Huntingburg celebrating 175 yearsSeptember 6, 2012
By ALEXANDRA SONDEEN
Herald Staff Writer
HUNTINGBURG — A Dubois County city with a long, rich history is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year.
Huntingburg was founded in 1837 when Col. Jacob Geiger of Louisville purchased 1,920 acres of land. Some sources say Huntingburg’s name came from Geiger’s fondness of the area for hunting trips.
“Of course, that’s speculation,” said Hugo Songer, a Duff native and area historian and author. Songer wrote “The History of Huntingburg” published in 1987. “He saw it as a good place to establish a town.”
Geiger built a home in 1852, which is still standing and occupied at 511 Geiger St. But an older log home now covered by clapboards at 1103 Jackson St., also still standing and occupied, may have been Geiger’s first residence.
“I think it was the original cabin used by Jacob Geiger,” Songer said. “It can’t be documented, but it’s a very, very old log structure.”
The first major boon for Huntingburg, which was incorporated as a town in 1866, came in the form of iron tracks when the Southern Railway Co. built a mainline from Louisville to St. Louis. The Huntingburg portion of the railway and the old train depot off Washington Street between State Road 64 and Fifth Street were finished in 1882.
“It caused tremendous excitement,” Songer said. “The railroad cannot be overemphasized in its importance and was of enormous significance in growing the town. It went from a little 300-some village to around 3,000 in about 10 years.”
The train depot was later torn down and the Huntingburg Event Center is modeled after it.
One of the industries that benefited from the railroad was tobacco. Herman Rothert had a four-story tobacco handling warehouse at Fourth and Geiger streets where area farmers sold their crop and workers processed the tobacco.
In the same year Huntingburg became a city, 1889, a large fire destroyed 17 buildings along Fourth and Geiger streets, including Rothert’s tobacco business.
“It never recovered because the farmers who had been raising tobacco didn’t continue to do so because the next-largest market was Louisville and that was too far away,” Songer said.
In 1874, William Roettger and Ben Klosterman formed a partnership that later would become Huntingburg Wagon Works at 321 Fourth St. according to the Dubois County Museum. The company built a plant at Fifth and Washington streets in 1902, and eventually expanded its line of handmade wagons to include buggies and spring wagons as it acquired other companies.
In 1925, the company began a car dealership in Hudson-Essex automobiles before the company was sold in 1958 and moved to Arkansas. But visitors to City Hall today can glimpse the past as they are greeted by a 1901 Huntingburg Roadster buggy, the only one known to still exist. A 1920s pony cart and an early 1940s hitch wagon also are exhibited on City Hall’s second floor.
As it did elsewhere in Dubois County, the wood furniture industry took hold in Huntingburg in the early 1900s.
Harold “Mac” McMurtrie founded Huntingburg Furniture Co. and built a plant at Eighth and Van Buren streets in 1911. McMurtrie’s daughter Phyllis married Bob Menke and Menke and his father-in-law later started what would become OFS Brands, one of the city’s top employers today.
Old Town Hall on Geiger Street, finished in 1886, was home to more than just town offices over the years.
“It hosted an enormous number of community events,” Songer said. “People were so social back then and they’d get together and form clubs and have all these events like parties and plays and things. There was even a jail in the back. When I was in high school, the teenage canteen was there.”
The local youth center is now Teen Outback at 507 N. Main St., and that building has a history of its own. Built in the 1920s, it was the original gymnasium for the former Huntingburg High School, which closed in 1973 when Southridge High School opened. Teen Outback sits next to Memorial Gym, built in 1953 and still in use today, while the old high school burned down in 1991.
Marie Seibert, a member of the Huntingburg Museum Board, said residents’ social lives revolved around clubs.
“They had clubs for everything,” she said. “There were clubs for mothers and other ladies and the men had their fraternities.”
While some clubs are still active and families have their get-togethers, the social atmosphere has changed over the years.
“They don’t have big parties like they used to,” Seibert said. “It’s a different upbringing now and parents are more protective of their children.”
While new buildings went up and many old traditions were abandoned over the years, Huntingburg residents have been careful to keep track of the city’s history.
“There are a lot of people who work in the background to preserve the history of Huntingburg,” Seibert said. “People don’t realize what they’re doing for the town.”
Seibert said what has made Huntingburg successful throughout its history has been the people.
“There’s just a lot of wonderful people here,” she said. “Huntingburg is very fortunate to have the people it has.”
While the city sponsored a dinner and comedy show in July as part of its anniversary celebrations, other anniversary events will be combined with the annual Huntingburg Herbstfest, slated for Sept. 27 to 30.
Contact Alexandra Sondeen at email@example.com.
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