The West Side has an entrenched old-time feel. West Franklin Street is similar to Main Street USA from the 1950s. Mom-and-pop stores and a nationally known Fall Festival complete with parades and Ferris wheels.

On the other hand, much of what is now the sprawling East Side was once adorned with cornfields. Eastland Mall didn't open until August 1981. Back then, one of the few places of business past Harrison High School to the outskirts of Newburgh was a single gas station.

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How things have changed. Except for a mile or two of fields between the cities, the far East Side of Evansville and Newburgh are basically connected.

With all its old-school tradition, the West Side has largely remained the same. As Jerry Seinfeld would say: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Franklin Street versus Green River and Burkhardt roads. A small town, close-knit feel versus more urbanized sprawl. The West and East sides truly are like two different cities together in one, whether they like it or not. Of course, there is disagreement where the dividing line actually is. Some say Fulton Avenue. Some say U.S. 41. Some even say Pigeon Creek.

Fearing political correctness, some folks contacted by the Courier & Press were afraid to comment on the East Side-West Side divide. Not long-time Mater Dei athletics director Joe Herrmann.

“As a lifelong West Sider, I've heard of the differences my whole life,” he said. “I do believe there are a lot of differences and I am guessing it's mostly because of the strong West Side German heritage where people seem to grow up on the West Side and stay on the West Side. It’s a close-knit community, lots of generational families with strong ties to Mater Dei and Reitz.”

He said West Siders have the "cake eater" joke about East Siders “but it’s all done in good fun. I have some great friends on the East Side that I have mostly met through sports and they are no different than any of us on the West Side.”

Through the years, the differences have blurred a bit. Many of the so-called “cake eaters” — the richest of the rich — live on the far North Side or in Newburgh, not the East Side.     

“I think the East-West rivalry is a good old-fashioned healthy rivalry that shouldn't get lost in today's world of political correctness,” Herrmann said. “It’s what makes our city of Evansville such a phenomenal place to live. It’s two great sides of town that come together as one to give us a fantastic city.”

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When his East Side friends come over, they might drink a Ski and open a bag of Grippo’s potato chips.

“And when I go to the East Side I'll eat cake. It’s a joke, lighten up!” Herrmann said.

The late Rick Davis, a Democratic mayoral candidate who lost the election to Lloyd Winnecke in 2011, poked fun at both sides of the East-West rivalry. A 1987 Reitz graduate, Davis recalled when Eastland Mall opened, his father said, "I have no use for it."

Davis, who worked at the Courier & Press among other newspapers, graduated from the University of Southern Indiana and earned a master's of science in public service administration from the University of Evansville in 2006.

"I didn't think they'd let me in," Davis said of UE opening its doors to him.

Emphasizing it's humorous, J. Claude Wertz characterized the West Side is “more rural, agricultural, less sophisticated. I will get shot for saying this. Ha, ha.”

Wertz, grandson of Daniel Wertz, for which the Daniel Wertz Elementary School on South Red Bank Road is named, lived on the East Side for 88 1/2 years (except for college) before moving to Indianapolis a year and a half ago to be closer to his children.

East Side vs. West Side, never the twain shall meet — until the Lloyd Expressway joined them together, sort of — in 1988. Previously, you had to drive on crowded city streets to get from one side of town to the other and it seemed to take forever.

Wertz, a Bosse graduate, is of German ancestry. But he noted the West Side is so German that people spoke the language of the Fatherland instead of English when a well was being drilled years ago on the West Side.

“The West Side is extremely German,” he said. “German was spoken prominently. The East Side in general is more urbanized."

One of his closest friends is Al Mann, a Reitz grad who lived in various places before returning to Evansville four years ago. Wertz said Mann never lost his West Side pedigree.

"He says I am a 'city boy' and I tell him I like high rises and concrete," Wertz said.  

One thing he freely admits is the West Side is far more scenic, with its rolling hills, while the East Side is flat as a pancake.

"The East Side was glaciated 11,100 years ago," Wertz said. "The East Side was glaciated like Indianapolis."

As USI has blossomed the past few decades, the West Side has grown, but not nearly to the extent of the East Side.

As a lifelong East Sider and current Warrick County resident, Jim Lynch is familiar with the East-West rivalry.

"The West Side is steeped in great traditions, strong family values, an envious sense of community and a long list of recognizable family names," said Lynch, an investment advisor representative for Lynch & Associates in Newburgh. "The West Side is also full of rolling hills, pleasing landscape, impressive architectural structures and beautiful churches."

Lynch said East Siders have always admired the West Side cultures and traditions.  "East Siders were once those who migrated away from the motherland (West Side) to seek grandeur," he said. "We 'cake eaters' have always had to endure that the westward quest can come with ridicule.

"So while we enjoy the perks of getting to drive home from work with the sun to our backs we also know the lines have blurred and now that cornfields no longer separate the East Side from Newburgh along with so many of our 'cake eaters' moving north and further east into Newburgh that it’s long overdue to put aside the stereotypes and call an official truce to the friendly debate."

A little history

Stan Schmitt, a local historian, noted that Evansville was platted in 1814 in what was then Warrick County. It was briefly the county seat. In 1818, Vanderburgh County was created with Evansville as the county seat. In 1836, as part of a massive state internal improvement project, Evansville was chosen as the terminus of canal connecting Indianapolis to the Ohio River. This announcement initially led to large scale land sales and population growth for Evansville.

In 1837, hoping to take advantage of this growth, a number of men with connections to New England platted the town of Lamasco City adjacent to Evansville. (The name came from the initials of the principal owners Law, MacCall and Scott) The new town encompassed the area from present First Avenue to St. Joseph Avenue and Maryland Street to the Ohio River and annexed several areas up to the Evansville line. 

The boundary between the two towns was eventually on Division, now Court Street. By 1840, a nationwide recession and state overspending ended most of the transportation programs, including the canal to Evansville. Growth in Evansville slowed, but Lamasco was hit even harder. When the Wabash & Erie Canal finally reached Evansville and Lamasco in 1853, it was too late. 

With one railroad already completed and another in the works, the canal failure had little effect on Evansville. The same could not be said for Lamasco. Almost all of the residents of the town lived east of Pigeon Creek. West to St. Joe Avenue was largely unimproved.  Many of the original land holders had been replaced by the large numbers of German immigrants arriving in the area. Both Indianapolis and Evansville received their city charters and the population, growth and wealth of Evansville would continue with Evansville eventually becoming the second-largest city in the state (later supplanted by Fort Wayne). 

In 1857, Evansville and Lamasco began talks on merging the two towns. It was finally agreed that a referendum would be held in both cities to decide the outcome. On election day close to 95% of the voters in Evansville voted in favor of the merger. About 90% of Lamasco voters also voted for the merger.

"It doesn't sound like the takeover West Siders sometime claim happened," Schmitt said.

The result encompassed all of Lamasco east of Pigeon Creek. For about 15 years after that, the part of Lamasco west of Pigeon Creek went by the unofficial name of Independence. In the early 1870s, this was annexed by Evansville. Through the rest of the 19th century and even into the 20th, efforts were repeatedly made to change the name of Evansville to Lamasco. 

Lamasco was a name for a real metropolis while the "ville" at the end of Evansville was perceived as small town.

"Wonder if Louisville and Nashville knew that?" Schmitt said. "So much for the history."

Although Lamasco only existed for 20 years and became a part of Evansville 165 years ago, talking to some West Siders would lead you to think that Evansville "took over" Lamasco fairly recently, Schmitt said.

The name Lamasco still appears on the West Side. There are West Siders who will argue that the West Side really begins at Pigeon Creek and doesn't include the part which became Evansville in 1857. 

In the old Lamasco Bank at 220 N. Fulton Ave. (built 1914) there is a mural showing the 1857 merger. On one side are the people of Lamasco (farmers, workers, shopkeepers etc.) and the other side the people of Evansville (bankers, lawyers, businessmen etc.). Fifty years after the merger there was still an attitude that Lamasco was somehow taken over by the city slickers. 

The original people from Lamasco in 1837 were probably little different from those in Evansville. The influx of Germans changed Lamasco and the West Side, but also changed Evansville, Vanderburgh County and southwestern Indiana.

Sellers sees both sides of rivalry

Julie Sellers, a Mater Dei High School grad who has taught at Harrison for several years, knows the similarities and differences between the East and West Sides backwards and forwards. She said the East Side culture and environment seems faster and more hectic.

"It always seems like things happen on the East Side first," she said. "I always remember things developing on the West Coast before they got to the Midwest. That’s what it seems like here. Things are experimented with and developed first on the East Side. If they work, we will try something like it on the West Side.

Sellers recalled a funny conversation with one of her Harrison athletes.

"She was saying how West Siders were dirty because we hung our clothes outside on a wash line and we went barefoot," Sellers said.

There was a time when Sellers characterized West Siders as more conservative and laid back.

"East Siders were more on-the-go and busy," Sellers said. "You wouldn’t think of an East Sider sitting in a rocking chair on their front porch."

But she sees plenty of similarities.

"There are a lot of good, hard-working people with generous hearts," Sellers said.

Although the rivalry has waned in recent decades, it still exists. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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