A Sense of Community: Taverns of Vanderburgh County
Vanderburgh County, located on the Ohio River at the southern tip of Indiana, is both one of the smallest counties in Indiana by land area and one of the largest by population. At the heart of every community in Vanderburgh County, including Evansville, was a local tavern. Taverns hold a special place in American history. They served as the gathering spot for communities, where politics was discussed and debated, and the latest news of the community was exchanged. Sometimes they also served as the post office, stagecoach stop, general store, gas station, and hotel.
The taverns and communities on this tour reflect Southern Indiana’s German heritage, which was developed via two waves of German immigration. The first immigrants (~1816-1848) left Germany to escape monarchist policies and economic difficulties. The second wave (1848 to 1861) had supported the failed revolutions of 1848 and attempts to secure democratic reform and guarantees of human rights. People from both waves brought their culture to Southern Indiana.
Before the Prohibition of alcohol in 1920, taverns were predominately male spaces. The male camaraderie shared over a few rounds was an essential part of many working men’s social lives. Some taverns even barred women from entering or drinking inside them to preserve this male-only space. This practice waned after Prohibition was lifted when women, empowered by the right to vote and the experience of drinking in speakeasies, began frequenting taverns publicly as customers.
The taverns featured on this tour served as the anchors for various communities of Vanderburgh County. While most of these communities have faded away or have been absorbed into the city, often their memory has survived through the taverns that remain. In most cases you can stop in to sample a bit of local flavor and, if you wish, refresh yourself with a cold brew and a fine meal.
As you explore this tour, think about the community where you grew up or currently live. Do people in your community want to remember the ways things used to be? If not, why not? If so, how do they remember?