Thursday, September 25, 2014

Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman

by Tom Castaldi 

John Chapman, also known as Johnny Appleseed, serves as an example of a part of the religious fervor on the western frontier in the years before the Civil War.  The legends and tales about him that grew even in his own lifetime rivaled those of his contemporaries, Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.  Like them, Chapman’s career in the wilderness as a preacher and Good Samaritan quickly got caught up in the American imagination. 

Johnny Appleseed had been on the frontier for several decades before coming to Fort Wayne, possibly as early as 1822.  Already many stories were told of this gentle man’s propagation of fruit trees in odd plots of land all over the Pennsylvania and Ohio wilderness, his love of wildlife, and the awe in which the Indians held him up as a powerful medicine man.  He repeated the Bible verse “refresh me with apples” declaring “with apples shall men be comforted in the wilderness of the West.”  A holy man he was, for his principal aim was to bring “some news right fresh from heaven” as he read from the Beatitudes to the settlers he visited in cabins in the forest telling of the spiritual happiness he enjoyed through the teachings of the Church of New Jerusalem.

One eyewitness described Johnny Appleseed’s appearance when he came to Fort Wayne as “simply clad, in truth clad like a beggar.  His refined features told of his intelligence, even though seen through the gray stubble that covered his face since he cut his hair and beard with scissors. Johnny was serious, his speech clean, free from slang or profanity.  He traveled on foot – sometimes with just one shoe or two different kinds of boots.”  Some descriptions have him wearing his cooking pot for a hat, at times with other parts of hats – the crown or the brim – on top of his tin cap.  Other biographers claim that because his mush-pot hat did not protect his eyes from the bright sun well enough that he fashioned one made of pasteboard with a large peak in front.  Although his eccentric appearance occasionally caused anxiety or even alarm in some people, by and large, he was well liked for his sincere and kind ways.

Exceptionally strong for his tall slim frame, one pioneer observed that Johnny Appleseed was able to get more work done clearing the forests in one day than most men could finish in two.  Above all else, however, he was appreciated for his great ability to tell stories about his church, of his many adventures on the frontier, his narrow escapes in the wilderness, his dealings with the Indians, and his association with the wildlife of the Midwest, from bears to wasps.

He showed a great reverence for all life, including the lowly insects.  One story often told was that when he was being stung by a hornet that had crawled into his shirt, he carefully removed his shirt to allow the creature to go on its way unharmed rather than kill the stinging nuisance.  On another occasion he put out his evening camp fire to avoid the possibility of the moths being destroyed in the flames.  He was known to have purchased an aged horse from a pioneer who was continuing to put the creature to work, in order that the animal could spend its last days peacefully at pasture. A settler once described him saying that he was like “good St. Francis, the little brother of the birds and the little brother of the beasts.”

Johnny Appleseed's monument near the Coliseum in Fort Wayne.

Johnny Appleseed died in 1845 at the age of 71.  He had been protecting his saplings from some cows that had broken down the fence of one of his orchards just north of Fort Wayne.  He was overcome by his exertions and succumbed to what the people of the time called the “winter plague.”  He was buried along the St. Joseph River and the old feeder canal bed on the Archer farm, but the actual site is not known today; a commemorative marker sits atop the hill in present-day Johnny Appleseed Park, which was once the Archer family cemetery. Each year during the Fort Wayne festival that bears his name, visitors remember the comfort John Chapman brought to the west, for around his memorial children fondly place their gifts of apples.

The flask pictured on this sign is on display at the History Center.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi”
  Apr 2009 No 53

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Portraits in the Grand Staircase

by Carmen Doyle

The Grand Staircase at the History Center is hung with the formal portraits of Fort Wayne citizens who could either afford to sit for a painter and have their portraits done or were prominent enough that someone was willing to make a portrait of them.

Although the faces probably aren’t familiar, some of the names are. There are portraits of Sam Hanna, Samuel Foster, and Major-General Henry Lawton. (For a very brief idea of why these men got to get places named after them, check out our blog from December-

Here are the persons who are featured in our stairwell.

Moses Jenkinson- Moses Vail Jenkinson was the son of Joseph Jenkinson, a former Fort Wayne commander. Moses was an attorney and legislator. He was elected as a state representative and to the Indiana General Assembly.

Margaret S. Jenkinson- Wife of Moses. Not much else is known about her!

Stephen Bond Fleming- Fleming was a politician. He was in the Indiana State Senate from 1901-1915. Fleming was a delegate to the Democratic National Committee in 1908. He served as president of Holsum Bakery from 1938-1956. Fleming died at age 91 and is buried in the Catholic Cemetery. 

Dr. Park M. Leonard- Dr. Leonard served on the Board of Health in 1854. His portrait was painted by his granddaughter Harriet Wright. 

Samuel Foster- Sam was a “civic leader”. Basically, he was involved in a lot of different community organizations. He was president of the German-American National Bank, Lincoln National Life, and a member of the Indiana Centennial Committee where he was in charge of speakers. He is most remembered now for his park. Foster Park was the largest gift of park land to the city and was donated by Sam and his brother. Foster made money by being a banker and a shirtwaist manufacturer. (Shirtwaists were similar to blouses and you can see a great example in our exhibition gallery Allen County Innovation.)

Jack Griffin- Jack was a student at Yale when he unexpectedly died in a car crash. In his memory, his parents established a scholarship. 

Bert Griswold- Griswold was a historian, an author, and did newspaper cartoons and caricatures of important Fort Wayne citizens. His book The Pictorial History of Fort Wayne, Indiana is an excellent reference, used for information on many of the people in this post. One of his other books, Some Fort Wayne Phizes, has his drawings of prominent Fort Wayne citizens.

Charles Mortimer Dawson- Dawson was a well-known attorney and judge. He was a judge for the superior court. He was appointed prosecuting attorney of the 38th judicial district by the governor. 

Ross McCulloch- his grandfather was Hugh McCulloch. Ross was a member of many clothes and athletic activities. He lived in the McCulloch-Weatherhogg house, next to the History Center, now home of the United Way.

Major General Henry Lawton- Lawton was a great soldier. He fought in the Civil War (at Chickamunga and Shiloh, among other battles). After the Civil War he started to study law at Harvard, but when he got an appointment in the regular army, he became a career soldier. Lawton fought in the Indian Wars against Sioux and Apaches and was in the regiment that captured Geronimo. He then fought in the Spanish-American War alongside Teddy Roosevelt. After that, he fought in the Philippines, where he was killed. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery. (Yep, he was that important!) Lawton has a park in Fort Wayne named after him, and a statue. (Which is not in the park named for him!) 

Saturday’s News Sentinel described Teddy Roosevelt dedicating a statue of General Lawton in Indy- and here’s a photo:

This is a political cartoon featuring Lawton:

Brentwood Tolan- Tolan was the architect of the current courthouse, which is actually the 5th courthouse in Fort Wayne.

Samuel Hanna- Hanna was a judge. He was also a major landowner, involved in the railroad as well as in creating the canal. His family’s portrait is in the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. The History Center’s Digital Collections has the portrait (with family members identified) as well as some of the railroad concerns and shares from Hanna.

Yes, the portraits on the staircase are mostly of men. But these men made an impact on Fort Wayne history.

How are you going to make an impact on Fort Wayne history?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Colonel John Allen

by Carmen Doyle

Back in December, we mentioned some of the important people that got streets and places named after them. (

One of the most prominent people in Fort Wayne was John Allen, the man for whom our county is named.

John Allen was from Kentucky. He went to Virginia to study law and then came back to Kentucky to practice, becoming a prominent lawyer.

One of the cases he helped try, with Henry Clay, was the defense of Aaron Burr in the Burr Conspiracy trial. (Burr was Jefferson’s Vice-President. In a duel, Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, who was Secretary of the Treasury. After leaving Washington, Burr traveled to the Southwest and was later accused of treason. Accusers said he wanted to create an independent state in the Southwest. Burr was acquitted. And you thought politics today was rough!)

When the War of 1812 began, John Allen was one of the first in Kentucky to respond and was made a colonel. His regiment came to the defense of Fort Wayne at the urging of William Henry Harrison. Colonel Allen was not only a brave fighter,  he was also known to be able to rally his men’s spirits.

Allen went from the defense of Fort Wayne to the defense of River Raisin, Michigan, where he unfortunately was killed.

Allen County Courthouse c.1916
His bravery impressed many settlers and soldiers, enough that they named a county after him. Despite his short amount of time in Fort Wayne, and in Indiana, Colonel John Allen was so noteworthy that he inspired counties in three states.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Oldest Iron Bridge

by Tom Castaldi

The Wells Street Bridge is the only remaining iron truss bridge in Fort Wayne.  It was built in 1884 by the Canton Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio.  More technically it is described by experts as a Whipple through truss designed and built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio.  It is unusually heavy, well decorated, with wooden floor beams."  It features diagonals and counters that extend across two panels rather than being contained in just one. It was a favorite bridge design for the longest spans built in Indiana in the 1880s and 1890s.
The Wells Street Bridge in the late 1890s.

The first bridge to cross the Saint Mary’s River at this point was a wooden one. It was replaced in 1859 by the first iron bridge built in Allen County, constructed by Mosley and Company of Cincinnati, Ohio.  This bridge collapsed a year later under the weight of a large herd of cattle, many of which drowned in the river.  Its iron parts remained buried under the bank of the river for years.  In 1860, the bridge was rebuilt as an iron and wood structure on several piers.

The demolition of the 1860 bridge began on July 9, 1884, with specifications calling for the re-use of its timbers in the new bridge.  One of the Bridge Commissioners, however, accidentally destroyed the old bridge when he tried to burn off the heavy stringers that were proving too difficult to dislodge.  According to the newspapers, "Commissioner Briant was mortified to learn the timbers which he tried so hard to save and utilize were destroyed.”

During the October presidential campaign, Stephen A. Douglas, the Little Giant opposing Republican candidate Abe Lincoln, had made a speech at the Rockhill hotel on Broadway and celebrated with a parade down Main Street for a gala on the banks of the Saint Mary’s River at the Wells Street Bridge. According to historian John Ankenbruck, a great disruption occurred when a large hay wagon broke into the parade, masquerading as a float, with an Abe look-alike on the wagon splitting rails.  The Democrats, not to be out done, tossed salt on the berm of the street attracting the oxen pulling the wagon off the parade route.  No amount of urging could convince the bovine beast licking the salt to move.  That November, Allen County voted unsuccessfully for the Little Giant.

The Wells Street Bridge was completed in November, and the first vehicle to cross over the new structure was the “Republican electioneering carriage.”  It took until 1890 before electric trolley lines were laid in the bridge to connect downtown to the Bloomingdale neighborhood area on the north side of the city.

When Transfer Corner was conceived for the various trolley lines to converge, making it more convenient for passengers to board their cars, company officials appealed to the county commissioners for access across the bridge.  Until 1887 all street rail traffic had been confined to the city.  The commissioners were at first hesitant to allow rails to cross the bridge and the appeal to encourage easy access to the north side finally brought a vote to approve trolley tracts to be built over the Wells Street Bridge.

In 1991 ARCH, the historic preservation organization, created a “Most Endangered List” and added the Well Street Bridge.  In 1998  Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation acquired the bridge to be used as part of the Rivergreenway trail system.  With the use of funding from a bond issue, the Park Foundation, Fort Wayne Community Foundation, Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission, and federal transportation enhancement funds, Wells Street Bridge was restored and reopened for pedestrian traffic.  The only remaining iron truss bridge in Fort Wayne has been listed on the National register of Historic Places. (p. 411) as a destination point for the various trolley lines to converge making it convenient for passengers to board their cars.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” 
February 2009 No. 50
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