Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Central Catholic National Catholic Basketball Champs

 (“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – Feb 2015, No. 122)

Central Catholic National Catholic Basketball Champs

Basketball season in Indiana is a special time and its tradition-storied history is filled with tales retold and others that have faded with time.  According to Play On Celebrating 100 Years of High School Sports in Indiana, the book’s dust cover notes state, “Indiana without high school sports would be an unthinkable place.” Some would say more so before Class Basketball became the rule, however, looking back there were other issues.

 Somewhat forgotten as memories fade with time is the debilitating influence of the Ku Klux Klan.  The Indiana Klan had come into prominence in the 1920s. As such it had been successful in targeting, “Roman Catholics, followed by Jews, foreign-born immigrants and African-Americans” and succeeded in eliminating these groups from the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA).  

Play On goes on, “Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the Association barred Catholic, private and segregated African-American schools from participating in IHSAA tournaments.  (However the) schools were under no probation against playing IHSAA schools during the regular season.”  That meant not playing in the celebrated annual state basketball tournament. 

Meanwhile, Catholic schools organized and participated in their own National Catholic Basketball league and held their own state tournament. Bob Heiny was a student at Fort Wayne’s Central Catholic High School and explained that his school joined that league, which presented its own playoff at the state level as well as a national tournament. The schools that turned in a winning season or won their state competition were invited to play for the National Catholic Basketball Championship title.  

By the end of the 1939 regular season, the Central Catholic (CC) basketball team finished its schedule losing only four of their twenty-one games. CC’s 1939 Echo yearbook reported the season’s results and how Coach John Levicki led his squad during the regular season competing against IHSAA and private schools alike. Among their seventeen wins were teams such as Elmhurst, Anderson, North Side and Concordia. The CC winning record qualified the team to compete in the State Catholic Tournament which they won beating Catholic schools from Anderson, Decatur and Indianapolis.  It earned them the right to compete in the Nationals.

In 1939, the CC’s hardwood squad included Jim Boedeker, George Bitler, Gene Maxwell, Ed Gorman, Bob Heiny, Ed Stanczak, Ed Dehner, Ed Klotz, John Falvy and Nick Leto.  The CC Irish swept Central Catholic of Wheeling, W.Va. 41-24, and Southeast Catholic of Philadelphia, Penna. 46-37. Moving on to the quarter finals they beat St. Basil’s of Pittsburg, Penna. 45-26. Now playing in Chicago they rolled over St. George of Evanston, Ill. 47-31. Hundreds of Fort Wayne fans traveled to the Loyola University gym and witnessed the final game which came down to the wire with Fort Wayne Central Catholic overcoming Chicago Leo Catholic High School with a final score of 44-37.

World War II brought change to the American culture.  Perhaps the changes had something to do with the IHSAA Athletic Council’s decision to no longer discriminate against any group from playing in its tournament. The exclusion rule that kept targeted groups which were perceived as a threat to the KKK was overturned on December 20, 1941, when the Council voted to end twenty years of discrimination.  

One other event took place before the ban was lifted that was ruled to become effective at the beginning of the 1942-1943 season.  The 1939 CC squad lost at least five of its players who were replaced in the 1940 season with the roster that included Ed Stancazk, Ed Klotz, Ed Dehner, Bob Heiny, Nick Leto, Harold Morthorst, John Kartholl, Dick Krouse, Bob Walker and Bert Keenen.  After Fort Wayne CC took both the 1939 State and National Tournament titles…they did it again in 1940.


Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio. Ft. Wayne 106.3 FM and South Bend 95.7 FM.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Lincoln Highway

 (“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” - Nov 2014,  No. 119)

The Lincoln Highway
Tom Castaldi

At the south approach of the Fort Wayne’s Harrison Street Bridge is an embedded plaque with these words, “Lincoln Highway Bridge New York 724 Miles - San Francisco 2,660 miles.”  Directly across Harrison Street, on the north end another panel gives the names of the Indiana Allen County Commissioners and the date which reads, “1915”.

Lincoln Highway bridge
Jan Shupert-Arick in her book The Lincoln Highway Across Indiana has over 180 illustrations and features the Harrison Street Bridge.  It is described as a concrete structure built at a cost of $200,000 before it opened in 1916. Jan noted that, “A photograph of the bridge was printed in the Lincoln Highway guide as an example of how bridges could be designed to beautify communities and enhance the travelers’ experience.”  

From north of the city traveling south on Harrison Street the Lincoln Highway traveler crossed the Saint Mary’s River.  Continuing toward downtown, and now a portion of the Heritage Trail, it is still possible to experience revisiting one of America’s grand transportation achievements.

Fort Wayne has had a long and rich heritage when it comes to providing paths for the movement of people.  Because of a Continental uplift known as the Saint Lawrence Divide, and ancient glacier action, river ways flow in all four directions of the compass.  The Miami people understood the significance and Chief Little Turtle described the place in 1795 as, “That glorious gate through which all the good words of our chiefs had to pass from the north to the south and from the east to the west.”

George Washington saw the advantages of cutting a canal across that glorious gate known as the Maumee-Wabash Portage.  It was the only land barrier interrupting an all-water way connection between Lake Erie with the Wabash-Ohio-Mississippi valley system.  Fort Wayne the highest point along the line was dubbed the “Summit” for the construction of the longest canal in the western hemisphere. Later, as railroads mimicked the canal route and it seems fitting that the first cross continental highway would find its way through Allen County.

It was Indiana businessman Carl Fisher who envisioned America’s first coast-to-coast motor highway in 1913.  Fisher of Indianapolis working with his friend James Allison, together caught the attention of the auto makers to help finance a passable coast-to-coast roadway. As Shupert-Arick points out, Allison held the business skills while Fisher provided the vision and, “the auto industry the beneficiary.”  In September 1914, they announced the creation of the Lincoln Highway with a route winding from Times Square to San Francisco.  Fort Wayne was a point along the way and the Harrison Street, Lincoln Highway Bridge was constructed to accommodate the new automobile route.

Construction of the Lincoln Highway
The original 1915 Lincoln Highway entered Indiana from Ohio at Allen County. It passed through the communities of Zulu, Townley, Besancon, New Haven and Fort Wayne.  From Fort Wayne the Lincoln Highway headed toward Goshen, which later in 1926 became U.S. 33.  Known as the “1915 Route,” it passed through Churubusco through South Bend and on to Valparaiso.  In 1926, in an effort to shorten the distance, a new course was laid out passing through Columbia City, Warsaw, Bourbon, Plymouth and reconnecting the older route at Valparaiso.

After the 1915 opening, the U.S. Army conducted a 3,239 mile transcontinental convoy over the Lincoln Highway in 1919 from Washington DC to San Francisco. The story has been told of 28 year old Lt. Colonel who experienced the excursion, understood its military importance, its economic value and became the impetus for the Interstate system that he, Dwight D. Eisenhower later inaugurated when becoming President of the United States.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi  and retired Essex Vice President, is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; a contributing writer  for Fort Wayne Monthly magazine; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast Mondays on Northeast Indiana Public Radio WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 FM Fort Wayne and 95.7FM South Bend.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Forming Fort Wayne

 (“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” - Oct 2014, No. 118)

Forming Fort Wayne
Tom Castaldi

Because of the Maumee-Wabash portage was the most direct link between New France in the upper Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, the Three Rivers region was especially important. The most significant geographical feature in the region is the confluence of the Saint Mary’s River and the Saint Joseph River which form the Maumee River. The short distance overland between them, which eventually flows to the Atlantic, and the Wabash system to the west, which in turn flows into the Ohio, the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, came to be the “portage” of choice.  A carrying place, it was a strip of land usually described as nine miles in length where travelers could transport their cargoes from one water system to the next.

This was a natural crossroads at the continental divide that first attracted the indigenous people over the course of thousands of years. It later caught the attention of the European explorers and traders and the American pioneer settlers who continued to develop the area as a transportation and communications center.

Miami Chief Little Turtle expressed its importance eloquently at the Treaty of Greenville in 1795 when he called it “that glorious gate…through which all the words of our chiefs had to pass from north to south and from east to west.” At the treaty William Henry Harrison insisted that it remain open for all.  Arguably, it’s one of the main reasons the Three Rivers’ villages of Kekionga, Fort Wayne and surrounding communities are located here at all.

Retired Allen County Soil Conservation Officer Dan McCain noted part of the portage story pertains to the glacial times. The subtle differences relate to the fact that the Wabash has been a river much longer than the Maumee even though the St. Joseph and St. Mary’s are essentially the same age as the upper Wabash.  An enormous volume of water passed over the continental divide at Fort Wayne when the glacial ice blocked the outlet to the north east and to the Atlantic.  It was that flooding action that formed the huge valley that the Little Wabash River and Wabash now occupy.  It caused this place to become the preferred portage since it was so well supported by the great valley.

The unique feature of a continental divide brought the rivers together formed at the end of the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago.  When the retreating glacier of the Wisconsin Lobe left massive end moraines, or ridges, they deflected the courses of the St. Joseph and the St. Mary's rivers to the west. 

The slackwater glacial “Lake Maumee,” which had filled to the brim and overtopped what we know today as the Saint Lawrence Continental Divide, broke thorough a long, low portion of the Fort Wayne Moraine.  It sent a vast volume of water flowing into the Little Wabash River, which leads to the Wabash then into the Ohio and finally the Mississippi River.

At the end of the Ice Age Lake Maumee began to recede and halted its flow into the Wabash. Due to silt accumulations and a massive log jam it recaptured the St. Joseph and St. Mary’s rivers into the Maumee system by diverting them to the east.  “Lake Maumee” appeared in six distinct lower levels to finally become what we know today as Lake Erie.  In the vast flat footprint of Lake Maumee came the two-million acre Great Black Swamp extending in a wedge shape from east of Fort Wayne to the Michigan line and to Toledo thus taking in most of northwestern Ohio.

As the glacial lake gradually receded, the Maumee River formed as a young river and became the principal drainage for the region.  For centuries it was the only way through the otherwise impenetrable Great Black Swamp.  Completing the Wabash & Erie Canal in Ohio opened the area for transportation and put Indiana in commercial reach of the East Coast.

After the coming of the Canal, the importance of the portage declined in the 1830s and by the time of the Civil War it was little more than a trail through the western marshes of the country. With the great drainage projects of the 1890s, it virtually disappeared leaving behind the community we call Fort Wayne.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi  and retired Essex Vice President, is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; a contributing writer  for Fort Wayne Monthly magazine; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast Mondays on Northeast Indiana Public Radio WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 FM Fort Wayne and 95.7FM South Bend.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Fort Wayne’s First Sister City

Fort Wayne’s First Sister City
by Michael Rice, 200@200 Intern

When most people in Fort Wayne hear about “Takaoka,” they say “Yeah, Hall’s Restaurant!” The name comes from our sister city in Japan. We started our relationship with Takaoka through Sister Cities International in 1976 for America’s Bicentennial.  It was interesting for me to find out Fort Wayne also has three other sister cities: Plock, Poland; Gera, Germany; and Taizhou, China. Takaoka, however, was our first foreign friendship and shared cultural interest.
Crews hang objects for the Sister Cities exhibit at the Fort Wayne Botanical Gardens

               Sister Cities International was created by President Eisenhower to help foster bonds between people all across the world. This organization has over 2300 partnerships in 150 countries on six continents. The partnerships have allowed many communities to create strong bonds and overall make the world even smaller.        
Exhibits Coordinator, Jessie Cortesi handles an artifact for the exhibit

               Takaoka is located in the northwestern part of Toyamo, which is centrally located in Japan, located on the coast of the Sea of Japan. Like Fort Wayne, the majority of the city is comprised of residential housing, office buildings, commercial facilities, agriculture, and public property. Takaoka in addition has large forests and some mountains.

When Takaoka and Fort Wayne first met they exchanged gifts. We received beautiful kimonos, plates with inlay, traditional masks and many other items. Even the hand made boxes in which the items were shipped, could be considered artifacts themselves with the intricate joinery, fine wood, and fine finishes with hand written Japanese language characters. We use quality boxes as well here at the History Center, but those are winning with style. I love woodworking so I was just as intrigued with the containers as I was with the contents.

               The 40th year anniversary is upon us this year and the Fort Wayne Botanical Gardens will be using some of the Fort Wayne History Center objects that came from Takaoka for an exhibit.  Our bond with Takaoka is special and hopefully the cultural exchange will encourage our cities to understand each other a little better and foster the strong friendship for many years to come.                      

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Indiana Historian Ross Lockridge and Son

(“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – September 2014, No. 117)

Indiana Historian Ross Lockridge and Son
Tom Castaldi
One of the renowned fictional accounts of Indiana made famous both in book and on film has roots here in our Three Rivers country. A look at the author and the storyline reveal an Allen County influence. The book made it into the top 10 national best seller list of 1948 and later produced as a film by MGM with the enchanting title Raintree County.  It was a popular movie that starred Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Cleft, Eva Marie Saint and Lee Marvin.  Ross Lockridge, Jr., wrote the story of nineteenth century Midwest history, folklore and landscape that took place somewhere in a fictional Indiana county of the 1840s.

Lockwood, Jr., of course suggests there was a senior. The senior, his father, was born in Miami County, Indiana in 1877 and went on to graduate from Indiana University in 1900.  Ross Lockridge, Sr., married and returned to his north central Hoosier home.  He became the principal of Peru High School, and later earned a law degree from IU in 1907. Not long after, he moved to Fort Wayne and went to work for Wayne Knitting Mills.

While in Fort Wayne, Lockridge Sr., helped to organize the Allen County Fort Wayne Historical Society. During this time his reputation grew as a history writer of pioneer Indiana.  Between the years 1937 to 1950, Lockridge served as a director of Indiana University Foundation’s Hoosier Historic Memorial Activities Agency.  Some of his works listed by Indiana Historical Society include: George Rogers Clark (1927),  A. Lincoln (1930), LaSalle (1931), The Old Fauntleroy Home (1939), and Labyrinth (1941), Theodore F. Thieme (1942). His The Story of Indiana (1951) was primarily used as a text in Indiana at the junior high school level.  Other writings from this historian tell about Johnny Appleseed, the Underground Railroad, as well as Indiana’s trails, rivers and canals.  Still another extended work which continues to aid transportation history researchers is Historic Hoosier Roadside Sites, commissioned in 1938 by the Indiana State Highway Association. His clear and concise writing style has added to our knowledge of our past.

Ross Jr. was born in Bloomington, Indiana, and after arriving in Fort Wayne assisted his father with historical projects. Sadly, here too in Fort Wayne, another son Bruce drowned at the age of five. When son Ross was nine years old the family moved back to Bloomington. The senior Lockridge certainly must have shared many stories of Indiana and her rich history with his son.  Could it be that while yet in Allen County the younger Lockridge first envisioned the notion of a mythical tree that grew in Raintree County?

In the book, Johnny his main character had returned from the Civil War and a school principal who failed to finish his epic poem about the beginnings of America. Although Johnny had his successes, the character is witnessed as he flashes back in memory wondering about the country’s future.  The tree Lockridge sought to feature in his tome is based on a real Golden Rain Tree which blooms in late June and July with subtle yellow flowers that drop like a raining of yellow pollen dust and flower pedals.  In the book, Johnny is influenced by several cultural concepts one of which is to find the legendary Rain Tree supposedly planted somewhere in the Raintree County by the celebrated Johnny Appleseed who is buried in Allen County.

Author Don Blair gave a four season description in The Story of New Harmony writing that this tree puts on a show of beauty throughout the year. He says that it begins even in the dormant stage with its bare limbs which is followed by a leafing-out of a showing of its leaves.  Next comes the golden blooms when dropped creates a golden shower and followed by lime-sized, variegated pods which appear as Japanese lanterns. Once the pods have shed at summer’s end, the tree blends into the forest with its autumn colors.  Before returning to dormancy at the end of its cycle it has the appearance of a dead tree.

In 1948, shortly after his only book was published, Ross Lockridge, Jr., at age 34 took his own life in Bloomington, Indiana. Ross Lockridge, Sr., died in 1952.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi  and retired Essex Vice President, is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; a contributing writer  for Fort Wayne Monthly magazine; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast Mondays on Northeast Indiana Public Radio WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 FM Fort Wayne and 95.7FM South Bend.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Valerius Armitage Canal Contractor

( “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” - August 2014, No. 116)

Valerius Armitage Canal Contractor
Tom Castaldi

Valerius Armitage first arrived in Indiana in 1830 to work on the Wabash & Erie Canal. In 1836 he was joined by his wife Mary Hewitt Armitage and their five children.   

An 1899 Carroll County Citizen article states that Armitage first came to Allen County, Indiana, to build the canal’s feeder dam at Fort Wayne in 1832. This was no ordinary dam. Canal planners determined that the dam must be at a high point near the proposed water route to effectively “feed” the project. The site selected was on the Saint Joseph River where impounded water could be directed through a channel six miles long running south to the main line at Fort Wayne.

To build the dam, trees were felled and brush collected to form a foundation on which wood “log cabin” style cribs were fashioned and filled with stone.  The trees were laid lengthwise with their tops facing the flow of water in the riverbed to trap sand and sediment.  As the branches fill in, the dam formed and the river water held back. When completed the 230 feet long structure spanned the St. Joseph River and stood one and one half stories high.

Once the feeder channel was ready for use, the reservoir formed by the dam supplied water into the main line with great capacity. It could deliver water about thirty-three miles to the east at the Six Mile Reservoir in Paulding County, Ohio, and to the west as far the Forks of the Wabash. As a matter of interest, the St. Joseph Feeder could send its waters into Wabash County a distance of approximately fifty-four miles.  Beyond that point, other dams were necessary and were built along the canal line as needed.

Securing the business of building locks seems to have been an interest of Armitage.  The locks were design that raised or lowered canal boats nine feet. It is what made movement possible overcoming the up or down changes in the land’s elevation.  Without a lifting lock canals would only function on stretches of level terrain.

After completing the St. Joseph River Dam, Armitage’s other canal contracts in Indiana were at Huntington, Wabash and in 1835 he took a contract to build the locks at the Fitch farm west of Logansport.  Interestingly enough, the locks at Fitch Farm were identified as numbers 25 and 26 among the numerical sequence that began with number 1 near the Indiana-Ohio line east of Fort Wayne.  Both were formed by constructing them with cut stone from an adjacent quarry.  The only lock in City of Wabash was also a cut stone; however, six locks in and around the town of Huntington were constructed of wood, one being a combination of both wood and stone.

It seems that Mr. Armitage was pretty good working with the various materials available at the time. By 1853 the canal had reached Evansville on the Ohio River, all made possible because of the St. Joseph River Dam.  Much of the credit was due to Valerius Armitage who died in 1838 at the age of only forty six.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi  and retired Essex Vice President, is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; a contributing writer  for Fort Wayne Monthly magazine; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast Mondays on Northeast Indiana Public Radio WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 FM Fort Wayne and 95.7FM South Bend.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Thomas Edison in Fort Wayne

(“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – Jul 2014, No. 115)

Thomas Edison in Fort Wayne
Tom Castaldi

Downtown Fort Wayne offers surprising history.  The Landing on the western end of Columbia Street holds a cluster of structures from the nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries which were once at the center of Fort Wayne.  It was designated an historic district in 1965 and saved from the general dismantling of the rest of Columbia Street. In 1994, the Landing was recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.  

The old street began as an unplanned trace that led westward from the U. S. fort at the confluence of the Saint Joseph and Saint Mary’s rivers and eventually led travelers to the beginnings of the portage to the Wabash River. When the Wabash Erie Canal came along, it became the landing place or depot for disembarking and loading of both passengers and cargo which encouraged economic development in the region.
On Columbia Street at the age of seventeen, Thomas Edison is said to have arrived in the summer of 1864 to work as a telegraph operator. A demand for these facilitators of nineteenth century communications increased during the Civil War years. It was here that Edison found a position in Fort Wayne as an itinerate telegrapher working for the Wabash Railroad Company. Unfortunately the building in which he worked was raised in 1980.

Historian John Ankenbruck noted that Thomas Alva Edison came to Fort Wayne from Port Huron, Michigan and took a room in a three-story brick building at the northwest corner of Columbia and Calhoun Streets. He is also believed to have lived at rooms a block east at Clinton and Columbia. It should be noted that others question if anyone knows for sure where Edison worked and lived while in Fort Wayne since his employer was the Wabash Railroad Company. If so a workplace near Baker Street may be more to the nature of the efficiency of a genius’ thinking.  Edison wasn’t in town too long and in less than a year moved to Indianapolis with Western Union Telegraph Company and still later to Louisville, Kentucky.

Thomas was born on February 11, 1847, about a three hour drive east of Fort Wayne in Milan, Ohio.  Robert D. Parker writing for a July 1978 Fort Wayne publication noted that Edison’s formal schooling lasted a mere three months. However, he had the advantage of being home schooled by his school teacher mother who was convinced Tom deserved better than the school’s rating that had him placed at the bottom of his class. During his younger years, Tom bought a small printing press and working with the telegraphers used it to publish The Weekly Herald to cover events in the towns on the Grand Trunk Railroad line between Detroit and Port Huron.  At age twelve, riding the rails selling Detroit newspapers, he also printed and distributed news for the small communities not covered by the big city publishers.

Edison became interested in electricity while spending time in and out of telegraph offices. With a neighbor friend, he stretched a wire between their houses.  Using crude homemade keys, along with the purchase of batteries for powering their devices, the two became proficient with messaging to one another.  Meanwhile, in gratitude for having rescued a boy from a certain rail fatality, the saved lad’s station agent father, offered to teach Tom railroad telegraphy.  At age fifteen Tom already knew Morse Code and soon landed a job as the telegrapher in the Port Huron office.

Thomas Edison is the holder of 1,093 patents many of which have made their way into our everyday expectations. The more recognizable developments are those that emerged from the incandescent light bulb, phonograph cylinder, carbon microphone, movie camera, electric power distribution to mention a few.  Thomas Alva Edison passed away on October 31, 1931, was buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Orange, New Jersey. However, in 1963 his remains were reburied in the Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi  and retired Essex Vice President, is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; a contributing writer  for Fort Wayne Monthly magazine; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast Mondays on Northeast Indiana Public Radio WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 FM Fort Wayne and 95.7FM South Bend.