Henderson’s unique place in world trade at the close of the 19th century-largely due to the tremendous dark tobacco exporting business located here-provided the setting for the construction of a rather surprising number of expensive homes, given the size of the community. A location on the Ohio River above flood level, an unlimited fuel energy supply and fertile land were also attractive to settlers seeking a place to put down their roots. The properties on this walking tour were chosen because of some unusual or special feature of architectural charm or for historic value. They represent pre-Civil War architecture, the Italianate built around the 1860’s and 1870’s, and the fancier asymmetric Victorian built at the close of the century.
1. Second & Water Street – Audubon Mill Park-Henderson Riverfront
John James Audubon came to Henderson on a flatboat in 1810 to establish a retail business. He was far more interested in birds than business and his business did not prosper. He left Henderson with a determination to paint all the birds of America. When the Ohio River roared 19 feet out of its banks during the 1937 flood, Henderson claimed to be the only completely dry river town between Point Pleasant, W. Va., and Cairo, Ill., thus the saying: “Henderson: On The Ohio River, But Never In It”. During the flood, a flotilla of Coast Guard vessels and private boats brought people and animals to Henderson’s high ground for safety.
2. Second & Main Street – Chamber of Commerce
This Bedford Stone building, completed in 1903, has a distinctive corner entrance. In addition to providing quarters for another bank, Farmers Bank & Trust beginning in 1921, it was the temporary home of Henderson’s municipal government while the new Henderson Municipal Center was being completed in 1974. This was the site, during the Civil War, of James Rankin’s store.
3. 213 North Main – Thomas Soaper Building-Frank G. Schmitt
Known as the Thomas Soaper building in the 1890’s, it provides examples of Mesker Steel. Many buildings of the period had plain fronts and it became popular to decorate using prefabricated steel storefronts. Because Mesker Steel was an Evansville-based company, many Henderson businesses used their storefronts. The buyer sent in
his building measurements, his choice of design and his money and the storefront was delivered to him by rail or boat within 2 to 3 weeks. In some designs, $300 or less could buy a whole storefront.
4. 233 North Main -Farmers Bank & Trust-Crafton and Underwood, CPA
Henderson’s oldest bank, Farmers Bank & Trust, was located at this address as early as 1876. The Crafton Underwood firm now operates from this location.
5. 300 Block of North Main Street- L&N Bed and Breakfast, Ltd.
John O’Byrne, an Irish immigrant-building contractor, built the L&N BED AND BREAKFAST, LTD., which occupies 327, North Main, in the 1890’s. The other houses on the same block have a similar floor plan and were built about the same time.
6. 503 North Main Street – Katterjohn-Reid House
Paul Semonin built this house around 1858, shortly after he constructed the steamboat, “Governor Powell”. In 1868, Stephen Phillip Smith, a tobacconist, from Virginia, bought the house. The Greek Revival front door was added after a fire in 1894.
7. 517 North Main Street – Jarvis-Sullivan House
Arthur and Minnie Jarvis built this yellow brick Victorian house just after the turn of the century. Mr. Jarvis had come from England to operate a tobacco factory in Henderson at Third and Water street.
8. 525 North Main Street – Blackwell-Vaughn House
Judge Paul Alexander Blackwell built this Chateauesque house in the 1890’s. He owned a hardware, agricultural business. The original metal ornamentation remains on the house.
9. 711 North Main Street – Millet Hill House
This house called Millet Hill was built on Lot 26 of the original 1797 survey map of Henderson County between 1855 and 1862. It contains a large basement where the family’s slaves may have lived. The kitchen in back was not attached to the house.
10. 733 North Main Street – Eisfielder-Gravette House
Built in 1874 at a cost of $2,800, this simplified Queen Anne Style home has a unique hand-sawn and turned trim above the porch. Frederick Eisfielder, who built this house, managed a brewery at the southwest corner of 8th and Main.
11. 626 North Main Street – Talbot-Gadient House
This Italianate house was built in 1867, the same year that Main Street was paved from Sixth to Eighth. All the walls are solid brick, 13 inches thick.
12. 616 North Main Street – Rankin-Royer House
The owner of an older structure at this site, James E. Rankin, also owned a business downtown and was murdered there during the Civil War by a band of outlaws associated with neither the North nor the South. Two confederate soldiers were executed in connection with Mr. Rankin’s death, though Union sympathizers pleaded for their release.
13. 612 North Main – Soaper-Esser House
William Soaper home built this large Queen Anne brick between 1884-1887. All of the bricks for the house were made on the property. In 1991, it was used for scenes in the Columbia Pictures’ 1943-period film, “A League of Their Own”, starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks and Madonna, and directed by Penny Marshall.
14. Corner of Fifth & Main – Soaper-Preston House
This corner was the site of two tobacco factories, the Soaper Tobacco Factory, (on the northeast corner), built sometime between 1840 and 1880, and another owned by John Barrett (on the southwest corner), which was dramatically destroyed in a 1914 tornado. The Soaper-Preston home was originally the tobacco factory’s office.
15. 422 North Main – Johnston Insurance
This home was built in 1897 by the Floyd family and remained in that family until 1977. The porch has ball and spindle Victorian gingerbread.
16. 208 North Main – Henderson National Bank
Opened as a bank in 1893, this building sits on land owned by John James Audubon. The vacant lot on the corner was the site of Audubon’s general store.
17. Second & Main (south corner) – Ohio Valley National Bank
Completed in 1904, this is the most impressive building of its type in Henderson. It was the city’s first so-called “fireproof” building, as there is no wood in the structure. The city’s first telephone company originally used the fifth floor. The antique clock on the corner of the building was erected around 1917 by the bank and was restored to working condition in 1989.
18. 130 North Main Street – Planters Coffeehouse
This building was constructed to be used as a bank. The current owners have restored the original atrium.
19. 114 North Main Street
One of the oldest structures on Main Street, this Italianate building housed tailors in the decade after the Civil War. The terra cotta trim dates it to 1865 after the Henderson railroad bridge was constructed. Such heavy trim was generally shipped by rail.
20. 100 North Main Street – Simon’s Shoe Store
Built in the 1870’s, this building gives another example of Mesker Steel storefronts. In the late 1800’s, this building housed several businesses and a lodge.
21. Central Park – Central Park
Located in the center of Washington, Main, Elm and First Streets, Central Park is believed to be the oldest municipal park west of the Alleghenies. The Transylvania Company, which founded Henderson, provided for it in the town’s 1797 plan. This plan was laid out in a series of squares, which accounts for the symmetry of Main and Elm and the downtown cross streets. Union troops camped and drilled in this park during the Civil War. The gazebo was added in 1986.
22. 117 South Elm street – Stone-Lambert House
This house has been in the same family for more than 60 years, and was built on part of Lot 178 of the original plat of the town. The Green River limestone used in the house was probably quarried at Bowling Green, Ky.
23. 116 South Elm Street – Perkins-Wilder House
This house was built in 1884 by Capt. Charles G. Perkins, who came to Henderson during the Civil War as the commander of the Union gunboat “Brilliant”. He courted and married, in 1863, Miss Annie Terry, whose family had settled on this land. He ran the Henderson-Evansville railroad transfer boat until the railroad bridge was complete in 1886.
24. 124 South Elm Street – Ingram-Berntsen House
Built around 1820 by Wyatt Ingram, who settled in Henderson in 1804, this is one of the oldest houses in Henderson. Mr. Wyattt was a successful tobacco merchant who shipped his goods to New Orleans by flatboat. He would ride down with the boat and walk back to Henderson. He made the trip 13 times. Ingram and his neighbors built here on Elm rather than on the river because it was higher ground. The house has served as an Episcopal manse and as a popular boarding house.
25. 204 South Elm Street – Barret-Jennings House
Built in 1868, this home was a classic example of the Italianate Villa architectural style. The house was destroyed by fire in 1997.
26. 205 South Elm Street – Dallam-Norment House
A Henderson banker and farmer, L.C. Dallam, built this Italianate house immediately after the Civil War. Legend has it that the 12 X 12 feet floored room in the northwest tower was used to signal riverboats. Many interior features are original to the house.
27. 216 South Elm Street – Powell-Martin House
This house, known as the “Governor Powell” house, was built around 1818-1820 by Captain Lazarus Powell, father of Lazarus Powell who was governor of Kentucky 1851-55. Gov. Powell built the one-story addition on the south side for his law office. The Powell family recalled the ex-governor pacing back and forth in this room as the nation became embroiled in the Civil War.
28. 226 South Elm Street – Wilson-Eargood House
Begun in 1818, the two-story south wing of this house is one of the oldest remaining structures in Henderson, having been built by James Wilson before his death in 1821. Wilson’s grandson, Young E. Allison, established Henderson’s first newspaper, “The Chronicle”. The house originally faced Clay Street.
29. 304 South Main Street – McCullough – Boyd House
This house was built somewhere around 1847 as the personal residence of Mr. John McCullough, a Presbyterian, who organized Sunday Schools through the South. His daughter, Mary, established the Henderson Female Seminary in the same block and served as the principal of the school from 1880-1886.
30. 305 South Main Street – Farmer-Lackey House
John and Elizabeth Pernet built this house between 1865 and 1873. Pernet helped found Holy Name Catholic Church and left $100 “to the poor of Henderson”. The teardrop brackets on the cornice were made from hand-sawn and turned wood.
31. 235 South Main Street – Oberdorfer-Finley House
Hanna Oberdorfer, a German Jew who had come with her husband through the port of New Orleans up river to Henderson, built this house. They ran a hotel here, and after his death she built this house. The meeting to organize the Jewish congregation was held in her parlor. The windows are original to the house.
32. 211 South Main Street – Bach-McCollom House
This Victorian shingle house was built in 1891 by Professor J.M. Bach, a native of Switzerland, who had come to Henderson in 1883 to take a position as the organist for the First Presbyterian Church and as the music director for the Henderson Female Academy. The Bachs led the 200-member German Singing Society. W.C. Handy served as the Bach’s gardener.
33. 232 South Main Street – Towles-Sasseen House
Mary Towles Sasseen probably lived here sometime between 1851 and 1881. While teaching school in Henderson she decided that mothers should be honored with a special day, and had a hand in establishing Mother’s Day. Ironically, Mary died in childbirth and her child did not survive.
34. 101 South Main Street – Henderson County Public Library
This is the oldest public building left standing in Henderson. Not only is it in good repair, but also is still being used for its original purpose, for which it was established in 1904. Edward Asher Jonas, the publisher of the Henderson Journal, secured a $20,000 donation from the Carnegie Foundation during a golf outing with Mr. Carnegie. The rotunda ceiling has an octagonal stained glass skylight. The walls of the rotunda are adorned with murals depicting the Greek muses of art, science, music and literature. Ten original Audubon prints hang in an upstairs meeting room.
35. 23 South Main Street – Martin Studio of Photography
William A. Klee built this house at the corner of Washington and Main in 1899 to be convenient to his undertaking business next door. The 2 1/2 story Queen Anne was built on an asymmetrical plan, with stone, wood and terra cotta exterior details of notable quality and with both square and octagonal towers. The double entry door has an excellent sampling of leaded glass.
36. 129 North Main Street – Homecrafters
Built in 1873, this Italianate commercial property features a good sampling of Mesker Steel, made in Evansville.
37. 141 North Main Street – Soaper Hotel
In 1924, Richard Henderson Soaper, a tobacco processor, opened this six-story hotel. The arched windows and circular balcony are unusual architectural features.