Nineteenth Century River Town A Social-Economic Study of New Albany, Indiana.
Bogle, Victor M.
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The modern New Albany, Indiana, is one of hundreds of urban centers in the United States that are classified as "small cities." Today, when there are so many cities that measure their population in terms of hundreds of thousands or millions, towns the size of New Albany do not stand out very prominently. Scholars have devoted much attention to the study of the phenomena responsible for the growth of the smaller towns. On the whole little fault can be found with this procedure; but it tends to convey the impression that the large cities were always leaders and that the inconspicuous towns were always inconspicuous towns. It is a little shocking to learn that in 1840 New Albany and Chicago each had a population of 4,000 or that for about three decades (1830-1860) New Albany was the most populous center in the state of Indiana. New Albany was chosen as the subject of this particular study partly because of its past distinction as an important Ohio River town, and partly because it is representative of many nineteenth century American towns that lost out in the race for urbanization. New Albany possessed features which were unique, others which were common to hundreds of communities. This study attempts not only to examine causes of New Albany's successes and failures, but also to show what every day life was like in a "typical" urban community of the past century. About two thirds of this work is concerned with the discussion of topics that are basically economic: the importance of the town's river location; its river and interior trading activities; its steamboat building; its rivalry with Louisville, Kentucky, and competing Indiana towns; the development of its railroad connections; and the evolution of its manufacturing establishments. The remainder is devoted to a discussion of its social and intellectual activities: crime, religion, racial issues, recreation; municipal institutions. streets, public utilities; education, lyceums, and newspapers. This historical account of NEw Albany has been divided into three basic chronological section: 1813 to 1830; 1830 to 1860; and 1860 to the close of the century. During the first period New Albany was predominantly a frontier community, not unlike dozens of other new West settlements. The second period is characterized by the town's close attachment to the river and its steady advance toward urbanization. The third period is marked chiefly by the transition of its economy from one based on the river (commerce and boatbuilding) to one based on manufacturing. During these latter decades there was a diminishing rate of population increase and a gradual abandonment of the earlier ambitions to make New Albany a truly great city. The two features of nineteenth century New Albany which set it apart from other towns were its steamboat building and its glass manufacturing. The earlier enterprise is indicative of the town's river attachment, while the later exemplifies the manner in which the economy of the town passed beyond the river influences. The steamboat building industry began in NEw Albany just a few years after the town was founded. The first boat constructed there was the 364 ton Ohio, built by Henry S. Shreve in 1817. Following initial successes, the industry was expanded until by the 1850's New Albany was one of the major boatbuilding points on the Ohio-Mississippi River system. In the decade from 1850 to 1860 the New Albany builders constructed over fifteen first class river packets annually; the total output of the industry averaged from $500,000 to $900,000 a year. Many of the most famous Western steamboats were products of the NEw Albany yards: among these were the Eclipse, the largest and one of the fastest of the pre-Civil war boats; the A.L. Shotwell, the holder of the New Orleans to Louisville speed record; and the Robert E. Lee, whose post-Civil War racing career on the Mississippi River has found permanence in song and folklore. Partly because of the economic setback which resulted from the Civil War, and partly because of other factors, the New Albany boatbuilding industry almost completely disappeared in the late 1860's. As a glass making center New Albany is most distinguished for having been the first place in the United States where "commercially successful" plate glass was manufactured. The man credited with achieving this industrial feat was John B. Ford, later one of the founders of the modern Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company. A few years after Ford established the glass industry in New Albany, the local enterprise was taken over and expanded by Washington C. Depauw, Indiana's "richest citizen" and New Albany's most successful enterepreur. In the 1870's and 1880's the city was a center for many diversified industries, but glass making was the largest. It represented a capital investment of $2,000,000, and gave employment to 1,500 men. Its plant covered an area of thirty acres along the New Albany river front. The lack of natural gas deposits in the vicinity of NEw Albany made the city less eligible than other points in the northern part of Indiana for large scale industrial pursuits, and in the early 1890's the factory was closed and removed to Alexandria, Indiana. A general demise of the city's industrial establishment followed the removal of the glass works, and the century closed with New Albany striving to retain some semblance of its past glories. Material of secondary nature on New Albany's history is scarce, and even in the standard histories of the state, New Albany's position of distinction among the other nineteenth century towns has been given very little attention. The only work which deals at length with New Albany is the History of the Ohio Falls Cities and Their Counties. Though invaluable as a source of information that is not readily attainable elsewhere, this 1862 publication does not measure up to the modern standards of historical narrative and interpretation. Besides two Master's theses--one devoted to the industrial development of the town, and the other to the history of its system of public education--secondary materials are confined to a few "promotion" pamphlets. These secondary works have been consulted, and some data have been borrowed from them; but this present study is based largely on primary source materials. These include municipal records, private and governmental documents, census reports, contemporary gazetteers and river guides, traveler accounts, and, most important of all, newspapers.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University 2 disk recordings. In Audio-Visual Library. N.B.: The thesis pages are mis-numbered; page 408 is followed by page 410. We believe this is a numbering error on the author's part, and not missing content.