On March 2, 1827, Congress provided a land grant to encourage Indiana to build the Wabash & Erie Canal. The original plan was to link the navigable water of the Maumee with the Wabash through the seven mile portage at Fort Wayne. Work began five years later and proceeded west, reaching Huntington by 1835, Logansport in 1838 and Lafayette in 1841. Work was also performed east toward the Ohio line, but the canal did not reach Toledo until 1843. A second federal land grant enabled the completion of the canal to Terre Haute by 1849. At Evansville, 20 miles of the Central Canal had been completed north by 1839. The two canal projects were united in 1847 and bore the name Wabash and Erie.
The W&E was extended south in the late 1840's through the abandoned cross-cut canal works to Worthington and then south following the old proposed Central Canal route. The Wabash and Erie Canal was completed to Lamasco, a separate settlement to the west of Evansville, in 1853. Though fully operational for only a short seven-year period, the 468-mile-long canal drew national attention to the Evansville area and spurred a rapid increase in population and wealth in the 1850's.
The canal in Evansville included a basin used for turning boats for return trips and docking facilities for loading and unloading passengers and cargo.
The canal was more than a mere transportation means. Canal water, channeled through races, turned water wheels powering factories and mills along the canal's route; communities and businesses paid rents to the state for the water's use. Local people used the canal to bathe and to wash clothes.
Recognized as the longest canal in the United States, this gigantic enterprise was doomed to failure by the growing presence of railroads. The canal's official demise was in 1873. Basins and other sections of the canal profile were filled.
In the 1880's the leaders of Vanderburgh County recognized the need for a new courthouse. The site chosen was the Union Block in Evansville, the location of the drained Wabash and Erie Canal Basin.
The Courthouse, designed by Henry Wolters of Louisville, Kentucky, and completed in 1891, is a massive edifice, proudly displaying the finest Indiana limestone. The main rectangular building is symmetrically balanced, with a broad pavilion projecting from each of the long sides. A soaring dome crowns the building at the crossing point of the pavilions and the axis of the main building. The ornate decorations of the exterior are reflective of the equally ornate and rich treatment of the interior.
Vanderburgh County was one of ten Indiana counties with large Irish populations. Next to German-Americans in Evansville, they constituted the largest group of foreign-born residents in the community. Some arrived in Evansville by virtue of laboring on the canal, and others arrived through normal immigration patterns - - that is by answering the summons of friends or relatives who preceded them. The peak period of Irish immigration in the Evansville area was between 1850 and 1880. Irish immigrants and oxen provided mot of the labor committed to digging the Wabash and Erie Canal.
By the way:
The passenger packet Pennsylvania was the first boat to reach Evansville from Lake Erie, via the canal, September 23, 1853.