Evansville and New Harmony
Friday and Saturday, October 5-6, 2007
By Nelson Price
On October 5 and 6 – a Friday and Saturday – 20 Pioneers and guests traveled to historic sites in Evansville and New Harmony. The group of Hoosiers began the day by crossing the Ohio River (and the state line) to Henderson, Ky., to visit the John J. Audubon Museum, which honors the world-famous naturalist and ornithologist. The museum is located on the lush grounds of a state park.
After the brief foray into our neighboring state, the Pioneers traveled across the Ohio River for lunch in Evansville at Kirby’s, a catering business in a historic home (built in the 1870s) that once was a brothel. From lunch, we traveled to The Pagoda, an Asian-style structure home to the Evansville Visitors Center.
A guide at the center gave us a walking tour behind The Pagoda, located on the Ohio River shoreline. He shared city history and took the Pioneers around the levee to the Four Freedoms Monument, which honors the “four freedoms” outlined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The walking tour was followed by a motor coach tour of historic sites in Evansville, including the old county courthouse (built in 1891 on the site of the Wabash and Eerie Canal) as well as the city’s historic riverfront neighborhood.
The next stop for the Pioneers was a truly historic site, the famous Angel Mounds State Park. It’s the site settled by a pre-Columbian group of Native Americans known as the Mississippians, whose culture vanished. The Pioneers visited the mounds (which were the Mississippians’ residences), then were treated to a presentation by a guide about various artifacts found at the state park.
The group returned to Evansville to check into our hotel, where we ate dinner. Our evening speaker, Evansville Museum historian Tom Lonnegan, shared photos and a fascinating presentation about a dramatic chapter in Evansville’s history: During World War II, the shipbuilding industry exploded as the city was chosen to make LST battleships. At maximum production, the Evansville Shipyard employed more than 19,000 people (the majority of the shipbuilders were women), making it the largest employer in city history.
The next morning, the Pioneers began the day by touring Trinity United Methodist Church, portions of which date to the 1860s – with a congregational lineage that goes back to 1819. The church tour was followed by a visit to one of the most majestic restored homes in the state, the ornate Reitz Mansion in Evansville. The Empire-style mansion was built in 1871 for the wealthy Reitz family of landowners and bankers.
Then, it was back to the LSTs, as the Pioneers traveled to the site of the Evansville Shipyard to tour the last surviving battleship. It was decommissioned in 1961, used by the Greek navy until the 1990s, and brought back to Evansville to commemorate the World War II shipbuilding operations.
Going from a war-related site to a place known for peace and harmony, the Pioneers traveled to scenic New Harmony, the site of two unusual experiments in Utopian living. The group’s visit began at the well-known restaurant the Red Geranium, where our hosts, Dr. George and Peggy Rapp, met the Pioneers for a gourmet lunch. Also joining the group was a surprise (and special) guest, legendary Jane Blaffer Owen, the philanthropist and key figure in the restoration of historic New Harmony.
During the afternoon in New Harmony, the Pioneers visited the Welcome Center to see a film about the village’s unique history. Then, the group toured several historic buildings, including a cabin restored by the Colonial Dames and a granary. A motor coach tour featured sites such as the Roofless Church and the Labyrinth. Then, the Rapps treated the group to a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception at their Hoosier Salon art gallery in New Harmony. That elegant affair was the final stop on the stimulating, two-day exploration of historic southwest Indiana.