Remember When

A guide to the city's 200+ years, from the purchase of the440 acres that became Evansville to the opening of a bank on the site of Hugh McGary's original trading post - and everything in between.

In 1811, Hugh McGary lived in a small cabin near what is now Princeton, Ind. The fur trader traveled often to see the friendlier Indian tribes in the forest area of extreme Southwest Indiana. He sometimes crossed the Ohio River to the Red Banks (now Henderson, Ky.) to do business with the owner of a mill, Jonathon Anthony. Besides, McGary was smitten with Anthony’s teenage daughter Mary.

As McGary floated across the Ohio to the Anthony property, he gazed back on the bank and decided it would be a good place for a home and his trading. On March 27, 1812, McGary walked to Vincennes and purchased the 440 acres of ground that would become the current Downtown of the River City. He built a cabin on the present site of CBS44 WEVV and started a trading post and a flat boat ferry service to the Red Banks side of the river.

His friend from Vincennes, Robert M. Evans, a colonel in the army, later a brigadier general after the War of 1812, helped him secure the land, and bought some plots from McGary to make a homestead himself. Evans lobbied the state government in 1818 to make Evansville, by then a thriving village of 1,200 people, the seat of the newest county, Vanderburgh, carved out of Warrick and Posey counties. Evansville was on its way.

A Quick Look Around:

1803 – Newburgh, Ind.
Originally settled as Sprinklesburg, one of the oldest towns in the Ohio Valley was renamed Newburgh in 1837.

1807 – Rockport, Ind.
Called Hanging Rock, after a huge wall of rock that jutted out over the river, the town’s name was changed to Mt. Duvall, then Rockport in 1820.

1810 – Henderson, Ky.
Settlers occupied the area as early as 1797; the town wasn’t established until 13 years later.

1814 – New Harmony, Ind.
The town of Harmony was settled by the Harmonists, early utopians, and renamed New Harmony when purchased by Robert Owen in 1824.

1814 – Princeton, Ind.
Patoka was originally to be the seat of the new county, but an outbreak of plague caused settlers to relocate to Prince Town.

1816 – Mount Vernon, Ind.
Settled by Bowling Green, Ky., hunter Andrew McFadden, who happened upon the site by accident in 1806, the site was originally named McFadden’s Bluff.

1817 – Owensboro, Ky.
Settled as a river port along the Ohio River, it was a site of trading and passenger travel.

1822 – Darmstadt, Ind.
The town was mainly a German settlement.

1858 – Boonville, Ind.
Named for Ratliff Boon, a relative of famous Kentuckian Daniel Boone, the town’s name reflects the difference in spelling of the men’s surname.

1913 – Haubstadt, Ind.
The town was named for local businessman and early resident Henry Haub.

Meanwhile, in Evansville:

March 27, 1812 – Hugh McGary buys 440 acres from the U.S. Government in Vincennes and establishes homestead and trading post at the foot of what becomes Main Street and Riverside Drive (WEVV building present day).

1814 – Original Evansville plat laid out. Town named for Col. Robert Evans, friend of McGary and financial supporter of new town.

1818 – Vanderburgh County established with Evansville as the county seat.

1821 – First school established on new town square at Third and Main streets

1822 – Financially strapped and having lost his wife and two children to disease, McGary leaves Evansville, never to return.

1824 – Stagecoach service established to Vincennes.

1833–34 – Early flourmills built along Pigeon Creek.

1834 – Evansville announced as end spot for the new Wabash-Erie Canal. Anticipation leads to influx of settlers. A branch of the State Bank opens; later becomes Old National. First church established (became First Presbyterian Church).

1836 – John and William Law, James McCall and Lucius Scott establish Lamasco (combining their last names) adjacent to Evansville, to the west, to capitalize on development of the canal (Evansville annexes in 1857; becomes West Side).

1837 – Financial panic halts construction of canal for five years.

1841 – Lutheran Church established.

1841–43 – Canal construction resumes. (Completed in 1853, the canal was already obsolete — only two flat barges ever made the entire trip. Basin at Fifth and Court streets became site of 1891 courthouse.)

1845 – John A. Reitz builds planing mill near mouth of Pigeon Creek.

1847 – Evansville chartered as city, population: 4,000.

1848–50 – European crisis leads to West Side influx of German immigrants.

1851 – Riverfront wharf brings steamboat traffic and exploding commercial development. Indiana law prohibits slaves from escaping to Indiana. City leaders disregard, and Underground Railroad helps many slaves move north for nearly 15 years.

1852 – First gas light service is available.

1853 – Railroads reach Evansville.

1854 – First large public school built.

1855 – First Library constructed — 1,000 books donated.

1855–57 – Washington Hotel built at Third and Main, and new County Courthouse under construction on opposite corner. Courthouse burns but is rebuilt in 1857. Washington Hotel still stands, was Farmer’s Daughter restaurant, now apartments.

1858 – Population after annexation of Lamasco: 11,484.

1861–65 – More than 3,000 men from Evansville area serve in Civil War for the Union

1862 – Confederate Gen. John Morgan raids Newburgh, Ind. Evansville escapes attack throughout war.

1867 – Segregated school system established.

1868 – Opera house opens.

1868–71 – Waterworks and Central High School built.

1870 – Population: 21,830.

1870–1915 – Postwar economy booms with new industry spurred by river and rail access, plus raw materials to build furniture.

1878 – First telephone service.

1882 – First electric service generated in Evansville.

1884 – Flood brings Clara Barton to Evansville; her headquarters becomes Deaconess Hospital.

1889 – New Grand Opera House along Sycamore Street (site of Fifth Third Bank) built. Main Street brick-paved, and other Downtown streets within five years. (One bricklayer was Blues icon W.C. Handy.)

1890 – Vendome Hotel built. African American population hits 5,500 (had been just 130 in 1861). Baptistown, near central business district, established.

1892 – First electric streetcar.

1893 – Deaconess hospital opens.

1894 – St. Mary’s hospital opens.

1895 – Cook’s Electric Park opens. Amusement rides added in 1912.

1897 – Albion Fellows Bacon begins crusade against poverty, poor housing, and child labor

1900 – Population: 59,000. Evansville is Indiana’s third largest city. Automobile arrives in city.

1903 – Copeland Auto factory produces the Zentmobile. William McCurdy opens Hercules Buggy Company. (Later becomes Servel, when refrigeration process becomes practical.)

1911 – Small bi-plane flies 1,000 feet above Downtown Evansville.

1915 – Bosse Field opens.

1916 – Mayor Benjamin Bosse influences city growth. Building boom Downtown: Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Coliseum built; Citizens Bank tower at Fourth and Main streets is first skyscraper, followed by Old National Bank at Fifth and Main streets. Both are 10 stories. (ONB razed in 1967.) City annexes large areas east to Kentucky Avenue and north to Pigeon Creek.

1917 – St. George Hotel demolished; McCurdy Hotel built on same site by Harold Van Orman. John Bethel Gresham, Evansville native, is among first three U.S. deaths in France.

1918 – World War I effort leads to industries producing war materials; also led to closure of West Side German newspaper. Reitz High School built on far West Side.

1919 – Moores Hill College relocates to Evansville as Evansville College (University of Evansville).

1920 – East Side subdivisions begin to expand from Kentucky Avenue east to Weinbach Avenue. Population: 92,000.

1921 – Victory Theatre built at Sixth and Main streets (first air-conditioned venue).

1922 – Dade Park racetrack opens south of city on Kentucky land; leads to explosion in gambling.

1924 – Bosse High School built on far East Side.

1928 – St. Benedict Catholic Church built. Evansville Airport opens north of city along U.S. Highway 41. Indiana’s first zoo established.

1929 – Great Depression hits Evansville.

1930 – Population: 102,000.

1931 – New Central Library built on site of demolished Evans Hall. Mead Johnson builds river terminal.

1932 – Northbound bridge between Evansville and Henderson, Ky., opens.

1934 – Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration set up headquarters, employing thousands. Philharmonic Orchestra organized. Mesker Zoo expands.

1935 – Chrysler opens Plymouth plant. Sunbeam Electric begins to build refrigerators; along with Servel, positions Evansville to become refrigerator capitol of the U.S. in 1940s and 1950s.

1937 – Thousand-year flood wreaks havoc on city, leaving 400 families homeless.

1937–38 – Buses replace streetcars; streetcar tracks removed. Oil boom brings millions of dollars to local economy to combat depression crisis. Slum area replaced by Lincoln Gardens apartments.

1940 – 25,000 new jobs have been created. Automobiles create need for new businesses, as well as housing east of city near Weinbach Avenue and Evansville College.

1942–45 – World War II. Industries convert to wartime production. Republic Aviation and LST shipyards bring influx of new workers. USO stations operate 24 hours to entertain soldiers crossing U.S. by train.

1945–50 – Postwar expansion of Evansville College to accommodate returning servicemen. Housing boom begins creation of new subdivisions north and east.

1949 – Ross Center opens on far East Side with new theater (demolished in 1993).

1950 – Evansville population: 128,600.

1954 – Mayor H. O. “Hank” Roberts proposes new multipurpose sports stadium east of city near state hospital.

1955 – North Park commercial development begins.

1956 – Municipal Stadium (later Roberts Stadium) opens. North High School opens in former Mechanic Arts School.

1956–58 – Loss of major industries causes unemployment crisis.

1960 – Alcoa arrives in Warrick County, Ind. Population: 141,000.

1962–63 – Airport expansion leads to increased air traffic in Evansville.

1963 – Indiana’s first enclosed mall, Washington Square, opens.

1963–69 – Downtown urban renewal program razes dozens of buildings.

1965 – Local campus of Indiana State University opens in old Centennial School. Arkla arrives.

1967–68 – High-rise Kennedy and Buckner Towers built Downtown for elderly. Racial unrest strikes inner city neighborhoods. Robert Kennedy speaks at Roberts Stadium.

1969 – New Civic Center Complex opens along Seventh Street (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.); replaces Assumption Cathedral and Cook’s Brewery.

1969 – Old National Bank completes new modern high-rise at Fifth and Main streets.

1970 – Population: 137,400.

1971 – Main Street closed to traffic; construction of Pedestrian Mall completed.

1972 – New Central High School opens. Desegregation of public schools begins. Redistricting follows in 1974.

1973 – Recession slows Downtown development. Riverside One apartments are only completed structure for years. Mesker Park amusement rides close; Evansville loses beloved carousel.

1977 – University of Evansville basketball team and supporters lost in plane crash.

1978 – PPG Industries locates in Evansville.

1981–89 – Robert Orr elected; serves as Indiana Governor, second from Evansville.

1984 – Riverfront facelift removes floodwall.

1985 – ISUE achieves independence — becomes University of Southern Indiana.

1986 – Renovation of Main Street walkway leads to new construction Downtown: Citizens Bank (now Fifth Third), Coal Exchange Building, and new condominiums.

1987 – Lloyd Expressway constructed through city.

1987–2000 – Frank McDonald II serves as mayor 13 years, longest in office.

1988 – New airport terminal completed; restructured runway system.

1989–90 – Remodeling of Roberts Stadium lowers floor six feet, causing water problems.

1990 – East Side bypass, Interstate 164 completed around city.

1992 – C-130B plane crash near airport.

1993 – Riverboat gambling approved in referendum.

1995 – Reconstruction of Civic Auditorium. Casino Aztar opens, becoming major city employer.

1998 – Lincoln Gardens demolished, replaced by new housing units. One building saved becomes Evansville African American Museum. Restoration of Victory Theatre completed.

2002 – Signature School opens Downtown, results in national recognition for advanced programs.

2003 – Location of WWII era LST ship expands tourism in Evansville.

2004 – Russell Lloyd Jr. administration constructs Goebel Soccer Complex on North Green River Road. ONB abandons 1960s high-rise for new corporate headquarters at Main Street and Riverside Drive, near original site of Hugh McGary’s first trading post.

2005 –
New Vectren Headquarters completed on former site of Riverside One Apartments. F-3 tornado rips through area, killing 25.

2006 – New jail complex built near Whirlpool plant on U.S. Highway 41 North. St. Mary’s Health System teams with Ohio Valley HeartCare to open Center for Advanced Medicine and the Heart Institute. First tower of Deaconess Gateway Hospital opens in Newburgh, Ind.

2010 – Whirlpool closes operations in Evansville.

2010 – Population: 117,400, near the 1940 level. Drop causes consideration of third effort to consolidate city and county government.

2011 – University of Southern Indiana enrollment grows to more than 10,000. Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel administration constructs Ford Center Downtown.

Unless noted, photos are courtesy of Willard Library,, and the Daniel Hayes Collection.
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