Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mayor Hosey’s Three Rivers Water Plant

by Tom Castaldi

The Three Rivers Water Filtration Plant was constructed between 1931 and 1933 as a solution to persistent difficulties suffered by the growing city of Fort Wayne in obtaining a sufficient quantity of safe drinking water

Before the 1870s, water was drawn from the rivers, springs, and creeks that flowed into the confluence or from shallow wells, cisterns, and even the abandoned Wabash Erie Canal. The rapidly growing population brought increased fire hazards, a fear that was especially acute after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Worse yet, epidemics of water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid were not uncommon.

Agitation for a city-wide water system began in 1875 and quickly became an urgent political issue. Controversy began when the owners of the old Feeder Canal proposed that the city buy water from them, maintaining that this stagnant stream was perfectly safe and an inexhaustible source. City Council hired a hydraulic engineer who envisioned construction of a tall cylinder five feet in diameter and 200 feet high “standpipe” that would serve as a water tower. The canal owners offered to build a system, including pumping equipment, 21 miles of pipe and the standpipe itself, if the city would buy their water. A majority of the City Council members were in favor of this idea, but a strong citizens’ opposition defeated their offer to use the canal water. In the meantime, an election occurred, and every candidate who favored the use of canal water was defeated.

The new City Council hired another hydraulic engineer who developed a plan that centered on construction of a great reservoir south of town. Ground was broken for this first water works project in the fall of 1880. Still, the source of the water for the system was a matter of intense debate. The canal owners continued to urge Council to buy their water, while others maintained that water ought to be pumped from the St. Joseph River. A third faction argued for Spy Run Creek to be the city’s water source. Opting for this last idea, but grossly underestimating the quantities available in Spy Run, the Council ordered a large steam-powered pump to be built near the creek. A severe drought in the first year of operation dried up Spy Run Creek and, finally, the Council bought the city’s water from the owners of the canal.

Within several years, however, the city abandoned the canal water and sank several “deep rock wells,” down to the safe and seemingly limitless source of the lower water table. For half a century the great reservoir on the south side of town was the heart of the water system. But the quality of the water and the dependability of the supply were difficult to maintain.

Mayor William Hosey in the early years of the 20th century was convinced that the deep wells were the best source for a water supply. Several years of severe drought in the late 1920s, however, greatly reduced the capacity of the deep wells and persuaded the mayor that new technologies in treating river water safely and dependably would provide for the city’s supply. Ground breaking for the Three Rivers Filtration Plant took place in 1931, and the dedication of the facility was held in 1933. This $2.5 million effort during the Great Depression was heralded as one of the finest public works projects in the nation. The architecture of the building is unique, especially the intricately carved stone panels that show scenes from the history of water supply. “Gothic” in style, great attention was given to the appearance of the building as seen from a distance. The interior continues the “Gothic” theme in Indiana limestone. Additions to the building in 1954 and 1979 were each completed to match the original design.

The Filtration Plant draws its supply of water for treatment from the St. Joseph River at the Hosey Dam near Coliseum Boulevard through two 42-inch diameter pipes. The present-day plant treats tens of millions of gallons of water per day, distributes more than 100 million gallons daily through more than 600 miles of pipes, and maintains a 20-million gallon underground reservoir, in addition to the large Hurshtown reservoir that was completed in 1969.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – July 2008 No. 44.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history 

For more information and photos see:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Liberty Bell in Fort Wayne

by Carmen Doyle
Ninety nine years ago, Fort Wayne residents had what would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to view a national symbol without leaving Fort Wayne.

July 6, 1915 was the day the Liberty Bell visited Fort Wayne. 

The Bell left Philadelphia on the afternoon of July 5th, beginning a slow journey across the country to San Francisco and the Panama-Pacific Exposition- the World’s Fair.

The Liberty Bell had been on trips outside of Philadelphia before, but never as far as San Francisco. It had visited New Orleans in 1885, Chicago in 1893, Atlanta in 1895, Charleston in 1902, Boston in 1903, and St. Louis in 1904. But the Bell had never visited the West Coast before.

There was concern over the Bell’s travels. When the Bell had returned from St. Louis, many thought the crack had widened. It had also been the target of souvenir hunters. None of the Bell’s caregivers had wanted to let the Bell move out of Philadelphia again. It took a petition with signatures of several thousand California students to persuade Philadelphia to let the Bell travel across the country. A special railroad train was custom built to ensure the Bell’s safety. A lighting system was designed to show off the Bell at night. The trip covered 17 states and 105 cities. 

The Bell stopping in Fort Wayne, even for 45 minutes, was of course a huge event. Mayor Hosey asked everyone to take time out from their job to visit the Bell, and for all the schools to make preparations to see one of the most recognizable icons of American history. The Bell was paraded through three streets in Fort Wayne, in order for the many people to get a good look at it. Huge crowds followed the Bell, with people hanging out windows and off utility poles in order to get a better look. Every building the Bell passed was decorated with red, white, and blue bunting. A band played “America” at one interval. It was the event of a lifetime.

The Bell returned to Philadelphia after a stay in San Francisco. It passed through more states and cities on the journey home, stopping in some towns for only five minutes. When the Liberty Bell returned to Philadelphia, it was re-hung in Independence Hall, and the city has refused any tour requests since.

July 6, 1915, was the day the Liberty Bell toured Fort Wayne. It was an event that will never be repeated.

For more on the Liberty Bell’s visit to Fort Wayne, and to see photos, check out the 2006, Vol. 2 Old Fort News: The Day the Liberty Bell Came to Town.

Editor's Note: Photos are from our collection.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Road Trip with Harry

by Nancy McCammon-Hansen

If you’re looking for a fun read that’s chock full of historical facts you probably never knew, check out “Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip” by Matthew Algeo.

After he left office, President Truman and his wife Bess took off on a road trip from Independence, MO to the east coast with no Secret Service detail, no bodyguards and Harry driving. Former presidents at that time were not assigned a security detail. Harry and Bess liked it that way.

President Truman loved cars. His new 1953 Chrysler was not equipped with seat belts—American auto makers didn’t think the public would go for something that “frivolous” and Harry scared Bess quite often because he had a “lead foot”.  Seat belts, by the way, were the innovation of Robert McNamara when he worked for Ford prior to becoming Secretary of Defense.

Both of Truman’s grandmothers had migrated from Kentucky to western Missouri and it was this facet of his family tree that led Truman to become the president of the National Old Trails Road Association in 1926. The group advocated for a transcontinental roadway along the routes of historic trails. Along those trails you will find statues of pioneer women named “Madonna of the Trail”. The DAR erected these statues in 1928-29 in tribute to the women who followed their “crazy husbands” (per the website west. The website describes the statues as:

“… a pinkish, stony-faced pioneer Mom, in long dress and bonnet, strutting westward with a rifle on one arm, an infant on the other, and another little cruncher grasping Mom's skirt.”

One of Truman’s favorite authors was Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain. Twain helped Ulysses S. Grant out, when, after leaving office, he was close to being penniless and fighting throat cancer. Truman, too, was struggling financially because ex-presidents at the time had no pension and so he and Bess lived on his Army pension and what monies they could bring in. Truman’s favorite Twain quote was:

“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

He had a framed copy of the quote on his desk in the Oval Office.

Because of their financial woes, the Truman’s tried to save money on the trip as best they could. One way was to spend the night either with friends or in a motel—a relatively new aspect of American travel in the early 1950s. The motel was “invented” in 1925 as the popularity of the automobile picked up pace. Typically a motel was a series of bungalows with attached garages that were owned by individuals, not huge corporations. By the 1930s, motels had gained wide appeal with gangsters who found their out of the way locations ideal for “hiding out”.

In 1951, Memphis businessman Kemmons Wilson and his family traveled to Washington State, staying in motels along the way. Wilson was more than a little disgusted with the accommodations they endured and went on to found the Holiday Inn.

Travel across out continent was not a new thing for Truman’s family. His grandfather, Solomon Young, made a small fortune moving merchandise via wagon train from Missouri to Utah and California but lost all of his money in the Civil War. A typical wagon train consisted of forty to eighty wagons pulled by oxen teams. The roads, if you can call them that, were not good and wouldn’t be until a new mode of transportation—the bicycle—came along. The bicycle craze of the 1880s created a desire and lobby for paved roads.

Truman, in many circumstances, kept his mouth shut about how he felt the Eisenhower administration was handling world affairs. He loathed Richard Nixon but in public was known to shake his hand and smile. Eisenhower snubbed Truman on the former general’s inauguration day and Truman remembered this for a long, long time. But the purpose of the road trip was not only a vacation but to visit former members of Congress and make a speech about our country’s national security to the Reserve Officers Association convention in Philadelphia. Truman was heartily opposed to Eisenhower’s plan to trim back the defense budget. He was also the first ex-president to address the Senate since Andrew Johnson in 1875. Johnson was the only former President to be elected to the Senate and served less than five months before dying. Truman had been one of Missouri’s senators before being tapped as a vice presidential candidate. 

Knowing Fort Wayne’s link to the invention of the television, you’ll be glad to know Truman was ahead of his time when it came to this medium. He didn’t care for the way television turned politicians into “play actors” but he understood how important television was going to be in the future. On August 13, 1943, he declared, “Television is on the threshold of great development….It is true there are many technical and commercial difficulties that must be overcome. But the day cannot be far off when our homes, schools, offices and automobiles will be equipped with television sets. We will see news and sporting events while they are actually happening.”

Wonder what he’d think of the Internet, Facebook and Twitter?

Most of us know of Air Force One but did you know that FDR was the first president to fly while in office? And did you know his plane was dubbed the “Sacred Cow”? Truman also used the plane and for multiple purposes—you’ll have to read the book to find out but one of them involves our neighboring state of Ohio. The “Sacred Cow” was replaced by the “Independence” which was painted to resemble an eagle. Truman flew more than 135,000 miles while in office, taking 61 trips. Eisenhower’s plane, a new one because he didn’t want to use Truman’s hand-me-down, was dubbed the “Columbine” after Mamie’s home state of Colorado flower. The Air Force called it AF8610 but when it entered the same airspace as Eastern Airlines flight 8610, the Air Force changed the name to Air Force One and that’s been the name of the President’s plane ever since.

On July 7, 1953, Truman and his wife spent the night in Richmond, IN. The chapter on this Indiana community was a real eye-opener to this Indiana transplant. Suffice it to say there have been some pretty dark times in our state’s history thanks to the Klan. Truman himself was once a Klan member because it was one thing you had to do in Missouri to get elected. But when he was told he couldn’t hire Catholics and be a Klansman, he withdrew his application and got his money back. He’d commanded too many Catholics in WWI to put up with this.

Books like “Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure” are a wonderful way to study history beyond what you get in a classroom. Our presidents, their spouses and others in the public eye become real human beings and that only adds to the fun of studying history.

If you have a favorite history book, send me an email at and tell me a little bit about it. We just might share your enthusiasm for the work on our Facebook page or in another blog post!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Allen County’s Jail Flats

by Tom Castaldi

Allen County’s first jail was a two-story hewn log structure that was enclosed by a board fence located on the southwest corner of the courthouse square in downtown Fort Wayne. One witty fellow noted that this jail was but, “an asylum for the felon, exhausted from hot pursuit, until he availed himself of a little repose and then made sure his escape” through a hole in the wall that was easily made by removing a log. Destroyed by fire in 1849, the jail was immediately replaced.

This second jail briefly housed two notorious area horse thieves, Laertes Dean and George Pierce, but the jail was promptly broken into by their compatriots and the two men escaped. In the following year, three more inmates escaped by burrowing through the wall into the adjoining cistern and out. Eventually, after several prisoners escaped, it was determined that a better jail was needed.

Annoyed at such episodes, Allen County built a new, more substantial jail in 1852 across Calhoun Street from the present jail complex, giving the area around North Calhoun Street the name “Jail Flats.”

When Benjamin Madden and George Keefer confessed to the murder of John Dunbar, in April of 1855, both were tried and sentenced to hang. They were brought from the jail, two ropes attached to cross beams overhead, and both paid their debt to society with their lives.

A larger jail was constructed in 1872. In the compound of this jail in 1883 the last public hanging of a condemned prisoner took place when Sam McDonald, who had murdered his friend, Louis Laurent, was hanged before a crowd of two hundred and fifty curious observers.

The present jail was built in 1981 and the new Allen County Criminal Justice Center, continuing the tradition of a county jail in “Jail Flats,” erected on the northwest corner of Superior and Clinton streets was dedicated in 2004. (Editor's note: this building is now the Rousseau Centre.)

Originally published in Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – May 2008 No. 43

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Whistler and the Last Two American Forts at the Three Rivers

Old Fort Wayne in 1797

by Tom Castaldi

John Whistler came to America as a British soldier in the Revolution, under the command of General John Burgoyne. He was captured, paroled and sent back to England. His elopement with Anna Bishop, daughter of Sir Edward Bishop, a close friend of his father, brought the young man and woman to America where they made their first home at Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1790.

The following year, after joining the army of the United States, John Whistler came west with General St. Clair’s army. He escaped after suffering severe wounds received at the “Wabash slaughter field” handed to the Americans by Little Turtle’s warriors at Fort Recovery. Back in Cincinnati at Fort Washington Whistler returned to receive a new assignment and was joined there by his wife.

When General Anthony Wayne’s army arrived, Whistler joined them on the march into northwest Ohio where he participated in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. After defeating the Indian confederation under the leadership of the Shawnee brave Blue Jacket, on August 20, 1794, Wayne moved his “Legion of the United States” up the Maumee River to the large American Indian settlement of Kekionga at the confluence of the Three Rivers.

Wayne ordered a fort to be built in 1794 on the high ground overlooking the confluence of the Saint Mary’s and Saint Joseph rivers and the Miami town of Kekionga. In 1798, Colonel Thomas Hunt began construction of a second American fort at the Three Rivers. This fort, near present-day East Main and Clay Streets, was completed in 1800 and served as a replacement for the first hastily built one erected nearby to the south by General Wayne.

The American forts at the Three Rivers came under attack only once during nearly a quarter-of-a-century while they guarded United States interests in the midst of Indian territory. In 1815, after having withstood a siege three years earlier, this stronghold was replaced under the direction of now Major John Whistler. By 1816, Whistler, the Fort’s Commandant, was transferred to a new assignment in Saint Louis, Missouri. The fort Whistler had rebuilt during 1815 and 1816 was the last in the Three Rivers region and on April 19, 1819, was abandoned by the U. S. Army.

After the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Whistler and his wife resided in the fort at Fort Wayne, and here, in 1800, George Washington Whistler was born, one of fifteen children. George became “Whistler’s Father” the father of James Abbott McNeill Whistler whose renowned oil on canvas, “Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother”, is known to the world as “Whistler’s Mother”.

The Indian Agency continued to operate in the fort after it was decommissioned by the government and the first school in Fort Wayne was established here by the Baptist missionary, Isaac McCoy, from 1820 to 1822. The land immediately around the fort was ceded to Allen County by an act of Congress in 1830 and it wasn’t until 1852 that the last building of the fort was demolished.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – January 2008 No. 39 Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history