Waterworks Collapse 1904

Water Works collapse
Water Works collapse 111 years ago

The new Water Works was built from 1898-1900 after the original one closer to downtown became obsolete.  The land where the plant resides today was purchased in 1895 and has been in service ever since.  There was however a fiasco in 1904 that almost saw the new structure become short-lived.

Water Works postcard c1900
Water Works postcard c1900 (Courtesy Thomas E and Gina Topper Collection, EVPL)

A cave in at the Water Works emerged around New Year’s Day 1904.  It was near the intake and was only 50 feet away from the river-facing wall.  The collapse ate out the ground and caused cracks in the building.

Almost immediately, the old West End pumping station was prepared for emergency use.  The original Water Works on Riverside Dr, which had been abandoned since the new one became operational, was also considered.

Water Works
Cartoon of the Water Works asking for help January 8, 1904.  The building at right is the original Water Works that was abandoned when the new one was built

Additional cave ins occurred January 9 and the dry well, and caisson were abandoned.  A new trench along the route of intake pipes was proposed. There was some concern that water supply to city would be affected, but the water department assured it would not.

Water Works
Continued problems for the new Water Works plant

The administration brought in an expert engineer from St Louis.  Walter Luddington designed an interlocking steel piling to seal off work around the dry well.  The cave in kept growing larger and mud passing into pipes January 27 forced the Water Works to post a worker at the old plant and the West End Station too.  The Courier was very against the administration and demanded who would pay for the repairs and reported an incident where the Akin-Erskine mill had its machines clogged by muddy water.  Contrarily, the Journal-News downplayed any problems and said the muddy water was due to high flood waters and not the present issue.

On January 30, Cincinnati Water Works offered to send Evansville a pump boat, but their boat was in disrepair and would need fixing.  To make matters worse, the river wall of the Water Works was showing signs of settling, and it was claimed that the auxiliary stations were incapable of handling the whole load of the city.  Nonetheless superintendent Charles Thuman remained optimistic that the Water Works would soon be restored.

Water Works
Cave in in the basement of the Water Works February 3, 1904

On February 3, a section of the basement caved in and pipes broke at the entrance to the caisson.  This would most likely cause the intake to choke, and it was feared the plant would have to shut down.  The outer wall sank 8-12 inches, and a collapse was expected .  The next day the roof was braced, and the plant was closed to the public.  Things seem to worsen as the Cincinnati pump boat was delayed by ice, and Luddington was called back from St Louis to build new intakes.

Water Works
Braced wall at the Water Works

The deteriorating condition caused Evansville’s mayor to issue a proclamation to conserve water February 5.  When the building settled the next day carpenters stopped working, and excavation for intakes halted.  The Courier claimed the administration was asleep at the wheel as the city engineer was off to Mardi Gras, whereas the news didn’t event make the front page on the Journal-News.

Water Works
Water Works collapse on the west (river-facing) wall

On February 10, the river wall was knocked down with a battering ram and the greatest threat of collapse was managed.  That day Chandler School was closed as water pressure there (and over much of the city, really) was low.

The Water Works station officially closed February 13, and the old Water Works plant and the West End Pumping Station were used.  On February 15, the plant was attempted to go back online, but it didn’t work.  Problems were compounded when ice broke off the West End Pumping Station and again when the tunnel shaft began to cave during the next week.  During a fire at Babcock & Seitz February 25, it was discovered that there was no water pressure.  Pump boats from Cincinnati and St Louis were utilized, but the damage was significantly more than it should have been.

The Water Works plant was back online March 5 after having been delayed by high wind.  A temporary intake was utilized with a more permanent design to be implemented at a later date.  All in all, the bill to fix the collapse neared $50,000, but with the building being so new Evansville citizens were perplexed as to how something like this could happen.

Water Works
The collapse at the new Water Works left residents wondering who would foot the bill and why the new one was even built

Brown’s grand opening

Browns (c1949)
Brown’s Master Market


Brown’s Fine Foods at 1301 West Franklin St was Evansville’s largest grocery when it opened.  Vernon A Brown plugged his store as a “master market”–a grade above a supermarket–and heavily advertised its grand opening, which took place on September 19, 1946.

Browns Supermarket - interior (1946)
Interior of Brown’s new store


Brown’s new store boasted a clean interior with bright displays.  The buzz about the grand opening saw 3,000 avid shoppers waiting outside for the doors to open. People lined up at 6 a.m. and by 8 a.m. the crowd extended a block down Franklin St and another block down Fifth Ave.  Police were summoned and the police chief ordered barricades

Browns Supermarket - grand opening (1946 Sep 19)
Crowd of over 3,000 for Brown’s grand opening (9/19/1946)


Then it went bad…

The anxious shoppers trampled down barricades, pushed back a human wall of policemen, and threatened to cave in the glass front.  Brown conferred with the police chief and agreed to close the doors until the crowd thinned.  Attempts to let a small number of shoppers were stopped short as the crowd again swelled.  Trucks were eventually called around 10 a.m. and formed a funnel to control the flow into the store.  The rest of the day finished smoothly.

Browns Supermarket - grand opening (1946 Sep 19) 2
Brown writing “CLOSED” on the storefront to diffuse the raucous crowd
Browns Supermarket (1946 Sept 19) 2
Trucks in front of the store to control the grand opening crowd


Ultimately no one was hurt, but it was one of the more intriguing store openings in Evansville’s history.

The store was closed some years later, and the building now serves as a training center for the local Sheet Metal Workers Union

Oscar A Bippus Training Center
The old Browns Supermarket now covered and being used as the Oscar A Bippus Training Center

Indiana’s Historic Treasures Threatened

Vast troves of Indiana’s historic records are threatened under a proposed state budget cut. The Vanderburgh County Historic Society (VCHS) previously reported on Indiana House Bill 1001 (the state budget bill) and penned a letter from the VCHS board raising significant concerns. Click here to read that letter. Now more details have emerged that bring the threats into frightening focus.

Gov. Pence’s budget, reflected in H.B. 1001, proposes to eliminate the state genealogical department. This document, found on the website of the Indiana Library Federation, contains a breakdown of the proposed annual reductions in funding to the State Library programs. Page 4 describes the current Indiana genealogy department, whose entire annual budget of $400,000 would be eliminated by the cuts.

In addition to gutting the genealogy staff, the proposed budget would potentially also allow for the transfer of vast troves of the Indiana State Library resources to a private non-profit entity. The Indiana State Library is home to one of the largest genealogy collections in the Midwest. This collection (over 100,000 items) is focused on Indiana, states from which Indiana was settled, as well as some foreign countries. The collection is rich with unique family histories and genealogy materials that cannot be found in other locations. These invaluable Indiana history resources collected over the years for the use of the citizens of Indiana, and not available elsewhere.

There are grave concerns over the potential transfer of these resources and the proposed cuts in staffing to the Indiana State Library’s genealogy department. There have been no public hearings on this issue and little publicity about the proposed major changes to these resources.

Two local legislators sit on the House Ways and Means Committee. Please contact them as soon as possible to voice your opposition to the proposed budget cuts.

Rep. Holli Sullivan: holliasullivan@gmail.com
Rep. Gail Riecken: Griecken77@aol.com