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Floyd County

January 16, 2013

The New Albany Bicentennial Series Week 3: New Albany becomes the largest city in Indiana

NEW ALBANY — Whoever coined the phrase, “There are three things that matter in property: location, location, location,” must have heard about the success of the Scribner brothers. 

After its founding in 1813, New Albany experienced a big population boom due, in part, to its placement along the Ohio River. The foresight and strategic city planning of Joel, Abner and Nathaniel Scribner didn’t hurt either. By 1850, the growing hamlet was the largest city in all of Indiana. 

“The Scribner brothers, they just weren’t settling a little Podunk town at the crossroads. They felt this place was going to be big,” said Floyd County Historian David Barksdale. 

Even back in the day, the brothers knew how to pick a piece of property. Choosing the land directly below the treacherous falls helped to attract business owners who yearned for an easy trade route to the South. The men even constructed wide roads and set aside plots of lands for specific community minded developments. Driving on downtown New Albany streets today, you can see firsthand the brothers’ original designs still at work.

Between the advertising, well-planned layout and nice location, settlers began to flock to New Albany. Industries began to grow, especially ship building. Steamboats ruled the great Ohio during this time and our up-and-coming Southern Indiana city was considered one of their major manufacturing hubs due to the ready supply of local wood.

But ship building wasn’t an industry to itself. Manufacturers needed to buy boilers, china plates, cabinets and other amenities to equip the steamboats. So foundries, lumber yards and other ancillary businesses began to pop up around the city to support the building of those big ships. 

“New Albany took off,” Barksdale said. “New Albany was never bigger than Louisville, but New Albany was definitely a rival to Louisville. And there was some really, I think, fierce competition between the communities.”

As industries flourished, so did quite a few of the residents’ bank accounts. According to a 1938 book by Harold Miller entitled “Industrial Development of New Albany, Indiana,” more than half of all Hoosiers making $100,000 or more lived in New Albany prior to the Civil War. Some of their homes on Main Street still stand as a testament to the opulence and grandeur of the time.

 

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