Located in the United States of America, Evansville is the commercial, medical, and cultural hub of Southwestern Indiana and the Illinois-Indiana-Kentucky tri-state area. It is the third-largest city in the state of Indiana and the largest city in Southern Indiana. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 117,429 and a metropolitan population of 358,676. It is the county seat of Vanderburgh County.
Situated on an oxbow in the Ohio River, the city is often referred to as the "River City". As testament to the Ohio's grandeur, early French explorers named it La Belle Riviere ("The Beautiful River"). The area has been inhabited by various cultures for millennia, dating back at least 10,000 years. Angel Mounds was a permanent settlement of the Mississippian culture from 1000 AD to around 1400 AD. The city itself was founded in 1812.
The broad economic base of the region has helped to build an economy which is known for its stability, diversity, and vitality. Four NYSE companies (ACW, BERY, LEAF, VVC) are headquartered in Evansville, along with the global operations center for NYSE company Mead Johnson. Three other companies traded on the NASDAQ (ESCA, ONB, SCVL) are located in Evansville. The city is home to public and private enterprise in many areas, as Evansville serves as the economic hub of the region.
The city has several well known educational institutions. The University of Evansville is a small private school located on the city's east side, while the University of Southern Indiana (formerly Indiana State University-Evansville) is a larger public institution located just outside of the city's westside limits. Other local educational institutions have also garnered praise and attention, including nationally ranked Signature School and the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library. In 2008, Evansville was voted the best city in the country in which "to live, work, and play" by the readers of Kiplinger, and in 2009 the 11th best.
There was a continuous human presence in the area that became Evansville from at least 8,000 BCE by Paleo-Indians. Archaeologists have identified several archaic and ancient sites in and near Evansville, with the most complex at Angel Mounds from about 900 A.D. to about 1600 A.D., just before the appearance of Europeans.
Following the abandonment of Angel Mounds between the years 1400 and 1450, tribes of Miami, Shawnee, Piankeshaw, Wyandot, Delaware and other Native American peoples were known to be in the area. The land encompassing Evansville was formally relinquished by the Delaware in 1805 to General William Henry Harrison, then governor of the Indiana Territory. French hunters and trappers were among the first Europeans to come to the area, using Vincennes as a base of operations.
Evansville soon became a thriving commercial town with an extensive river trade, and the town began to expand outside of its original footprint. The west side of Evansville was for many years cut off from the main part of the city by Pigeon Creek and the wide swath of factories that made the creek an important industrial corridor. The land comprising the former town of Lamasco was platted in 1837 and was ultimately annexed in 1870.
Evansville's economy received a boost in the early 1830s when Indiana unveiled plans to build the longest canal in the world, a 400-mile ditch connecting the Great Lakes at Toledo, Ohio with the inland rivers at Evansville. The project was intended to open Indiana to commerce and improve transportation from New Orleans to New York. Unfortunately the project bankrupted the state and was so poorly engineered that it would not hold water. By the time the Wabash and Erie Canal was finished in 1853, Evansville's first railroad, Evansville & Crawfordsville Railroad, was opened to Terre Haute. Railroads had made the canal obsolete. Only two flat barges ever made the entire trip. The canal basin at Fifth and Court street in downtown Evansville eventually became the site of a new courthouse in 1891.
The era of Evansville's greatest growth occurred in the second half of the 19th century, following the disruptions of the Civil War. The city was a major stop for steamboats along the Ohio River, and it was the home port for a number of companies engaged in trade via the river. Coal mining, manufacturing, and hardwood lumber was a major source of economic activity. By 1900 Evansville was one of the largest hardwood furniture centers in the world, with 41 factories employing approximately 2,000 workers. Eventually railroads became more important and in 1887 the L&N Railroad constructed a bridge across the Ohio River. along with a major rail yard southwest of Evansville in a town, Howell, which was annexed in 1916 and completed the city's counterclockwise march around the horseshoe bend.
Throughout this period Evansville's main ethnic groups consisted of Germans fleeing Europe, Protestant Scotch-Irish from the South, Catholic Irish coming for canal or railroad work, New England businessmen, and newly freed slaves from Western Kentucky. By the U.S. census of 1890 Evansville ranked as the 56th largest urban area in the United States, a rank it gradually fell from in the early 1900s. As the new century began, growth in the city continued to move eastward. Manufacturing also took off, particularly in the automobile and refrigeration industries.
The city saw exponential growth in the early twentieth century with production of lumber and the manufacturing of furniture. By 1920, there were more than two dozen furniture companies in Evansville. In the decades of the 1920s and 1930s city leaders attempted to improve Evansville's transportation position and successfully lobbied to be located on the Chicago-to-Miami "Dixie Bee Highway" (U.S. Highway 41). A bridge was built across the Ohio River in 1932 and in that same decade steps were first taken to develop an airport. However in 1937 a massive flood covering 500 city blocks proved to be a major crises. With steamboats less of a factor in the local economy, city and federal officials responded to the flood with about fifty years of levee construction that penned and hid the Ohio River behind a barrier of earthen berms and concrete walls.
After the war, Evansville's manufacturing base of automobiles, household appliances, and farm equipment benefited from growing post-war demand. A growing housing demand also caused residential development to leap north and east of the city. However, between 1955 and 1963 a nationwide recession hit Evansville particularly hard. Among other closures Servel (which produced refrigerators) went out of business and Chrysler terminated its local operations. The economy was saved from near total collapse by 28 businesses that moved into the area, including Whirlpool, Alcoa, and General Electric.
During the final third of the 20th century, Evansville became the commercial, medical, and service hub for the tri-state region. A 1990s economic spurt was fueled by the growth of the University of Southern Indiana. The arrival of giant Toyota and AK Steel manufacturing plants, as well as Tropicana Evansville, Indiana's first gaming boat, also contributed to the growth of jobs. As the twenty-first century began, Evansville continued in a steady pace of economic diversification and stability.