by Tom Castaldi
Hall Community Arts Center was dedicated in memory of William and Sarah Niezer Hall in 1992. The building was renovated in 1991 by Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne to house the operations of ARCH (greater Fort Wayne’s historical architecture preservation organization), Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Cinema Center and the Fort Wayne Dance Collective.
The building was originally built in 1916 as the Western Newspaper Union Building, which printed weekly newspapers and sold newspaper supplies. This company went out of business early in the Great Depression, and the building was used during the next several decades as a warehouse, manufacturing ship (City Carriage Works, 1936-1939) and a bottling operation (Bubbly-Up Bottling and Distribution Company, 1946-1960, and the Maumee Bottling Company, 1946-1960), and as a distribution site (the last being the Doubleday Book Company, 1977-1982). The Foellinger Foundation purchased the building in 1990 and donated it to Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne.
The site on which the building stands is rich in the historical origins of the community of Fort Wayne. Major General Anthony Wayne’s fort was constructed on this and adjacent properties in 1794. The military tract claimed 40 acres of surrounding land from which all the trees were cleared to provide an open field of fire for the soldiers as well as provide the building materials and firewood for the garrison. The second (1800) and third (1815) American forts were built about 300 feet north of the current building.
In 1835, the area was sold by the U.S. government and became the Taber Addition (after Cyrus Taber of Logansport in Cass County, Indiana). The arts center property became Lot 11 f the 40 lots in the Addition, and in 1856, a wagonsmith named Thomas Stevens, an English immigrant, built a home on the lot (his wagon shop was located nearby on the site currently occupied by the health clinic on Clay Street). The site remained a modest residence until 1916 when the Western Newspaper Union building was built.
Did you know that there is a walking trail tracing Fort Wayne’s history free and open to the public all year long? It follows blue, red and white street signs over four separate routes and is complete with a self-guided tour map available from ARCH or the History Center. Featuring historical markers that describe the significant sites in the region, this unique walking tour is a 1994 Bicentennial Celebration lasting legacy gift to the citizens of northeastern Indiana. All in all there are four trails: The Central Downtown, West Central, South Central and the Kekionga or Lakeside neighborhood taking in the rich heritage of our region. The markers that describe the various stops are oriented for pedestrian viewing, so walking the Trail may be a better plan than trying to sightsee from a car window. Such a motorized tour is possible especially if you have a docent on hand, but there is much to see, feel and imagine by choosing a sidewalk experience. Although the Trail is designed for you to join in at any place along the way, it is of course best to begin at the beginning, so consider starting your excursion in Freimann Square. Because there are many fascinating and interesting stories to be told between markers, more expanded description is available in the official walking guide book.
Originally printed in Fort Wayne Magazine, “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – November/December 2004, No. 8 p. 53