by Tom Castaldi
The name of the African Methodist clergyman who first gathered Fort Wayne’s black residents in worship is not known. By 1845, the denomination’s Ohio and Western Conference had assumed responsibility for the fledgling congregation, which was served by the ministers who traveled the Carthagena Circuit between Van Wert, Ohio and Eel River, Indiana.
In 1849, the trustees for the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME.) in Fort Wayne purchased a lot on the south side of Jefferson Street between Hanna and Francis streets, but were unable to erect a church. Indiana’s exclusionary “black laws,” enacted in 1851, discouraged African-Americans from settling in the area; by 1860, the black population of more than one hundred had declined by a third, while the white population had doubled.
By 1869, however, the congregation exhibited sufficient potential that the Reverend Nixon Jordan was assigned. Worship was held at Hafner’s Hall. When St. John’s German Reformed Church offered its building for sale, the AME officers purchased the twenty-four year old frame church and moved it to the lot at the corner of Wayne and Francis streets, which had been donated by Emerine H. Hamilton. The Turner AME Chapel was named in honor of the Reverend Henry McNeil Turner, a black chaplain who served during the Civil War.
In 1888, a larger facility was built. This was the first church building erected by an African-American congregation in Fort Wayne. In 1963, the congregation purchased the present site at 836 East Jefferson Boulevard.
Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi”
– February 2008 No. 40
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 centerfw.blogspot.com.