News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 5, 2013

The death of Irish Kate Preston

Mike McCormick
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The lifeless body of Catherine Preston, commonly referred to as “Irish Kate,” was found Saturday morning, Oct. 5, 1895, on a sandbar at the western edge of the Wabash River wagon bridge.

Her remains were taken to the morgue at Henry W. Katzenbach’s funeral home, 18 N. Third St., where Dr. Alaric T. Payne, Vigo County coroner, declared that her death was caused by the ingestion of “Rough on Rats” rodent poison. A half-empty box of the toxin was found near her body.

The corpse was discovered by Louis Kramer, a Terre Haute meat dealer who was returning from the Terre Haute Abattoir & Stock Yard Co. on the river’s western bank.

Terre Haute Abattoir & Stock Yard Co. was owned by William Retz, maternal grandfather of author John Jakes. Kramer later gained notoriety as the Havens & Geddes department store window decorator during the deadly Dec. 19, 1898 fire.

Kate’s barefooted body was lying face down in mud. Traces of blood on her face gave rise to a suspicion of foul play; however, scrutiny revealed only a superficial cut.

One witness saw Preston, “decidedly under the influence of alcohol,” walking across the bridge at about 7 p.m. Friday night. It was not uncommon for the woman to walk to West Terre Haute to beg for liquor after Terre Haute saloons rejected her.

Kate often found a resting spot in the river bottoms to sleep off a binge.

Sometimes called “The Witch of Sandburr Hollow,” Kate lived for many years in poverty at the northern edge of the slum located north of First Avenue, between Third and Sixth streets. The Terre Haute Express described her home as a “miserable little hovel” with a dirt floor and a discarded comforter serving as the front door.

The roof was constructed of used boards erratically nailed together, which neither protected occupants from sunshine nor storm. In one corner was a bed made from abandoned blankets on top of a pile of straw.

A rusty cooking stove, table and two broken chairs were her only furniture. A pine shoe box served as a cupboard. The inside walls of Preston’s shack were covered with newspapers. Illustrations from the Police-Gazette were distributed about the walls.

For several years Kate earned drinking money as a fortune teller. For a dime or a quarter she would read the lines of a customer’s palm and invariably promised romance or great wealth.

Until 1893, Kate and her husband resided together in the shack. Her husband was an invalid and had to rely on what Kate could steal or forage to survive. During the couple’s last quarrel, Kate was shot. Investigators were unsure whether she was shot by her husband or that the her wound was self-inflicted.

Kate was sent to jail and her husband was committed to the Vigo County Poor House, where he was residing when she died.

• • •

When constructed in 1893 — 120 years ago — The First National Bank building at 511-513 Wabash Ave. was hailed as one of the most complete bank buildings in Indiana.

The First National Bank was organized in 1853 as the Southern Bank of Indiana by Joseph H. Williams of Erie, Pa. Located in a two-story brick building at the northwest corner of Second and Ohio streets, it was one of the first “free banks” in Vigo County.

Williams was the first president and George C. Duy was cashier. Joseph’s son Francis, though only 17 years old, was active in the business when it opened.

In 1863, after the Southern Bank moved to the southeast corner of Fourth and Wabash, the name of the bank was changed. Joseph Williams was president and Francis S. Williams was cashier. John H. Barr, James Bell, Blackford Moffatt, Henry Musgrove, Frederick A. Ross and Henry Ross were the directors.

In 1866, family illnesses and old age forced Williams to relinquish his position with the bank to Deloss W. Minshall. Demas Deming Jr. then succeeded Minshall in 1868.

Musgrove, a lawyer, relocated to Mississippi and was elected state auditor. John H. Barr, a pharmacist, joined John Olcott and William Riley McKeen on the committee to convince the state legislature to locate Indiana State Normal School in Terre Haute.

The bank chose William Le Baron Jenney and Jenney & Co. of Chicago as architects for the news building. Known as “the Father of the Skyscaper,” Jenney is listed No. 89 in the book, “1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium,” published in 1998.

Jenney was associated with the design of the new Indiana State Normal School building after its disastrous fire of April 1888. He also had input in the remodeling of the first Terre Haute House.

Silas Beach was the general contractor of the 1893 project. Terre Haute Stone Works Co. was the stone contractor, assuming responsibility for installing the Bedford stone front at a cost of $12,000. The interior was finished in marble and mahogany. When opened in 1894, there were two vaults, a board room, a parlor and a rest room.

Besides Deming, the directors in 1893 were Minshall, Harry Ross, Edwin W. Ross, Anton Mayer, Henry S. Deming and Samuel T. Reese. Bertis McCormick was the cashier, and Frank Teel was the assistant cashier.

The bookkeepers were Charles F. Haupt, Herman Raabe and Charles J. Schomerus. Julius Lindeman was the bank messenger.

As might be suspected, all of the directors were shareholders. Other shareholders in 1893 were the Estate of Josephus Collett, Sarah C. Deming, Gerhard Eshman, Crawford Fairbanks, Susan K. Francis, Constant W. Mancourt, William E. McLean, Richard A. Morris, Julia C. Smith, Estate of William B. Warren, Sophie Deming Wheeler and Charles W. Williams

The building is now occupied by the law firm of Cox, Zwerner, Gambill & Sullivan.