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Find New Perspective at ‘Lost Evansville’ Lecture

This aerial photograph shows the area cleared for the "High Street Plan" to make way for the Mid Town Industrial Park. Today, the area features parking lots and several businesses.

Lecture by local history professor details ways city street and buildings changed after WWII and during the national trend of Urban Renewal

What used to exist where the Civic Center Complex sits today? How did urban renewal reshape Evansville?

These are some topics University of Evansville Professor of History James MacLeod will be discussing Thursday. His lecture at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science is titled “Lost Evansville: The Transformation of a City” detailing how the city changed after WWII.

“I think one of the really fascinating parts of that story is the changes that took place in the city over the course of the late 50s through the 1970s,” he said.

These include a lot of physical changes to the city that are still evident today.

“So most of the lecture on Thursday night is going to focus on the infrastructure changes in terms of roads, and, and houses, and then the changes that took place in the downtown area, with both demolition and rebuilding.”

The Assumption Catholic Church was one of four buildings to be razed to make way for the Civic Center Complex.

During the 1960s many cities were going through “urban renewal,” where old buildings downtown were razed and new ones erected. Streets were cut off suddenly by new buildings.

For example, the Vanderburgh County Civic Complex on 1 NW Martin Luther King Jr. BLVD was the location of four buildings, which were razed to make room for the complex.

These were the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad terminal building, Central High School, F.W. Cook Brewing Company and the Assumption Catholic Church.

“A large number of buildings were condemned and purchased and eventually demolished to make way for what is now the General Post Office, the Federal Building, the Civic Center, and the Old National Bank events Plaza, which has been various things at various times,” MacLeod said.

He said Evansville went through the same big changes many other cities did.

“I think Evansville is a really interesting place. A lot of really interesting things have happened here. …it's a really interesting microcosm of national and sometimes international events.”

While some think that history only happened on a grand scale — and elsewhere — it also all happened here.

“You know, so the urban renewal, the racial tension, the arguments about the Vietnam War, the building of roads, through cities, I mean, all the stuff that happened in Evansville hadn't had Anywhere else as well. And so it's a kind of really fascinating case study.”

MacLeod is also writing a book about Evansville post WWII, covering many different aspects of Evansville from 1945 to 1975.

He says he had written a book about Evansville during WWII, but received a lot of questions about what happened to the city afterward.

“And I had some answers to that,” he said. “But I didn't have great, detailed answers. So I always kind of thought that's where I would go next.

In his research for this book and lecture, he said a couple things surprised him.

“One is that that wasn't all ‘gloom and doom,’” he said. “There was a lot of bad things that happened economically, but there were also lots of positives as well. And overall, Evansville did pretty well economically from 1945 through the 1960s.”

The other is that the economic depression the city did experience had more to do with the national economic struggle, not decisions by people in the city. “It was just what was happening in Evansville that was part of these giant economic forces over which we really had no control; recessions and changes in business practice and so on. And so I think we should probably give ourselves a bit of a break.”

He’ll discuss this and much more on Thursday at 6 p.m.. Reserve your free spot at emuseum.org/rsvp.