Monday, October 9, 2017

Carnegie Center for Art and History (Free!)

Fall is Pretty Awesome 

We miss some things about Texas, like breakfast tacos and Tex-mex. We don't miss the crazy September heat - fall in Indiana is perfect riding weather! The Biker finally had a free Thursday, so we zipped over to New Albany to check out their local history center. Admission is - yep, free!
New Albany is, yes, another Indiana city that lies on the other side of the Ohio River, across from Louisville. It's easiest to just imagine the Ohio River as a wiggling snake, running east and west. Louisville sits the south (Kentucky) side of the river. New Albany and Jeffersonville sit on the north (Indiana) side of the river, with smaller Clarksville squished between them. 

New Albany, like the other two towns, was founded on land  given to George Roger Clark, a Revolutionary War hero, and father of William Clark. (William is, of course, the same Clark who went tramping off with Meriwether Lewis on a grand surveying expedition)
The land was sold to the Scribner family, who established New Albany in 1813. Indiana became a state a couple of years later, and New Albany was chosen as the seat of Floyd County.  Floyd County, incidentally, was named after Davis Floyd, a politician, and a friend of Aaron Burr. 
New Albany was the biggest city in Indiana until just before the Civil War, when Indianapolis overtook it. New Albany's wealth came mostly from steamboat and the Ohio River in the nineteenth century, and from plywood and veneer in the twentieth century. Since we seem to be covering obscure Indiana history in this blog, let's take a moment to talk about the craziness of the streets on this side of the river. 

While citizens of New Albany were laying out their town, another fellow decided to plan out his own town, called Providence. If you pull up a map of New Albany, and look at the area just east of Fairview Cemetery, you will notice the numbered streets start doing some strange things and 10th becomes 11th. That's where these two different city plans clashed. Literally. 

Jeffersonville, in the meantime, decided to lay things out in a diagonal street grid. This created such a mess that the city later added a more traditional grid. The result is there are still a lot of weird random diagonal bits that don't quite mesh with the newer grid system.
Ahem, moving on. Got to love the architecture of Carnegie Libraries! The Carnegie Center is housed in the old Albany Public Library. Originally slated for demolition after the library moved into a bigger building, citizens saved it by creating a Floyd County Museum. Today, that museum has become the Carnegie Center and is run as part of the city's library system.
It turns out  the center was installing a couple of new exhibits in both gallery spaces, so we couldn't check out any local art. 
That's OK, there were still two interesting permanent exhibits to see. The first is on the life of Lucy Higgs Nichols.
Lucy was born a slave. When the Civil War broke out, she grabbed her baby and fled to a camp of Union Soldiers. The United States had just passed a law, allowing the troops to keep Confederate property (slaves), so she was given work in the camp as a nurse.
Sadly, Lucy's baby girl died soon after, and was buried at Vicksburg.  Lucy went on to serve with the Twenty-third Regiment from Indiana for the rest of the war. After the war, the men continued to consider her a fellow comrade. 

She was a member of her local veteran's group in New Albany, and men from the Twenty-Third helped her apply for a Civil War army pension. Like many nurses, her application was denied, so the men just kept on insisting - until Lucy's pension was passed by a special act! 
The other exhibit was called 'Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage: Men and Women of the Underground Railroad'.
A slave who get across the Ohio River would be free. New Albany was the biggest city in Indiana before the Civil War, and a bustling port city of steamboats and trains. The result was New Albany was the final destination for many who traveled the Underground Railroad.
This also meant the abolitionists in New Albany were often active in the Underground Railroad.  Local owners of the railroads in the area would even give out free tickets that could be used by escaping slaves.
Unfortunately, the large number of freed slaves living in and around New Albany also created a lot of racial tension, and at least 3 blacks were killed during a riot in 1862. The exhibit does a very good job of showing people's views and opinions of both the Underground Railroad, and the racial issues surrounding slavery, without glossing over the ugly reality of what was happening in Indiana in the years leading up to the Civil War.
'The Search' by Barney Blight, outside the current New Albany Public Library.

Know before you go: The center has free admission, and is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10am to 5:30pm. There is parking available behind the center. The center hosts several art and culture events throughout the year, and the public is welcome to attend these.


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