New Albany: A River City

Tour curated by: University of Louisville Public History Program

The Ohio River has been a constant in the history of New Albany and southern Indiana for centuries. Long before Europeans arrived, native peoples relied on the river for drinking water, for transportation, and for irrigating crops. When Joel, Nathaniel, and Abner Scribner traveled the river, they recognized the falls of the Ohio as a barrier to navigation and as a source of water power. As New Albany developed, its fortunes depended on the Ohio. The success of early industries such as milling, shipbuilding, furniture making underscore the river’s significance in the early town’s early history and development.

The sites in this tour illustrate New Albany’s relationship to the river. They highlight disparate activities and events that show how native peoples, residents, and businesses used, experienced, and negotiated the challenges and opportunities presented by the river. Collectively, they show an intimate, ever-changing relationship between New Albany and the Ohio. Although the river no longer plays as important a role in transpiration and commerce as it once did, it remains a formidable presence. No history of New Albany can ignore its significance.

Locations for Tour

Early settlers to southern Indiana encountered American Bison in large numbers. The most prominent overland path through the area was the Buffalo Trace, a cluster of trails running from the prairies of Illinois to salt licks in northern and central…

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,…

As New Albany and Louisville grew as industrial centers after the Civil War, transportation connections became vital for efficient movement of raw materials and finished goods. The first bridge across the Ohio at Louisville opened in 1870. Operated…

Ferries played a crucial role in moving people and goods across the Ohio River throughout much of New Albany’s history. Although the river could be crossed on foot at the Falls of the Ohio during period of drought or solid ice, ferries were needed…

The Robert E. Lee is among the best-known steamboats built in New Albany. Completed in 1866 for Captain John W. Cannon, the Robert E. Lee cost $230,000 and was designed to be the fastest and most luxurious steamboat on the western rivers. Its…

The Ohio River flood of 1937 is one of the greatest disasters in American history. Heavy rain began falling in the Louisville area on January 9 and continued with only brief interludes until January 23. Combined with runoff from melting snow, the…

The Sherman Minton Bridge is a two-deck, two-span steel through-arch bridge that carries Interstate I-64 across the Ohio River west of Louisville. Completed in 1962, the bridge dramatically improved automobile transportation between New Albany and…

From the mid-1820s to the Civil War, shipbuilding fueled New Albany’s economic growth. New Albany shipyards produced $12 million worth of rivercraft by 1860. Production began in 1819 and peaked in 1856, when New Albany builders produced twenty-two…

The Ohio River has supported human life since people first settled along its banks thousands of years ago. Groups that survived on agriculture used the river to irrigate their crops. The river supplied water for drinking, washing, and a host of…