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April 17, 2013

NEW ALBANY BICENTENNIAL: Washington C. DePauw

NEW ALBANY —

New Albany probably won’t ever again see a man like Washington C. DePauw living within its borders. To be fair, times were a lot different back in the 1800s. Fortunes could be made a little easier by even those who didn’t come from wealth. Some would say honest work gave DePauw his prosperity and powers. Others might disagree citing how he used many unskilled laborers to earn his money. Either way, New Albany greatly benefited both culturally and economically from DePauw’s move to this river town.

Born in 1822, DePauw grew up in Salem, the son of a prominent local judge. At the age of 16, his father died leaving the family in uncertain financial circumstances. According to the 1882 book “History of the Ohio Falls Cities and their Counties,” DePauw began to work for $2 a week “and when that was wanting worked for nothing rather than to be idle.”

Of course, the hardly critical author was writing his biography of DePauw when the magnate was still living. His descriptions praise the businessman in every aspect of his life. He goes on to say, after a stint as Washington County clerk and auditor, DePauw invested in a saw and grist mill. Before long he became one of the largest grain dealers in the state of Indiana. At the breakout of the Civil War, he purchased government securities to support the Union cause.

At the wars end in 1865, he made out exceptionally well with these investments, some believe making more than $4.5 million a year when adjusting for current inflation. Around the same time, DePauw decided to move his base of operations to New Albany. 

In the 1994 book “Producers, Proletarians and Politicians,” author Lawrence M. Lipin examines the work environment during DePauw’s patronage here. Methodically, the businessman gained control of many different industries. According to Lipin, he took over the local iron industry in 1866 and a new woolen mill in 1867. In 1873, he held “a majority interest in three of the city’s six financial institutions.” 

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