Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Thieme Drive Overlook

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – July 2011, No. 80)

West of downtown Fort Wayne at the north end of Thieme Drive on the east bank of the Saint Mary’s River stands a barely noticeable river overlook. It is easily accessed near the southeast corner of the Main Street Bridge.  Thieme Drive took its name in 1911 from the founder of the Wayne Knitting Mills.  In the late 1800s, the Mills employed hundreds and became famous across America for its “Wayne Knit” line of fine hosiery.  Each day, Theodore F. Thieme, founder of the mill operations walked from his home on the corner of Rockhill and Berry streets crossing over the Main Street Bridge west to his office.

Authors James M. Schaab and Angus C. McCoy both writers of how the streets of Fort Wayne were named, say that Mr. Thieme was troubled by the sight of debris along the bank of the Saint Mary’s River.  Moved to institute a city wide waterway bank improvement project, Thieme decided to improve a small section along the river he passed each day. He had the rubble cleared away and the difference was so noticeable that he decided to expand the beautification effort.  Loads of fill dirt were brought in and a concrete retaining wall added.  When workers had finished, a small park-like overlook had been created.

On August 19, 1911 a plaque was dedicated featuring two half reclining female figures, one depicting “Nature Sleeping” and the other “Natural Beauty Awakened.”   Words on the plaque memorialize the “Fort Wayne Civic Improvement Association as a testimonial of appreciation by citizens of Fort Wayne of the generosity of Theodore F. Thieme who erected the work to awakening of a new civic spirit and the beginning of a general scheme of River Improvement. Dedicated 1911.”

From this small overlook a person can reflect on a sampling of our history: Through this space the way pointed to the only land portage of an otherwise all-water route connecting the Maumee River and Wabash River valleys known to the American Indian peoples for generations. Europeans soon learned about the carrying place that some dubbed the, “Indian Appian Way.”  It was being used to connect the lower French posts on the Mississippi with their sites on the Saint Lawrence River. As early as 1699 Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville (1661-1706) a French soldier and adventurer, passed over the portage leading a colony of Canadians from Quebec to Louisiana.  Look for Iberville Street named in his memory next time you are in the New Orleans French Quarter.

To the north, remnants of the great Wabash & Erie Canal’s Saint Mary’s aqueduct still can be seen.   The aqueduct was a 160 feet long water-filled trunk that passed floating commerce between America’s Eastern Seaboard and to the Mississippi River valley markets.

Across the way to the east, and related to canal lore, is Fort Wayne’s smallest park.  Marked by a statue of two young boys, it recalls the Aqueduct Club formed in 1912 in memory of those who made the canal aqueduct their swimming hole.  Southwest of the statue easily viewed from the overlook is the girlhood home of the legendary Hollywood star Carole Lombard.  Born Jane Alice Peters in 1908 in Fort Wayne, she achieved film fame and was married to Clark Gable at the time she tragically lost her life in a plane crash while on a tour selling War Bonds during World War II.

South on Thieme Drive once stood the old Methodist College founded in 1846.  Today the spot is marked with a plaque on a large stone standing between the street and the river.  Over on the west bank of the river is Camp Allen Drive which leads to a park that was once the site where young recruits rendezvoused at the behest of Abe Lincoln before marching off to contest a Civil War.

The Main Street Bridge that spans the Saint Mary’s is where once the myth of “The woman in white: could be observed walking across the bridge at night and when greeting her some reported she would vanish before their very eyes. This is the same bridge that points the way west to the Nebraska neighborhood.  During the canal era, merchant A.C. Hutzell opened a store on what was then a country road.   So far west of the Saint Mary’s River, locals joked that Hutzell had moved out west to Nebraska. Not a man to let some unexpected opportunity for notoriety slip away, he promptly named his place the “Nebraska Store.”  The name spread over the entire neighborhood that grew up along the canal basin.

Over the years the overlook slowly fell into a state of disrepair and suffered vandalism.  The plaque survived and caught the notice of the West Central Neighborhood Association people who with the cooperation of the City Redevelopment Commission restored it in 1987.  The overlook may be barely noticeable in our faster paced lifestyle, but it’s a pleasant place to stop and reflect on the wide range of the heritage we share in this community.


Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi© is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 fm.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Megan's Mystery Monday - Murder in the Cathedral

Hello fellow mystery lovers and welcome back! Today, I’ve got quite a doozy for you all.
When starting my internship, I knew there was a chance that I would stumble upon strange artifacts. It’s a museum after all, where objects get lost, get found, disappear entirely, and everything in between. If you’ve ever seen Mysteries at the Museum, you may have an idea of what I expected my job to entail.
Unfortunately, while I’ve never uncovered some strange human body part or the pieces to some ancient death machine, I did find a giant 35” x 41” framed needlepoint portrait titled Murder in the Cathedral.
Yeah. Let that sink in for a moment.
As you can expect, I was ecstatic. When I think of needlepoint, I imagine my grandmother and her large collection of flamingo designs stitched into pillows and displayed in frames, not church crime scenes. After showing the card with the title to my boss and laughing about it, I got around to getting the piece down. It wasn’t nearly as bloody and epic as I had imagined, but it was still a beautiful example of what can be done with needlepoint. It was obviously some sort of biblical thing, or some reference to a religious work beyond my sphere of knowledge. With a little research though, I was able to find out what the piece was about.

The title Murder in the Cathedral comes from a play written by T. S. Eliot in the early 1930s. It tells the story of a real life assassination plot that occurred in 1170. The assassinated man, Archbishop Thomas Becket, met his grisly end in Canterbury Cathedral at the hands of four knights acting under supposed orders from the king. The play, which was written in an atmosphere of rising Fascism in Europe, centers on the theme of resisting authority. It went on to become an opera, a film, and even the basis of a skit in Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
While I haven’t seen Monty Python, I know a little about Thomas Becket and his struggles with King Henry II over the issues of church authority versus the state from my many history classes. During the time, King Henry systematically removed many of the duties and powers of the church in order to strengthen his own position within England. Becket, the only archbishop to stand firm against this, became a problem, resisting the many orders given to him to sign the Constitutions of Clarendon (sixteen constitutions that would limit clerical independence and limit the church’s contact with Rome). In a pique of anger, it is said that King Henry asked “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?" or “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?" Interpreting that as a royal command, the four knights set off to paint the cathedral red.
The deed done, King Henry was then able to limit the power of the church within England, Thomas Becket became a martyr and was later canonized by Pope Alexander III three years after his death, and the Canterbury Cathedral became a shrine honoring the sainted Archbishop Becket. The rest, as they say, is history.

What I find most interesting about this piece of art is the attention to detail. With context, it’s easy to see what is happening and the history behind the image. I can hardly imagine how long it must have taken to make a needlepoint of this magnitude, but the excellent craftsmanship definitely earns this piece its place as our mystery item of the week!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Connecting Dots

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” –June 2011, No. 79.) 

It is not unusual to hear people new to the Allen County area mention that our local history seems to be a prominent topic not normally heard as much in places where they once lived or visited.  It’s based on good reasoning too.  Some make the observation that because northeast Indiana was the stage for much of the back story of this nation’s history.  It was through this country that an early crossroads was formed from natural formations that sent rivers flowing in each of the four corners of the compass.  

From here a traveler could move up the Saint Joseph River into Michigan or follow the Saint Mary’s River well into Ohio or head down the Maumee to the Eastern Great Lakes.  To the west too, much of our history unfolded because of a short land barrier over which the traveler could portage to the headwaters of the Wabash River. It led directly to the Mississippi Valley and to the heart of the continent.

 Militarily, whoever controlled this crossway of trails and the rivers they followed commanded one of North America’s critical sites in the wilderness days. Desperate and savage battles were witnessed in the region.  It resulted in the displacement of the indigenous American Indian peoples having lost the struggle.

General history books tell of battles such as those fought at Concord, Yorktown, Gettysburg or developments such as the Wright Brothers’ first flight or Edison’s light. Our region is filled with the behind the scenes stories driven by our unique location that was best described by Miami Chief Little Turtle in 1795 when he spoke to General Anthony Wayne saying that it was here in the Three Rivers vicinity where, “that glorious gate…through which all good words of our chief’s had to pass from north to south and from east to west.”

Historian Michael Hawfield once described our region for our time saying, “In later years, long after the wilderness had been tamed, transportation enterprises, financial corporations, and major manufacturing companies continued to be drawn to this crossroads in the heartland of the American marketplace and industry. Also, attracted to the crossroads were all those extraordinary and wonderfully ordinary individuals who conceived the inventions, made the components, drove the trolleys, designed the buildings, built the parks, and served in wars, put out the fires, developed the businesses, created the hospitals and much more.”

  Here are found the enduring signs of this lively heritage, as well as a dynamic present and promising future. As Hawfield wrote, “There are churches of touching compassion and beautiful architecture full of meaning, and parks full of recreation, tradition, and natural beauty, and there are noble and curious monuments, the oldest buildings, and the grand homes of bygone magnates. These are the constant reminders of our origins, our challenges and our promise.”  It’s all here to celebrate at a crossroads found here in northeastern Indiana.


Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi© is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 fm.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Early Presbyterians

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – May 2011, No 78)

The Early Presbyterians

When the Reverend Matthew Wallace arrived at what is now Fort Wayne, he was serving as an army chaplain under General William Henry Harrison.  It was in the years when Fort Wayne guarded United States interests in the midst of Indian territory.  At the outbreak of the War of 1812 late in the summer, about five hundred Potawatomi and Ottawa warriors began to gather in the forests around the garrison.  A friendly Potawatomi chief warned the fort of the impending danger. The message wasn’t taken seriously at first, but Indian Agent Benjamin Stickney took the precaution of alerting General William Henry Harrison in Cincinnati.  The commandant, Captain Rhea, worried about the large number of Indians gathering too near the stronghold and began to drink to excess becoming incapable of handling his duties.

Matthew Wallace, chaplain to the army under William Henry Harrison, greet soldiers of the Fort Wayne garrison during the War of 1812. (Original illustration by Kenneth B. Dutton)

The Indians burned the surrounding cabins, outbuildings, and crops. Lieutenants Curtis and Ostrander attempted to attack their opponents but were rebuked by their inebriated superior who clearly was afraid to fight.  On one occasion the Indians used the flag of truce to get inside the fort, to meet alone with Captain Rhea.  Five Indians who had come in the fort and had hidden behind one of the buildings shot two soldiers dead.  After this Captain Rhea lost control of the garrison, and Lieutenant Ostrander and Lieutenant Curtis took command.  A constant exchange of gunfire continued everyday until General Harrison arrived along with twenty five hundred men.

Although the Indians tried to attack Harrison’s troops in the swamps to the east along the Wayne Trace, all of their attempts failed.  On September 12, 1812, the siege was lifted. Captain Rhea was relieved of his command and Lieutenant Ostrander was placed in charge.

That was the situation at Fort Wayne when the Reverend Wallace first arrived.  A Presbyterian, minister, he witnessed the violence in Fort Wayne in its earliest days.  It was, however, ten years later before the Reverend John Ross came from Ohio to preach in the then-decommissioned fort.  His experiences were less than positive when he was quoted as saying, “There was no place that appeared to me so unpromising as Fort Wayne…There was no Sabbath kept there but on the part of a few.”

When no other clergyman visited “unpromising” Fort Wayne during the next three years, the Sunday School class that met in Samuel Hanna’s store asked Allen Hamilton to petition the American Home Missionary Society for a minister, preferably a “Presbyterian” they said “…in as much as they are generally better educated, and others here…being members of that church in other parts.”

A newly graduated seminarian came to town in November 1829. He was Charles E. Furman and became the first resident pastor in Fort Wayne.  The First Presbyterian Church was formally organized by the Reverend James Chute in July 1831, and was the first congregation organized in Fort Wayne for the settlers.  A church was built on the south side of Berry Street between Lafayette and Barr streets during the years 1836 and 1837.

Rev. Alexander T. Rankin arrived in 1837 and served as its pastor until 1843.  An ardent abolitionist, Rev. Rankin built a house on Lafayette Street where today evidence suggest that he served as an Underground Station agent for fugitives escaping slavery headed for Canada.  Currently, the home is occupied by ARCH, the historic preservation organization, which serves as their offices. 

First Presbyterian Church, Corner of Clinton and Washington

The congregation successively erected churches on the southeast corner of Clinton and Berry streets in 1848; and on the northeast corner of Clinton and Washington streets in 1886, before erecting the present facilities on the northwest corner of Wayne and Webster streets built during the years 1952-1967. How would Reverend Ross describe the way folks in Fort Wayne keep their Sabbath today?  We’d hope “promising” might be a good description.


Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi© is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 fm.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ole Duck Creek

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” - Apr 2011, No. 77)

Sometimes referred to as, “the Old Mill Stream,” the early nineteenth century Duck Creek became the namesake for our present-day Duck Street.  Duck Street between Clinton and Barr streets is now engulfed by the south end of Headwaters Park. Duck Creek once drained an area from the higher ground near Superior Street on into the Saint Mary’s River.  The small stream entered the river not far upstream from the Samuel Bigger Memorial Bridge.  Several hundred yards farther upstream on the opposite bank, the Spy Run Creek is still visible as it drains the northern watershed into the river.

In the 1840s and 1850s, the creek received the runoff from the large City Mills that stood along that stream. It flowed as an open run until nearly the 1900s. However, the old Duck Creek was soon forgotten.  City Mills was built in 1842 and put in operation the next year by Allen Hamilton and Jessie Lynch Williams.  It was ideally located in the business section of the city one and a half blocks north of the County Courthouse, on the west side of Clinton Street between Superior Street and the old Wabash & Erie Canal line now replaced by the elevated railroad.
During the years the mill received its power from Duck Creek. There was enough flow to turn a large 18 or 20 feet in diameter overshot wheel that operated four buhrs or grinding stones. An L-shaped frame construction building, the mill equipment occupied three floors with grain storage bins above. Powered by water for forty years, steam equipment was installed and still later a roller processing system was added.  
Roy Bates writing for the Old Fort News wrote that it “was one of the best patronized mills of the county. Farmers, coming to the city, could do their buying while their grain was being ground. In early days grain was brought to the mill in ox-carts and other primate means of conveyance.”  The mill was discontinued in 1920, and all of the equipment except the steam engine was sold to a Mexican businessman and shipped to a town south of Mexico City.

When preparations were being readied in late 2000 for the new Allen County Criminal Justice Center on the northwest corner of Superior and Clinton streets, workers uncovered a wooden structure. Located nearly fourteen feet below street level, it measured over ten feet wide by over three feet deep. The visible portions of the structure appeared to be nearly thirty feet into the building site and seemed to extend farther under Superior Street to the site of the old Wabash & Erie Canal line. At its northern extremity of the structure, crews saw a naturally occurring stream bed, continuing to the north several feet and then turning sharply to the east.  It appears the structure was an extension of Wabash & Erie Canal Culvert No. 25 that once passed Duck Creek under the canal.  So long ago has the old mill and culvert been covered over, that it and Duck Creek are all but forgotten.  Among the culvert timbers, rocks and soil turned up at the discovery site were a few old clay bottles.
Canal Society of Indiana Hoosier Packet editor, Carolyn Schmidt, investigated the discovery at the time of the excavation saying that if the culvert under the canal were extended, it would have been some sixty feet long under the canal, plus about one half a city block long from the canal to the street, plus the width of Superior Street, plus the remaining few feet into the County Criminal Justice Center site...quite long but not an impossibility.  Editor Schmidt concluded that future research needs to be done before fully concluding what the remnants reflect.

Duck Creek, the small stream with an unusual name, is one that once was an important drainage system for pioneer Fort Wayne, a source for a growing city’s economic development, buried and left undiscovered until it was unearthed by a building intended to serve justice in a modern society.


Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi© is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 fm.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Megan's Mystery Monday - Falling in Love with Ochmig

Welcome back mystery lovers! I’m here again with another tale from the museum. This week’s entry is on a man with a unique name and impressive past.
As you all know, the majority of the work I do here for my internship centers around cataloging and photographing the center’s fine arts collection. I handle anything from landscapes to portraits to photograph prints to posters. Of these, the most common is easily the portraits. Usually they’re fairly unimpressive, just headshots of prominent families or politicians that I, as a non-native of Fort Wayne, rarely recognize the names of. It can make them pretty boring to photograph, but occasionally there is the rare gem that completely changes my mind.
This find was definitely one of the rare ones. I discovered the portrait while cataloguing a shelf in the fine art’s room and at first glance, I thought nothing of it. By all accounts it appeared to be just another regular headshot of an old white guy, more than likely some political figure I’d never heard of. Closer inspection of the old record card sitting beside the frame though yielded a great discovery. I held the card for a moment, rereading the name over and over again in my head before snatching the portrait up and running to my boss to show her the best name ever thought up in anyone’s lifetime.
That name was Ochmig Bird.
Ochmig. Yeah. I know right? It simultaneously draws you in and forces you to adopt your best (or worst) German accent and phlegm like you mean it. Needless to say, I was in love. And when a historian falls in love, there can only be one course of action. Research!

A quick internet search later and I was greeted by another wonderful blog that really seems to know what it’s doing. The blog, titled ever so eloquently ‘The Strangest Names in American Political History’, explores the life of Mr. Ochmig Bird amidst many other colorfully named politicians. According to this site, Pennsylvanian native Ochmig Bird (who was of German descent, imagine that) moved to Logansport, Indiana in 1834. Over time, he made his way to Fort Wayne and became a very important mover in the development of the Wabash and Erie Canal project. In 1842 he was elected to his first public office as surveyor of Fort Wayne, but he didn’t stop there. 1851-1852 he served as a city councilman and from 1856-1860 he took up the mantle of Allen County treasurer.

But he didn’t stop there! Mr. Bird went on in 1849 to his first of many terms in the Indiana State Legislature, specifically the House of Representatives. In 1971 he even won a seat in the state senate. Sadly though, even the mightiest of Bird’s will find themselves brought low and ripped from the soaring heights. Ochmig Bird died on January 21st, 1878 and was buried in Lindenwood Cemetery here in Fort Wayne after cementing his unique name into the foundation of Allen County political history.
Now that I’ve thoroughly convinced each and every one of you out there to name your next child Ochmig, I’ll wrap this up and get back to work. Have a great Thanksgiving! Until next time!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Allen County’s Amazing Library

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – March 2011, No. 76.) 

The concept of a public library had its beginnings in 1850 when Allen County provided for one in its budget and the newspapers listed the new books available.  A reading room was established on Wayne Street in 1887 with private funds by Emerine Hamilton.  She was Emerine Jane Holman a southern Indiana woman whose father, Jesse Lynch Holman, was a judge on the Indiana Supreme Court, a United States District judge and one of the founders of Indiana University and Franklin College.  One of the distinguishing features of Emerine and husband Allen Hamilton’s mansion was the thousands of volumes of rare and contemporary books that filled the shelves of several libraries in the big house.  She became the founder of the first public library in Fort Wayne, the predecessor to the Allen County Public Library.

Although state law had authorized a tax levy for a public library since 1881, the Fort Wayne City Council refused to respond until 1893 when the Woman’s Club League of Fort Wayne persuaded City Council to change its mind.  Fort Wayne’s first public library opened in January 1895, in a room in the new City Hall on East Berry Street.  Later that year, the library moved to its own quarters in the Sol D. Bayless residence at East Wayne and Clinton streets.  A new address for the public library was found in the Brackenridge home on the corner of Wayne and Webster streets in 1898.

In 1904, with a grant from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation, the first permanent public library was constructed at Webster and Wayne streets. During construction, the library was placed in the Elektron Building on Wayne Street.  The Carnegie building remained the library’s home until 1968, when it was demolished. The present building was constructed on the same site and the northwest wing was added in 1981.  On January 27th 2007, the doors were opened to a greatly expanded structure and Allen County improved its position as home to a world-class library.

The Allen County Public Library holds the second largest genealogical collection in the United States and was the first public library to obtain all the available Federal census records.  The origins of this extraordinary genealogical collection can be traced to the Great Depression when library director Rex Potterf and his young friend and disciple, Fred Reynolds, went on the road searching for inexpensive books to fill the library’s shelves.  Without much money to buy expensive new books, they found many local and family histories, directories and other records.
When Fred Reynolds became director of the library in 1960, he focused the collection specifically on genealogy, with a room set aside in the old Carnegie building.  Reynolds made arrangements with the Newberry Library in Chicago – then the largest genealogical collection in the country – to preserve Newberry’s prized and rapidly deteriorating books and records through a massive photo-copying effort at the Allen County Library.  Originals and a copy were sent back to the Newberry, but a copy also stayed in Allen County’s facility.  As many as 37,000 volumes of rare reference works were acquired by the library in this way, and these became the foundation of the great genealogical collection.  The practice continues with the library copying and binding donated family histories always returning a copy to the donor.  On a much larger scale major collections are preserved. When the Lincoln Corporation decided to close its Fort Wayne Lincoln Museum, the ACPL was chosen to digitize its massive book and document collection to be placed on the Web and a project that will take years to complete.

Today, our ever-improving library’s resources extend beyond genealogy providing excellent services for us all.  Stories like these help keep alive the assets of our community… making this a very interesting place in which to call home.


Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi© is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 fm.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.