Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fort Wayne’s Old City Hall

by Tom Castaldi

The Fort Wayne City Building, later to be known as "The Old City Hall," and still later as “The History Center” was designed by local architects John Wing and Marshall Mahurin and was dedicated on April 20, 1893, by Mayor Charles Zollinger.

          At first, some referred to the building as, "The Hapsburg Horror" as a jest about the German ancestry of the mayor.  Before the City Building was opened, Fort Wayne had no city hall.  In the years after 1840, when Fort Wayne was incorporated as a city, official business was conducted in scattered locations throughout the Court Street area.  Only the plot of land donated by Samuel Hanna at Barr and Berry Streets had been set aside for the town's public business.

An early photo of the "Old City Hall"

Here, in 1855, a simple market place was built. Because of the great inconvenience and disorderly organization of the young city bureaucracy, the Council ordered in 1869 that a new market building be built to replace the old structures.  Further, offices in this building were to be provided for the City Clerk and the City Treasurer. The mayor still had to find his own office elsewhere.

          Despite all the improvements to the market building, by the 1880s the great increase in population and the expansion of developed land in the city made it clear that more suitable municipal facilities would be required.  Plans for a new building began during the 1885 to 1889 administration of Mayor Charles F. Muhler, but it was in the administration of Charles Zolinger that the project was finally realized, at a cost of almost $70,000 or in today’s currency more than $1,500,000.

Note the carvings on the stonework

          The new building offices were provided for the mayor, treasurer, engineer, clerk, and Common Council, as well as the municipal court and police department.  The northern end of the building was designed for general public business, with a fine marble floor on the first level.  The City Court and the City Council Chambers graced the same room on the second level.  At the south end of the building were both the police department and the jail, most often referred to as the "calaboose."  A hidden stairway allowed officers to escort offenders to the second-floor courtroom without having to go up the public stairways.  At the turn of the century the garage housed the city paddy wagon and rescue boat, and there was a hayloft for the horses, which were stabled nearby.

Our newest gallery--Allen County Innovation

First floor hallway outside the new gallery

          In 1971, the city had outgrown the Old City Hall, and it was abandoned as city offices moved into the new City-County Building on Main Street. In 1979, the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society rehabilitated the Old City Hall to create the History Center, which was opened to the public in October 1980. Currently, the building is undergoing its largest renovation in a generation to stabilize and enhance the museum that continues to serve our community celebrating our county’s collective memory.

View from the parking lot

Stonework was cleaned and refurbished last fall

Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – Oct. 2008 No. 47

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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