Friday, June 3, 2011

Recapping 90 years of Historical Society events

Here are some highlights of the 90 year history of the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society:

The 1920s

Historical Society formed in 1921.

Artifacts from the Mary Penrose Wayne Chapter of the DAR combined with artifacts owned by the Historical Society resulted in a collection of over 100 items by 1923. The items were displayed in the Relic Room of the Allen County Court House until 1926.

The Historical Society leased the Swinney Homestead from the city in 1924 and established its first permanent museum.

First curator was Isabelle Taylor.

Officially changed name in 1924 to Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society.

Grand opening of the new museum was on January 17, 1927.

Other major events of the decade included the “Old Fashioned Tea” to celebrate the 26th anniversary of W & D, and dedication of a bronze tablet to Gov. Samuel Bigger at his grave in McCulloch Park in 1922.

The 1930s

In December, 1931, the first issue of the “Old Fort Bulletin” was published.

February, 1932 saw the hiring of the first full-time curator, Charles Cherry.

The Historical Society’s constitution was revised in 1932 so that the organization could collect books and manuscripts, thus establishing an historical library. First person accounts of local history were published.

March 24, 1932, the Historical Society officially incorporated.

“The Old Fort News” was first published in March 1936.

The 1940s

The Historical Society expanded its professional reputation by hosting the Midwest Museum Conference in 1941 and the Hoosier Historical Institute in 1946.

Margaret J. Smith, granddaughter and only surviving descendant of Thomas Swinney, planted a sycamore tree on the grounds of the Swinney Museum.

The 1950s

The Society initiated a docent program, acquired a locomotive for the museum grounds, began bus tours and started a pilot program to send educational materials to area schools.

By 1959, the membership had grown to 950 members.

The 1960s

The Society began museum field trips for 4th grade students.

National recognition with an award of merit was achieved from the American Association for Local and State History.

A 1910 doctor’s office with artifacts from Dr. Lawrence Shinabery’s collection was set up in the third floor attic of the Swinney Museum.

The 1970s

The Settlers were founded to preserve and teach pioneer skills and began separate programs in 1971. By 1976, over 200 women had enrolled in these programs.

The Society acquired the former city hall at 302 East Berry and began restoration of the building in late 1977.

The 1980s

October 10, 1980, the Old City Hall Historical Museum was dedicated. Restoration totaled almost $1.2 million with funds coming from both private and public sources.

The Settlers moved to the Swinney Homestead.

An industry and technology gallery opened in 1984.

The police gallery opened in the old jail in 1985.

In 1985, the Festival of Gingerbread was founded as a major fund raiser for the museum.

The DAR officially donated its entire collection of artifacts to the museum in 1988.

The 1990s

The Barr Street Market was acquired in 1991 as well as the Chief Richardville House.

The George R. Mather Lecture series premiered in 1993 and continues today.

The Society celebrated its 75th anniversary with a special exhibit “Gems of the Collection”, displaying some of the best artifacts owned by the Historical Society and reinforcing the uniqueness and depth of collection’s range.

The 21st century

The History Center in partnership with the Helmke Library at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW), created an online Digital Collection for access to many historic materials owned by the Historical Society, including photos, maps, and manuscripts. See

The home of the Historical Society was officially named the History Center in 2002.

The Heritage Education Fund was started in 2003 to help in funding field trips for area schools.

New marketing efforts resulted in a new branding for the History Center and revamped newsletters, web site and the development of a blog and Facebook page.
See and

The 25th anniversary of the Festival of Gingerbread in 2010 broke all attendance and revenue records.

In February, 2011, a ribbon cutting was held for the newly restored Shields Room that had once been the city council chambers.

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