Newburgh: Settlement and Town 1803 — 1850
In spring 1803 the John and Susanna Sprinkle family moved from Kentucky to what became Newburgh. Two years later the land was surveyed.
In 1807 General Washington Johnston, a land speculator from Vincennes, entered a claim to buy the land on credit from the U. S. Government at a cost of $2.00 per acre for 205.50 acres, for a total of $411. Once Johnston made final payment on April 2, 1811, he assigned his interest to John Sprinkle; Sprinkle received a land patent signed by James Madison on April 20, 1812.
In August 1818, blacksmith John Sprinkle platted a town of 102 lots that was surveyed by Chester Elliott. Sprinkle named this town Sprinklesburgh. But after Samuel Short bought most of the town in 1820, locals referred to the town as Mount Prospect.
Then, in 1829, an early merchant, Abner Luce, platted a new 28-lot town east of present State Street and called his town Newburg; the same year, a post office was established as Newburgh. In 1841, by act of the Indiana State Legislature, the two towns, Sprinklesburgh/Mount Prospect and Newburgh united as Newburgh.
However, confusion on the correct spelling of the town’s name remained. Residents used both spellings. The post office changed the spelling to Newburg in 1893 before returning permanently to Newburgh in 1924.
By 1850 the town boasted 526 residents. Its frontier appearance disappeared with construction of buildings like the Exchange Hotel, the commercial Phelps block, and several fine, brick houses. All of these buildings exist today.
A Prosperous Shipping Center 1850 – 1870
Between 1850 and 1870 Newburgh’s population almost tripled. Situated high above the floodplain where steamboats could easily dock, a line of riverfront warehouses rose along both sides of Water Street. Steamboats were loaded with tobacco, pork, and grain from nearby farms; produce arrived on the plank road to Boonville or by ferry from Kentucky. But the most important local commodity was coal. The first coal shaft—the Phelps bank—was sunk east of town in 1850. Within a few years, large quantities of Newburgh coal were shipped on the coal- hungry steamboats.
A building boom in Newburgh resulted; many of the elegant houses remaining today reflect this early success. The first incorporated town in the county, it grew to include stores, factories, and five churches. Moreover, Newburgh was home to the first newspaper in Warrick County and The Delaney Academy, a respected educational institution, flourished from 1842 to 1867. The town supported several schoolhouses until, in1868, the town leaders built the three-story high Newburgh School.
During the Civil War many residents fought, and some died. During 1862 the Exchange Hotel was converted into a hospital for recovering Union soldiers. And on July 18, 1862, Adam R. Johnson and his Confederate guerillas occupied the town for a few hours.
Post-Civil War Newburgh contained over 30 stores and shops, 4 flouring mills, 2 saw mills, a brewery, a tannery, a brickyard, and small factories producing plows to shoes. The future looked bright for Newburgh.
Newburgh Languishes 1870 — 1950
“The star of Newburgh is fast sinking to darkness and obscurity, and is already below the horizon of progress and public enterprise”—so concluded an 1885 Warrick County history. When railroads replaced steamboats as the key to progress in the late 19th century, Newburgh failed to acquire a major line. The citizens experienced great anticipation and expectation in 1871 when work began on a line from Newburgh through the rich mineral country of Indiana to Chicago. However, problems arose, construction stopped, and the railroad failed.
Consequently, Newburgh settled for the interurban or traction connection with the Evansville Suburban and Newburgh Railroad in 1889 and the Evansville and Ohio Valley Line in 1907. The E & OV continued to Rockport and Grandview. Both these lines provided passenger and freight services as well as coal shipments to the Evansville market. By 1940, because most Newburgh mines had ceased production, both interurban lines were abandoned. Continuing commercial activities included tobacco warehouses and a cannery.
Early in the 20th century, the town became known for its entertainment. Kuebler’s Garden, off Jefferson Street, offered Sunday afternoons filled with wine, food, and music—until prohibition. Cypress Beach, east of town, proved a popular site for summer picnics.
Through this period, Newburgh’s appearance changed little except for construction of a library in 1919, a high school building in 1924, U. S. Lock # 47 in 1928, and state highway #66 in 1930. While the 1937 flood crest of 56.6 feet turned Water Street literally into a water street, the town fared better than many river towns due to the high sloping riverfront. With little economic development in the town, Newburgh’s historic charm remained intact.
Quaint Town Preserved 1950 —
The Newburgh area underwent tremendous growth in the last half of the 20th century. Both the ALCOA plant, which began production east of town in 1960, and the eastward growth of Evansville contributed to this growth. Many attractive residential areas grew around the town. Although Ohio Township became one of the fastest growing townships in Indiana, the town of Newburgh maintained its quaint charm.
Despite suffering floods, tornadoes, and several damaging fires, the town retained its historic appearance—with a few additions. Newburgh High School graduated its last class in 1959 as the new Castle High School opened north of town. A new elementary school was built on the old school site. A new lock and dam opened in 1975 on the site of Cypress Beach. In 2006 the town leaders moved the town hall from the old Cumberland Presbyterian Church to the upper level of the riverfront Newburgh Library. The old church was restored by the town and renamed Preservation Hall.
Today Newburgh’s Historic Preservation District on the Ohio River, with the scenic Rivertown Trail, provides residents and visitors with specialty shops, antique stores, and unique dining opportunities in a serene picturesque setting.