Evansville, Illinois - Local History
Evansville is beautifully situated on the eastern side of the Kaskaskia River. The land upon which it is built is hilly, affords good drainage, and had fine plats for dwellings and businesses. In 1805, Alexander Clark settled on a farm three miles south of Evansville. In 1807, John Campbell from South Carolina settled near the mouth of the Nine Mile Creek.
The Village of Evansville apparently had two beginnings. In 1811, a man by the name of Andrew White was the first one who saw the natural fitness of the region for a good town and he formed a town site among the beautiful rolling hillside of the east banks of the Kaskaskia River. What progress the place made from that time until 1834 no one seems to know. It is recorded that in that year a gentleman by the name of Cadwell Evans laid part of it out into streets and lots. This was the beginning of the Village of Evansville.
Kaskaskia River Basin
Evansville is located approximately 10 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River. The river became more usable in the early 1970's with the canalization of the lower portion of the River. Since that time the River has been used by barges taking coal to the many world markets. The river basin is also used to transport grain. The village of Evansville has become a major port for the shipping of grains to larger markets. This direct barge shipping has resulted in the reduced cost, and consequently increased the profit that a farmer can receive from his grain. Since the beginning of the Village of Evansville, the Kaskaskia River has served an important part to the progress and vitality of the region. It has been the means of transportation since a ferry was located there sometime after 1834. The river has provided for the survival of many of Evansville citizens through the fishing trade. The plentiful supply of fish made for an excellent opportunity for many residents to take up fishing as a trade.
Commercial usage of the Kaskaskia River came in 1866, when a gentleman by the name of Philip Sauer and his son Nicholas, bought the John Wehrheim mill and the new firm because known as the N & P Milling Company. This milling company was one of the major factors in giving permanent vitality to the commercial life of Evansville. It was the first Mill in southern Illinois to adopt the roller process. For many years, the prosperity of Evansville depended upon its river transportation. Flour milled at N & P Milling Company was shipped by boat to many points of trading on the Mississippi River. The Sauer's Milling Company employed many area residents, It was dissolved and sold to the Farm Service (now Gateway Farm Service) and the tradition of using the river as a means of transportation as continued.
Along with Commercial Usage came recreational Use. Soon after the canalization of the River, a large boat launching facilities was located on the banks of the Kaskaskia at Evansville. This facility became such a popular spot for recreational boating that in 1986, the facilities was nearly doubled in size.
On a typical summer day, over 150 boats will put in at Evansville. Their destination is water skiing, swimming, camping, fishing and a summer holiday on the calm waters of the Kaskaskia. Twice yearly, the Kaskaskia River Boat Races are held at Evansville attracting an audience of over 3000 persons to the small village of a population of 850 persons. Businesses located along the Kaskaskia River benefit from the recreational boat trade. During a summer weekend, it is very hard to navigate the downtown streets as many boats arrive with their owners for a weekend of fun on the Kaskaskia.
Flooding of the Kaskaskia
Although the Kaskaskia River has flooded many times, the three major floods happened in 1943, 1973, and 1993. Each time during the three major
Floods, water reached many homes and caused thousands of dollars in damage to property. The largest recordable flood happened in 1943. Old-timers talked about "how high the water was in 1943". This all time record crest was broken by the Great Flood of 93. The water reached a crest of nearly 50 feet during the Great Flood of 93. Indications of a big flood began in March when the Boat Launching facilities went under water. Little did the residents know, but the facilities would not be seen again until October. During the spring and summer when the streets of Evansville are crowded with boats and trailers coming for a weekend, no boats came during the summer of 93. They couldn't put into the river because of the extreme height of the water on the boat launching facilities. The Spring Boat Races were canceled and the recreational activities were put on hold during the summer of 93, in Evansville. June brought much rain, and the river began to swell, at this point we didn't realize what was coming in a few short weeks.
By mid-July, the river had risen so much that the Mayor was forced to close Liberty Street, the main thoroughfare through town. Traffic was routed around the downtown area until mid-August. The river reached an all time high in August. Over six downtown businesses were forced out of operation, and most sustained many thousand of dollars worth of damage. None of the
Spring harvest was shipped on the Kaskaskia River. The people of Evansville endured. They have always been known for taking charge of a situation and
durling the great flood that is what happen. Everyone pitched in, worked together, helping neighbor. So many strangers came to our village to help with the flood. They came as strangers and left as our friends. We could have never survived without the help from so many. Not once during the crisis did the village loose the ability to provide fresh potable water to the residents. Even though the Water treatment facilities were surrounded by over 10 feet of water, the Sandbagging continued, and the battle was won!
The Water Recedes
Finally, the water began to recede. A sigh of relief was heard around town. Little did so many know, but the damage left by the Great Flood of 93 would force many persons from their homes forever. As the river went down the destruction was seen. Floors were warped, walls caved in, foundations cracked, and buildings fell in. FEMA and IEMA made their visit. The final decision was let to the community. Having little experience in structural damage surveying, in independent consultant was found who determined the extent of damage. Any building over 50% damage would not be permitted for residency. As the water receded the village returned to near normalcy. The streets in the downtown area were opened again to traffic, and the mud left from the flood was flushed back into the channel. By mid-August most of
the Community Services were back on line.
The Recreational Development Project
FEMA had encouraged communities to consider a "buy out". Some of our neighboring communities such as Valmeyer, Illinois were moving their entire village. Since less then 25% of Evansville was located in the Flood Plain, a less drastic move was needed. The village leaders decided to follow the path of returning much of the riverfront to green lands. This green land could be used as a park, and if the water came again, little damage would be seen from the floods. The city engineer was commissioned to develop a plan and that plan became The Recreational Development Project. This progressive project would require the co-operation of FEMA, IEMA, the Army Corps of
Engineers, Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois Department of Conservation, property owners, and others. Working with FEMA and Southwestern Illinois Planning Commission, the plans for the
Recreational Development Project was enthusiastically accepted. The plan
was endorsed by the Randolph County Board of Commissions, the Randolph
Progress Committee, and Illinois State Government officials.
The first phase would be to see if there was enough interest. Of the 26 property owners, 20 signed on to the buy out plan, If approved by FEMA, the buy out program would be the fist step in achieving the Riverfront Development Project. With the present economic structure of Randolph County, tourism must be a vital part of the income base. Evansville is positioned right at the point for becoming a major tourist stop. Some of the buildings in the buy out area are very historical. One structure which sustained some damage during the flood was the Blacksmith shop. This blacksmith shop was open around 1904, and after it's closure remained operational. Even today a blacksmith could walk into the shop, and hang up his shingle. The Oneita Bauer home also damaged is one of the oldest homes built in Evansville.
Through the cooperation of the Historical Preservation Society, both the
Blacksmith Shop & Oneita Bauer home with be relocated to a new location.
The Bank of Evansville building & Enterprise Building are both over 100 years old, and will also be preserved.
The Riverfront Development Project and Evansville
What would a Park on the riverfront mean to Evansville? It would mean a revitalized downtown area. It would bring visitors to town to see history preserved. The plan calls for the following:
● RIVERWALK CONNECTING THE SOUTH END OF TOWN WITH THE BOAT LAUNCHING FACILITIES
● THE CONSTRUCTION OF A LOOKOUT PIER ON THE HISTORIC KASKASKIA RIVER PIER, STILL REMAINING FROM THE FIRST BRIDGE TO SPAN THE
● THE CREATION OFA PARK FOR PUBLIC USE
● ADDING A BOAT MARINA
● CONSTUCTING BOAT DOCKS SO BOATS CAN STOP AT EVANSVILLE
This project would be in line with the many years of usage of the Kaskaskia River. It is just another step in the life of Evansville. We already have a large number of tourists visiting Evansville, with the improvements this will only help.
The initial cost [which as not been determined) will be offset by the reality of future floods not causing structural damage since no structures will be permitted in the buy out area. Only flow through structures such as a picnic shelter will be built. During the Flood of 93 Evansville experienced a large decline in retail business. It will take many years to recover those losses to our businesses that rely on Kaskaskia River trade. Randolph County is a very historical area. Tourism can and will be a major part of the economic structure of the County along with Evansville.
We have decided on a five year plan for development. We know that this will not happen overnight. But we also know we must start somewhere. This will be a big hope for Evansville in the future. As our young people grow up they leave Evansville. The population base is 66% over the age of 55 years. Many households are on fixed income. By revitalizing the community we hope to make it a more inviting place for everyone to live and to raise a family.
Seeing the riverfront crowded with pleasure boats, people, and families enjoying a holiday is our dream. If everything falls together we hope to see reality of this progressive project. Enthusiasm in Evansville is high, everyone seems very excited about the prospect.