Thursday, June 30, 2011

How Fort Wayne Celebrated a July Fourth

July Fourth is a popular day of the year for celebrating in the good ole USA , and in Fort Wayne, Indiana, it has been no exception. Well over a hundred years ago, back in 1835, when the Wabash Erie Canal opened up the thirty-some miles of waterway between Fort Wayne and Huntington, July 4th was the day chosen to make the inaugural float trip.

By 1841 the canal had reached Lafayette, Indiana, then considered the practical head of steamboat navigation on the Wabash River and a significant tributary to the Ohio River. It meant that the canal west of Fort Wayne had bridged a single land barrier that stood in the way of an all-water route connecting the Eastern Seaboard with the West via the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico .

However, the plan was for a much longer, navigable, slack-water canal and the route was extended westward to towns along the line touched by the new interstate waterway. As it did so, July Fourth was the day usually set aside for the opening honors. It happened that way in Wabash, Indiana in 1837, in Logansport, Indiana in 1838, in Delphi, Indiana in 1840 and in 1841 when it got to Lafayette.

East of Fort Wayne it was another story where construction on the canal was at a stand still near the Ohio-Indiana state line. Ohio was having some squabbles, including overcoming a boundary line despite with Michigan, and it took until 1843 before the canal was completed to Lake Erie at Toledo, Ohio.

Back in 1841 the canal had reached Lafayette, where there was access to steamboats on the Wabash River. Until then, it meant that the canal had been landlocked toward the east since there was no navigation much beyond the Indiana - Ohio state line. But, now in 1843, a boat could travel uninterrupted by canal from Lafayette 's landing on the Wabash River to Lake Erie at Toledo...and do so in two days. Goods began flowing into the frontier and Indiana 's produce and products could be shipped to customers in the world's markets. It was an enormous boost in opening up the old West.

On July 4th in 1843, Fort Wayne pulled out all the stops to celebrate Independence Day. It might possibly have been the greatest of July Fourth celebration of them all with a great Grand Opening celebration on "The Summit" ... Fort Wayne 's nickname as the highest point along the canal route. Invitations had been sent out across the nation and many of the country's great personages unable to attend wrote letters of regret, and canal boats arrived in such great numbers that the length of the canal in town was cluttered with traffic.

There was parade said to have been nearly a mile in length that formed on the " Public Square " and marched to the Thomas Swinney farm. Several bands made up the procession providing the rhythm and beat for the marching soldiers representing the Revolution and the War of 1812 proudly displaying the national colors. They were followed by the city's notables along with citizens of Ohio and other states as well as a contingent of Miami Warriors. When they arrived at Swinney's there were hundreds in attendance and reports say that after the bands had played some national airs, the Reverend Mr. Boyd made a fervent and appropriate prayer followed by Hugh McCulloch, Esq., reading of the Declaration of Independence. General Cass, a perspective presidential candidate, delivered an admirable address. Historian Bert Griswold wrote, "The stirring address of General Cass was frequently punctuated by the firing of a cannon, which excited the cheers of the multitude without the range of his voice."

By 1853, a Wabash & Erie Canal boat first reached Evansville on the Ohio River signifying that a packet passenger boat or a freight barge could begin at Toledo, lock-up to Fort Wayne, float across the 16-mile "Summit" level then lock-down on its way to Lafayette continuing on to Evansville and meet an Ohio River steamboat. Naturally, it could make the same trip it in the opposite direction, which it did so for many July Fourths thereafter.

Today, we gave an appropriate link to that Grand Opening Celebration of what became the longest canal in America welcoming visitors at the front door of the History Center in Fort Wayne. You can actually see and touch Commodore Perry's naval cannon, along side the marker that tells of this relic of the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie, and the cannon fired at the dedication of the Wabash & Erie Canal that Fourth of July day in 1843.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society at 90 Years - Some Reflections

[Below is the text of an address given to the Historical Society at its 90th Anniversary Meeting on June 21, 2011. It was a beautiful evening, and I was deeply honored to be asked to give the Keynote.]

Ninety years! What a great accomplishment for any local organization! I am honored to be asked to say a few words on this august occasion. I think we can all be proud that our historical society has reached this venerable age.

What was it like in Fort Wayne when the Historical Society was founded? What events happened here that led people to establish a historical society? Local historical societies were very much an east-coast phenomenon in 1920. They could be found across the country at the state level, but not so much at the local level, especially not in the Midwest. They were very rare in Indiana, and so I think the founding of our society tells us something special about Fort Wayne and the ideals of the people who created it.

Let’s go back to the years just before 1921, the period leading up to the founding of the society, and examine some of the currents in Fort Wayne at that time. Perhaps together we can understand the climate in which our historical society was founded, and why it has endured so successfully these 90 years.

For our city, and indeed for all of America, 1920 was a time of immense social, political, and technological change. Our industrial output was growing at an almost unprecedented pace. The Dudlo Manufacturing Company, General Electric, Wayne Knitting Mills, Perfection Biscuit, the S. F. Bowser Company, the Fort Wayne Rolling Mills, Louis C. Rastetter and Company, and the Berghoff and Centlivre breweries were among many industrial firms manufacturing goods and hiring hundreds of laborers. We were a booming town in 1920. Our population had risen to 86,549 and would exceed 115,000 by 1930. Most citizens were proud of the role that Dudlo, Bowser, GE, Packard Piano had played in the recent war effort. Dudlo’s magnet wire had served many uses in the war. Bowser’s pumps had been used in Europe. GE had provided a number of small engine components, while Packard had stopped making pianos and instead produced airplane propellers. And the post-war period augured well for even more productivity. The very year that the Historical Society was founded, city officials were working with International Harvester to build a new truck plant on the eastern side of the city at a cost of $5 million, a plant that the company promised would employ between 4,000 and 5,000 new workers. When completed, it would have a profound impact on our city for generations.

Fort Wayne also remained a major railroad hub in 1921. It was not only a place where locomotives were being designed and built, but also the rail center of the upper Midwest - the place where lines from across the country converged. The hub gave local industries an important strategic advantage in transporting goods to the rest of the country. This strong railroad culture, already more than 60 years old, had helped to shape and forge Fort Wayne’s identity. Many families had relatives who worked in the Pennsy shops or on the rails in some capacity. During World War I the shops had remained open extra hours to keep locomotives and freight cars in working order for the war effort, transporting soldiers and materiel.

The growth that Fort Wayne had experienced during the period between 1910 and 1920 had spurred a variety of other changes. The city experienced a new building boom in 1920 that was almost unprecedented, and city leaders had worked hard to keep up with the growth. Mayor William Hosey had spent the decade before 1910 rebuilding and in some respects reinventing the city’s infrastructure, leading a drive to build municipal electric and water pumping plants. He would continue that effort in the 1920s, when the city outgrew the earlier utilities. Fort Wayne also had two competing telephone companies, and by 1920, many private residences had telephones for the first time. Entrepreneurs had promoted the construction of many new public buildings, some for entertainment purposes. The Majestic Theatre had been rebuilt and opened in 1905. The Lyric opened in 1908 and Diamond’s Airdome in 1909, offering a variety of vaudeville acts. The Empress Theatre had followed in 1913 and the Palace in 1915. The palace, in particular, was a favorite destination of downtown theater-goers.

The central business district remained the most significant commercial destination for anyone living in northeastern Indiana. If one walked our downtown streets, one would have seen a variety of venerable department stores and business houses, from Wolf & Dessauer, the People’s Store, and the Boston Store, to Meyer Brothers Drug Store, the Rurode Dry Goods Company, and many others.

The city continued to expand its boundaries, and a number of suburbs had emerged by 1920, including Lakeside, Oakdale, and Forest Park, with many more neighborhoods in the planning stages. The streetcars, now electrified, were used heavily by the public. A worker could buy a Victorian style house in Lakeside or South Wayne, climb on board a streetcar, and in a half hour or less be at his place of work.

Many local residents were buying homes for the first time. Some opted to purchase an American Four-Square House, the most common residential style in the city in 1920 and considered by many to be the most efficient and economical. Those with more money many have opted for a new style of home in one of several emerging architectural styles, including Colonial Revival, Spanish Revival, Tudor Revival, Prairie, and Craftsman.

Many local streets were paved with brick, and increasing numbers of middle class families could now afford to purchase automobiles. Model T Fords had become commonplace by 1920. Five years earlier, the Lincoln Highway had been completed through Allen County and dedicated with the promise that once finished, it would allow anyone to climb into an auto and travel across the country. This new national highway offered an astounding level of personal freedom to people who had been isolated on farms or forced to ride only on railroad or interurban lines. Country roads were often muddy and impassible. The Lincoln Highway would change people’s outlook.

A variety of other cultural changes were afoot in Fort Wayne and across America in the decade leading up to 1920. At the beginning of the decade in 1910, Fort Wayne was still what one editor once called “a most German town,” with a flourishing subculture that included German language worship services in many local churches, German parochial schools, and German spoken in many local shops. Some businesses catered exclusively to a German clientele. German-American residents, both Catholic and Protestant, voted heavily in a Democratic Party block. In 1912, Woodrow Wilson had won the combined city and county vote over Taft, 8,600 to 3,400 votes, and he was propelled to victory locally in part by a reliable political machine that heavily favored Democrats.

But the anti-German feeling brought about by World War I had changed all of that. German church services all but disappeared under community pressure. Non-naturalized German-born residents were targeted as potential enemy agents and fingerprinted. Many German-speaking households had become English-speaking after the war. For Democrats, this change came at a price. Incensed at Wilson for bringing the country into the war and for promoting the anti-German campaign at home, many, especially Lutherans, switched parties and became Republican. In the 1916 presidential election, the Republican Charles Evans Hughes edged out the combined city-county vote over Wilson, 10,200 to 9,385. By 1920, the Republican Warren G. Harding would carry both the city and county by a substantial margin, 24,113 to 12,721. Many Lutheran families in Fort Wayne have remained Republican ever since.

Women were adding their voices and efforts to many new causes by 1920. Having worked ardently for the vote for several decades, their campaign had intensified during the 1910s, especially as more women across America had entered the workforce. Organized groups of women had become more active and had proved to the community that they had clout. In addition to the DAR and the Women’s Club League, women had founded the local YWCA, had been instrumental in organizing and expanding the public library, and they had worked tirelessly for the Red Cross during the war. With the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, women at last had won the right to vote, and they participated in large numbers in the national election that brought Harding to office. They would play a key role in the founding of our Historical Society and have always been influential supporters.

Women had been instrumental as well in the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, ratified in 1919, which brought Prohibition. Like the anti-German campaign of the World War, it would have a significant influence on Fort Wayne culture. Fort Wayne residents loved to drink. At the turn of the century, saloons could be found on almost every city block, and alcoholism and public intoxication would reach epidemic proportions. By closing down the saloons, many believed workers’ lives would improve and the city would become a more wholesome place to live. While certainly alcohol consumption diminished, Prohibition also drove it underground, with boot-legging and speak-easies both common in our area.

Probably the most important trend that influenced the founding of the Historical Society – more than any of the others – was the City Beautiful Movement. Proponents of this national reform movement, given impetus by the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, believed that by improving the environment where the laboring classes lived, beautifying cities, eliminating slums, and promoting free access to public parks and playgrounds, quality of life as a whole would be elevated. Until 1910, Fort Wayne had grown without any unifying vision for its design. Air and water pollution went unchecked. Our rivers smelled, and our air reeked from the output of thousands of coal-burning furnaces. While we had few areas that could be called slums, many parts of the city that had grown ugly with no ordinances for signage or building standards. A number of prominent residents, many belonging to the upper classes of our society, became advocates for reform. They envisioned a city with more parks and green spaces, scenic vistas and streets, and a clean riverfront with hiking paths. After establishing a separate Board of Park Commissioners, they brought in such nationally-renowned urban planners as George Kessler and Arthur Shurtleff to present plans for a series of civic improvements. Kessler’s 1911 parks and boulevard plan laid the groundwork for the establishment of Foster, Franke, and McMillen parks and the development of such scenic boulevards as Rudisill, State, and Anthony. While not all aspects of Kessler’s plan were realized at the time, those that were implemented succeeded in creating a network of parks and avenues that placed Fort Wayne well ahead of many other mid-sized cities.

The founding of our Historical Society represented an extension of the ideals of the City Beautiful Movement. A city that cares about its appearance and cultural amenities should be one that seeks to preserve its history. Just as parks were important in elevating living conditions, a museum was needed to inculcate a sense of civic pride and cultural awareness in the minds of local residents. I would argue that creating a historical society like ours represented an act of cultural maturity – a sign that Fort Wayne’s residents were confident enough in their community’s identity that its history should be studied, taught, and preserved. Many of the local leaders of the City Beautiful Movement, especially David and Samuel Foster, were also Historical Society founders.

In 1901, a Relic Room had opened in the courthouse under the auspices of the DAR. It contained a collection of arrow points, Indian tools, and a small number of artifacts from the early forts, all displayed behind a few glass cases. A seed was planted.

In the decades that followed, local residents became more conscious of the city’s history. Local advertising man Bert J. Griswold had heightened that awareness through a series of newspaper columns that had culminated in the publication of his two-volume Pictorial History of Fort Wayne in 1917. A year before, the city had staged an elaborate historical pageant in Reservoir Park that included costumed characters from the city’s history. Widely attended, it inspired school children to tell the stories of Anthony Wayne, William wells, and Little Turtle. The DAR, too, had been tireless in promoting the awareness of local history by placing historical markers across the city. The Parks Commissioners under David Foster’s leadership were also aware of the importance of history and in 1917 had unveiled an equestrian statue of Anthony Wayne in Hayden Park.

Having a historical society represented an important civic achievement and is best appreciated by noting how few in number such societies were in Indiana. And it came about at an opportune moment. The children of the pioneer generation were passing away. Many families had inherited valuable artifacts and heirlooms - everything from daguerreotypes, letters, and clothing to military relics, paintings, furniture, and ephemera that had historical significance. By establishing the society when we did, we were able to collect items that would surely have been lost to posterity had we not existed. In many ways, too, our society represented a way for residents to hold onto the past during a period of intense change, when many felt all traces of our heritage were in danger of slipping away.

In 1921, the Historical Society was organized at a meeting in Wolf & Dessauer’s auditorium with William Peltier as founding president, Bert Griswold as vice president, Margaret Crankshaw as secretary, and Ross Lockridge as treasurer. Peltier belonged to one of the oldest French families in Indiana, and Griswold, of course, was a popular historian. That first program was titled, “History is a Pageant, not a Philosophy.” There was, initially, no museum. The society met at various venues around town for the next several years, where its members formulated plans for the future. Then in 1925 a major break came when the Park Board offered the Swinney Homestead as the society’ s permanent home. Again, we see evidence of the strong bond between our society and the Park Board. After two years of remodeling it opened in 1927.

Initially, the museum accepted almost any historical artifact, whether or not it pertained to Fort Wayne or Allen County: stuffed animal trophies, birds’ nests, and a variety of souvenirs gathered from travel to other countries. If it was old, the Historical Society would take it. But even if its collection policies were indiscriminate, the society did important work by continuing to raise public awareness about local history, erecting new historical markers and holding picnics and dinners to commemorate the anniversaries of local historical events.

Through it all, the society managed to amass an impressive collection of artifacts. Over the years it has evolved into one of the most impressive local museums in the state with a collection Indiana objects rivaled perhaps only by that of the state museum. Our publications also blossomed, from small pamphlet-sized newsletters to a journal like the Old Fort News that is one of the most scholarly in the state and widely respected.

So let us celebrate our first 90 years with this thought: even with all the changes through the years, our accomplishments, our increasing professionalism, and our continuing challenges, our mission has remained unchanged: We continue to be dedicated to teaching others about the history and value of our community – and preserving the multitude of stories and artifacts that make Fort Wayne and Allen County the fascinating places that they are. Our work will never be finished. There will always be more stories to uncover, more artifacts to preserve, and more people to teach. But I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we are deeply proud of what we’ve accomplished so far. May the next ninety years be every bit as fruitful. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Allen County-Fort Wayne History Book

While our bloggers have been providing posts about Fort Wayne and Allen County history for about a year now, there is a more definitive work available for you to learn more about the history of this area.

A two-volume history of Allen County was compiled and published in 2005 by the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society and the Allen County Genealogical Society.

The last definitive narrative history of Allen County was published by Bert J. Griswold in 1917. Though many pictorials and topical histories of Fort Wayne and Allen County have been published since the Griswold book, none have been as comprehensive and narrative in nature as the current work. Griswold published a second book in the 1920s.

The two-volume work contains over 800 pages of county history as well as biographies of local families, churches, schools, organizations, and businesses. The book also features hundreds of historical photographs and documents.

In an effort to compile the most complete history of Allen County possible, the Historical Society and Genealogical Society recruited a team of more than fifty literary volunteers to write articles on various aspects of the county's history. In addition, biographical submissions from local families, businesses, schools and churches, and clubs and organizations were encouraged.

Now on sale for $89.95, the history is a fine addition to any home.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How the Zagel Children Were “Drafted”

Translated from German and introduced by Roger Franke

In a recent issue of the “Old Fort News” writer John Beatty describes in much interesting detail the impact that events from the Civil War era had upon the citizenry of Allen County and Fort Wayne. Of lesser importance historically, but perhaps yet worthy of note, is the recollection of a childhood incident from several years after the war’s end by German-language writer Hermann Zagel. Hermann was born in 1859 near Columbus, Indiana, but moved with his family in 1860 back to the Fort Wayne area where his father Andrew accepted a call to become pastor of Trinity Suburban Lutheran Church on Decatur Road (then called Piqua Road). Hermann had many fond and vivid memories from the days of his childhood and youth in Allen County, some of which found their way into print in a popular German language periodical of the time and in several of the six books that he authored. Hermann’s day job was that of a Lutheran parochial schoolteacher, but it was as a writer in German language that he gained his fame in the latter 1800s and early 1900s, his readership being centered in the many scattered German-American communities throughout our country. But he was gradually forgotten again in the years surrounding and following World War I as these ethnic pockets over time transitioned to the use of English. Hermann died in 1936 in Peoria, Illinois.

The Civil War had ended several years before the occurrence of the incident translated below, but to the members of the Andrew Zagel Family on Piqua Road in Allen County, Indiana, some aspects of the conflict lingered fresh in their minds. The children, in particular, had seen for themselves how the military-aged sons of a neighboring family had fled to the woods and hid from the “drafters” while they were in the neighborhood looking for recruits for the Union Army. The word “draft” was quickly absorbed into the everyday German conversation of the Zagels, but not at all in a manner that one might expect.

But let’s permit Hermann Zagel to tell the story, and I’ll attempt to do some justice, at least, to his tale in English translation.

Bedtime at the Zagels was usually a long drawn-out process. We children never seemed at all sleepy. If our relationships prior to going to bed had been amicable, then that atmosphere continued in bed with much talking, gesticulating, giggling and laughing. But, if shortly beforehand, a quarrel had taken place, that hostility would be continued on in bed. In both cases it usually fell to our good and worthy mother, hard at work on our behalf with mending, sewing, or spinning, to call out with an insistent voice a request for peace and quiet. Who knows how often the admonitions were repeated until her thread of patience finally broke, and she proceeded to the next step -- “drafting.” Does the kind reader know what that is? Hardly so, for that is an expression which originated in the parsonage on Piqua Road and belonged uniquely to our family.

Earlier in our childhood which had occurred during wartime, we children heard a lot about “drafting:” in German “Konskription von Soldaten.” We had been witnesses to the fact of how neighbor E’s grown sons were supposed to be called up for military duty and out of fear of the “drafters” had fled to the woods to escape -- in our manner of thinking “to escape punishment.” And so it came about that we accepted the word into our German vocabulary with the meaning of “corporal punishment” and in particular “bedtime punishment.” Our mother seemed to take a liking to the term and its new meaning, for she readily adopted it. Whenever things got a bit too loud in our beds and no amount of urging or admonishing produced any results, she would stand up and in a solemn voice declare, “Well, I see that I am going to have to “draft” you,” after which she would start rummaging around among the sticks behind the stove. That kind of “conscription” rarely failed in its purpose.

One evening we were “drafted” in triplicate. Brother Hen and the writer of this account occupied the large bed. Underneath of it was a piece of furniture from those bygone days of old—almost forgotten today—that was also a bed, but lower and narrower than the large one. It moved on rollers and was pulled out in the evening for its intended use and the next morning, after having served its purpose, pushed back to its place underneath. In this bed at that time slept our two younger sisters Mellie and Hanna. When bedtime came we were in a very rosy mood. If we dived into bed on that evening, I no longer remember, but most likely so, but I do know that plump little Mellie had smuggled her doll with the sweet-sounding name Gootshie into the trundle bed with her. It didn’t take long until a fascinating game involving the doll was in progress.

Little Mellie called to us that her Gootshie wished to visit us in our bed above. In an instant Hen and I were prepared to give her a worthy reception—namely with our pillows. We no longer lay under our feather tick but were sitting on top of it. Little Mellie, likewise, sat on her covers close to the footboard of our bed and in jerks moved her doll slowly along the footboard higher and higher and asked with each push, “Is Gootshie coming yet?”

“Not yet!”

Again came the question, “Is she there now?”

“Not yet!”

Until, with the last push, Gootshie’s porcelain head became visible above the footboard. Two pillows immediately whizzed through the air and struck poor Gootshie with such force on the head that her sight and hearing would have been obliterated, had she been in possession of such faculties. That was repeated directly again with glorious delight. In spite of mother’s emphatic demands from the spinning wheel for a cease to hostilities, Gootshie again and again attempted to visit, and always with the same reception until we were screaming with laughter. With that the patience at the spinning wheel came to an end. Mother jumped up and in the next moment from the box behind the stove reverberated the noise of the familiar rattle among the sticks. We used the moment to disappear with utmost haste under the covers. In vain! The feather tick flew up and a “drafting” began. So much so that our “conscription” was clearly visible in bold outlines on our bodies the next day yet. Along with us, plump little Mellie was thoroughly “drafted” too, for our mother allowed no lack of justice in her discipline. Five minutes later a deep stillness prevailed in the large room, such a stillness that one could clearly hear the squeaking of the mice in the walls. Gootshie never again made any attempt to visit us ill-mannered rapscallions.

The participants in the above “tragedy” include the narrator Hermann, born in 1859, his brother Hen (Heinrich), born 1854, his sister Mellie (Amelia), born 1861 and Mellie’s porcelain- headed doll Guschtel, translated here as Gootshie. Another sister Johanna (Hanna), born 1868, is mentioned but was too young at the time to take part in the “action.” Mother Zagel, Anna, was born Fruechtenicht in 1830 and was the wife of Pastor Andrew (Andreas) Zagel whom she married in Allen County in 1849.

The source for the anecdote is a book by Hermann Zagel entitled “Dies und Das und noch Etwas” (This and That and Something Else), published 1908 by Louis Lange Publishing Company, St. Louis, Missouri, pages 86, 87, 88.

History Center member Roger Franke, in his own words: "I am an Allen County native, well almost, born in a hospital in Decatur in 1940, but grew up since babyhood on my parent's farm near Hoagland. I became a high school German teacher and taught many years at Westview High School in LaGrange County. Both my wife Patricia and I are retired from teaching and have lived near Wolcottville since 1967. We have three grown and married children with families of their own. I have an avid interest in family history and local German-American life in the 1800s and early 1900s."

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.