Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tenants of the Owen Block - Evansville, Indiana

Owen Block
121-127 Chestnut Street
Evansville, Indiana

The Owen Block in Evansville has been in the news a lot recently. Should it be demolished because of its poor condition or should it be restored because of its unique architecture? I am pleased that it looks like the proponents for restoration are currently in the lead. Built in the second empire style most popular after the Civil War and with its blue color, the Owen Block stands out in the downtown historic district.

Dr. A.M. Owen built the Owen Block in 1882 and the building consisted of four three-floors-plus-basement townhouses at 121-127 Chestnut Street. The building was also known as the Owen Flats. Dr. Owen and his family lived in one townhouse and the other three were rented out.

 This type of housing was new to Evansville. In a newspaper article[1] in 1909, the following was written: "Flats are increasingly popular in Evansville. Thirty years ago the only buildings in the city which were known as flats were the Owen houses on Chestnut street between Second and Third streets. Now flat buildings are springing up in all parts of the city."
I will leave it to others to decide if Dr. Owen was a visionary of what Evansville needed. At any rate, he provided something new in housing for the citizens of Evansville, but who was Dr. Owen and what part. if any, did he play in the history of Evansville?
Abraham Miconius Owen was born 19 March 1849 in Madisonville, Kentucky, the son of Dr. A.B. Owen. After a common school education, he studied medicine and received his diploma from Bellevue Medical College in 1870. After serving  on the staff there for a short while following graduation, he moved to Evansville, where he was associated with the local medical college.
Dr. Owen married Laura Jerauld 20 October 1875 at the home of her parents in Princeton, Indiana. Three children, Amelia, George J. and Leartus, were born to the couple.
 In 1880 A.M. Owen was a physician and surgeon and professor of surgery at the Medical College of Evansville. His medical office was located at 504 Upper 1st Street and his residence was at 615 Upper 1st Street,[2] not far from where the Owen Block would be constructed in 1882.
Dr. Owen was involved in the municipal as well as medical affairs of Evansville. He served as president of the local medical society and, with two other physicians, published a medical magazine. One of his biggest ventures was with Dr. Edwin Walker in the establishment of the Evansville Sanitarium in 1894 at 712 Upper 4th Street. The sanitarium, later renamed Walker Hospital, was the forerunner of Welborn Baptist Hospital. Evansville Sanitarium contained three floors, each one supplied with hot and cold baths and provided the latest facilities for patients. The sanitarium had accommodations for 20 patients - 12 in private rooms and the remaining  in two wards.  
Ironically, Dr. Owen died 18 September 1898 in the Evansville Sanitarium after being in poor health for about a year. Funeral services were held at his home in the Owen Block with burial at Oak Hill Cemetery.
The tenants of the Owen Block were among the more prominent residents of Evansville. Many worked nearby and a number worshiped at St. Paul's Episcopal Church at 301 SE 1st Street  or Grace Presbyterian Church at 601 SE 2nd Street. Social events at the Owen Block were often described in the local newspapers. One such event, hosted by Mrs. Owen, was a "high tea" with an orange theme - from the ribbons tied around sandwiches to the dress of the hostess. Color-theme parties  were described as "in vogue in Washington, Brooklyn and New York."[3]
Other tenants of the Owen Block will be discussed in the next post.

Published 24 March 2015, Rambling Thoughts ...Out of My Mind, http://brendasopinions.blogspot.com/

[1] "Modern Flats Are More Popular," Evansville Journal-News, Sunday, 4 July 1909, p. 18.
[2] Evansville City Directory, 1880, p. 228.
[3] "High Tea," Evansville Journal, 12 April 1887, p. 5.

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