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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Street Smarts

The central core of Evansville, radiating outward from the Downtown business grid that sits at a 45-degree angle, is really a collection of neighborhoods that demonstrate how the city grew. Most cities expand eastward first (urban planners tell us) because people traveling to their work place prefer to have the sun at their backs in the morning going to, and in the evening returning from, their jobs.

Residential neighborhoods did expand eastward as the 19th century drew to a close and Evansville’s economy picked up steam. The places people built their homes took on nicknames that exist today, even though current residents often have no idea where those names came from.

For example, Goosetown, still a close-knit urban community (the area bordered by Second Street, Adams Street, Washington Avenue, and Parrett Street), derived its name from the common habit of 19th century homeowners keeping geese on their properties, which kept the grass short. The geese would wander the neighborhood and congregate at a water trough near the triangle corner. Blackford’s Grove neighborhood, adjacent to Goosetown to the north took its name from a civil war encampment, which has been memorialized by a plaque.

As new industries grew up in the city, residential expansion crept further eastward. Two significant developments sprang up shortly before World War I. Near Kentucky Avenue, which was then the eastern boundary of the city, prosperous residents began building large homes surrounding two parks: Akin and Bayard. Akin Park was named for William Akin who founded Akin Erskine Milling Co. It was actually the old Evansville Fairgrounds, which at one time had bleacher seats and a running track. It was the site of the first airplane landing here in 1911.

Samuel Bayard, a retired bank president, was very civic minded and after his death his widow, Martha Orr Bayard, donated the land that became Bayard Park. Similar to Akin, well to do professionals built homes surrounding it, mostly in the period from 1901 to 1915. Some neighborhoods take their name from a significant street: Lincolnshire was developed outside the city limits in the 1920s; and Arcadian Acres fanned out from Arcadian Highway in the 1940s. Most had similar geographic areas like Rosedale, surrounding the former Division Street near Harper School (built in 1949).

Although this eastward residential expansion took hold, the city continued to expand westward as well, but in a different way. Instead of developers buying an acre of land to build homes, Evansville annexed small towns that had grown up around it: Lamasco, Howell, and Independence became the city’s “West Side.” These towns had been established mainly for economic reasons to serve as centers for coal mining, breweries, railroads, and other industries. Residential developments were mainly places for workers to live.

As automobiles became more prevalent in cities like Evansville, residential development expanded outward both east and north. The small town of Stringtown was annexed, and homes began to go up along that corridor as did First Avenue and its surrounding areas post World War II. Commercial development followed as did school construction. Bosse High School served the growing East Side, constructed in the mid-1920s, as was F.J. Reitz High School on the West Side.

In total, there are more than 70 distinct neighborhoods names in Evansville. And they all have a story to tell.

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