief that women with overdue pregnancies can take a ride down the Double Dip and expect their baby the next day!

Mama’s Kitchen

(Aihua International Market)

Pad Thai, bibimbap rice bowls, and pan-fried dumplings. Some of the best oriental food you can find in the Tri-State is at Mama’s Kitchen, according to many locals. Situated in a space at the back of the Aihua International Market along South Green River Road, owner and cook Aihua Sun, a native of northern China, dishes up authentic oriental flavors each day.

“I love it here in Evansville,” she says. “Everything is right here.”

Her personal favorite dish of choice on her menu? Pad Thai, right along with her customers. “There’s lots of vegetables, egg, chicken, and tofu,” she explains.

Works Project Administration Lab Reconstruction

(Angel Mounds)

In 2013, Angel Mounds State Historic Site welcomed back a long-lost friend. Constructed in 1939, the Works Project Administration Lab was used as a space for archaeology students from Indiana University but was burned down in the early 1980s.

Before tearing the building down, it was measured and mapped, allowing the reconstruction to be built on the exact location of the original. The team hit the nail on the head; the next spring daffodils popped up along the corners of the WPA Lab Reconstruction building.

“Some of us had the goal one day of making this a working archaeology center, and this was the first step toward that,” says site director Mike Linderman.

Bishop Joseph Siegel’s Coat of Arms

Each bishop who is appointed to the Diocese of Evansville adopts a coat of arms to reflect his heritage and ministry in the past.

Evansville’s sixth bishop, Bishop Siegel, who was installed Dec. 15, 2017, designed a coat of arms featuring a shield with several different elements, a scroll motto “In Te Domine Speravi” (I put my trust in you, Lord), and external ornamentation.

Movie Set

(Harlaxton College)

While not literally hidden in Evansville — this location is in Grantham, England — the University of Evansville’s Harlaxton College has served as the setting for a dozen movies and TV shows throughout the years. Most recently, Harlaxton’s Manor lent itself to the BBC series “Victoria” in the second season’s fifth episode. The location also was used for the 1999 horror mystery movie “The Haunting,” starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Liam Neeson.

Peters-Margedant House

(University of Evansville)

In 1935, a 552-square-foot house was erected at 1506 E. Indiana St., standing out against the many bungalows that made up the neighborhood. This home was designed by the lead protégé of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Bosse High School graduate Wes Peters.

Peters was taking a two-year break in Evansville and decided to design the house with many of the principles of Wright’s Usonian homes. In August 2016, Indiana Landmarks and the Vanderburgh Community Foundation were able to move the Peters-Margedant House to a site behind the Koch Center for Engineering and Science at the University of Evansville.

Scottish Rite decor

(Fidel’s Bourbon Bar and Cigar Lounge)

Take a seat at Fidel’s Bourbon Bar and Cigar Lounge, and you’ll be sitting in history. Owner Tim Mills repurposed many items throughout the upscale, Prohibition-style bar to pull together the look and feel of the space above Walton’s International Comfort Food. The seating and lighting both came out of the old Scottish Rite building at Chestnut and Second streets, and the bar was moved from downstairs after being salvaged from the Executive Inn.

Indiana’s Largest Cherry Bark Oak

(State Hospital Grounds)

City arborist Shawn Dickerson isn’t quite sure how old the Cherry Bark Oak at the State Hospital grounds is. But every year it continues to be a state champion as one of the largest trees in Indiana.

“It certainly is plausible that it could be more than 200 years old, since it could be a tree that was not removed when the land was developed,” says Dickerson.

Measurements of the tree taken by him in 2014: 255.6 inches in circumference, 83 feet tall, and 134 feet canopy spread.

Shirley’s Blossom

Looking off to the right from the eastbound lanes of the Lloyd Expressway over Fulton Avenue, you can catch the Shirley’s Blossom art structure.

A stainless steel and wire mesh piece designed by VPS Architecture, the piece rests at the Mead Johnson Trailhead of the Pigeon Creek Greenway. It represents the impact of transportation on Evansville’s history, as well as honors community advocate Shirley James.

Racehorse Game Wheel

(Dream Car Museum)

Visitors to the Dream Car Museum, 2400 N. Heidelbach Ave., are dazzled by the many neon signs, vintage gas pumps, and — of course — cars that fill two buildings at the former Bennett Motors location. However, they may be surprised to find vintage games.

In a space connected to the museum’s Corvette room sits a collection of early gaming machines, including this racehorse ball-in-cage lottery game wheel from between the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“We purchased it in Las Vegas; it’s a rare piece,” says museum manager Jason Ailstock. “It was a piece we ran across we just could not pass up. It’s really fun.”

Standing just over 7 feet tall and manufactured by the H.C. Evans & Co. of Chicago, the wheel features wood, cast iron, nickel-plated trim, and hand-painted glass. Players would pick a horse and spin the wheel. If it landed on their horse, the bet tower at top would determine the pay out.

Floppy Disk Sandwich

(Bits and Bytes)

When Fred Martin and his daughters Nancy Williamson, Mary Harl, and Veronica Townsend began Bits & Bytes almost 32 years ago, their special sandwich creation, the Floppy Disk (named after the now retro computer storage medium), became an instant favorite among loyal customers. While the dish features a choice of vegetarian, roast beef, smoked or roasted turkey, or smoked or roasted ham; Colby jack cheese; alfalfa sprouts; and pita bread, it is the secret sauce that truly makes the sandwich. The recipe is one of the sisters’ most guarded secrets — they won’t even let other staff members in on the process. “One of us always has to make it,” says Townsend.

The Grotto

(St. Boniface Catholic Church)

Tucked away underneath the twin-spired St. Boniface Church on Wabash Avenue sits the “Our Lady of Lourdes” Grotto, modeled after the grotto at Lady of Lourdes in France. The church was rebuilt after a fire in 1902, but the grotto wasn’t dedicated until 1914. The 72-foot-long room, which at one point could seat up to 100 people, was badly damaged in the flood of 1937 and did not reopen until 1972. Today, a glass case inside displays relics like the salvaged remains of the church’s bells after the fire, which can be viewed on Sundays in May and October or by private appointment.

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