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June 25, 2013

NEW ALBANY BICENTENNIAL: Admiral George A. Bicknell


During this time, the academy had been moved to Newport, R.I., due to the outbreak of the Civil War and the proximity of which the previous location in Maryland was to the enemy. Some records, like the book “Men of America: a biographical dictionary of contemporaries edited by John William Leonard, have suggested Bicknell served as a first lieutenant in the United States volunteer infantry during the Morgan Raids of 1863. Regardless, in 1866 he graduated from the naval academy and began his lifelong career. 

Sailing the seas, Bicknell visited many foreign ports. A newspaper story from the time of his death said he had “held commissions in different naval ranks on 20 war vessels and performed numerous important land service duties.” 

In 1868, the “Men of America” book said he journeyed to Japan, a country which also was in the midst of a civil war, and helped “open” the ports of Osaka and Kobe to trade. Also in Japan, the young seaman protected Kobe from an attack on the city and its foreign residents from a Japanese prince and later aided some Marines in the defense of Yokohama. 

Throughout life, his career would take him to China, Puerto Rico and the bombardment of San Juan during the Spanish American war. After his marriage to Annie in 1878, his new wife would often make the journeys to the less dangerous assignments with him and was welcomed at several European royal courts. 

When he returned to the U.S., Bicknell supervised the construction of America’s first line of steel-hulled ships at the John Roach and Company Shipyards in Philadelphia. Called the “White Squadron,” the boats influenced steel ship building for decades to come. 

After achieving the rank of rear admiral in 1907, the former New Albany resident retired a year later and returned home to Indiana.  They lived in Annie’s parents’ former house, an Italianate Tuscan Villa along Main Street built in 1852 that now is home to the Admiral Bicknell Inn. Called eccentric by some, the couple outfitted their home with boat lightings and stoves. Their myriad knick knacks from across the globe also filled the rooms. 

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