Down on the Corner
A group of dedicated artists and preservationists are breathing new life into this venerable Evansville neighborhood.
INDIANA WEATHER in April is always a mixed bag, but on the first Friday of the month, not even the elements can keep people away from Haynie's Corner. Despite the chilling wind, the streets bustle with visitors and residents alike on the first First Friday festival of the year. Billy Hedel, a local artist wearing a black turtleneck, wanders down Adams Avenue. Nearly every person he passes stops him to say hello. That's how it is in the Corner.
"We're all friends here," says Helen Fisher, who has lived here for 25 years with her husband. She gushes about how much she loves the neighborhood after dinner at the Bokeh Lounge. "It's truly blossomed," she says.
The temperature continues to drop, but the show goes on. A lively band called Cinco De Blues plays behind the rushing limestone fountain built in 1979. A truck selling flowers sits nearby. Food stands selling brisket, wood fired pizza and hot coffee line the sidewalk, and art is abundant. You can buy homemade goat milk soaps, locally made shirts and wooden crafts. Visitors flow in and out of the brick and mortar shops with goods purchased from local artists.
The community is here to support their arts and businesses and to celebrate this historic neighborhood. This, as residents like to say, is where art lives.
ON ANY DAY of the week, the fountain at the center of Haynie's Corner is the epicenter of community life. Food, drinks and art are just a short walk away in every direction. There's the Dapper Pig, Sauced, Mo's House and Walton's International Comfort Food, to name a few places to grab a bite to eat. Farther out, you'll find Sixth Street Soapery, a consignment shop and two salons. Since Haynie's Corner officially became an arts district, galleries have opened. Stop by Stac Art Gallery to have a cup of coffee and check out their exhibits - you may even come across a laughing yoga session in the front room.
The Ohio River rolls by just a couple blocks south, and Kentucky is just a stone's skip away. If you rent a bike and cruise through the neighborhood, you'll see lovely Victorian-style houses lining the streets.Until recently, many of these historic homes and buildings were boarded up or in disrepair. Now, thanks to the city and the neighborhood associations, they are once again the pride of the Corner. And, if you visit on the first Friday of the month, you may want to consider a dinner reservation. The Corner, one of Evansville's oldest communities, is full of life.
IN THE LATE 1800'S, Evansville's strategic position on the Ohio River made it a hub for commerce. Coal mining and lumber manufacturing brought money to the central city, and the wealthiest people began to build spacious new homes on its outskirts.
Haynie's Corner - at the intersection of Parret Street, Southeast Second Street and Adams Avenue - comprised four of those neighborhoods: Blackford's Grove, Goosetown, Culver and Riverside. The Corner's name comes from George Haynie, also known as the "Mayor of Goosetown," who opened a drugstore at the corner of Parret and Second in 1886.
In those days, the local drugstore tied a neighborhood together. It was the place to buy household remedies, to chat with neighbors and to sip a chocolate soda - with two straws, of course. "It was the center of the universe at that time," says Ken Haynie III, the great-great-grandson of the founder.
Other shops and businesses sprang up in the neighborhood, and soon people lined up to see Charlie Chaplin films at the majestic Alhambra Theater, built in 1913 in the style of the Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain.
Alan Winslow lived on Blackford Avenue as a kid. Now, at 96, his strongest memories as a child in Haynie's Corner are Sundays with his dad. They'd go to the Corner to get ice cream at the shop by the Alhambra. Jimmy cones, dipped in chocolate, were the flavor of choice, he says. "All my childhood memories are connected to that theater and the ice cream shop around the corner."
When the Depression set in, the Corner was not spared. Jobs were hard to come by, so people left their large homes behind. In 1937, the worst flood in Evansville's history swept water from the Ohio River into the streets, covering 500 city blocks, three times the size of New York's Central Park.
Soon after, though, the same river brought hope in the form of jobs at the outset of World War II. Newly opened shipyards hired thousands to build ships and the landing craft used on the beaches of Normandy. "The whole neighborhood changed drastically because people moved here to work on the shipyard," Winslow remembers.
Haynie's Corner became a bedroom community. The grand Victorian houses were cut up into multiple apartments to house the workers. But when the war ended, so did the work. Most people left, and those who stayed dealt with the ensuing poverty.
"Economic depression continued to cause people to move out of the area through the 1970s," says Johannah Rivers McDaniel, an Evansville native and author of a history of the neighborhood.
During the years of decline, Haynie's Corner became a hub for the commerce of drugs and prostitution. Winslow says he heard people say you'd get robbed if you went to the Corner, but he's not sure it was ever true. "It was not as bad as walking down the street in New York," he says. The bark was worse than the bite.The city outlined an economic development plan, but little changed. But there was one promising development: In 1977, a group of young couples who wanted a place to worship and build community created Patchwork Central. Winslow spearheaded the Neighborhood Economic Development Center at Patchwork in 1983, which taught business classes for free. The group helped provide health care, opened a food pantry and organized after-school programs which exposed children in the area to art, a harbinger of the changes yet to come.
IN 2005, Billy and his partner Tom Loesch came to Haynie's Corner after Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans. Their neighborhood of Faubourg Marigny avoided most of the damage, but the city wasn't the same. "There was no way we could go back," Billy says.
In looking for a new home, the artist wanted something fun, funky and visionary. Tom's family was from the Evansville area, and when they came across Haynie's Corner, Billy wondered why the neighborhood wasn't already thriving. He and Tom were drawn to the Corner's diversity. "We believe that a good, strong neighborhood survives on mixed demographics," Billy says. They say the different points of view and walks of life contribute to the sense of community.
So they bought a Queen Anne cottage built in 1890 by Louise Kramer, a widow. "Louise was the daughter of Caroline Wolflin, who was reputed to be the first baby born in the settlement of Evansville circa 1812," Tom says.
They renovated the home, creating both living space and a gallery on the first floor. Then they took the experience they'd gained serving on the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood association and put it to work at the Corner.
The area then was in complete disrepair. "We had to mow our sidewalks," Billy says. "There's something to say about sidewalks."
They pushed to tear down or rebuild derelict buildings with the help of the local government. Tom became president of Blackford Grove's neighborhood association. They were both involved in the grassroots effort to have Haynie's Corner designated an arts district, a change that allows artists like Billy to work out of their homes. Other artists, like Danny and Tim Fitzgerald and Vincent Boren, also helped shape the area and promote the arts.
In 2011, about $400,000 in city and federal grants were used to repair the exterior of the venerable Alhambra. The next year, Haynie's Corner became a Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area, enabling places like the Dapper Pig restaurant, the historic Maybelle and Montrose Apartments and other businesses to receive funds to renovate and redevelop. Many restaurants in the area are housed in historic buildings. New galleries have also come along: 22 Jefferson Art Studios and Gallery opened in 2014 and Stac Art Gallery opened in 2017.
Today, for the first time in 100 years, buildings are going up without subsidies, says Kelley Coures, executive director of the Department of Metropolitan Development. And, according to Ken Haynie, property values are rising. "Now, people want to make a home there," he says.
The First Friday festivals have given the neighborhood a chance to showcase this rebirth to the rest of the city, says Samantha Buente, Haynie's Corner Arts District vice president and events chair. "I hope people realize that the old reputation for being a dangerous or scary place is outdated," she says.
Mary Allen, former Haynie's Corner Arts District Association board president, has been involved since the idea was conceived in 2015. The Corner has changed since then. "At the time that First Fridays started, the Arts District lacked art galleries to support the growing base of art interest," Allen says. Now there are four art galleries, along with music and food that connects and promotes the community.
Alan Winslow, who never misses a First Friday, may have the keenest point of view from his nine decades around Evansville. "People from all over the city are coming there now," he says.
LIVING IN HAYNIE'S CORNER is a big change from living in the larger cities Billy is used to. He grew up in Chicago, and his Windy City roots are still strong, especially when it comes to the Cubs. He has done paintings of Wrigley Field three times. He sold two of them, but "Take the Train to the Game" hangs above the stairs. The city boy isn't gone. But today, a painting of the original Haynie's drug store is the centerpiece of the entryway."Evansville's got a big-city feel with a small-town mentality," Billy says. While you get the community feeling of a small town, you don't get the driving vision of a bigger city. He's not sure if this is a good or bad thing.He's proud of what he and Tom have helped accomplish so far, but he worries that everyone may not share in the success.
Take the new parking lot, for example. It's called a green parking lot. It has black bricks laid out in a grid so that water can filter back into the earth instead of running off into the street. It will reduce the amount of storm water going into the sewer system by 750,000 gallons. The additional parking and environmental benefits are a good thing for the community, and it's a great improvement from the jagged, grassy patch that previously occupied the space.
But still, there's something Billy doesn't like. A row of 12 "reserved" signs polices the modern lot. These spots are for tenants of the newly renovated luxury apartments on the corner of Second and Adams. They symbolize a bigger issue to Billy and other residents. While the revitalization of older buildings is something to celebrate, the cost can be high.
Some artists have left because of these rising costs. "I don't know if any artist can afford $800 to $900 rent, or anyone in Evansville, for that matter," Billy says.
He hopes the city does something to remedy this. Embracing different people, rather than what makes the most money, is what makes a community. "Isn't diversity the wonder of humanity?" he asks.
Johannah McDaniel shares those concerns. She worries that many of the area's attractions are targeted towards wealthier people who don't live in the neighborhood. The median income of the area was only $29,000 in the 2010 census, a figure that doesn't allow for a lot of dinners out. The Dapper Pig even has a drink named after the issue: Gentrification Ginger Ale.
However, Samantha Buente, the vice president of the Haynie's Corner Arts District Association, says the perception that the area is expensive is inaccurate. "You can get a great meal for under $10 in Haynie's Corner and a fresh brewed beer for less than $5," she says. Plus, residents and visitors alike can enjoy the free entertainment, including live music at the fountain and art at the First Fridays.
AS HAYNIE'S CORNER DRAWS increasing attention, more projects are on the horizon. According to a 2016 redevelopment plan, investors plan to invest $8.5 million in the district for restaurants, homes, businesses and art spaces. The Indiana Department of Transportation is developing a tree-lined boulevard at the Washington Street entryway and adding a roundabout where the streets come together at an angle.
But the most exciting change is just across the street from the original Haynie's Drug Store. Last year, a private buyer purchased the venerable Alhambra theater from the city. The new owner? Ken Haynie. "It's a bigger project than people know," Haynie says. "It's a shell; it needs everything."
Ideas for the theater include a restaurant or event space, but Haynie is open to anything that is sustainable. "There are so many people who love the building and want to see it used," Haynie says.
As for Billy, he has a slogan when it comes to his line of work: "If it wasn't for art, we'd be in the dark." He says he was born with the spirit inside his soul. As a child, he colored on the walls and the floors. This is why the arts district is so important to him.
Anne McKim, a district board member and executive director of the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana, agrees. "The arts define a space and give character and tell the story of a community in a way that no other discipline can," she says.
When it comes to his own future, Billy plans on focusing on his art and his house. He has both hopes and worries about Haynie's Corner, but it is out of his hands now. "You don't hold onto things," Billy says. "You let things grow and let someone else use their vision and their ideas to push it along."
Time will tell what's around the corner.