The Washington Avenue Historic District [†] is a fully developed residential area located on flat land approximately one half mile east of the Ohio River. It is separated from the river by a highway and levee and by the Riverside Historic District (National Register, November 1978). Tree-lined streets and a large collection of late 19th and early 20th century residences characterize the district.
A long period of development (from the late 1860s to the early 1900s) and a social and economic diversity among residents resulted in a variety of styles, design quality, and building proportions. Identifiable styles include Vernacular, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Stick Style and Neo-Classic Revival. Although many of the homes show the builder's reliance on stock plans, several of the larger residences and churches within the District are known to have been designed by local architects. The houses are predominately of frame construction. However, a number of brick homes are scattered throughout the area. Building proportions are varied. Large 2h story residences are predominant along the Washington Avenue corridor, whereas Ih story cottages and narrow shotgun-type dwellings are more typical of the cross and side streets.
The Land Ordinance influenced the layout of the District. The street plan approximates a grid pattern with streets perpendicular to or parallel with Washington Avenue, an eastwest section line. All cross streets jog at Washington Avenue except for Garvin Street, a quarter section line.
Buildings in the District are free standing. Although there is not any apparent observance of a legal facade alignment, there is near uniformity of setback. On Washington Avenue, a major thoroughfare, are located most of the larger houses with their generous front yards, whereas on the side streets, where there is a higher density of modest houses, yards are small and buildings close to one another.
Residential development in the District was intense, and there are not any planned parks. Present day open spaces are a result of demolition activity. A recently completed autofree mall lies at the District's western edge at Haynie's Corner.
The Washington Avenue Historic District was developed during a period of great population growth in the city, from the late 1880s and into the first quarter of the 20th century. At that time the Upper First Street area, now the Riverside Historic District, was considered the most desirable neighborhood in which to live. However, it had already become fully developed, and judging from maps from the period, new residential sites were scarce. The proximity of the Washington Avenue area to this older, affluent neighborhood made it a likely alternative to persons wishing to locate in a potentially fashionable neighborhood. The area had already been annexed to the city (in the 1860s) and had a street railroad connection to downtown. Importantly, there was unlimited land for development above annual flood levels.
Development was rapid, with a variety of social and economic strata being drawn to the area. An abundant regional supply of hardwood, together with the development of powerdriven tools, probably accounts for the frame construction of most of these houses. Massive 2h story residences with large towers and porches were built, as well as smaller houses whose ornamentation varied from the very simple to the fairly elaborate.
The Washington Avenue Historic District is primarily residential, with what were at one time single family residences, but many of which have been divided into multi-family dwellings. There are approximately 750 structures within the District. A few early 20th century apartment buildings are also to be found. A few commercial structures are located within the district such as neighborhood groceries and bars, most of them near Haynie's Corner or on corners a block or two off Washington Avenue. Houses and other buildings within the Washington Avenue Historic District are generally in need of much minor and some major repair. Most have been altered, primarily by the application of aluminum siding and the removal of trim. Some demolition has occurred, but neighborhood residents have begun to take a stand against this.
Intrusions in the Washington Avenue Historic District are few, relative to the total number of buildings within the District. None of the intrusions in this residential area are over 2h stories high, and most have uses that are relatively compatible to a residential neighborhood. Included are some 20th century houses and apartment buildings, and a few new office, commercial, and church buildings. An ice cream parlor and a grocery store are both located near Haynie's Corner, a neighborhood commercial center. Other grocery stores and bars are located on corners a block or two off Washington. Intrusions also include a printshop and an overhead garage door company.
The Washington Avenue Historic District, and the Washington Avenue corridor in particular, is visually cohesive due to the similarities in scale, setback, and style of the houses lining the street. The impression left by Washington Avenue in particular is one of massive, looming houses with towers and terraced front yards. The residential streetscape is almost unbroken by commercial establishments from Grand Avenue to Parrett Street, making it unique among major thoroughfares in this city.
Parrett Street, the western boundary of the Washington Avenue Historic District, marks a change in the orientation of the street plan from that of the adjacent Riverside Historic District. The street plan of the Riverside District, and that of the original city of Evansville, is oriented to the river, whereas the rest of the city is largely oriented to the cardinal points. In this part of the city Parrett Street forms the edge between the two plans, as well as being a street lined with many commercial establishments that make it distinct from the almost exclusively residential streets on either side. Much of the area north of the District, particularly at its western end, was cleared as part of an urban renewal project and remains vacant, clearly separating the District from downtown. Other areas north and south of the District are residential but lack architectural and environmental cohesiveness. A commercial area separates the District from U.S. Highway 41 on the east.
The Washington Avenue Historic District differs in many respects from the adjacent Riverside Historic District. Although both neighborhoods contain substantial houses from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most in the Washington Avenue Historic District are of frame construction, rather than the masonry found in the Riverside District. The Washington Avenue District also contains a greater mix in housing types, ranging from simple single story cottages to three story homes with towers, dormers, and wide porches.
The Washington Avenue Historic District is an architectural and historical counterpoint to the high-style Riverside District to the east. Developed largely in the 1880s, 1890s, and 1900s, the Washington Avenue residential area housed the city's growing yeoman class of mercantile clerks, petty bureaucrats, and small private businessmen— the subordinates of those who lived in the Riverside area. Architecturally, the Washington Avenue District is significant because of its cohesive collection of frame dwellings from the late-Victorian period, representing nevertheless a diversity of styles, sizes, and scales. The coincidence of Evansville's rise in the hardwood lumber industry and the subdivision and development of the District is apparent. Though styles vary from the Gothic Revival (Washington Avenue Temple, for example), to the Stick and Shingle Styles (519 Washington Avenue), and Queen Anne (419 Washington Avenue), with stops for the Moorish Revival in between—the predominate feeling is one of economy and lack of pretense associated with the suburban beginnings of the District.
The Washington Avenue Historic District is architecturally significant because of its stately houses dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Besides boasting one of the highest concentrations of such houses in the City, the area provides a good cross-section of residences of that period, representing many styles, sizes and scales. The Washington Avenue corridor, in particular, exhibits somewhat chronologically a variety of periods and styles as one moves from the west end eastward, while maintaining a cohesiveness in scale, materials, and setback. Boundaries for the District were chosen largely on the basis of the housing types, including in it those properties that contribute to this cohesiveness.
Although clusters of houses existed along Washington Avenue as early as the 1850s, development of this area really began in the 1880s, at which time Garvin Street formed the eastern boundary of the city. The area now known as the Riverside Historic District, containing the homes of many prominent and affluent citizens, had become fairly saturated, and a logical direction for further expansion was to the east, or along Washington Avenue. In addition, a horse-drawn street railroad already existed here connecting the area with downtown via Parrett Street, turning east on Washington Avenue, and turning north at 8th Street. Building permits seem to substantiate an intense building period for Washington Avenue up to Garvin Street in the 1880s and 1890s.
Although not so imposing as houses in the Riverside District, many of the Washington Avenue houses from this period suggest that their owners were at least comfortable, if not affluent. Evansville city directories from the 1890s indicate that, generally speaking, whereas Riverside residents were often owners of major local businesses, the Washington Avenue area was largely occupied by their relatives or other officers in the firm, owners of smaller businesses, salesmen, laborers, etc.
One of the Important activities taking place today in the Washington Avenue District and surrounding areas has been the organization of neighborhood associations, which have been largely successful and an important factor in stabilizing neighborhood decline. The Washington Avenue Historic District, itself the subject of a proposed housing rehabilitation project, is located in the midst of other revitalization activities taking place in this older section of the city, particularly Community Development activities. To the northeast of the District is the Bellemeade/Bayard Parks Neighborhood, the focus of the first federally funded housing rehabilitation program in the City. Adjacent to the District, on the west and separating it from the Ohio River, is the Riverside Historic District, a National Register District.
The southwest corner of the Washington Avenue Historic District forms part of the Haynie's Corner commercial area, which is presently the focus of commercial revitalization efforts Involving Community Development Block Grant funding. On Haynie's Corner is the Alhambra Theater, which has been listed on the National Register, as has another property in this District, the William Bedford, Sr., House at 838 Washington Avenue.
† Adapted from: Douglas L. Stem, Joan Marchand, Nancy Long,, and Patricia Sides, Department of Metropolitan Development, Evansville, Washington Avenue Historic District, nomination document, 1980, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
6th Street South • Adams Avenue • Blackford Avenue East • Chandler Street East • Elliott Street South • Garvin Street • Grand Avenue • Gum Street East • Jefferson Avenue • Judson Street • Madison Avenue • Parrett Street • Powell Street East • Putnam Street • Washington Avenue