Some of city's landmark buildings are loaded with colorful history
By FRANK BOYETT, Gleaner staff
Well, OK, it was actually located inside that building. But it was located on the third floor, which no longer exists. The local Moose Lodge also had its beginnings on that top floor that is no more.
The building was lowered to two stories sometime in the 1930s, according to Sanborn insurance maps. It's not the only downtown structure that once stood taller. The two-story building at 108 Second St., where Amici's restaurant is located, also was constructed three stories tall and originally housed the City Hotel. The Amici building dates to about 1883-84, while the Neel building was erected between 1892 and 1895.
The topic of the Neel building comes up this week because 50 years ago The Gleaner sponsored a contest to see who could write the best story about old downtown buildings. Editor Francele Armstrong got her husband Bill to shoot photos of several interesting buildings, and then asked the public to tell a good tale about them.
"We have for some time been interested in preserving some of the historical landmarks in the business buildings of the town," she wrote in July 1955. "The modern tendency to remodel store fronts is admirable, to be sure, but at the same time we have 'old Henderson' mixed in with the new and the remodeled.
"We don't want to forget our beginnings, so let's get together and identify these buildings, look up the history of each one, learn something about the people who began the businesses, what was sold in the stores, what the town was like when the business was in operation.
"Put in whatever historical details you dig up. We are after a good story."
The winning entries were published in The Gleaner in 1955 on July 24 and 31 and Aug. 14 and 21. The winners got $10. Police dispatcher Richard Stites was the big winner, with The Gleaner printing four of his historical articles, and retired railroad man Grayson Watson came in second with two articles published.
The buildings featured included what is now Henderson Paint and Glass at 126 N. Elm St.; the nearby HomeFolks; the old Rudy-Rowland funeral home that stood on the site now occupied by Wolf's Banquet and Convention Center; and of course the old Grasty drug store now occupied by Neel & Co.
Stites wrote that "L.F. (Ferd) Wise, the groceryman, put up a two-store, three-story building on the southeast corner of First and Elm streets. The second story was divided for offices. The third story was one large room and two small ones. The Henderson Athletic Club organized, rented the third story, and equipped it as a gymnasium.
"About 1895 the YMCA started in business here by buying the Athletic club. Thus the local Y was born in the third story of the Grasty building."
Watson's article about the Henderson Paint and Glass building included recollections of when buggies were built there and in the two buildings occupied by HomeFolks -- before Delker built its big factory on Green Street. He noted the Elm Street operations were connected by an alley behind the stores.
"I remember seeing the buggies being wheeled down the alley almost as fast as they could build them," Watson wrote.
Stites pointed out the original Delker factory at 126 N. Elm St. used what was probably Henderson's first internal combustion engine.
"Building buggies at that time was largely by hand, very little power being required, so to fill their power requirements they installed a gas engine, using illuminating gas from the city system. It was the first gas engine of any kind to come to Henderson."
Francele Armstrong expressed pleasure at the entries in her contest, and said they would provide great fodder for future historians.
"Since the Starling history was completed, Henderson has not been chronicled in permanent historical form," she wrote. "Someday some ambitious person will set to work on this task. Such contributions as this and others of Mr. Stites and Mr. Watson will make valuable source material."
140 years ago
Blacks from Evansville sought refuge in Henderson County after two black men accused of rape were taken from the Evansville jail and lynched July 31, 1865, according to an article in the Reporter.
"We understand that on Monday night a number of shots were fired in the city -- that several negroes were beaten and a house burned. Great alarm existed among them, and scores were endeavoring to get away. Many crossed to this side of the river on Tuesday."
75 years ago
Professor W.D. Funkhouser of the University of Kentucky was making an archaeological investigation of western Kentucky in the summer of 1930, according to an article in The Gleaner.
Funkhouser told The Gleaner that he was looking at Henderson, Crittenden and Trigg counties "where various types of prehistoric mounds and ancient village sites have been reported."
25 years ago
Local young men -- with varying degrees of enthusiasm -- began to register for the draft at the Henderson Post Office, according to a 1980 article in The Gleaner.
"I don't think they should make us go in the Army as it is today," said 20-year-old Brad Carter. "They want too much of your life. If they'd put us in the reserves, train us and send us to camp once a month to keep us ready, that would be enough."
Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS