Reitz or Wrong: An Industrial and Environmental Examination of the Impact of Evansville’s “Lumber Baron”

Jarrod Koester Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): Bruce Bigelow Butler University
The history of Evansville, Indiana in the nineteenth century can be best understood as a time of industrial development, regional expansion, growing migrant communities, and ambitious, young entrepreneurs. Of the influential characters involved in Evansville’s early growth, John Augustus Reitz stands out above the rest. A young immigrant from Prussia, Reitz settled in Southern Indiana, constructing a vastly successful logging empire in 1845 which brought him immense wealth and influence. Reitz’s contributions helped make Evansville the largest hardwood market in the United States in the late nineteenth century. Earning the title of the “Lumber Baron,” Reitz and his family used their social capital to invest in local communities and reshape the physical landscape of Evansville. Although his impact on the city and region is unquestionable, no research has examined the potential ecological consequences of the Reitz business. Reitz or Wrong primarily focuses on the negative environmental impacts of the lumber industry in Evansville, Indiana, through the lens of one famous individual of the region: John Augustus Reitz. Through this analysis, my work explores how Reitz’s industrial actions influenced the way individuals of the area would come to view their natural environment. As the first environmental history of the region, this research utilizes materials from the Reitz Home Museum archives, as well as primary documents and newspaper articles found in the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, Willard Library, and Evansville Museum of Art, Science, and History. Reitz or Wrong opens conversation around the relationship between the people of Evansville and their ecological landscape.
Oral Presentation

When & Where

09:00 AM
Jordan Hall 301