Let There Be Light

More than a century ago, when the bricks that paved the streets in the residential area just east of Downtown were still new, gaslights burned each night, providing a soft, yellow glow for the surrounding homes.

Over time, those lights were removed in favor of electrical crane lights, which cast a bright glare high above the streets. But because the area has a thick growth of trees, the lights were mostly obscured, leaving the streets and sidewalks dark after nightfall.

So the Old Evansville Historic Association (OEHA) went back to the future. The first phase of the new lighting project is now complete, with 22 vintage-looking, 12-foot-high lights replicating the old gaslights along four blocks of Cherry, Riverside, and S.E. First streets.

“It is amazing,” says Elmer Buchta of OEHA. “We went with high pressure sodium lights, so it is a soft yellow glow. LED lights would not have looked appropriate. We wanted to stay with the historic character.”

While OEHA bought and installed the lights, they now are owned by the city. Buchta says the electric bill for the new lights is no more than what the city was paying before.

The project languished for years before finally getting a boost from some sponsors. Old National Bank donated $25,000, while six other couples or businesses put in at least $5,000. Anyone who donates $5,000 gets a plaque at the base of one light.

The plan is to use the lights to connect the entire Historic District, the Arts District, and the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science.

“You’ll be able to go Downtown and safely walk to the Arts District after dark, or walk over to the museum,” says Buchta. “There are people who walk this area every day, but when it gets dark, they are gone. Once we get this lighting done, they’ll be able to feel safe doing that at night.”

Buchta says it isn’t yet clear where phase two of the project will be done, but notes it will need to be multiple blocks and connect with the already completed lights.

For more information about OEHA, visit oldevansvillehistoricassociation.com.

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