New Albany: Commerce and Industry

Tour curated by: University of Louisville Public History Program

Soon after its founding in 1813, New Albany became a leading center of trade and manufacturing. From the mid-1820s through the Civil War era, shipbuilding fueled the local economy. New Albany builders produced more than 200 steamboats for operation on western rivers. Foundries, cabinet makers, and tin and copper smiths prospered.

The growing dominance of railroads greatly reduced demand for steamboats, and shipbuilding ended in New Albany immediately after the Civil War. Other industries, however, soon took its place. Iron manufacturing and plate glass manufacturing became leading enterprises. By 1880, the Star Glass Works accounted for more than 40 percent of U.S. plate glass production. Wool and hosiery mills and leather tanneries rounded out a thriving industrial complex that shipped goods across the nation.

During the early twentieth century, New Albany became a leading producer of plywood, veneer, and other wood products. The same hardwood forests that had benefited to shipbuilders three quarters of a century earlier remained vital to New Albany's prosperity. Industry remained a significant part of New Albany’s economy into the 1960s, when shifting economic conditions led many plants to shut their doors. Veneer manufacturing is one of the few industries that survives.

Although few residents work in manufacturing today, its historical role is evident throughout New Albany. Former manufacturing plants are found in locations throughout the community, and elegant houses built by prosperous merchants and factory owners line portions of Main and Market streets. Moreover, the quality of housing stock throughout the city attests to the well-paying factory jobs that many residents held.The sites in this tour explore New Albany’s commercial and industrial history. By highlighting important enterprises and events, they illuminate the historical importance of trade, commerce, and industry in New Albany’s past.

Locations for Tour

The Schmitt Furniture Company is one of New Albany’s oldest businesses. Founded in 1936 by Charles Schmitt, Sr., the company opened for business in a store at State and Market Streets. In 1944, it moved to its present location at “furniture…

The business of history is a relatively recent addition to New Albany’s commercial landscape. Not until the era of the New Albany sesquicentennial in 1963 did citizens show significant interest in historic preservation. Early activists saved…

By the early 1870s, New Albany became a bustling river town with extensive commercial activity and a large number of industrial facilities. Nationwide economic trends disrupted New Albany’s economic prosperity. The Great Panic of 1873 swept…

The New Albany and Salem Railroad played a crucial role in the commercial and industrial development of southern Indiana for more than a century. Organized in 1847, the railroad linked New Albany with Salem, Indiana, the seat of Washington County. …

Brewing played a significant role in the commercial landscape of New Albany for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The arrival of large numbers of German immigrants during the 1840s and 1850s created strong demand for beverages enjoyed…

The Old Pike Inn is one of the best-recognized buildings in New Albany. Built about 1840, it is served as the home of the “Old Pike Inn,” a tavern operated by the Kreutzner family, from 1945 to 1995. A full-scale restoration returned the…