by Tom Castaldi, Allen County Historian and History Center board member
The home for Citizens Square, recently the temporary site of both the Allen County Public Library and The Lincoln Museum, today occupies the entire block along East Wayne and East Berry Streets, between Clinton and Barr Streets. The name “Renaissances Square” was give to the area by developers who rehabilitated the former department store of Wolf Dessauer (which later became L.S. Ayres) and removed the last of the buildings that once stood along East Berry Street.
Originally, this area was part of the eastern-most portion of the first plat of Fort Wayne, which was purchased by land speculators John McCorkle and John Barr in 1832. By the 1830s, the block contained the scattered homes of settlers such as “Squire Robin Hood,” as well as the well-built home of Samuel Hanna, one of the most important of the early town builders. In 1854, Hanna built a new, grand Greek Revival home several blocks to the east. He had come to the village of Fort Wayne soon after the soldiers left in order to establish a trading business with Indians of the area. He became a land speculator, buying much of Fort Wayne east of Barr Street, and was instrumental in various projects for road improvements. He served in the state legislature and became one of the first commissioners for the Wabash and Erie Canal. His most important contribution, however, lay in bringing the first railroads and the great Pennsylvania Railroad Shops to the city, helping make Fort Wayne a railroad center in the Midwest.
In 1845, the First Presbyterian congregation, which had erected the fist church building in town, built its second church in the Greek Revival style at the corner of Clinton and Berry streets (dedication 1852). This building dominated the block until 1882 when a faulty flue in the chimney caught fire and the church was destroyed. While a new Presbyterian Church was built elsewhere, the Jewish congregation of Achduth Vesholom offered its Synagogue at Harrison and Wayne streets for Sunday worship. A large Romanesque U.S. Post Office and Federal government building was built on the site of the old church, and this structure stood on the corner until 1931.
In 1957, Wolf & Dessauer announced the construction of yet another lavish retail store. Bucking the national trend of the day, which saw major retail development relocating to the suburbs, Wolf & Dessauer management defied convention and built their flagship store in downtown Fort Wayne. At the time of its construction it was the largest downtown Fort Wayne real estate transaction in the city’s history, and was a visible reminder of Wolf & Dessauer’s faith in the continuing vitality of Fort Wayne’s downtown. In 1959, Wolf & Dessauer moved into its sparkling new facility located on the block bounded by Clinton, Wayne and Barr streets. Sadly, the historic site at Washington and Calhoun streets would be torn down in 1964 to make room for - what else? – a parking garage.
This article was originally published as "Along the Heritage Trail" in Fort Wayne Magazine, Nov/Dec 2003, No. 2, p 61. Our thanks to Fort Wayne Monthly for allowing us to re-publish this story on the History Center's blog.