Jeffersonville is a city in Clark County, Indiana, along the Ohio River. Locally, the city is often referred to by the abbreviated name Jeff. It is directly across the Ohio River to the north of Louisville, Kentucky along I-65. The population was 44,953 at the 2010 census. The city is the county seat of Clark County.
In 1786 Fort Finney was situated where the Kennedy Bridge is today to protect the area from Indians, and a settlement grew around the fort. The fort was renamed in 1791 to Fort Steuben in honor of Baron von Steuben. In 1793 the fort was abandoned. Precisely when the settlement became known as Jeffersonville is unclear, but it was probably around 1801, the year in which President Thomas Jefferson took office. In 1802 local residents used a grid pattern designed by Thomas Jefferson for the formation of a city. On September 13, 1803, a post office was established in the city. In 1808 Indiana's second federal land sale office was established in Jeffersonville, which initiated a growth in settling in Indiana that was further spurred by the end of the War of 1812.
Shortly after formation, Jeffersonville was named to be the county seat of Clark County in 1802, replacing Springville. In 1812 Charlestown was named the county seat, but the county seat returned to Jeffersonville in 1878, where it remains.
In 1813 and 1814 Jeffersonville was briefly the de facto capital of the Indiana Territory, as then-governor Thomas Posey disliked then-capital Corydon, and wanting to be closer to his personal physician in Louisville, decided to live in Jeffersonville. However, it is debated by some that Dennis Pennington had some involvement to his location to Jeffersonville. The territorial legislature remained in Corydon and communicated with Posey by messenger.
The Civil War increased the importance of Jeffersonville, as the city was one of the principal gateways to the South during the war, due to its location directly opposite Louisville. It was served by three railroads from the north and had the waterway of the Ohio River. This factor influenced its selection as one of the principal bases for supplies and troops for the Union Army. Operating in the South, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad furnished the connecting link between Louisville and the rest of the South. Camp Joe Holt was instrumental in keeping Kentucky within the Union. The third largest Civil War hospital, Jefferson General Hospital was located in nearby Port Fulton (now within Jeffersonville) from 1864–1866, as it was close to the river and Louisville. The original land was seized by the Government from the Honorable Jesse D. Bright, United States Senator, a sympathizer of the Confederate cause. During the war it housed 16,120 patients in its 5,200 beds and was under the command of Dr. Middleton Goldsmith. A cemetery was built for fallen soldiers down the hill, but the wooden grave markers had decayed by 1927, causing the Jeffersonville city council to build a ball field over the cemetery, and not bothering to move the graves, located on Crestview Avenue. The Jeffersonville Quartermaster Intermediate Depot had its first beginning in the early days of the Civil War, near its present location.
The Ohio Falls Car & Locomotive Company was founded at Jeffersonville on 1 June 1864. Jeffersonville is immediately across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, near what is known as the “Falls of the Ohio,” and it is apparently from this geographic that the company took its name. It was likely started because during this last full year of the Civil War inflation was rampant and the price of a boxcar that before the war had sold for $450 – 500 was up to $1,000 – 1,200. Jeffersonville was the location of an important Quartermaster supply depot and an important gateway to the South.
The company appears to have gone through bankruptcy early on.
In 1866, Joseph White Sprague (1831-1900) was asked by the stockholders to take over management of the bankrupt company. He had been engineer on the enlargement of the Erie Canal from 1854 to 1858, second assistant engineer on the New York canals from 1858 to 1862, then civil engineer on the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad.
Sprague believed in standardization; his firm was soon offering standard box cars, flat cars and hopper cars. According to White,(64) Ohio Falls’ advertisement in the 1868 Ashcroft Railway Directory stated they had cars on hand ready for immediate delivery. They maintained 10 of each type of car ready for lettering and delivery in 24 hours. They maintained another 120 cars framed up, and could deliver these completed at a rate of from 12 to 20 per week. They had a stock of streetcars ready for lettering, and passenger car bodies ready for trucks and interior trimmings of the buyer’s choice. They guaranteed high quality and fast delivery.
The records that would tell how successful this program was apparently no longer exist, as White—backed by the resources of the Smithsonian Institution—was unable to find them. Every railway seemed to have its own idea of car design, and ready-made cars would necessarily be of Ohio Falls’ design. “Standardization,” as such, was 50 years off.
The company’s shops burned to the ground in 1872, and Sprague built a new series of shops. But before the company could get going again, the financial panic of 1873 severely reduced the railroads’ buying of new cars. The shops were closed for more than two years, and the firm apparently went through a second bankruptcy.
In 1876 the company was reorganized as the Ohio Falls Car Manufacturing Company. It built most types of railroad cars, including electric street cars, and passenger cars for the up-and-coming narrow gauge railroads.
Among the first narrow gauge cars built by Ohio Falls were excursion cars for a Kentucky railroad. These tiny cars weighed less than seven tons and seated 64, but would carry as many as 125.
We don't know whether there was another reorganization between 1876 and 1887, but the name Ohio Falls Car Co. is listed under “Car Builders” in 1877 edition, Poor’s Directory of Railway Officials.
When Sprague retired in 1888, Ohio Falls was one of the largest and most profitable of the car builders. By 1892 it employed more than 2,300, and its sales soon reached $3 million worth of cars annually. In 1898 its net earnings reached $220,000 and holders of preferred stock received a 14 percent dividend.
Whether it was ever successful in selling ready-made cars or not, Ohio Falls continued its commitment to the idea. In 1896 it surveyed the industry, asking what a 30-ton boxcar measured or “ought” to measure. It published its results early the next year,(65) but nothing ever came of the effort, because in 1899, the Ohio Falls Car Manufacturing Company was one of the 13 independent car builders that merged to form the American Car & foundry Company.
The Jeffersonville plant specialized in freight cars, passenger cars and associated parts. An adjacent foundry produced castings and chilled iron wheels.
During World War I, the Jeffersonville plant produced escort wagons, wagon wheels and nose forgings for shells for the U.S. Army. It also produced up to 20,000 shirts a day. It also developed the first rolling kitchen and the Phillips packsaddle, a large, steel-framed and heavily padded structure designed to let mules carry howitzer components or other heavy loads.
Production of railroad cars declined during the 1920s, and the Jeffersonville plant was closed in 1930. It was reopened during World War II to supply various castings and shell forgings to other ACF plants, but was closed again in 1945. The former plant buildings are now occupied by a number of businesses known collectively as Water Tower Place.
By 1870, 17% of Jeffersonville residents were foreign-born, mostly from Germany. During the 1920s, Jeffersonville was a popular gathering place for the Ku Klux Klan, as Louisville and New Albany had strong anti-Klan laws and Jeffersonville did not.
In 1819 the first shipbuilding took place in Jeffersonville, and steamboats would become key to Jeffersonville's economy. James Howard built his first steamboat in 1834 in Jeffersonville, named the Hyperion. He established his ship building company in Jeffersonville that year but moved his business to Madison, Indiana in 1836 and remained there until 1844. Howard returned his business to the Jeffersonville area to its final location in Fort Fulton in 1849. In 1925 the United States Navy assumed control of the Howard Ship Yards until 1941, after Jeffersonville finally annexed Port Fulton. During World War II, the shipyards built landing vessels such as the LST. It was later established as the Jeffersonville Boat & Machine Company, later simply known as Jeffboat, which still supports the local economy. The history of shipbuilding in Jeffersonville is the focus of the Howard Steamboat Museum. There was an annual festival held on the second weekend in September called Steamboat Days, but lack of participation led to its demise.
On February 5, 2008 the city of Jeffersonville officially annexed four out of six planned annex zones. The proposed annexation of the other two zones was postponed due to lawsuits. The areas annexed added about to the city and about 4,500 citizens, raising the population to an estimated 33,100. The total area planned to be annexed is . The annexed areas receive planning and zoning, building permits and drainage issues services immediately, with new in-city sewer rates which are lower. Other services are being phased in such as police and fire and will work jointly with the pre-existing non-city services until they are available. One of the other two areas remaining to be annexed is Oak Park, Indiana an area of about 5,000 more citizens.
The Clark County Courts dismissed the lawsuits against the city on February 25, 2008. This dismissal brings the remaining Oak Park area into the city. The population of the city is now expected to be nearly 50,000 citizens and is the largest annexation in Jeffersonville's history.