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River town celebrates 200th birthday

River town celebrates 200th birthday
River town celebrates 200th birthday
Standing a stone's throw from the Ohio River, historian Joe Bliss, right, prepares to talk about the history of New Amsterdam at Saturday's bicentennial celebration for the tiny river town. Photo by Alan Stewart

The tiny river town of New Amsterdam celebrated 200 years of existence Saturday with a day-long bicentennial celebration.
A short parade started the affair, which was also highlighted by a horseshoe-pitching contest, an auction and story-telling by Joe Bliss about the town’s history. Several people set up booths to sell a variety of antiques and other items, as well.
Among the attendees were several descendants of Samuel McAdams, who founded and platted the town on Sept. 19, 1815, with Jacob Funk. Lots 1 to 46 were platted by Funk and 47 to 68 by McAdams.
The town was developed as a riverport with wharf boats and landings to receive and ship goods and livestock. From 1880 to 1900, the population grew to approximately 200 and was the second largest town in Harrison County during that period.
Though it’s difficult to imagine now, Bliss said the town was once home to several businesses. At its peak, there were three distilleries, three general stores, a drug store, a barrel factory, a casket factory, a saloon, a livery stable, two blacksmiths, a jail, two hotels, a creamery, a flour mill, a spoke factory and four lodges. There also was a horse-racing track.
At one time, New Amsterdam was home to one of the largest fruit distilleries in the United States. It was owned by D.B. Kemper and S.P. Alexander.
Hills around the distillery were once covered with the apple orchards that were of the Ben Davis and York Imperial varieties. Another orchard, owned by William Enlow, started with 11 acres and had Ben Davis apple trees. Later, Enlow expanded to 80 acres and grew peaches, apples and cherries.
The first schoolhouse in the town was built around 1850 and a new school was built near the cemetery. The school, the home of the New Amsterdam Rivermen basketball team, burned to the ground on Jan. 18, 1954.
The Ohio River gave New Amsterdam life, and, some could say, its death.
Steamboats were a common sight on the river between 1880 and 1920. Many of the townspeople worked on the boats as deckhands and pilots, and some of the women worked as cooks. Wheat from the area was sent to the Ballard & Ballard Flour Mill in Louisville. Some women would take a boat to the Derby City and work all week then return home by boat for the weekend. Some men worked as fishermen, trappers and musselmen, selling fish locally and sending pelts to Sears & Roebuck or the F.C. Taylor Fur Co. in St. Louis. Workers would drag mussel beds, cook out the mussels and then send the shells to Leavenworth, which was the site of a button factory.
After about 1900, the town started declining in population as a result of the automobile, better roads and railroads. The 18th Amendment ratified by Congress prohibited the manufacturing, transportation and sale of alcohol in the United States, which crushed the distillery business in New Amsterdam.
The flood of 1937 decimated the town, destroying 75 percent of the structures in the town and nearly washing away all the buildings from the river to Green Street.
According to the U.S. Census, the town’s population dropped from 200 to 134 between 1900 and 1910, and by 1960 had dropped to 43. In the last census in 2010, the town’s population was only 27.