Agriculture in the nineteenth century fueled the food needs of a growing nation, and a growing New Albany. Two hundred years ago, consumers were much closer to their food, and the purveyors of it, than in modern times; however, this connection has become a topic of interest and is being revived through the active farmer’s market and Community Supported Agriculture memberships in New Albany. The first occupation in Floyd County was farming, since virtually every homestead in the rural county had a farm attached to it, often just to feed those living there. Two centuries ago, Americans who lived in urban areas bought farm fresh foods at markets directly from farmers. Among the items customers could expect to purchase at a market was freshly butchered meat, butter, milk, cheese, vegetables and fruits. Because many items were brought over dirt streets by mules, the market was often dusty, and the market was a noisy and bustling center of early commerce that gave the street its name.
Early history documents indicate that New Albany’s first market opened in 1820. It was located on Market Street between State and Pearl streets and later became known as the Middle Market House. The best-known and longest lasting market was the Hoosier Market House, also known as the Lower Market House, which was located on Market Street between State and West First Streets. It was built in 1839 and demolished in 1937. The Upper Market House was located on Market Street between 10th and 11th Streets. The space eventually became a war memorial in 1919.
Sales at this market were regulated by a market master, who charged purveyors 5 cents to sell their wares in a stall. The markets only operated during harvest months, so summer and fall food was carefully stored to make due in the winter.
The current Farmer’s Market building, located on the Southeast corner of Market and Bank Streets was designed by local architect Jim Rosenbarger and built in 1984. The construction cost of $17,000 was funded by the City of New Albany, Floyd County and the Chamber of Commerce. The market operates on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings from May through October and it has on average 24 vendors and 800 visitors per week.
The markets have always been much more, though, than places to buy fresh food. They have been places for people to gather and meet and at times even offered a platform for such things as political candidates who wanted to give a stump speech. Historically, when the market was not operating, it became a place for special events and public ceremonies. In the past century, the public market was where the community celebrated July 4. When New Albany celebrated its centennial in 1913, Lower Market House was the centerpiece of downtown decorations, with an immense set of eagles and wreaths with the dates 1813-1913 topping the front. Today’s market is a social gathering place as well with participation by musicians, artists, community organizations and businesses and neighbors visiting over refreshments purchased at the market.