The venerable Kingdon Hotel on Second Street was leveled 50 years ago, around the same time that the cornerstone of what is now the Henderson County Family YMCA was laid.
It took about a year for these measures to take effect. And later in 1973 – after the site on Second Street was leveled – the Kingdon Hotel floated down the Ohio River. So to speak. More on that in a moment.
Let’s begin with the long struggle to construct a new YMCA that spanned decades, longer even than the struggle to complete the building it replaced.
For 66 years, the YMCA was housed in a three-story building at Third and Main Streets that provided generations of youth with opportunities to play basketball, swim, bowl and learn to dance. “For many, it’s where they first heard about fair play, sportsmanship, and ethics,” wrote Judy Jenkins in a 1974 Gleaner article.
Local News:Repair of the old LST dock considered key to bringing Ohio River cruise ships to Evansville
The cornerstone of the former YMCA building survives and dates from 1904. Although 1907 is usually given as the building’s completion date, its construction was actually an ongoing process between 1906 and 1911, according to newspaper reports.
Bill Hieb was in his 38th year with the Y and was a director when groundbreaking took place. “This is the high point of those years,” he said in The Gleaner of May 19, 1972.
Foundations had already been poured and concrete block walls were beginning to rise, the story goes. City and county governments had been instrumental in constructing what is now Klutey Park Plaza for access to the property. The county built the slope and drainage while the city provided the rock base.
Fundraising was underway for years, picking up steam after Carlton Klutey donated the $25,000 five-acre construction site, according to The Gleaner of August 7, 1970. But in the spring of 1973, nearly $80,000 was still missing from the necessary funds. Forest Thomas , chair of the fundraising committee, reminded the crowd at the fundraiser that “we all have to get our pledges.”
“We’ve been talking about this for 30 years,” said Dorris Keach of Keach Construction Co., the general contractor. “Now, if you will allow me, I would like to get about 40 construction workers back to work building this building.”
The problem of collecting pawns was not the only obstacle to the construction of the building. The amount originally budgeted for the building was $710,000 — but bids significantly exceeded the architect’s estimates, according to The Gleaner of August 18, 1971. They ranged from a low of $999,000 to $1.01 million.
Architect Davie Crawley, at a meeting with the YMCA board, said he would revise the building plans at no additional cost. The board was grateful, according to The Gleaner Aug. 24.
The Gleaner of February 26, 1972 reported that Keach was the apparent lowest bidder at $725,462 after the building’s scale was reduced. Anaconda Aluminum Co. donated storm doors, door panels, and windows that Crawley estimated were worth $15,000.
Local News:2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike started at Henderson’s Ellis Park
The Gleaner of April 20, 1972 reported that a contract had been signed with Keach for a 32,885 square foot building with a regulation size swimming pool and gym. “Planned are handball courts, kitchen, club room, playrooms, handicraft areas and other facilities…”
All of the city’s financial institutions joined forces to lend the YMCA board the money needed to start the work – although all the pledges had not yet come together.
The new YMCA at Klutey Park Plaza opened its doors to the public in late April 1973 and held a week-long open house to increase membership, according to The Gleaner of April 27, although the YMCA’s website says the facility opened in June opened this year.
The Kingdon Hotel was also demolished in the spring of 1973.
The large building was on the site of what is now The Perch Pocket Park. It was built in 1890-91 by Louis P. and Charles F. Kleider and was originally called the Hotel Henderson. Facing difficult financial times, the Kleiders sold the hotel to Charles F. King of Corydon, and the hotel was renamed in his honor.
It was Henderson’s premier hotel for at least three decades—until the Soaper Hotel was built in 1924. But age took its toll.
The May 18, 1972 Gleaner reported that City Codes Administrator Donald Wood had issued a sentencing warrant. He listed 40 building code violations and called it “one of the worst buildings downtown.”
The building’s owner, Transylvania Land Corp., had Donan Engineering Inc. of Madisonville survey the building.
It confirmed Wood’s findings. “The third and fourth floors are in advanced stages of deterioration, according to Donan, and portions of the second floor are beginning to sag,” reported The Gleaner.
Wood said he would “consider any reasonable motion for sentencing, including possible destruction of only the top two floors if the bottom two floors could be brought into compliance with the code.”
At that time, the building was mostly empty and housed only a few offices.
The following day, May 19, The Gleaner ran an editorial praising Wood for his work. He had already inspected 50 buildings, another had also been demolished and the owners of two others had pledged to demolish their damaged buildings.
The Transylvania Land Corp. appealed Wood’s order in the summer of 1972, and by February the building’s future seemed doomed after the owner missed a deadline.
Demolition began in mid-March 1973 and in the fall of 1974 the site was converted into a parking lot.
In the summer of 1973, however, the Kingdon Hotel experienced something of a resurgence.
Henderson’s participation in the first flatboat race in 1973 was called Red Banks Queen. It was built with three inch thick oak and poplar planks salvaged from the recently demolished Kingdon Hotel.
100 YEARS AGO
The Henderson buggy makers whistled by the graveyard a century ago, trying to appear unafraid of what was quickly becoming inevitable.
“Henderson buggy companies are rejoicing in what they believe is a big business revival in the buggy world, and business has already picked up at a rate that warrants an increase in payrolls,” reported The Gleaner 21 May 1922.
Cheap cars flooding the auto market, combined with a post-war recession, “tends to bring the buggy back into its rightful place.
“Two local companies that have been Henderson’s largest industry for years now employ 100 people each…. A seller reported selling 97 buggies last week and the same seller sold 68 buggies the week before.”
50 YEARS AGO
According to The Gleaner of May 15, 1947, plans to build what is now US 41 had caused local businessmen to fret over fears that the new freeway would bypass Henderson.
US 41-Alternate was the original US 41, and one of the main reasons the highway was originally built along this route was because Webster County held significant political clout at the time. By 1947, however, it was clear that what is now US 41 would be a more efficient route to Madisonville.
Henderson residents were so concerned about the bypass that a group of them drove to Frankfurt to meet with State Highway Commissioner Steve Watkins. Watkins agreed to conduct another study of the route to see if the two highways could be merged south of Henderson.
The freeway project had been a dream since at least the 1930s, when the Great Depression crushed it, but didn’t open until late 1952.
25 YEARS AGO
The plug was pulled at the Riverside Downs race course, but at first the water moccasins sunning themselves on floating boards were unconcerned, according to The Gleaner May 13, 1997.
However, when the water drained from the facility, which had been flooded for more than two months, they had to find a new home.
Chief Justice Sandy Watkins acknowledged he had no authority to order the work but said it was a public health and safety issue. Ownership of the track was bound in bankruptcy court for years and it was not clear who the owner was.
For years the line had been drained by large pumps, but with the power off – and some power lines submerged – there was no point in turning the power back on. Instead, they chased down Bill Breedlove, an old track employee, who showed them where the original gravity drain was.
County officials dug down to find the drain pipe, uncovered it, and dug a trench about 80 feet long to allow water to flow freely to the Ohio River.
Watkins said it would likely take days for the track to fully drain.
Readers of The Gleaner can reach Frank Boyett at [email protected] or on Twitter @BoyettFrank.