Thursday, September 12, 2013

Barr Street Market: Trading Under the Trees

by Tom Castaldi
The Barr Street Market is open on Saturday mornings during the summer.
The Barr Street Market is the oldest market in Fort Wayne. The land was donated to the city by Samuel Hanna in 1837, and within six months a small frame market house was built.  Patterned after the design of the Philadelphia Market, the Barr Street Market rented stalls for five dollars a year.
A need for a specified central market area was evidence that Fort Wayne was rapidly growing in population and that surpluses were being produced by the pioneer farmers of the region.  The street and the market were named for John T. Barr who, with John McCorkle, came to the land sale together in a large boat called a bateau, which they propelled down the Saint Mary’s river.  They were assisted by Benjamin F. Blosser, a postmaster of Decatur, Indiana, who helped the two speculators move the boat and transport their luggage.  Once they landed, Blosser also assisted the partners by transferring their money to purchase the original 118 lots of the town of Fort Wayne from the U.S. Land Office in 1823 for $26 dollars an acre.
Bearing the signature of President James Monroe, the land grant for the ground became the heart of the city.  When the boundaries of Fort Wayne were first drawn, the eastern boarder was dubbed “Barr Street.” Although Barr and McCorkle turned out to be good partners, neither of these original proprietors chose to make his home here.  John Barr was a land speculator from Baltimore, Maryland, and not much is known about his time in Baltimore other than Barr was heavily involved in supplying trade goods to the Ohio and Pennsylvania frontier. 
John McCorkle was a born at Piqua, Ohio.  By 1791, he was an owner of a carding mill, gristmill and oil mill, and had laid the foundation for a very prosperous future.  He became Piqua’s leading merchant and, in 1821, along with a couple of other enterprising citizens, McCorkle founded Saint Marys, Ohio.  A powerful speaker, a state representative and a leader in many enterprises in Piqua, John McCorkle died in 1829 at the age of thirty-eight years.
As for his Fort Wayne connection, McCorkle speculated in western land purchases, but was interested primarily in profit from the Indian trade.  His first connection with northeastern Indiana came through his association with John P. Hedges when, previously in 1819, the two were engaged in furnishing beef and bread to the Indians while waiting for their annuities. 

Immediately after buying the land that became the heart of downtown Fort Wayne today, Barr and McCorkle had their new property surveyed and platted, so that they could begin selling the 118 lots.  This area was bordered on the north by Superior Street, on the east by Barr Street, on the south by Washington Boulevard, and on the west by the alley between Harrison and Calhoun streets.  Creeks ran from the high ground on the south side to empty into the Saint Mary’s River to the north, and there were thick swampy areas where early settlers hunted, such as the one where today the Elektron Building stands.
The $26 an acre Barr and McCorkle paid for the lands of the original plat was a very high amount for that time.  Most frontier lands were sold for the minimum $1.25 an acre.  Their heavy investment, however, was believed to be well worth the price in view of the continued presence of many Indians, the Indian Agency, and the very lucrative fur trade.  During these years the Fort Wayne fur trade was far greater than the combined trade of Detroit and Chicago, and the Indian Agency made annual payments of tens of thousands of dollars to the more than three thousand Indians who held the lands of northern Indiana.
Another attraction to Barr and McCorkle, as well as other speculators, was the exciting prospect of a grand canal through Indiana linking Lake Erie to the Ohio River with Fort Wayne as the hub.  By the 1850s this dream had been realized.  The original plat of Fort Wayne was at the center of the great Wabash & Erie Canal project with dozens of warehouse, boat docks, turnaround basins, custom houses, inns and taverns crammed into the heart of the young town.  Prosperity and hoards of new people followed.  For decades the canal running between Superior Street and Columbia Street (and today the railroad right-of-way) changed the community’s character from fur-trading outpost to mid-western transportation hub and production center.
Operated by the City of Fort Wayne, the Barr Street Market employed a “Market Master” to control vendor activities, including overseeing weights and measures.  The market flourished and in 1855 a new market building was erected.  Outdoor stalls were placed randomly between the many trees along Barr Street between Berry Street and Washington Boulevard, and the market house was used for various city governmental activities.

One of the more notable Market Masters was Peter Kiser (sometimes spelled Kaiser), who, tradition holds, was one of the first Germans to settle in Fort Wayne.  He made his first visit to town in 1822, when at age twelve brought in a drove of hogs from Ohio.
As a youngster he was a muscular lad and accustomed to hard work.  As an adult, he was a huge man, standing over six-feet tall and weighing more than three hundred pounds.  Although Kiser came to Fort Wayne in 1822 as a trader, he finally settled here in 1832 when he established the town’s first butcher shop.  He came to hold considerable political power, despite the fact that he could neither read nor write. 

For example, in 1847, Kiser was elected to the Indiana State legislature and during this term, and again in 1867, was an aggressive advocate for the development of public schools in the state.  Toasted as a local dignitary who was always accorded a place in every town parade, Kiser also served in one of the city’s volunteer fire departments, was a member of the local militia known as the “Wayne Guards” and was a fierce opponent of the temperance movement.
When a new city hall was built in 1893, the old market building was removed.  A grand covered concrete market complex was built in 1910 with pavilions joining great double iron arches over Wayne Street where elaborate water troughs were provided for the horses.  The lion-head water spigots on the troughs were made by the Borkenstein brothers who were German immigrants that had the contract for the construction of the arches. They could not abide the notion of mere unadorned water pipes for such a noble structure, and so they made their own spigots.

During its heyday, the Market operated six days a week both day and night.  There were 120 stalls that at times drew thousands of shoppers daily.  Located next to the police station in the Old City Hall, market-goers were occasionally treated to the sight of a fully loaded paddy wagon’s arrival for the detention of some rowdies.
The appearance of shopping centers and supermarkets led to the decline of the Barr Street Market and by 1958 the pavilions were removed.  By 1966, the city ended its market operation, but the Barr Street Market Association continued to rent stalls.  In 1988, the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society assumed ownership of the market.  Conveniently located south of the History Center, the Market space continues to offer expanding possibilities with its potential for downtown pedestrian friendly connections to increased quality of life activities.

This article first appeared in:

Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi - May 2006 No 22

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history

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