News and Tribune

March 31, 2013

BUILDING A LEGACY: Book details affect Day builders had on New Albany

By CHRIS MORRIS
chris.morris@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY — There is the Carnegie Center for Art & History along Spring Street in New Albany and the Bear building on Pearl Street that now houses the River City Winery. On the corner of State and Main is the Schmitt Furniture building and a short drive out U.S. 150 sits the old Mount Saint Francis school building.

All four structures have something in common in addition to being historic landmarks. All four, along with many others, were constructed by Stephen Day & Sons Carpenters and Contractors. From 1888 through 1930, Day & Sons were the general contractors or the carpentry contractors on several public buildings and houses in New Albany and Floyd County.

One of the family’s descendants, retired educator Ray Day, recently published a book titled “These Are The Good Old Days,” which not only discusses the history and affect the Day family had on New Albany, but also documents the structures the family’s business constructed. The book is 248 pages and has 350 images along with text. Day, who co-authored the book with Floyd County Historian David Barksdale, said the images play a major role in the work.

The book documented that the company built 21 commercial, school or church buildings and 65 homes in the city in a 30-year span and left its mark that can still be seen today. More homes were probably built by the family, but Day and Barksdale documented only 65 during research for the book.

During the Great Depression, the company went through some hard times, and after World War II, Day’s grandfather Clem, father Ed and his uncle Bernard opened Day Lumber along 15th Street in New Albany and continued to operate the business until it was destroyed by fire in 1975.

“It’s been quite a journey,” Day said of researching and writing the book which began with an email to Barksdale in November 2008.



RIGOROUS RESEARCH

The cover of the book shows Day & Sons and some of their crew in Glenwood Park where they were constructing the pavilion.

Day admits always being interested in genealogy. He said after his father died in 1998, he found photos and historical notes that had been written during his lifetime. He said that is when he became dedicated to finding out more about the Day builders who had an affect on New Albany’s landscape in the early 1900s.

As Day researched his family’s roots, Barksdale was tasked with looking up buildings that may have been built by the Day family. The ones found were documented in the book. But the two said they know there may be hundreds more undocumented.

“They did 10 houses on Ekin, built homes on Shelby, Florence and Depauw,” Day said. “After the tornado [1917], their focus turned away from commercial buildings and more on residential structures.

“Every time I would see what I thought was a Day house I would give the address to Dave and he would research it.”

Day said the book, which was released last month, is broken into four sections — Day family history; commercial buildings constructed by the Days; 65 confirmed houses they built in the city; and memory lane.

“Hats off to Ray,” Barksdale said. “We could have probably found more houses ... but we only published what we could document.”

“I have always been interested in what David was doing. I always went on his walking tours and he was conscious of the Days as builders at the turn of the century,” Day said. “His expertise is with the buildings.”

All the structures are listed in chronological order in the rear of the book.



FINAL CHAPTER

The topper in writing the book came in September 2012 when Day and three relatives traveled to Bernkastel, Germany, and met with 25 distant cousins. Stephan and Margaretha, Day’s great-great grandparents, came to Lanesville in 1848 from Germany with four children. The 5-year-old was Stephen, who moved to New Albany in 1888 and along with his sons became the major builders in the city.  

“I got to mark two things off my bucket list in one year ... publish a book and go to Germany,” Day said. “The four of us spent 10 days over there and eight of those days were spent with family members. We met 25 cousins for lunch one day and had a great time.”

This is not the first book Barksdale has been involved with and he said this one was “unique.”

“I feel like I now know Ray’s family inside and out,” Barksdale said. “I am hoping it will inspire others to come to the library and do some research on their home.”

Day said it was important to finish the book during New Albany’s bicentennial year. The book is sanctioned by the New Albany Bicentennial Commission.

“I really enjoyed writing it,” Day said. “My family had a greater impact on the city of New Albany than I ever dreamed they had. Thank goodness many of the structures are still standing.”

Day and Barksdale will attend several events to promote the book, which retails for $30. At 7 p.m. on April 10, the two will discuss the book in the Strassweg Auditorium at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library. They will be at the Jeffersonville Library April 18.

They will also participate in a book signing from 5 to 7 p.m. on May 16 at the River City Winery on Pearl Street, one of the structures constructed by the Day family. The Gallery on Pearl in New Albany is also selling the book or it can be purchased at Amazon.com.