Let's take a journey back in time, to an era when Evansville was still a small town by today's comparison and travel abroad was limited to the city limits by lack of adequate transportation.
In 1889, The ES&N railroad was formed from Evansville to Newburgh to accommodate the expansion of people, goods and trade. The line ran from Fifth Street and followed the route of the Wabash and Erie Canal, turning South East through Wesselman Park and the State Hospital grounds where it terminated on Water Street in Newburgh Indiana. As with any business, profit was a major factor in its formation.
Many trips were made by a dummy locomotive until 1905 when the railroad was electrified and trolly cars replaced the steam engines for passenger travel. It was common practice for the railroads to run the amusement/pleasure parks to increase traffic on weekends.
F.W. COOK, of local brewery fame, and owner of the ES&N, leased property on the east side as pasture for his beer horses and realized that he could profit from having a park along the route.
Pleasure parks and groves were dotted along the journey, usually privately owned, and became a very popular gathering for church picnics or company gatherings. Such rural locations such as Barnett's Grove, Gilbert's Grove, and Newburgh’s Kuebler’s Garden became the cultural destinations of thousands of people.
The dummy railroad made travel to and from neighboring towns a cheap and quick convenience as the appreciation of nature and outdoor enthusiasm bloomed in the late 1800s. It was a growing cultural trend in America towards recreation in public spaces. A stage in history that led to the rise of the amusement park in the United States.
Grove, a word that has come and gone in American culture, was defined as trees of similar nature with no underbrush, usually spaced and planted in large groups. Evansville had more than it's share of groves, including pine groves, oak groves, and various others. By today's terms, they were privately owned parks.
Barnett's Grove, previously named Olympic Park, was located in Knight township, about 5 miles from the city at the time between Newburgh Road and Washington Ave was one of the more popular gathering spots of them all. Known for its large poplar trees that shaded its visitors from the summer sun. It was described as a place where many a romance began and it’s appearance descriptive of places in poetry.
It was a Lover's Paradise to all the sweethearts who used to go on picnics. Thousands and thousands would go there on Saturdays and Sundays to take strolls in the woods, play games on the lawns, enjoy musical entertainment or just eat their picnic lunches in the shade of the great poplar trees. They were most beautiful trees ever seen, it was said, as you couldn't find any like them anywhere near Evansville.
As time progressed, so did society's needs for bigger and more personal adventures. Highways and automobiles would slowly make the interurban trains a useless service as people began to travel more abroad.
Barnett's Grove remained a gathering place for picnics and would see other uses such as The Club Deauville, a club/roadhouse that would advertise live music and dancing and also a short-lived bible camp in the mid-'30s.
As Barnett’s Grove’s use diminished and its features began to fade, the land was sold and subdivided into smaller lots. Today, you would never really know the history of this area as you drive by. The only real reminders of it's past are a few Right of ways from the railroad and even those are invisible unless you know what you're looking for. As Evansville’s population grew, new urban development swallowed up the once-grand, far off places and many were lost and forgotten to history.