Pop Fessenden - RIP

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Pop's Corner

Long before Andy Rooney was waxing eloquently on 60 minutes, way before Frank Deford had a Wednesday morning comment to make on sports - actually it was when David and Chet were still bringing us the news with Walter Cronkite - there was the Mt. Vernon Democrat's own Pop Fessenden. We have collected a few of his articles "The Old Timer by Pop", we believe from the 1960's and 1970's. Make no mistake, these are references only and are owned by the Mt. Vernon Democrat.

Few residents living today know that at one time a market house was located on the northeast corner of the courthouse square, a monument to the generosity of Dan Rice, a famous clown of his day, and later owner of a circus which bore his name. The time was the early 1820's and it all happened because of the showing of another circus in the same city on the same date the Rice Circus was to appear.

Rice had many friends and when he learned of the billing of the rival circus he agreed to present the entire proceeds of the afternoon performance to the city for some public enterprise and suggested the market place. His offer was accepted.

That afternoon the tent was filled to capacity while the rival circus played to empty seats. At the afternoon performance Rice announced that the evening show would be presented as usual, but the proceeds were needed by himself.

That night Mt. Vernon citizens responded in such a manner that the side walls of the tent were taken down so that the overflow crowd could view the performance. Needless to say the rival show again played to empty seats and Dan Rice was a very happy man.

Later a 50 x 120 building was erected and large sign placed over the entrance bearing the name of Dan Rice.

This market house was probably the only business of its kind that ever existed in Mt. Vernon, and local citizens did much of their buying there while it was in existence. Farmers would bring their produce to the building, and butcher stalls were conducted by a number of men at that time.

During the early months of 1861 the building was used as an armory by the newly enlisted volunteers for the Northern Army during the war between the states.

When the present court house was being erected in 1876 the Dan Rice market house was torn down, after filling its purpose for many years.

Here’s an opportunity to compare the present Mt. Vernon with that of half a century ago.

At that time the city had three agricultural dealers, three abstracters, two art goods stores, two bakeries, a baseball bat manufacturing plant, three banks, several barbers, two billiard parlors, a bill posting company, five blacksmith shops, a clay tile manufacturer, two chiropractors, eleven churches, three cigar manufacturers, four dry goods and clothing stores, three coal dealers, a cooperage plant, two dairies, five dentists, two department stores, three drug stores, four filling stations, an express company, three flour mills, two foundries, two florists, three furniture stores and eight garages.

Also two greenhouses, 23 groceries, two hardware stores, two handle manufacturers, four harness dealers, a hominy mill, five hotels, 10 insurance offices, an ice cream manufacturer, a unit of the Indiana National Guard, three jewelers, a laundry, eight lawyers, two sales stables, six meat shops, a mattress manufacturer, three lumber millers, four milliners, three newspapers, two opticians, two parks, two packing plants, two photographers, six physicians, planing mill, two plumbers, two radio dealers, two railroads, eight restaurants, two second-hand stores, two sewing machine dealers.

Also seven shoe repair shops, strawboard plant, a sign painter, six schools, a soft drink manufacturer, three tailors, a taxicab company, telegraph company, telephone company, two theatres, two transfer firms, three undertakers, two variety stores, three veterinaries, a vulcanizing plant, two wallpaper stores and an interurban railway.

We return now to another cold weather story, which includes an ice gorge, a frozen Ohio river and the sinking of a show boat at a local wharf. Picture from 1966 Mt. Vernon Sesquisentennial book.

The Steamer Jewel and the show boat Cotton Blossom were forced to tie up here due to heavy ice floes and later the gorge; and when the gorge started breaking the boats were torn loose from their moorings by the moving ice and sank on a reef just west of the Mt. Vernon Water works. The Cotton Blossom was broken in two with its nose touching the bank and the Steamer Jewel which was used in towing the show boat was at the stern of the Cotton Blossom with water over the entire lower deck.

Both boats had been docked here for three months and the freeze up of the river was so sudden that Capt. Otto Hitner, in charge of the craft, was unable to move them to a safe harbor.

Another boat, the dismantled Steam Clyde, owned by the Flesher Boat Co. of this city, was tied up just above the American Hominy Co. mill (now the Mt. Vernon Milling Co.) and the moving ice carried it down stream and lodged it against the covered Barge, Belle V. Flesher, also owed by the Mt. Vernon firm. The company's towboat D.T. Flesher was docked in clear water just below McFadden's Creek and was safe. A flat boat owned by the Fleshers was carried down the river to the foot of Store St. (now College Ave.)

The ice gorge formed down stream near Slim Island and as more ice came down the Ohio the gorge was finally backed up several miles before the breakup occurred.

The two sunken boats were valued at $25,000 and were insured. After the marine adjuster had made a satisfactory settlement with Capt. Hitner, the theater boat was sold back to the captain and the Steamer Jewel was sold to the local Flesher Co. Both boats were dismantled as crews of men made frantic efforts to salvage as much as possible from the two crafts before the real force of the moving gorge could destroy the boats completely.

With the starting of school last week in the Mt. Vernon Metropolitan School District, The Old Timer began to reflect on his school days just before the turn of the century. It was then that we realized that not a building of the systems at that time remains today. All have since been razed or destroyed by fire. Only one site of the old schools, all of which were two-storied brick, is now occupied by a school - that of Hedges Central Elementary. The old original building, Central, was razed to make room for a new school, but this building was later destroyed by fire and the present school occupies the same site.

Other elementary schools included the Western, located then on the southwest corner of Fifth and Pearl Street, it now being replaced by West School on West Fourth Street; The Main Street School, also known as Grammar School, located at Main and West Tenth Streets, which later became the Overall Factory and still later the building was razed to make room for the present occupants, the Exylin Co.; and the Booker T. Washington School, destroyed by fire, and later rebuilt. This building, located at Third and Owen Streets, has not been occupied as a school since the desegregation of our school system took place several years ago.

The high school was then located at Fifth and College Avenue, where College Avenue Park, a children's playground, is now located. Later the high school was transferred to a new building at Sixth and Canal Streets, which is now occupied by junior high school, following the erection of the modern senior high school several years ago.

Although all the former old school buildings were two stories high, most of the present buildings are of one-story height.

Prior to the erection of the present West School, children located in that section of the city were served by the James Whitcomb Riley School, this building now being used as administrative headquarters. Other schools in the present metropolitan district are Farmersville and Marrs, all being very ably served by Superintendent George A. Ashworth and his staff of assistants and teachers.

Who can remember “way back when” Mt. Vernon had an opera house, located on the second floor of the present Alles Bros. Furniture Co. building, and two motion picture theaters, the Dreamland in the building occupied by Lord's store, and the Colonial on the east side of the 100 block on Main St.

The two motion picture theaters were more commonly known as nickelodeons, where for the price of five cents one could see a motion picture and while the operator was changing reels, beautiful colored pictures would appear on the screen illustration a popular long of the area. Ballads were popular then and the words of the song would also be flashed on the screen and the audience would sometimes join in the “sing-along”.

There were no color pictures until many years later, all pictures being black and white intermingled with wording to let theatergoers know what the picture was all about, as there were no talking pictures during that time...

…The first motion picture to be show in Mt. Vernon was at the old opera house. It showed scenes made in this city and also, “The Great Train Robbery”

Now the city, which once had several play-houses, has none, the last being a drive-in theater located near where the Southwind Smörgåsbord now flourishes.

Editor's note: At one time Mt. Vernon was connected to Evansville by light rail service. Most people would call them “trolly cars”, they were powered by overhead electric lines. This service died out with the advent of better roads and cars.

The Evansville & Mount Vernon Rail line was opened in 1906 with plans to build into Southern Illinois, but only 22 miles were completed. In 1918, the system was reorganized and became the E&OV - Evansville and Ohio Valley. In 1927 a car headed to Henderson hit an open switch, killing 4 and injuring 50. The damage claims bankrupted the company and the Henderson line was abandoned in 1928. In 1941 most track was abandoned except for 13 miles between Rockport, Posey, and Richland. This portion served a number of sand pits and continued in operation until 1946.

This is the second column by Pop on this service, the first could not be located. Pop ends the article with a mention of energy crisis. At the time this was written gas was about 32 cents at the pump!

Since writing our column of last week telling about summer rides on the interurban line of E. & O.V. Railway Com., operating between Mt. Vernon and Evansville, we have decided to add another chapter telling more about those “good old days”.

The cars entered Mt. Vernon by way of East Fourth Street and the company had its ticket office in what was then the Odd Fellows Building and now the home of People's Bank and Trust Co. When the company planned to enter Mt. Vernon with the interurban line they wanted to cross Main Street and establish a substation on the West Side. Members of the city administration at that time would not permit the crossing of Main Street, hence that became the terminal here.

However, on a number of occasions when brakes failed to function properly, they did cross Main Street, but not on rails. Flanges of the wheels would at that time cut deeply into the asphalt street, which was exactly the reason the “city dads” did not want to grant permission for the interurban to continue on to the West side.

Regular stops would be made by the interurban on its way to Evansville, including Caborn, Ford Station, St. Philip and Howell, and when flagged would stop at any highway crossing.

At the time of the interurban here, Evansville was the hub of a number of electric lines to Henderson, Ky., Princeton, Rockport, Tell City, Boonville, Newburgh and Patoka. All arrived at the terminal in Evansville and passengers could change to another line with only a few minutes wait.

Such was traveling shortly after the turn of the century and many of our older citizens have visions of electric cars and electric trains again furnishing transportation in the near future, as the shortage of gasoline adds to the energy crisis. With accommodations as rendered in the past by electric lines, although the fare would have to be enlarged over what it was then, more people would be willing to do without autos except for special pleasures.

March 1972

Forty-seven years ago this month the worst calamity ever to strike Posey County occurred when a tornado swept through the northern section of the county and totally destroyed the town of Griffin. Fire, which followed the storm, added to the destruction and loss of life.

It was shortly after 4 PM, on the afternoon of Wednesday March 18, when the tornado struck, razing every building, killing scores of the residents and injuring many more of the 750 persons who made the thriving little town their home.

First news of the appalling disaster was brought to New Harmony by a motorist from Poseyville who had been caught in the storm and had sought shelter in a ravine just south of Griffin.

Rescue team were dispatched at once to the scene and every available doctor, nurse and ambulance was pressed into service, Injured persons were taken to an emergency hospital which had been set up in the gym of the New Harmony High School. All Red Cross workers of the county were called to duty by George F. Zimmerman, chairman of the Posey County Chapter. Mayor L.T. Osborn of Mt. Vernon, assisted by a crew of city firemen, immediately went to Griffin to aid in getting out the injured from the debris left in the wake of the storm.

The following day Boy Scouts of Troop 1, Mt. Vernon, with many other Scouts from the Evansville Council, set up camp on the northeast side of the town to start a general clean-up and sanitation project. Battery E, 139th Field Artillery, of Mt. Vernon also was called to the scene. Citizens of New Harmony worked like Trojans during the early rescue efforts and were responsible for the saving of many lives. How anyone could have escaped death or injury in the catastrophe is almost inconceivable.

The American Red Cross national office set up headquarters a few days after the tornado and remained there for many weeks.

There is much more that could be said about the hard work and great effort put forth by hundreds of Posey County residents to aid the stricken community. Few scars remain today of this most damaging tornado, and again the little town of Griffin is filling its niche in the affairs of the community, hoping never again to witness such death and destruction.


A copy of The Mt. Vernon Daily News under date of Dec 24, 1897, has been presented to us by our long-time friend, Wm. (Dutch) Grabert, and the newspaper many interesting items of almost 77 years ago.

Among the advertisers of that day are Stinson's, Lowenhaupt, Ike Rosenbaum, Racket Store, S.J. Miller, Alles Bros, Charles Kreie, A.A. Graham. Rosenbaum & Bro., E.B. Schenk, Keck-Gonnerman Co., Haas Bros. & Co., Brinkmann & Heuring, A.A. Schenk, Armenius Templeton, A.W. Neuman, T.J. Hall. James H. Blackburn, George Henrich, Wm. S. Hinch, and Dr. R.L. Hardwick.

With the exception of the Ike Rosenbaum jewelry store, now operated by his daughter, Mrs. Charlotte Rosenbaum Carr, and Alles Bros., furniture firm, all are no longer in existence here.

Among the interesting news items in the paper are the following: The city was crowded with farmers yesterday and our merchants report a good business; John Schultheis and Fred Lichtenberger offer a challenge to any two men in Mt. Vernon to shoot 100 clay pigeons for any reasonable amount; the L&N Railroad has a new engine out on trial yesterday. She had five feet ten-inch drive wheels and weighs 66 tons and is a beauty. This road is doing and immense business. There were five trains here at one time yesterday; Romelia J. Bishop and Miss Della Berry, a popular couple of this city, were united in marriage by the Rev. W. Blackburn at the parsonage Thursday evening, Dec, 5th at 18th at 8 o'clock; the Ladies Minstrels, at Masonic Hall next Wednesday evening will be one of the great events of the holiday season.

Advertisers with small "readers" not listed with those "Space" advertisers named above include, D.& H. Rosenbaum, Dawson's, Hart & Spencer's, C.P. Klein and Co. Aaron Hartung, E.A., Boberg and Jarodzki's fair.

Among the news notes appearing in the paper is the following: Bellville has her Irish up and wants a chicken to fight for $25 to $50, catch weight on Christmas day, you can be accommodated by calling on the Bellville Sports. They are "spillin" for a "scrap."