Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hugh McCulloch: Lincoln’s Choice

by Tom Castal

When traveling west on Superior Street toward Van Buren, notice the large structure at 616 West Superior that seems to intrude upon the roadway. It’s the home of Hugh and Susan McCulloch, which was built in 1843 based on the design of Henry Williams, who was known as the “southern architect” of Fort Wayne.
The McCulloch House on Superior Street as it looks today.

Originally, the house was perfectly balanced, with a porch on the left, a greenhouse on the right, and four stately square columns in front. A cupola graced the center roof. The grounds, which encompassed all the area between the Saint Mary’s River and the Wabash & Erie Canal, west to Van Buren Street, were surrounded by a tall white picket fence and filled with fruit trees and grape arbors.

Beginning in the 1870s, when the estate was the boyhood home of J. Ross McCulloch, the area was popular with children who swam in the shallow, sandy bend in the Saint Mary’s River behind the house. After the McCulloch family moved, the building housed the Fort Wayne College of Medicine between 1892 and 1905.

In 1906, the structure was purchased by the Fort Wayne Turnverein or “The Turners,” a popular German athletic club. The Turners extensively altered the old building to accommodate their activities, raising the roof, removing the cupola, enclosing the wings, replacing the square columns with round ones, and turning the top-floor ballroom into a gymnasium. In later years, it became the offices of a realty company. However, in 1978 the building was given to ARCH, Fort Wayne-area’s historic preservation organization, which preserved the old mansion.

Its original owner Hugh McCulloch was one of the nation’s leading financial figures in the mid-nineteenth century. A native of Kennebunk, Maine, and a Boston-trained lawyer, Hugh McCulloch came to the pioneer village of Fort Wayne in 1833 with a letter of recommendation from Daniel Webster. He became a Judge of the Probate Court in 1834, and in 1835 he was named Cashier and Branch Manager of the newly formed State Bank of Indiana.
Hugh McCulloch
The McCulloch Family

McCulloch married Susan Man in 1838. A native of Plattsburg, New York, Susan Man was one of the first schoolteachers in Fort Wayne, having arrived by pirogue boat in 1836 at age eighteen to conduct a school. Always a community leader, Susan hosted in the McCulloch home the meeting of the great abolitionist pastors of the Beecher family, which included Lyman and sons Henry Ward and Charles, where they planned the future of the Second Presbyterian Church, the present-day Westminster Presbyterian Church. Lyman’s daughter, Harriett, also an abolitionist and later author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, did not attend.

In 1863, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase called on Hugh McCulloch to accept the new position of Comptroller of the Currency, a position from which he launched the national banking system. Two years later, in 1865, President Lincoln chose McCulloch to be Secretary of the Treasury, a position he continued to hold in the administrations of Presidents Johnson and Arthur. McCulloch is said to have been the last person to whom Lincoln wrote before the assassination and was at the President’s bedside when he died. This celebrated banker from Fort Wayne later served as the United States Ambassador to Great Britain before he died in 1895.

McCulloch’s successful approach in organizing the newly created banking system that was designed to supersede the state banks throughout the Union earned him the name, “Father of the national banking system.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine “Along the Heritage Trial with Tom Castaldi” – Nov. 2008 No 48

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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