Vanderburgh County, Indiana

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Vanderburgh County Courthouse is located at 825 Sycamore Street, Evansville IN 47708; phone: 815-435-5241.

John W. Boehne House


Beginnings [1]

Vanderburgh County is located in southwest Indiana and is bounded by Posey County on the west, Gibson County on the north, Warrick County on the east and the Ohio River on the south. Organized in 1818 from sections of Posey, Warrick and Gibson counties, the county was named for William Henry Vanderburgh, a veteran of the Revolutionary War and a judge on the Supreme Court of the Indiana Territory.

One of the county commissioner's first acts was to designate Evansville as the county seat. The river town was laid out on 400 acres purchased by Hugh McGary in 1812. McGary envisioned Evansville as a regional trading center and when the town gained the designation of county seat in 1818, its future was assured. The following year, the commissioners approved funds for the construction of a county courthouse. The two-story brick building, one of the town's first brick structures, was completed in 1820.

The following decades saw both the physical and economic expansion of Evansville. In 1836, the town was designated as the terminus of the Wabash and Erie Canal. The promise of this vital commercial link sparked great optimism in the economic community leading to new business opportunities. Although the canal never lived up to its initial expectations, Evansville's business and industrial ventures continued to grow, bolstered by its advantageous location on the Ohio River. By the 1840s, Evansville was incorporated as a city with a population of over 5,000.

This period also brought the first of several waves of German immigrants to the area. This influx had a profound effect on not only the city, but also the surrounding countryside. The area's rich farmland drew large numbers of these immigrants and today, their legacy is continued by their descendants who still work the land. The Germans also made their mark on established rural communities such as Darmstadt and St. Joseph which became centers for German Catholic and German Lutheran congregations.

The coming of the railroad ushered in a long period of prosperity for the county's farmers as well as for the city of Evansville. By 1860, the city was linked to a national rail network which provided outlets for the area's myriad of manufacturing, and agricultural goods. The production of architectural iron details, furniture, carriages and wagons, the discovery of the area's rich coal deposits, and the emergence of a major brewing industry contributed to Evansville's place as Indiana's fifth largest manufacturing center and as a regional economic center.

This economic boom lasted well into the twentieth century. As some of the city's traditional industries declined, new manufacturing interests quickly replaced them. Automobile-related industries, pharmaceuticals, and the manufacturing of refrigerators dominated the local economy. The area's booming economy was reflected in other facets of the county's development. As the population grew, new residential areas were platted, linked to the commercial district by an extensive streetcar system. Affluent developments as well as middle class and working class neighborhoods expanded the city's boundaries to the east and west.

As in many other parts of the state, the Depression of the 1930s hit Vanderburgh County hard. Despite the period's economic hardship, several important projects throughout the county developed as a result of the era's social programs. In Knight Township, Angel Mounds, a Middle Mississippian Indian village, was the site of a major archaeological dig. Much of the initial work was done through the efforts of the Works Progress Administration although the dig continued well after the Depression.

On the west side of Evansville, in Perry Township, Burdette Park continued the development of the city's progressive recreational efforts. The Civilian Works Administration as well as the Works Progress Administration made massive improvements to the city-owned park, including a network of trails, shelters, and other buildings. On the north side of Evansville, Mesker Zoo was the beneficiary of Works Progress Administration efforts in the construction of many of the zoo's animal displays.

The outbreak of World War II brought the area out of its economic slump. The Evansville Shipyard, as well as existing industries took advantage of government contracts and production of equipment and supplies soared. These massive production efforts boosted the area's population and housing construction boomed.

Throughout the five decades following the end of the war, Vanderburgh County has seen its fortunes rise and fall. Through the economic downturns of the 1950s, major urban redevelopment projects during the 1960s and the rebirth of Evansville's historic neighborhoods in recent times, the area has met many challenges. The county's rich heritage and wealth of historic resources will provide a strong basis for the many opportunities and challenges which lie ahead.

  1. Savis, Anne C., coordinator/historian., Boone County Interim Report, 1994, Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Indianapolis


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