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Towns and Villages of the Lower Ohio

Towns and Villages of the Lower Ohio

Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 400
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    Towns and Villages of the Lower Ohio
    Book Description:

    America. Enterprise. Metropolis. Cairo. Rome. These are a few of the grandly named villages and towns along the lower Ohio River. The optimism with which early settlers named these towns reveals much about the history of American expansion. Though none became the next great American city, it was not for lack of ambition or entrepreneurial spirit. Why didn't a major city develop on the lower Ohio? What geographic, economic, and cultural factors caused one place to prosper and another to wither? How did Evansville become the largest and most influential city in the region? How did smaller cities such as Owensboro and Paducah succeed?

    Regardless of how appealing a locale looked on the map, luck, fate, culture, and leadership all helped determine success or failure. The fate of Cairo, Illinois -- on paper an ideal site for a metropolis -- emphasizes the extent to which human decisions, rather than physical landscape, affected a town's prosperity. The location of a canal or railroad terminus, the construction of a factory, or the activities of local boosters all mattered greatly. Darrel Bigham examines these towns and villages from the 1790s, when the first settlements appeared, to the 1920s, when the modern pattern of life associated with automobiles, economic upheaval, and mass culture emerged. Bigham's intimate knowledge of the area offers a true sense of the towns and villages and discloses fundamental truths about the workings of the American dream.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5749-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures and Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Series Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Rita Kohn and William Lynwood Montell

    The Ohio River Valley Series, conceived and published by the University Press of Kentucky, is an ongoing series of books that examine and illuminate the Ohio River and its tributaries, the lands drained by these streams, and the peoples who made this fertile and desirable area their place of residence, of refuge, of commerce and industry, of cultural development, and, ultimately, of engagement with American democracy. In doing this, the series builds upon an earlier project, “Always a River: The Ohio River and the American Experience,” which was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the humanities councils...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In late November 1996, a large steel manufacturer from Ohio announced plans to construct a billion-dollar edifice on rolling land just northwest of Rockport, Indiana. The facility would employ over four hundred in positions paying on the average $50,000 annually, beginning in 1998. When asked why the company had chosen this location, officials stressed access to the Ohio River. Material for processing would be shipped to the plant via the river, and barges would take away much of the completed product to manufacturers of automobiles and appliances. The river would also supply huge amounts of water for processing the steel....

  7. Part 1 Lower Ohio River Settlements, 1792-1818

    • 1 Hamlets and Villages
      (pp. 11-36)

      Fernand Braudel has observed that “the history of a people is inseparable from the country it inhabits” and that “a country is a storehouse of dominant energies whose seeds have been planted by nature, but whose use depends on man.” Few rivers illustrate that as vividly as the Ohio. Its strategic location, navigability, and natural resources strongly influenced the economic development of the region through which it flows. The Ohio was America’s first western thoroughfare, and its tributaries extended the economic influence of the Ohio well beyond its borders. Climate and geology combined with location to make the Ohio a...

    • 2 Understanding Patterns of Growth
      (pp. 37-44)

      The hardy souls who created communities on the lower Ohio were part of the stream of pioneers whose efforts to begin anew created a concept of space that washed “relentlessly at the foundations beneath a tottering national hierarchy.” New attitudes were breaking loose across the nation because of new relations between enterprise and land. Merchants and settlers alike demanded a “popular politics of choice” that “paralleled the rise of economic self-determination.” “Overwhelmingly,” notes Robert H. Wiebe, “Americans grasped the power of choice as soon as they spotted it and protected it jealously once they had it.”

      Newcomers like John James...

  8. Part 2 The Age of the Transportation Revolution, 1815-1850

    • 3 The Sifting Process Begins
      (pp. 47-53)

      Tapping the wealth of the Transappalachian West was the primary concern of eastern investors following the War of 1812. Technological innovation and legislative subsidies for internal improvements created a transportation revolution. The National Road and the Erie Canal were completed, and steampowered riverboats entered a golden age at midcentury. Steam applied to rails was already beginning to threaten that, however. Liberalization of land sales created a “land-office business” that reached fever pitch in the mid-1830s. Cheap land and transport fostered a market economy, which promoted commercial agriculture, urbanization, and industries designed to tap the Ohio trade.¹

      Statistical measurements of this...

    • 4 Perspectives on Lower Ohio River Communities
      (pp. 54-82)

      In the 1830s and 1840s, travelers published detailed descriptions of the lower Ohio River valley. According to John Jakle, they used a hierarchy of concepts—unspoiled wilderness, aboriginal and military life, pastoral notions of early agriculture, and urban images—to describe what they saw. Generally they looked for signs of progress and for diversity amidst the monotony of the riverbanks’ landscape.¹

      For example, in his 1825 guidebook,The Western Pilot,Samuel Cumings referred to “Brandenburgh’s Ferry,” Rome, Troy, “Hendersonville,” Shawneetown, and Golconda. Evansville was a “very thriving town, situated on the bend of the river” and the point of entry...

    • 5 Change and Continuity
      (pp. 83-98)

      Community variations were not easily explained. Growth and stagnation reflected many elements—social and cultural, economic and geographical, ideological and material, and regional and national. Development was altogether another matter. This process, synonymous with modernization, featured orientation toward a national market economy, increased productivity, and capital-intensive production, as well as rapid expansion of industry and urbanization. These were in part the result of greater agricultural productivity, improved education, literacy, and mass communications, and the formation of a society valuing change that was fluid, cosmopolitan, impersonal, and pluralistic.¹

      Support for modernization was uneven. The Indiana General Assembly in the early 1820s...

  9. Part 3 Communities in the Civil War Era, 1850-1880

    • 6 The Sifting Process Quickens
      (pp. 101-110)

      By midcentury, unprecedented challenges profoundly altered the ways many Americans lived. Some of these were technological and economic: the golden age of the steamboat, the application of steam to rails and factories, and the increasing severity of downturns following economic panics. More pervasive and disruptive was the Civil War and its aftermath. All contributed to the reshaping of the lower Ohio River community. Although most accounts associate this era with regional stagnation and decline, they fail to uncover the true richness and complexity of the story.

      Between 1850 and 1880, many settlements remained superficially unchanged. The spots extending from Bridgeport...

    • 7 People and Products
      (pp. 111-140)

      The Ohio peaked as a force in regional and national development in the 1850s, when the steamboat was in its golden age and new railroads complemented river trade. Steamboats accelerated population flow, town development, commerce, manufacturing, and river improvements. Because of speed, direction of travel, and lower passenger and freight costs, farmers and merchants benefited enormously.

      Lower Ohio valley railroads, as elsewhere, owed their growth to the river. The Evansville and Illinois, the New Orleans and Ohio, and the Illinois Central extended the trading regions of river communities. Railroads offered reliable year-round travel and freed merchants from the need to...

    • 8 Government, Society, and Culture
      (pp. 141-170)

      Politics and government, social relations, and culture shaped communities during the Civil War. Their expressions continued to vary—across the river and state lines, as well as within state boundaries.

      State and regional political cultures contributed heavily to the ways in which river communities approached the challenges of industrializing America. How settlements approached taxation and indebtedness, for instance, revealed much about their priorities. In 1870 and 1880 low taxes—state, county, and town or city—were the rule on either side of the river. Combined tax revenues exceeded $100,000 in only three counties—Posey, Vanderburgh, and Warrick in Indiana. At...

  10. Part 4 The Industrial-Metropolitan Age, 1880-1920

    • 9 Patterns of Communities’ Growth and Development
      (pp. 173-188)

      Innovations in corporate organization were responses to the challenges of a rapidly expanding national urban market, and applications of electricity and internal combustion engines produced even faster growth. All of this, along with the emergent mass culture, fed by consumerism, and the upheavals associated with domestic reforms and foreign affairs in the progressive era would appear—according to the meager historical record of the lower Ohio in this era—to have bypassed this region.

      Instead, history focuses on Chicago, the wunderkind of the emerging radial centers that dominated their hinterlands via diversified manufacturing, commerce, insurance, and finance. Spatial expansion and...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 10 Making a Living
      (pp. 189-221)

      In the four decades following the end of Reconstruction, most lower Ohio settlements continued to be overwhelmingly agrarian and rural. In all but a few, the value of crops far exceeded manufactures—a gap made even larger if livestock are included. Only in Alexander County, Illinois, and Vanderburgh County, Indiana, did manufactures significantly exceed crops. Here, too, economies more closely resembled those of northern cities. In Massac and Pulaski (Illinois), Spencer (Indiana), and Daviess and McCracken (Kentucky) Counties, products of factories edged out those of farms. Years of poor farming techniques, combined with thin topsoil and hilly ground in many...

    • 11 Living Together: Society and Culture
      (pp. 222-247)

      After the 1870s, most people living along the lower Ohio experienced dramatic changes in the ways in which they ordered their lives. According to Chudacoff and Smith, “The agrarian way of life, with its slow pace, moral sobriety, and self-help ethic, had been waning ever since urbanization accelerated.” Although present in the 1920s, and despite some nostalgic campaigns for “the simple virtues of an imagined past,” everywhere “signs pointed to an urban ascendance.”¹

      Even though most neither dwelled in cities nor were employed in manufacturing, they felt the influences of the metropolis within and outside the region in numerous ways...

  11. Conclusion: Continuity and Change on the Lower Ohio
    (pp. 248-253)

    This work has examined the settlement and the development of a little-known part of the United States. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, it traces the creation of communities through the heyday of the steamboat, the rise of the railroad, and the emergence of the industrial metropolis. It closes shortly after World War I.

    I chose that ending for several reasons. The coming of railroads after 1850 neither stopped the growth and development of many towns and cities on the lower Ohio nor explained the area’srelativedecline. Such communities as Smithland began to lose before the rails came, and...

  12. APPENDIX 1: Population Tables
    (pp. 254-259)
  13. APPENDIX 2: Settlements on the Lower Ohio River
    (pp. 260-263)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 264-306)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 307-320)
  16. Index
    (pp. 321-336)