Loop Island Wetlands

Loop Island Wetlands is a walking and nature park southeast of downtown New Albany. Located on the Ohio River west of Silver Creek, the site supported industrialization during the late nineteenth century. In 1878, George Moser, a German immigrant, established the Moser Leather Company. Moser had arrived in New Albany in 1867 and worked at the August Barth Tannery on East Tenth Street. Within about a decade he saved enough money to purchase the Lockwood Tannery, a small operation on the edge of Silver Creek. Moser expanded the tannery and invested in new equipment. He made high-quality leather for animal collars and harnesses a specialty. Moser marketed his products as “Hemlock Collar Leather.”

In 1891, John M. Moser, a nephew, became a partner in the firm, which changed its name to George Moser and Company. By 1902 Moser tannery employed thirty-five men and handled almost 15,000 medium-weight hides annually. Byers across the country used its products in manufacturing a variety of consumer goods.

In 1905, George Moser opened a second plant on Silver Street, south of the Pennsylvania Railroad. He named this operation the Indiana Leather Company. Fire destroyed the original tannery on Silver Creek in 1914, and Moser died the same year. Moser’s sons, George Jr., Julius, and Karl, joined the company and rebuilt the complex. Another of George’s nephews, Charles Moser, became president.

By the mid-1930s the George Moser Leather Company covered almost eight acres and employed around 100 workers. Its main products included leather for shoes, belts, and saddles. The company remained in operation until 1985, when it was purchased by the Caldwell Leather Company of Auburn, Kentucky. The Caldwell-Moser Leather Company produced leather for consumer goods such as shoes and saddles until 2002.

At the time the Caldwell-Moser plant closed, it was one of three vegetative tanneries in operation in the United States. George Moser settled in New Albany in part because of the area’s dense stocks of chestnut trees. Chestnut bark and nuts have natural tannins. Vegetative tanning involves soaking leather in solutions of water and bark for up to four weeks. Although time-consuming, it produces high-quality leather. The Moser Company used the process throughout its history. It eventually switched to bark from South American trees, but the method remained the same.

Today, the site of the former Moser tannery and the surrounding wetlands are a 50-acre park. Eight nature trails afford opportunities for bird watching, relaxation, and pleasure. Signs posted along the trails acknowledge the lagoon’s former industrial use. The Leather Compost Trail provides a through account of the Moser Company’s history. Leather remnants can be seen composting in large piles in the lagoon.

Images

Loop Island Wetlands

Loop Island Wetlands

The site of the former Moser Tannery is now a park east of downtown New Albany. Image courtesy of Daniel Vivian. | Source: Daniel Vivian | Creator: Daniel Vivian View File Details Page

Moser Tannery

Moser Tannery

Sketch of the George Moser Tannery from Industries of Louisville, Kentucky, and New Albany, Indiana, 1886.  The company produced harnesses, “skirting, kip, upper, and collar leather” valued at around $40,000 annually.Image courtesy of  Industries of Louisville, Kentucky, and New Albany, Indiana, 1886 (Louisville: G. M. Elstner and Co., 1886). | Source: From Industries of Louisville, Kentucky, and New Albany, Indiana, 1886 (Louisville: G. M. Elstner and Co., 1886). View File Details Page

Indiana Leather Company

Indiana Leather Company

Moser opened a second manufacturing facility, the Indiana Leather Company, in 1905. Image courtesy of New Albany Pamphlet.  | Source: From New Albany (N.p.: n.p., ca. 1909). View online at https://archive.org/details/NewAlbany View File Details Page

Tannery Workers

Tannery Workers

New Albany became a manufacturing center after the Civil War. Shown here are employees of the H. L. Rockenback Upper Eighth Street Tannery. George Moser is second from right. Image courtesy of New Albany-Floyd County Public Library Digital Collection | Source: New Albany-Floyd County Public Library Digital Collection View File Details Page

Walking Path and Lagoon

Walking Path and Lagoon

A walking path runs along the levee behind the Moser Tannery complex, offering superb views of the lagoon and surrounding landscape. Photo courtesy of Daniel Vivian. | Source: Daniel Vivian | Creator: Daniel Vivian View File Details Page

Barth Tannery

Barth Tannery

August Barth operated one of New Albany's largest tanneries, shown here in a photo taken sometime before 1905. Image courtesy of New Albany-Floyd County Public Library Digital Collections | Source: New Albany-Floyd County Public Library Digital Collections View File Details Page

Day Tannery

Day Tannery

Theodore Day and his sons operated a large tannery during the late nineteenth century. The building shown in this photo burned on Aug. 30, 1894. Image courtesy of New Albany-Floyd County Public Library Digital Collection | Source: Courtesy New Albany-Floyd County Public Library. View File Details Page

Silver Creek

Silver Creek

Moser located his tannery along Silver Creek, a small waterway on the east side of New Albany. This view shows several young men enjoying the creek at Glenwood Park. | Source: Courtesy New Albany-Floyd County Public Library View File Details Page

Moser Tannery Ruins

Moser Tannery Ruins

Although the tannery complex has fallen into ruins, it still possible to understand how leather production worked at the site. The lagoon in the foreground is one of two that tanned clean hides in large batches before specialized processing. Image courtesy of Daniel Vivian. | Source: Daniel Vivian | Creator: Daniel Vivian View File Details Page

Ruins of main building

Ruins of main building

The main building of the Moser Tannery is a massive, three-story structure approximately 275 feet long. Today it stands in ruins. Image courtesy of Daniel Vivian | Source: Daniel Vivian | Creator: Daniel Vivian View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Ashley Slavey, Megan Simms, Wes Cunningham, Eric Brumfield, and Katy Morrison, “Loop Island Wetlands,” Discover Indiana, accessed April 23, 2017, http://indyhist.iupui.edu/items/show/143.

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