The Boneyard



James Edward "Ed" Klingler was a Tri-State newspaperman for more than 50 years and at the time of his retirement in 1972 was considered the "Dean of Evansville's Reporters".

In 1945 Klingler was publicly recognized by the government for his notable contribution to the morale and operations of the Evansville Shipyard through his coverage of Evansville's Industrial effort during World War II.

Specializing in "pocketbook" news as the business reporter, Mr. Klingler covered the Tri-State Oil Boom from the day of the very first wildcat strike. He created the column "Aisle Seat" that led to his "most enjoyable stint" as the movie reviewer. For many years Klingler attended every movie that came to town.

Klingler spent 43 years at the The Evansville Press

Mr. Klingler died in 1977 at the age of 70.

The Rise and Fall of David James Mackey

Although long forgotten and denied by history, David James Mackey, by any measure could be considered the biggest citizen in Evansville's history. He was a man who shunned publicity and his name seldom appeared in print. He sought no credit for his accomplishments and shared his troubles with no one, and perhaps did more than any individual to develop Evansville into the city it is today.




By Ed Klingler

Produced by John Baburnich

Reprinted Courtesy of the Klingler Family




The Evansville Boneyard - Fall 2013

The Evansville Redevelopment Commission razed the Mackey Block in 1969 in its program to clear the waterfront to make way for the downtown of the future.

Mackey Block? There were still people living who could recall when the big brick structure on the Southwest corner of First and Vine was the biggest business building in Evansville, but they couldn't remember it was the Mackey Block.

Hardly a half a century earlier everyone in the Tri-State knew of it. It was the home of Mackey, Nisbet and Company, biggest wholesale operation in Indiana. It was also the business home of David James Mackey , conceded to be Evansville's wealthiest citizen, about whom the least is known of all those who were putting fortunes together in a growing Evansville.

He was modest to the point of shyness. He was self-conscience about money, probably because he grew up in poverty, and he had a passion for anonymity.

David James Mackey was born in Evansville in 1833, when the little cluster of cabins on the waterfront was only 21 years old. His father, James E. Mackey, had no profession, and even if he had one, there was no place to practice in a community of barely 1,500. Besides, he was in ill health and died when his son was only 11 months old.

His mother did washing, housecleaning , and gardening for the townspeople until her son was ten years old and had learned his multiplication tables. Then, he quit school to become errand boy, delivery boy, stock boy, janitor and part-time clerk in the Robert Barnes grocery. He was the sole support of his mother who continued to make his clothes for him.

The Barnes grocery, like most other businesses in early Evansville was in the heart of the wharf district. Robert Barnes believed Evansville had a future. And he worked at it. Today, he probably would be described as a civic leader. Fortunately, he had a good employee. When Evansville was officially chartered a city , January 29th, 1847, Barnes accepted several official positions that kept him too busy to spend too much time in the store. David Mackey was 14 years old, and he ran it.

Grocer Barnes was one of those who voted enthusiastically on April 12, 1849, for fledgling Evansville to buy $100,000 worth of stock in the Evansville and Crawfordsville Railroad Company.

The public decision to buy stock was by a majority of two to one. And it was not hampered by the fact that the Wabash-Erie Canal was approaching Evansville, and presumably it would open up new avenues of traffic. Young Mackey was only sixteen when the vote was taken, and no one could possibly know that eventually he would be entangled with the selfsame railroad.

In fact, Mackey was 20 years old on that late summer day in 1853 when the entire community watched the first canal boat from the Great Lakes dragged through the mud to the Evansville harbor basin.

He was already the manager of the Barnes grocery. He had already contended with the store's owner that real profit in the grocery business was in wholesale. Barnes said he simply didn't want to compete with the wholesalers from whom he bought most of his merchandise he sold at retail. Young Mackey didn't tell him that much of the prosperity Barnes had recently experienced as a retail grocer was due to the fact his grocery manager was doing a wholesale business with the steamboat stewards.

Failing to interest Barnes in wholesaling, but noting some justification in Barnes' desire not to compete with his merchandising sources, Mackey got into an entirely different line of wholesale: Dixon, Mackey, and company, boot and shoe distributors. It was successful, but not nearly as productive as a dry goods wholesale operation he founded in 1857 when he was 24 years old: Archer and Mackey.

It is said of Mackey that he made money hand over fist, but lived a quiet and sedate life and carried virtually no money in his pockets.

In a manner of speaking, he was investment poor. As fast as he made any money, he invested it in Evansville's future. Having spent most of his life on the waterfront, he knew from observation what merchandise the people of the area were buying, and he also knew what the ship captains who delivered the merchandise were buying from local brokers. Mackey's formula simple: he wanted to make money coming and going. In his wholesale and distribution business he offered what the community most needed. On the other hand, he invested in industries that supplied the freight packet trade with their merchandise.

He was an investor in a growing number of grain milling industries in the area. He invested in cotton processing businesses. In fact, there was hardly any new business starting in Evansville that David Mackey didn't have a financial interest in.

Much of Mackey's wholesale business was done with the stores on Fulton Avenue, which was the main street of the Lamasco community. In spite of its growth and size, it remained principally a residential community. Among Mackey's business acquaintances was John Law, son of one of the founders Lamasco who presented the community with the park that bears his name on the northeast corner of Fulton and Franklin. It was largely at Mackey's urging that in 1857, Law and his associates gave up their charter and merged with Evansville. Mackey's contention was that most of the business was being done on Evansville's waterfront, in addition to which it had banks which assured its continuing leadership.

The Evansville branch to the State Bank of Indiana, established in 1834 and eventually to become the Old National Bank, had been joined in 1850 by the Canal Bank, a privately operated institution that one day would become the National City Bank. Other banks were being organized. (The fact is, the area of Evansville still recognized as Lamaso didn't get a bank until 1914 when Thomas J. Morton, Sr. came from Hartford, Kentucky, and organized the Lamaso Bank,)

In 1861, David James Mackey was 28 years old, rated by his fellow citizens as Evansville's youngest millionaire. The Civil War had started , and Mackey got married. His wife was the daughter of John Law, and Mackey had known her for several years. It is indicative of his shyness, however, that in view of the wealth of her own family, he didn't propose marriage until he himself was a success. Eventually, they had two children.

Mackey viewed the war with some concern with respect to his business. The Ohio River, which divided the North from the South, could not be considered a free or safe artery of trade, and the market exchange with the southern states was at an end indefinitely. Evansville businessmen would have to look northward and eastward for business which meant reliance on the railroads which were just beginning to emerge. At that time, Evansville only had one operative railway originally known as the Evansville to Crawfordsville Railway, opened in 1854, later known as the Evansville and Terre Haute, still later as the Chicago and Eastern Illinois (C&EI) , and later as part of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company.

Contesting between north and south for control of the Ohio River, however, didn't prevent several prominent Evansville citizens from reaping fortunes from it. They dealt in contraband merchandise to and from the south. Turpentine, for example, produced almost exclusively from the southern pine forests, sold at staggering prices in northern states during the war, and much of it was filtered through Evansville.

During the war, in spite of a complete change of markets, Mackey organized his biggest wholesale company. In association with his friend W.F. Nesbit, they formed Mackey, Nisbet and Company, biggest wholesale operation in Indiana. Into this, Mackey merged all his other wholesale enterprises.

The Mackey-Nisbet association was congenial for both. The Nisbet home was much the larger and pretentious- the kind of home built by those who entertained largely and often. The Mackey house obviously reflected its master's lack of pretention, and by no stretch of the imagination could be considered ideal for entertaining.

As both a shipper and receiver, Mackey was acutely aware of the necessity for reliable cargo service. During the Civil War he became aware of Evansville's poor situation in this regard. And after the war, with business booming, he knew the rivers could not be responsive to the delivery needs of the growing population because it was too slow, and that railroads were not yet adequately taking up the slack. In fact, it is said that his first dicker for control of a railroad he referred to as an abomination.

Mackey was not the only one aware of Evansville's growing need for a rail service. In 1879, Mackey was one of those who helped form the Local Trade Railroad Company, although was not the prime mover in the project. Its purpose was to invest in new railroad ventures to outlying sections of the Evansville trade area. The corporation never did have to function electric utilities met the need through interurban line construction.

One of Evansville's major rail problems originated with the construction of its railroads, or a problem shared by almost every community in the country.

Local service railroads usually were built by promoters more interested in the sale of stock than in the creation of a public utility. Principle buyers of the stock were communities that wanted to be served. If they bought enough stock, the railroad would pass through their town. That is how Evansville happened to own $100,000 worth of stock in its first railroad, the Evansville and Crawfordsville . The promoters built the railroads as cheaply as they could, usually saving money by laying the rails without adequate road bed. In dry weather, the roads were bad enough, but in wet weather the trains moved at a snail's pace to avoid slipping off the tracks.

Although Mackey may have invested earlier in railroads, his first outright bid to control was in 1881 when he bought heavily into the Evansville and Crawfordsville, which in reality went to Terre Haute, rather than Crawfordsville.

Evansville city government had $100,000 worth of stock, and so did Vanderburgh County , neither of which ever expected to get anything like a return on their money.

On June 30, 1881 Mackey paid each of the local governments $150,000 for their stock. And that is the day he took over the railroad. It is said of Mackey that of all the railroad properties he eventually controlled, he took the most personal pride in the one that would get you to and from Chicago.

Mackey was a blocky, muscular, and abstemious man who walked where he wanted to go rather rely on a carriage as most of his business acquaintances did. He neither smoked, drank, nor used strong language, although there is no record that he ever was very active in any church.

It is not surprising, therefore that a man of his disposition would choose to examine his new railroad property by walking the tracks plus sidings all the way to Terre Haute. Since he had no experience in railroad construction, he hired an engineer to go with him who eventually became the railroad's construction superintendent. The result of Mackey's walk to Terre Haute, a matter of 100 miles, was virtually a new road bed. He made it possible to move the trains faster with greater safety and with a great deal of more comfort for passengers.

His later acquisitions received similar personal attention and with similar results, the expenditure of vast sums to make the trackage safe and operational. His inspections also resulted in sidings and spur lines to widen the railroad's service area.

This was particularly true in the case of the Straight Line, an Evansville nickname to what was properly titled the Evansville, Indianapolis, and Cleveland Railroad.

Of the prime movers in the Evansville Crawfordsville line, later to be the C. & E. I., was Willard Carpenter, a man who accumulated wealth in Evansville and lavished it much of it on the community, including Willard Library. One of his ambitions was a railroad providing direct service between Evansville and Indianapolis, the two biggest cities in the state.

He was the organizer of the Straight Line. Unhappy with the financial support it received, he sought much of it among British investors. As might be expected, however, the city of Evansville bought $ 196,000 worth of stock in the railroad. For some reason, the Indianapolis investors weren't interested in the railroad.

The Straight Line never made it to Indianapolis. It got as far as the coal fields northeast of Evansville, and eventually due north and remained in the coal country all the way to Terre Haute. This was one of the railroads that came in to the Mackey system, and which eventually would be acquired by the New York Central.

By far the most expensive acquisition was the Peoria, Decatur and Evansville Railroad in 1886. It was the only interstate railroad he controlled. At the time he bought the railroad he had used up all the credit he had. He controlled all the railroad service in the area except the St. Louis and Southeastern, later known as the Louisville and Nashville.

The St. Louis and Southeastern Railroad, based in St. louis, Missouri, , was a patched up network of rails similar to that put together in the Mackey system. it forged eastward absorbing local railroads, including several in Western Kentucky that existed virtually in name only.

It performed a valuable service for Evansville, particularly to the south. Trains between Evansville and Henderson, Kentucky had to cross on a ferry until a bridge was built in 1885. There was a brisk interchange of cargo between the Mackey and the L. & N. system.

Mackey always had said he was going to establish railroad shops of the Mackey system in Evansville. Now he used his leverage as a railroad magnate to dictate to the St. Louis and Southeastern (L.& N.), The St. Louis and Southeastern had its shops in Mt. Vernon, Illinois.

He pointed out that Mt. Vernon, Illinois was no longer the center of operations, and that Evansville was. His attempt to influence another railroad came at an opportune time. The new division superintendent for the L.& N. was Captain Lee Howell, a professional riverboat captain who had been hired away from that service because of his broad acquaintance with transportation problems and interchange of traffic between barge and rail. He added his voice to that of Mackey, and the L. & N. shops were built in 1887. The grateful railroaders who lived around the shop named their community for Captain Howell and eventually incorporated it. But the Mackey system never concentrated shops in Evansville. Not only would it have been costly, but also unhandy since it would have been in the corner of the system.

Mackey gave Evansville its Belt Railroad. It encircled the city, was available to any railroad that needed it, and was built exclusively to serve the industries along its route.

Mt. Vernon, Indiana, has reason to remember Mackey with thanks. It was Mackey who built the railroad spur that gave much of the value to the industrial development property on the river below Mt. Vernon.

There is no record that Mackey ever was a major contributor to charitable endeavors, but he served the city in many other ways. Evansville had no major hotel, but a number of small hotels catered to the river packet passengers, railroad passengers, and a growing number of business visitors in the city. He built a hotel that was the envy of the Midwest, the St. George Hotel, which first occupied the site on which the McCurdy was to be built. It had more than 200 rooms, which was large for those days. It was furnished lavishly , and its dining accomodations and cuisine were widely praised.

In 1886, when the Evansville Businessmen's Association was formed, the forerunner to the Chamber of Commerce, Mackey was elected president. He saw it as something other than backslapping of civic well-wishers. He sited a long felt need - there was not a single major office building in Evansville. The Businessmen's Association raised the money and erected one on the southeast corner of Second and Sycamore, later to be known as the Grein Building, and still later a casualty of downtown reconstruction alond with the Mackey Block.

The icing on this civic cake was the companion structure erected at the same time on the Sycamore side of the office building adjoining the Vendome Hotel, This was the Grand Opera Theater , which Chicago newspapers described as "the finest south of Chicago." Theatrical greats strode the boards in this plush theater, later a movie house which maintained much of the grandeur of the original theater. It is ironic that Mackey, who fathered the theater, was not a patron of the arts.

By any measurement, David James Mackey was perhaps the biggest citizen in Evansville's history. He was a man who shunned publicity and whose name seldom appeared in print. He sought no credit for his accomplishments and shared his troubles with no one.

It is unlikely anyone in Evansville, with the possible exceptions of bankers, realized Mackey was in trouble. There should have been a clue in a relatively small event. He was so distressed at the manner in which a wreck on one of his railroads was handled in The Journal, one Evansville's leading newspapers, that he sought to have the entire staff discharged. And as with most of his kind, when the end came it was sudden and complete. He lost it all when a national downturn in business and a growing pressure for funds to meets his debts left him bankrupt. Everything he had, including his home, went in the pot to stem the tide, but it was hopeless. By 1900 Mackey was reduced to operating a small coal brokerage.

He lived alone in a room in the Hotel Vendome after losing the St. George. In 1915, at the age of 81, Evansville lost him.

But in his lifetime, David James Mackey had seen Evansville achieve its greatest growth and at the end must have taken great pride in having a leading hand in it.

From 1880 to 1890, Evansville's population had gained 73% to reach 67,000. In 1880, it was the biggest hardwood market in the nation. It had eleven sawmills, nine mills hat cut and planed wood to standard sizes, and nine furniture factories. By 1890, it had 26 furniture factories, producing such high quality that the King of England furnished his London place with Evansville furniture. Eventually Benjamin Bosse would merge three of the furniture factories into Globe-Bosse-World Furniture Company, indisputably the world's biggest.

A development after the Civil War was the rise of Evansville as a tobacco market center, so big it was topped by only Louisville, Kentucky. Tobacco poured out of western Kentucky, and along the shore of the Ohio River, tobacco became an important crop. Another postwar development was cotton fabrication. Here again, western Kentucky and southern Indiana furnished the cotton. Evansville has tow major cotton mills.

Tools, farm equipment and stoves were produced before he turn of the century, In 1895, there were thirteen foundries. Five of the nation's best known stoves were produced in Evansville: Leader, Darling, Crescent, Model, and Advance.

By his time, Evansville was rated the biggest distribution center in the state with 74 wholesalers. Many of those enterprises had been financed in whole or part through the efforts of David James Mackey.



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