THE MARVEL OF INDIANA
(By a Staff Correspondent.)
ALEXANDRIA, IND., June 4., "Less than 1,000 population by the census of 1890, over 10,000 in 1900, there is not another town or city in Indiana that can approach Alexandria's proportionate gain," Said Mayor Thomas Shannon.
There has been a great deal of speculation in different sections of the State regarding what municipal corporation would stand at the head of the list in proportionate gain in population, according to the census that will be taken this month.
There can be little doubt that Alexandria will claim this distinction. Alexandria was a cross-road community that had a population of 491, according to estimates made on school enumeration. In 1889, according to the same basis for estimate, it had a population of 780. The census of 1890 gave it 991. Estimates on a basis of school enumeration placed it at 3,092 in 1893, and the city directory compiled by outside parties last year showed a population of 10,227, the result of a house-to-house canvass and the listing of that number of names. It is thought there has been a material gain since that directory was issued. The guesses being made on the result of the census-taking this month range from 10,000 to 12,000 people. On the low estimate this means an average gain of 1,000 a year since 1890.
The monthly wage payments made by Alexandria factories aggregate $122,000. In 1899 the Union Traction Company, operating the Gas Belt Electric Railway system, made a canvass of gas belt cities and compiled accurate information concerning manufacturing industries. In Alexandria it was found that there were seven concerns of the "first class", those with a pay-roll of over $2,000 a month, that 2,211 men were employed in these factories, and that the aggregate monthly pay-roll was $101,200. There has been a gain of $21,000 in monthly pay-rolls during the last year. Among the factories of "first class" are some of the largest concerns of their kind in the world. The Alexandria plate glass plants produce 3,000,000 of the 21,000,000 square feet of plate glass annually manufactured in the Nation and is the Indiana Brick Company's plants at this Indiana and employ seventy men in the yards. The new paper mill has 300 employees on the pay-roll. The Union Steel plant, that includes the old New Albany rail plant and the Bellview (Ill.) Steel mills, has a capacity for employment of 1,200 men, but it has never been fully operated, and is now at its high notch, with 575 men. The Alexandria window glass plant, the old DePauw concern, is a fifty-six-pot factory and employs almost 400 men, while the Daniel Stewart plant, ten pots, employs sixty-five men. The factories mentioned employ of over 3,500 men, and this does not take into consideration the many smaller, yet extensive, industries that in the ordinary town would be considered pretentious.
Last year 312 homes went up in Alexandria. This information was compiled by the Postoffice Department, and the names of the parties erecting these homes, their location, time of beginning the work and completion, was tabulated, so that there could be no padding of reports. A canvass of the home building of the previous year showed that 201 homes had been erected. At no time in the last ten years has there been enough homes in Alexandria to accommodate the people. During several summers even store-keepers did business in tents because of inability to secure business rooms. Many people working in the factories of Alexandria have been compelled to tent out. For the reason of the scar-city of houses, the population of Alexandria more than any other city or town in Indiana cannot be property gauged by estimates made on a basis of school enumeration. The claim is made that there is a greater percentage of single men and men without families residing in Alexandria than in any other city in Indiana. Many married men find it impossible to get homes to shelter their families and cannot bring them to the city. Neither can the voting population be taken as an accurate basis for estimates on population for the same reason.
The story of Alexandria's growth reads something like a page from the Arabian Nights' tales. When, in 1835, the cross roads community was first known as Alexandria, the town was rivaled and perhaps overshadowed by Osceola, Alfonte, Dundee and Quincy, towns that now have no place on the printed maps of Indiana. From 1835 until 1889, when the gas fever seized the town, it was a dilapidated, sleepy old shell of a place that did well to come in under the line with 491 population. Corn was cultivated along and over what is now the principal streets, and the hay stacker, corn planter and threshing machine "got in their work" in the residence portions of the present city. The transformation was slow in getting started, but when in 1891 and 1892, it did begin to gather force, the cross-roads community became a town as though by a touch of magic and then it expanded into a city. Factories were located out over the fields. Wild speculation and expansion seized everyone and additions were platted that reached out over square miles and spoiled, to this day and for all time, some of the best farm lands in Madison County, Enough land was platted and added to the city to accommodate a population of 10,000, and as a result there were financial crashes that bore down heavy on land owners and the manufacturing concerns that accepted heavily of town lots in lieu of cash bonuses. The "crash," as it has been termed, was nothing more than a natural contraction, and even now even now the city is scattered over enough space for a community of 50,000 people, making the work of city improvement a serious problem. Louisville and New Albany contributed heavily to the boom. The latter sacrificed a plate glass and a rail mill, her two best industries, and that sacrifice took the wind out of New Albany for several years. When it was found that Alexandria sat directly over the apex of the great natural gas reservoir arch, and when all other sections showed a decline in gas pressure and Alexandria stood firm, there was a shower of small factories from all directions. The result was a city with paved streets, three and four-story business blocks, an electric railway system, free mail delivery, water and light and gas services, a half dozen political parties and a prominent place on the map of Indiana. Alexandria is the marvel of Indiana for the 1890-1900 decade. The census figures compiled this month will bear out this statement.
E. I. Lewis.