Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Landing and Columbia Street

by Tom Castaldi
Columbia Street c. 1890s showing the Randall Hotel

The Landing is the westernmost block of old Columbia Street, one of the few remaining clusters of structures from the 19th- and early 20th-century center of Fort Wayne. The oldest commercial area in Fort Wayne, it was designated an historic district in 1965 and saved from the general destruction of the rest of Columbia Street.

In 1994, the Landing won recognition in the National Register of Historic Places.  Originally, Columbia Street was an unplanned track that led westward from the U.S. fort at the confluence of the rivers. Along the primitive track, which led eventually to the beginnings of the portage, the first trading houses were built. In one of those houses, Washington Hall, Allen County was officially organized.

The street itself was named for Dana Columbia who had built a substantial log hotel for canal travelers.  In the canal era (1830s-1860s), the area of West Columbia was known as “The Docks” and the area at the end of The Landing was characterized by the large Orbison Basin in which bloats could be turned around.

The pioneer community received its biggest boost when the great Wabash and Erie Canal made its way through Fort Wayne where the present-day railroad track elevation stands.

Warehouses and businesses began to spring up next to the canal, making the mud street the busiest place in town.  After the canal passed its heyday (in the 1870s) and the railroads took its place in the same right of way, Columbia Street continued to prosper as a commercial depot.

On the upper floor of the business on the northwest corner of Columbia and Calhoun streets, Thomas Edison lived for a short time when, in 1864, he worked for the railroad as a telegraph operator. That building was destroyed in 1980. In the same building, which in later years was called the Old Drug Company, druggist Joseph and Cornelius Hoagland and their partner Thomas Biddle developed the formula that became Royal Baking Powder. Elsewhere, the west end of Columbia Street became famous for its hotels, such as the Wayne and the Randall.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine, “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi– May June 2004, No. 5 pp. 74-75)

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