Thursday, May 23, 2013

Under the Gas Lights

by Tom Castaldi

In the era of gas lighting, Fort Wayne Gas Works, located on the site of today’s Hall’s Gas House restaurant on Superior Street between Barr and Lafayette streets, was the central public utilities operation in Fort Wayne.

Fort Wayne had turned to the production of artificial gas as early as 1853 when the Fort Wayne Gas Light Company was franchised by the city to operate a plant at the corner of Barr Street and the Canal (in a block that extended south of the present restaurant to the railroad tracks).  The company was incorporated in 1855 for private residence lighting only.

By 1857 a contract with the company provided for gas lighting several street intersections (property owners on the intersections were assessed their share of the cost in proportion to the amount of their property illuminated), but the company was dissolved in 1886 with the coming of natural gas.

In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Fort Wayne was known as “a natural gas town” because of the great gas boom, and “nearly every home in the city was lighted and heated with gas for a time.”   Fort Wayne was supplied by the Salamonie Mining and Gas Company under the presidency of Fort Wayne attorney Robert Bell in the 1880s.  During Indiana’s natural gas boom of the 1880s and 1890s, gas seemed to be an endless resource for industry and city lighting.

By 1905, a new enterprise named the Fort Wayne Gas Company had been formed to import natural gas from elsewhere; this company was the predecessor to Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO), which provides Fort Wayne’s present-day gas needs.

Since 1955, the site of the old gas works has been occupied by the restaurant started in 1955 by Don Hall.  The statue on the roof of Hall’s Gas House depicting a man proudly standing with one foot on a beer keg is that of Charles Louis Centlivre, one of Fort Wayne’s original brewers.  His brewery stood for many years north of this spot, at the intersection of Spy Run Avenue and Spy Run Extended, just beyond Sate Boulevard.  It is interesting to note that this statue located on the site of the old gas works was also where the first brewer in Fort Wayne, George Fallo (also, like Centlivre, of the German-French borderlands), maintained his brewery, though according to a local way, “the manner of his fermenting his beer was questionable.”

For a view of the Centlivre statue, go to:

Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine, “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – April 2005, No. 11, p. 31

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