Southern Indiana’s largest city is on an oxbow in the Ohio River, looking across the water to Kentucky.
Home to three NYSE companies, Evansville is a regional center for commerce, manufacturing and higher education, but also culture, with important performing arts venues and museums.
Downtown Evansville resonates with history, keeping many of its early 20th century buildings, and this is fringed by the refined Riverside District as well as Bally’s Evansville, Indiana’s first casino.
Evansville’s also has several reminders of its massive contribution to the United States’ war effort, most memorably a giant WWII-era tank landing ship that is usually docked on the riverfront.
1. Downtown Evansville
You can tell that a lot of love has gone into Evansville’s central commercial district in the last couple of decades.
Today this is a leafy, pedestrian friendly area, flush with culture, entertainment, dining choices and not to mention gorgeous old architecture in a spectrum of styles.
A veteran entertainment anchor is the Victory Theatre, opened in 1921 and the home of the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra.
A big chunk of the attractions on this list are downtown, complemented by a smattering of stores you won’t find anywhere else and independent restaurants for all palates.
Be sure to wander south to appreciate the fine architecture in the Riverside Historic District, mostly built in the second half of the 19th century.
The riverfront area west of downtown is now fronted by modern hotels and casinos, with waterfront parks where you can watch the sunset or the famous fireworks on July 4.
2. Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science
Where downtown Evansville meets the Ohio river bank is one of Indiana’s most storied cultural institutions.
Since it was founded in 1904 this museum has amassed a collection of more than 30,000 objects, dealing with a variety of subjects including fine arts, decorative arts, history, anthropology and natural history.
Among the many highlights there’s European and American painting from the 16th to the 20th centuries, an interactive recreation of a 19th-century rivertown and the Humankind Gallery, shedding light on indigenous cultures in Asia, Africa and South America.
The spectacular Koch Immersive Theater has a 40-foot dome and 10,000-watt digital sound system, while also on the museum campus is the Evansville Transportation Center, exhibiting the history of transportation in Southern Indiana, with impressive railroad artifacts.
3. USS LST Ship Memorial
During World War II industrial production went into overdrive in Evansville, especially on the riverfront a piece of which became a 45-acre shipyard building humongous tank landing ships (LSTs).
Vital to the war effort, these amphibious vessels delivered tanks, trucks, jeeps and troops directly onto beaches during invasions.
It makes sense that today Evansville should be the home port for the only operational LST, still in WWII configuration to be afloat in US waters, and this ship participated in the landings at Sicily and Normandy.
This is on the riverside, conveniently connected to downtown Evansville by the Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage, offering six tours a day when it’s docked in the city.
4. Angel Mounds State Historic Site
By the Ohio River to the southeast of Evansville is the site of a Middle Mississippian town that peaked from 1000 to 1450 C.E..
There was a large permanent community here sustained by the cultivation and storage of corn, leaving behind 12 earthen mounds once topped by ceremonial buildings.
The site was excavated in the mid-20th century by Indiana archeologist Glenn Albert Black (1900-1964), who unearthed more than 2.5 million artifacts here.
His research is the basis for the displays at the engrossing interpretive center, and you can also see reconstructions of Mississippian buildings on the site.
Elsewhere are 500 acres of open land without an archeological purpose, and containing a nature preserve, walking/biking trails and an 18-hole disc golf course.
5. Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden
This zoo on Evansville’s northwest side is open 365 days a year, and has been around since 1928. Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden was one of the first zoological attractions in the country to use moats as a boundary for enclosures, rather than cages.
There are animals from some 200 species here, and perhaps the headline exhibit is Amazonia.
Opened in 2008, this living indoor rainforest habitat has Amazonian species like jaguars, capybaras, squirrel monkeys, black howler monkeys and Cuvier’s dwarf caimans.
At other exhibits you’ll come across zebras, giraffes, lemurs, clouded leopards, Mexican gray wolves and red pandas. The grounds are dotted with charming gardens, and every February Amazonia hosts Orchid Escape, when the jungle environment is abloom with colorful orchids.
6. Bosse Field
Of all the ballparks still in regular use in the United States, this stadium in Evansville is surpassed in age only by Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.
Opened in 1915, Bosse Field was the country’s first municipally owned sports stadium and is named for the mayor at the time, Benjamin Bosse (1875-1922).
Over the last 100+ years, the stadium has been home field for more than a dozen professional times, and since 1995 the main tenant has been the Evansville Otters, who play in the Midwestern Conference of the Frontier League.
This stately old ballpark was used as a location for A League for their Own (1992), and a game here is a must for any baseball purist.
7. Children’s Museum of Evansville
For children up to the age of 12, this interactive museum is housed in one of the most elegant buildings downtown.
The venue is Evansville’s Art Deco former public library, constructed in 1931, and the Children’s Museum opened in 2006.
The museum is made up of a series of open-ended, experiential zones, like Live Well, promoting healthy diet choices, and Work Smart, with stations helping to develop children’s curiosity for mechanics and engineering.
Quack Factory is home to Moe, the museum’s signature, climbable 20-foot duck, while Fantastic Plastic is a peek at Evansville’s plastics industry, combined with a section on recycling.
8. Evansville African American Museum
A little way east of downtown is an important museum dedicated to the history and traditions of African American families, traditions and organizations in the city.
The location is fascinating too, in the last surviving building of Lincoln Gardens, the second housing project established under FDR’s New Deal in 1938.
Inside you can see what it was like to live in the project in the 1930s, in a preserved section of an original apartment, while the remainder of the building is a modern museum.
You can learn the story of the surrounding Baptist town, a thriving black community, and discover key figures and milestones over the last century in Evansville. There are also worthwhile traveling temporary exhibits and shows for local artists.
9. Reitz Home Museum
Awaiting you in the Riverside Historic District is a stunning French Second Empire-style residence built in 1871 for the “Lumber Baron” John Augustus Reitz (1815-1891).
The house has been given a superb restoration, and as well as original period furniture the interiors feature hand-painted ceiling frescoes, molded plaster friezes, patterned parquet floors and silk damask walls.
The Reitz Home was left to a Catholic organization in the 1930s, later becoming the home of Evansville’s bishop, before being donated to a preservation society in 1974.
Tours have taken place ever since, and the house is considered one of the best preserved examples of a Victorian residence in the country.
10. Willard Library
A grand sight to keep in mind downtown is the oldest operating library in Indiana. The palatial building, opened in 1885, is in the Gothic Revival style, with contrasting red brick, white stone and terra cotta.
The library is an independent private institution, and its benefactor Willard Carpenter aimed to “improve the moral and intellectual culture of the inhabitants of Evansville”, making the library free of charge and accessible to all races, classes and sexes forever.
The Willard Library is noted for its extensive genealogy and local history collections, found on the second floor, and it is believed to be haunted by a “Lady in Grey”.
11. Evansville Wartime Museum
We’ve seen that Evansville was a major center for manufacturing during World War II, with several existing factories switching production to weapons, munitions and vehicles.
As well as warships, the city became a center for the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft, rolling out 6,242 P-47s, almost half of the total made nationally during the war.
The factory was set next to the Evansville Regional Airport, and today there’s a museum in a hangar here remembering the city’s astonishing industrial output during the conflict.
The highlight at the Evansville Wartime Museum has to be Tarheel Hal, a genuine P-47 built just a short walk away, along with machinery used in the factory.
12. Burdette Park
This rolling, wooded park by the USI campus was founded in the 1920s, and was developed during the Great Depression by public works programs like the Work Progress Administration (WPA).
In the early 1960s Burdette Park’s aquatic center opened to the public, and this is still one of the largest outdoor pool complexes in the Midwest.
Just the place to cool off in summer, the Aquatic Center has an Olympic sized pool, a family pool with two slides, a children’s pool and a spray park. Burdette Park also has several day shelters that can be rented, as well as fully furnished chalets for overnight stays.
13. Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage
Meeting the Ohio River in Evansville, Pigeon Creek was the southern terminus of the Wabash and Erie Canal, a key link in a shipping route that connected the Great Lakes with New Orleans.
On the banks of the creek and a scenic stretch of the broad Ohio River is a ten-foot wide paved trail for bicycling, walking and jogging.
The Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage connects parks, nature areas, neighborhoods, business districts and visitor attractions like the USS LST Ship Memorial and Evansville Museum.
When we wrote this article the passage was just under seven miles long, but is expected to be part of a 42-mile system of trails encircling the entire city.
14. Ford Center
This impressive arena is impossible to miss in downtown Evansville, and was constructed as part of the downtown’s revitalization in the early 2010s.
A cutting-edge sweep of metal and glass, the Ford Center also has a base of Indiana limestone, which helps to ground it among the historic buildings downtown.
Replacing the old Roberts Municipal Stadium, the arena is a venue for concerts, conventions and WWE events, but also the home of the University of Evansville Purple Aces basketball team (NCAA Division I) and the professional Evansville Thunderbolts of the SPHL.
A few performers from the last few years include Blake Shelton, Kid Rock, Disturbed and George Strait.
15. West Side Nut Club Fall Festival
For a week in October some 200,000 people head to Franklin Street on Evansville’s West Side for one of the largest street festivals in the United States.
The West Side Nut Club Fall Festival has a history going back to 1921, and grew dramatically in the post war years, with ever larger carnival rides and famous entertainers.
Starting on a Sunday and lasting the rest of the week, the festival features more than 130 food booths, talent competitions, tons of free live entertainment, carnival attractions, all culminating with a massive parade on Saturday.
Fried food is dominant here, and if you’re feeling adventurous this is a chance to try the traditional local specialty, fried brain sandwiches.