Last year, a multistate organization called hundreds of residents in the Ohio River basin to ask how they used the river. Then, the researchers conducted field surveys, and when they finished, the commissioners visited Ohio River cities with PowerPoint slides of information. Their findings showed how people used the river (to fish, swim, boat, and ship goods, of course) — and why they don’t (it’s polluted, muddy, and dirty).
The answers may seem obvious to Evansvillians, yet we wanted to know: Does the bend in the river — where Evansville was founded — shape who we are? Over the next pages, we determine our identity on the river.
Where there are river views, there are restaurants. We look back at a few historic haunts that surely are missed — and one that still is a can’t-miss.
Through the 1980s, the Scuffletown Saloon was as close to the water as patrons could eat — next to the riverbanks in Newburgh. Now, the upscale-casual Edgewater Grille would partially block Scuffletown diners from seeing the water. When opened, the saloon was packed with Indiana University basketball fans who drank from Mason jars. The former location of Scuffletown now is part of various commerce buildings.
In 1987, Newburgh businessman George Corne — owner of Scuffletown Saloon, an ice cream shop, and condominium units, among other ventures — opened a restaurant called Fischerman’s Wharf on a barge once owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. On Christmas 1988, the barge sank in the Ohio River. Undaunted, Corne claimed he would renovate the barge and create a new restaurant, fittingly called Sinkers, which never opened.
Last fall, the Tin Fish restaurant closed at Marina Pointe due to a fire. The building has held tenants since the 1960s, but the two-story space actually replaced The Barge, a restaurant constructed on an old river barge. Serving fiddlers, steaks, and seafood, The Barge affectionately was known as “Robby’s Barge” until it changed ownership in the late 1970s. The restaurant burned down in 1986.
After the Tin Fish fire created an uncertain future of Marina Pointe, the partners of Two Daddy’s Pizza announced plans to reopen the site with an open-air restaurant, tiki bar, and events plaza. They plan to open the new venture Fourth of July weekend.
Amanda Fenwick’s Riverboat
At the end of Main Street — just before the water — Amanda Fenwick’s Riverboat resembled just that: a riverboat. The popular haunt known for an upscale menu (one chef went on to prepare meals at the Petroleum Club) closed before that other riverboat (Casino Aztar) docked in 1995. In the early 1990s, the building became a gay bar, Teana Faye’s Riverboat Lounge. Ultimately, a succession of property ownership changes ended any restaurant’s run at the location. Today, Old National Bank’s headquarters, built this last decade, tower over the spot.
Unlike the other places mentioned in this story, Dogtown Tavern makes the list because it’s one of the few to survive. Established in the late 1800s as a post office and a saloon, Dogtown Tavern — well south of the bend in the Ohio River — has a reputation for fiddlers. With a family recipe that’s survived seven decades, it is a worthy destination for fried catfish. — Louis La Plante and Kristen Lund
Have a photo of one of our historic haunts? Send it to us!
Through parts of the 19th and 20th centuries, grand steamboats cruised the nation’s rivers, fueling commerce and housing overnight passengers. Farther from home, military ships embarked on dangerous missions to help the Allied powers in World War II. Many famous boats have perished, but several (and their modern counterparts) have made a splash in our area.
After launching from Stockton, Calif., in the mid-1920s, the Delta Queen became known for carrying passengers on river cruises throughout the South and the Midwest. The ship was named a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and made frequent stopovers in Evansville, Newburgh, and Henderson, Ky., as recently as 2008.
That year marked a turning point for the 285-foot steamboat. Previously, it had been granted exemption from a federal law that banned boats largely made of wood from carrying more than 50 overnight passengers. (The Delta Queen’s passenger capacity was 176.) That exemption expired in October 2008, and Congress refused to grant another. In June 2009, the steamboat with the famous red paddlewheel permanently docked in downtown Chattanooga, Tenn., and has been converted into a boutique hotel.
Like the Delta Queen, the majestic Mississippi Queen — the second largest paddlewheel steamboat ever built — frequently used to stop in the Tri-State. But unlike the other steamboat, the Mississippi Queen’s future remains uncertain.
The riverboat with twin smokestacks was built in 1976 at Jeffboat (the same Southeast Indiana company that built Casino Aztar’s riverboat). It offered overnight river cruises to passengers and often docked in Henderson, Ky.
Plagued by financial problems, the Mississippi Queen’s parent company ceased operations in late 2008. The steamboat’s planned renovation was canceled, and it currently is moored at Louisiana’s Perry Street Wharf in a state of disrepair.
The ship’s plight has drawn media attention around the world. Last July, a correspondent with London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that ship was “tied up in New Orleans, where it has been stripped down and left to molder and be looted.”
USS LST 325
The Ohio River’s landscape changed with the advent of World War II. Evansville’s riverfront became a production hotspot for landing ship tanks (LSTs), employing 19,000 people and producing two of the 330-foot ships each week.
The Philadelphia-built LST 325 launched in 1942 and operated in Algeria and Tunisia, participating in invasions of several Italian cities. On June 6, 1944, the ship played a role in D-Day by joining the backup force for soldiers going ashore at Omaha Beach in France. Later, it made dozens of trips across the English Channel, carrying soldiers and supplies.
After the LST was decommissioned in 1946, it continued to serve in Canada, Greenland, and Greece until 1999. Then, a group of retired military members traveled to Greece and brought the LST back to the United States. During a 10-day stop in Evansville in 2003, the ship drew more than 35,000 visitors. Two years later, the LST 325 docked permanently in Evansville, where it now serves as a museum and memorial.
Spirit of Evansville
In 1981, a Wisconsin-built paddlewheeler dubbed the Spirit of Evansville sailed down the Mississippi River and arrived at its new home. For several years, it was a 150-passenger excursion boat that carried groups on Ohio River cruises. The boat moved to Little Rock, Ark., in 1985, where it was known as “The Spirit.”
City of Evansville
Better known as the Casino Aztar riverboat, this ship only looks historic. Built by Jeffboat in Jeffersonville, Ind. — the largest inland shipbuilder in the United States — the casino boat’s exterior mimics the Civil War-era Robert E. Lee sidewheel steamboat.
The actual name of Casino Aztar’s 2,700-passenger boat is City of Evansville. It opened in 1995 as Indiana’s first riverboat casino and required more than a year to build. While the exterior reflects an 1860s aesthetic, the interior was designed to evoke a sense of Vegas-like glitz and glamour. — Kristen Lund
For more on these boats, visit:
www.deltaqueenhotel.com / www.lstmemorial.org / www.casinoaztar.com
Commerce? Sure. Recreation? Check. The proximity of the river provokes another opportunity for Evansvillians: celebrations. Here are a few remaining this year that show the river very much defines how we party.
Historic Newburgh and Evansville Living Wine, Art & Jazz Festival
Originally named Sprinklesburg, Newburgh’s fun name deserves a fun town, and much of the enjoyment comes from the river. Residents of this small town east of Evansville pack the annual Historic Newburgh and Evansville Living Wine, Art & Jazz Festival at the Old Lock and Dam Park each May. With a long list of contributing Indiana wineries and musicians (for details, see our festival guide, p. 33), the festival is a celebration for everyone from connoisseurs to novices and anyone who supports the local economy. What better backdrop, then, than the iconic Ohio River?
The river may give the festival its look, but the musicians give the festival its sound. On tap to play guitar tabs this year are The Duke Boys Band, who play rock like it was heard in its infancy. Joining this longtime local favorite on stage is another popular act: The Browne Sisters, Gina Moore and Joan Moore-Mobley. The powerful singers belt out ballads and infused with The Duke Boys’ rock music, the combination offers a fun sound.
Evening on the River
Riverside Drive didn’t always look so beautiful, but with the help of civic and city leaders the Riverfront is a recreation area. Now, the Evansville Parks Foundation celebrates wonderful waterfront views and tranquil woodland settings throughout Evansville with a one-mile “moveable” feast along the Riverfront from the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science to Casino Aztar’s events plaza. The June 4 event, Evening on the River, has food stations at six locations from local restaurants, and located throughout is a range of entertainers. While the event celebrates Evansville parks, the other goal is to raise money for continued maintenance on existing recreational spots.
Ohio River Sweep
Evansville may be at the bend, but the Ohio is a major waterway shaping the lives of other river residents in several states. It’s why the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission started the Ohio River Sweep, a 21,000-volunteer movement to clear the river of debris. On June 19, the event comes to Evansville — an effort to make our Riverfront cleaner for everyday use and for festivals.
W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival and Bluegrass in the Park
Two Henderson, Ky., festivals celebrate significant milestones in 2010: the 20th annual W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival (June 12-19) and the 25th annual Bluegrass in the Park (Aug. 12-14). Sure, music inspired the events, but the river became the vital backdrop. Each brings national acts to a cozy setting where music is appreciated as artistic expression. The city’s deep roots in blues come from W.C. Handy, known as the father of the genre. He’s fabled to have sat in a Henderson park near the Ohio River creating the sound. This deep history combined with headlining acts such as Chubby Carrier and The Bayou Swamp Band (performing in June) mean these festivals hit all the right notes.
Thunder on the Ohio
Somehow, some way, Thunder on the Ohio once again will be a high-speed event thanks to the hydroplanes. For decades, the racing event was tied to the Freedom Festival. In 2008, organizers admitted they were deep in a financial hole, and little interest was found when the Growth Alliance for Greater Evansville stepped in with a revamped lineup of family-friendly events a year later. Now the Freedom Festival is a one-day event, the Freedom Festival Fourth, a traditional fireworks celebration to honor America’s independence (July 4). Under new leadership, Thunder on the Ohio (Aug. 20-22) includes a barbecue festival and a bierstube, but the highlight remains the hydroplane races. The high-powered boats glide across the water, creating a towering splash along their path.
30th Annual Newburgh Fiddler Fest
This celebration (Sept. 24-25) is a play on words — and it certainly has staying power. The Tri-State’s love of fiddlers (the fried catfish kind with bones intact) and fiddlers (the human kind with bows and strings in hand) are the reason for its longevity. Music, good eating, and the Ohio River backdrop at the Old Lock and Dam Park in Newburgh make for three good reasons to visit this fall event. — Louis La Plante and Kristen Lund