Welcome to Dogtown, an enchanted place forgotten by time.
Get off after Reitz High School, turn into the rail yards and turn right onto Old Henderson Road. And drive and drive. After a few kilometers, you will feel like you have arrived in another world.
The only way to tell it’s not 50 or 100 years ago is by the cars in the driveways. No billboards. No commercialism. Few signs of modern civilization except for a few satellite dishes.
You might want to drive until the asphalt turns to gravel before turning around, or you can venture even further – if you don’t mind getting lost.
“It’s so nice and peaceful,” said Martha Siebeking, who lived in a large white farmhouse in Dogtown for 72 years. “It’s like another world. People come here to work on my house and say they would do anything to live here.
Along with having time to pause and reflect, catch up with nature and gaze at the mighty Ohio River, Siebeking said all the neighbors care about each other.
Dogtown is more than a summer weekend. Many people live there all year round, including some who display their newborn babies.
“The story I always heard was that my mom and dad stopped on the way home from the hospital to take me (to Dogtown Tavern) and show me around,” said Jon Carl, born in 1972 and grew up in Cypress Dale. Road, about two miles west of Dogtown, Union Township. “Dad always said I was going to Dogtown before I came home and they sat me on the bar when I was four days old.”
Carl has fond memories of the tavern, which closed in 2008.
“As a child, we would go there for supper or go upstairs to get cheeseburgers and fries to take home,” Carl said. “As a teenager, I used to drive my three-wheeler to Dogtown and get takeout.”
Many times Carl and his buddies would start at the Tavern and then walk down Old Henderson Road until it turned to gravel and became Golden Rule Road.
“We would then turn onto Seminary Road, then onto Cypress Dale and back to Dogtown,” Carl said. “We called it doing a loop.”
Siebeking noted that it’s a horseshoe “that goes all the way around. People get lost there all the time.
At 89, she describes herself as probably “the oldest of all the originals”. Siebeking wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
“Jon Carl lived in the house next door,” she said.
When he was a kid on the school bus, Carl took the same route in reverse.
“We were going up to Old 48 Dam to pick up a few kids and then we were going up Old Henderson Road past Dogtown,” Carl said. “When the river was up in winter the route was shortened which I liked as it meant I didn’t have to get on the bus so early.”
He drank his first beer at Dogtown Tavern and rang in many New Years and 21st century parties there.
“My wife and I’s first date was a day on the river that was cut short by a thunderstorm,” Carl said. “We ended up in Dogtown for dinner. We have a special connection with this place.
Carl said Union Township was a great place to grow up.
“I worked for farmers who walked beans (cut weeds in soybean fields), picked hay, picked up driftwood from the fields after the river came down, and drove a tractor,” he said. -he declares.
Carl moved from Union Township to a larger part of the city on the west side in 2001, mainly because there were no houses available at the bottom of the river. While peace and quiet are a joy to behold in today’s rush-rush world, there are obstacles to living in an isolated place like Dogtown. In the event of a flood, for example.
“In 2011 I was away for six weeks due to flooding,” Siebeking said.
She went to live with her son, Michael, who lives on the West Side.
Four inches of water got into her ground, but she had her house restored properly.
“You learn to live with (the floods),” Siebeking said. “You keep coming back. It’s a great place to raise a family. It’s a good place to live.
And when there is a snowstorm?
“You look at the snow,” she deadpanned. “My neighbors are doing a great job cleaning the driveway.”
She loves to read, no matter the conditions.
“I read a book or two a week,” Siebeking said.
‘Smiley Face’ a sight to see
Dogtown resident Butch Frank has a sunny outlook on life. So much so that he has a “Smiley Face”, which became popular in the 1970s, painted on his satellite dish. It was his daughter Natalie’s idea.
“We told her we would buy the painting if she did the painting,” Frank said. “So it’s always his project with his daughters to repaint. We had many, many people stopping and asking for a face shot, senior photos, groups and just passersby. It is a landmark.
Frank and his family moved to the north side at Old Henderson Road 30 years ago.
“We wanted to be in the country, but not too far away,” he said. “We were hoping our two oldest kids would be better for the experience and they were. We have since added two more children.
The Franks live in a house built in the 1880s.
“In addition to dealing with the flooding from the river, we appreciate the life we’ve built there,” said Butch, owner of Evansville Print Specialists, Inc., on West Franklin Street.
Carl, who teaches US history and a documentary filmmaking course at Reitz, has always been intrigued by the history of Union Township, located in the southwest corner of Vanderburgh County. The river bottom and wetlands are bordered on three sides by the Ohio, which forms an 18-mile horseshoe around it.
Dogtown steeped in history
The first permanent white settlers arrived in Union Township around 1806; the railroad and bridge to Henderson, Kentucky was built in 1885.
According to Brant and Fuller’s history “History of Vanderburgh County, Indiana, from the earliest times to the present day; With Biographical Sketches, Reminiscences, Etc. Joseph Schenk opened a saloon and haberdashery in Cypress. His store was positioned along a newly constructed railroad bridge that spanned the Ohio and connected Evansville to Henderson, Kentucky. Schenk’s saloon served the farming community in Union Township in addition to the many travelers who used the Old Henderson Road ferry as one of the main routes to Henderson.
In 1891 the saloon, along with the community of Cypress, became known as Dogtown. According to legend, hunters and trappers often tethered their dogs outside while they stopped for a drink.
“At the turn of the 20th century, Dogtown Tavern also housed the Cypress Post Office which served the Union Township community,” Carl said. “From what I was told, there was a mail hook and the train dropped the bag of mail on the hook as it passed. Dogtown was originally a saloon and haberdashery for the community. There was also a blacksmith shop at the intersection of Cypress Dale Road and Old Henderson Road.
Before the bridge to Henderson was built, the only way to drive into Kentucky was to drive down what is now Old Henderson Road and take the ferry.
“In Prohibition, Indiana dried up before Kentucky,” Carl said. “Smugglers used Old Henderson Road and the ferry to bring liquor into Vanderburgh County. The main road for illegal liquor at the start of Prohibition ran right past Dogtown.
For decades, Dogtown Tavern sponsored a baseball team made up of neighborhood high schoolers.
“By the late 1940s, they were traveling and playing with other community teams,” Carl said. “They were called the Dogtown Ramblers. There was a ball diamond just south of the tavern parking lot. In a 1948 newspaper, I found an ad in the sports section that they would “play all comers” and were “willing to travel.”
By the 1970s, however, all that remained in Cypress, Indiana was Schenk’s Saloon, known at that time as Dogtown Tavern. The Old Henderson Road ferry had been replaced by the twin bridges on US 41, crossing the Ohio River more than 10 miles upstream, in the 1930s. The forge, post office, elementary school, station -service and the baseball team have all disappeared over the years. Several farmers have left, looking for new opportunities in the city.
In the winter, when there wasn’t much activity, some of the remaining farmers in Union Township would meet at Dogtown Tavern and play clabber for hours.
“As a child, I remember seeing guys sitting in the bar playing cards on winter afternoons,” Carl said.
One of his favorite historical artifacts from Dogtown Tavern was a picture that hung above the jukebox.
“It was a copy of the Battle of Santiago Bay from the Spanish American War,” Carl said. “It was in a heavy gilded wooden frame and it showed Admiral (Winfield Scott) Schley’s flagship destroying the Spanish fleet as it tried to escape from the port of Santiago. This photo has always fascinated me and I thought it had been hanging in the bar in Dogtown since 1899. Unfortunately, when they had the auction and sold everything, it cost a little more than I was willing to pay. would love to have this picture hung in my classroom.
Although several landmarks have closed over the years, area residents still find their way to Old Henderson Road for a trip to a magical land in itself.
Contact Gordon Engelhardt by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @EngGordon.