Thursday, January 29, 2015

An Archbishop’s Home

by Tom Castaldi

The Archbishop Noll House at 1415 West Washington Boulevard has been a landmark home for many in our community at large. In 1994 it was included on the "Fort Wayne Bicentennial Heritage Trail" as one of the outstanding homes in the celebrated West Central Neighborhood

(Editor's note: You can find copies of this book in the History Center's gift shop.)

"The Heritage Trail," a Lasting Legacy developed as part of the 1994 Fort Wayne Bicentennial Celebration, is a walking trail supported by a map and a guidebook. Intended to serve as a core guide to historical places in Fort Wayne, it assembles significant historical sites important in the understanding of the region's history and patterned somewhat after Boston's Freedom Trail.

The Craftsman-style house with the white stucco exterior, later known as the Archbishop Noll House, was built in 1910 by Robert Millard, a prominent wholesale grocer who left Fort Wayne in 1920. Designed by architect Harry W. Wachter, it was purchased by the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne in 1923 to serve as a residence for Bishop Herman Joseph Alerding, who served as bishop from 1900 to 1925.  In his will, Bishop Alerding left the house to his successor.  In 1925, Reverend John Francis Noll, a Fort Wayne native, was elevated to be the fifth bishop of Fort Wayne, and moved into the home which eventually took his name.

(Editor’s note: you can find a photo of the house at

This was home for an extraordinarily accomplished man who directed such efforts as establishing Our Sunday Visitor that became the largest circulated Catholic newspaper in the world and continues today to be the largest Catholic weekly newspaper. Under Noll’s guidance, Central Catholic High School and St. Vincent’s Orphans’ Home – present-day campus of Horizon Christian Academy – were rebuilt and expanded.  He also served significant roles in such national organizations as the National Catholic Welfare Conference, the Catholic Youth Organization, and the National Council of Catholic Women, and from here raised the funds that made possible the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC. Today, visitors to the National Shrine can view a bust of Fort Wayne-native Bishop Noll placed there in his honor for the contributions he made to the completion of the project.

In 1935, in appreciation of the bishop’s tenure, members of the diocese built a wing complete with a chapel in the residence.  The stained glass windows carried portraits of the bishops who had served the diocese, and since have been removed to the Cathedral Museum in the Archbishop Noll Catholic Center on Calhoun Street.  Also found inside are rose marble pillars, ornately carved plaster ceilings, stained-glass windows imported from Germany and Italian murals. As the bishop moved into greater prominence, the home was a most appropriate meeting place for the everyday layman as well as the most distinguished guest seeking his council and/or assistance.

In 1953, he was named Archbishop by Pope Pius XII in recognition of his many accomplishments, which was an elevation and a sign of esteem since Noll’s See was not an archdiocese.  Since his death in 1956, the structure has served as a home for Augustinian monks, and later a center for drug abuse victims.  Eventually, it was sold to a succession of private owners some of whom allowed it to fall into a state of disrepair.  The Archbishop’s home has finally been purchased by private individuals; conserved for use as a family home and returned to a state of grandeur.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – May 2010 No 66

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

Other sites you may enjoy about Archbishop Noll:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Little Wabash River and a Little River Wetland

by Tom Castaldi

One of the most important pathways in early Middle America is found here in our region.  It passed through the Great Marsh and was known as “The Portage” by the French explorers who recognized it as a strategic part of the most direct water route to the Wabash and Mississippi - supported nicely by a tributary we know today as the Ohio River. The Portage was the only land barrier that stood in the way and connected Quebec with New Orleans by joining the Maumee and Wabash river valleys.

As early as 1701 the English governor of the colony of New York invited the Miami people to trade there. Although some trade may have taken place, the Miami chose instead to strengthen their position on the Maumee-Wabash portage line. In turn, the French were compelled to set up trading and military posts at Kekionga, now Fort Wayne, and Ouiatenon, near present-day Lafayette.  The Miami then invited the English to come west to trade, but all did not turn out so well for them. Rather than creating a partnership with both the French and the English, it instigated contention among the two competing European nations, each strategizing for Miami loyalty.

  When the first explorers and fur traders came along, the resident Indian population introduced them to the short land bridge separating two important river systems.  Historians describe it as being a stretch of land ranging from six to nine miles in length depending on the time of the year that joined the navigable portions of the St. Mary’s River – which helps form the Maumee flowing into Lake Erie – and the Little Wabash River that connects the Mississippi via the Wabash and Ohio rivers.  During periods of high water, American Indians spoke of having passed from one river to the other in their canoes, and in fac,t today’s U.S. Highway 24 west generally follows along the passage connecting Fort Wayne with Huntington.

In many ways the land barrier separated an expanding America from a yet to be developed one, which led to the creation of an artificial waterway. In the days of sprawling marshes and wilderness forests, a canal was constructed and boats could be seen gliding along, offering transportation between the Midwest and the Eastern Seaboard. Through this land barrier into the Mississippi River on to the Gulf of Mexico an immigrant route was created that helped start up towns and enlarge old ones.

A gift of geography, this throughway originally was shaped by an ice glacier as it receded some ten thousand years ago, establishing a vast marshland.  To the east it formed the Black Swamp and Lake Erie. To the west, the Wabash River valley was created.  However, the great lake and the state river are not all that marks the great geological event.

For the last ten or so thousand years, the path of the glacier’s melt water that formed the Little Wabash River made a passageway for native peoples and animals alike, beginning as a footpath expanding to cart path, to canal towpath, to rail beds and finally roads and highways. Efforts to drain the Great Marsh began in the late 1800s.  After four attempts, the rich bottom land was successfully ditched and drained for farming.  Nonetheless, it tended to get too wet during rainy years but some persistent farmers did work the land of the old marsh.

Now after more than twenty years, the non-profit Little River Wetlands Project is restoring wetlands once part of the original 25,000 acre Great Marsh through the work of a dedicated board, staff, and volunteers.  A group of citizens began the project in 1990, concerned with the knowledge that 85% of Indiana’s original wetlands had been lost. In Allen County the disappearance of wetlands meant the local rivers were more prone to flooding and native wildlife was at risk due to habitat loss. The organization’s founders soon identified the Little Wabash River Valley not fully built up with home and commercial structures still had land available for wetlands restoration and protection.

As the Little River Wetlands Project has grown, it has restored three properties to wetlands: Eagle Marsh, Arrowhead Marsh and Arrowhead Prairie.  With these preserves and a conservation easement on private land, the organization now protects over 1,000 natural acres in the Little Wabash River valley. Eagle Marsh, the largest preserve at 705 acres, has been slowly returned to its original historical grandeur over the past three years.  When combined with National Serv-All’s adjacent mitigated wetlands area and Fox Island County Park, the entire space forms nearly two square miles of natural habitat. Currently, the Project is seeking financial contributions to add 67 acres of land to Arrowhead Prairie. All three preserves need continued stewardship care to ensure future success, but native plants have already returned and wildlife abounds.  A drive along Eagle Road offers a glimpse of great blue herons, mallards and sometimes bald eagles or ospreys at Eagle Marsh.  Tiny surprises emerge too, like the thousands of American toad hatchlings seen in the spring along nature trails at the preserve.

 Such successes do not happen without the careful planning, the support of Little River members, and committed volunteers willing to work long hard hours.  Challenges continue to abound and are being met by thoughtful stewardship to nurture new native plants to continue the effort.  Thus a truly little wetland offers a big experience with a glimpse into the scenery of our own heritage.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail” – April 2010 No 65

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

Thursday, January 15, 2015

First Churches

by Tom Castaldi

Fort Wayne’s first church buildings reveal interesting stories. The Presbyterians built the first church structure during the years 1836 and 1837. A forty by forty feet frame meetinghouse, it was situated on the south side of Berry Street between Lafayette and Barr streets. The Presbyterian congregation, in 1836, established the town’s first year-long school.

  Inside the walls of the church, five other local religious groups held their initial meetings. That list of early worshipers includes some familiar names: the First Baptist Church constituted in 1837; Episcopalians in 1839; St. John’s German Reformed congregation founded in 1843; the Methodist North Indiana Conference organized in 1844; the Trinity English Lutheran Church held its first services there in 1846.  When the county courthouse was deemed too unsafe in 1842, court was convened in the old forty by forty foot church.  The English Lutherans bought the facility in 1846 and installed its original bell in the steeples of its successive buildings.

Trinity English Lutheran c. 1870 from the Randall Estate

During 1846 the English Lutherans separated from the German Lutherans.  The congregation grew slowly, receiving members from among new arrivals from the eastern states as well as American-born children of immigrants and a few Scandinavian Lutherans.  The congregation first worshiped on Sunday afternoons in the First Presbyterian meeting house on Berry Street.  The Presbyterians, in anticipation of moving into a new church, soon sold their fifteen-year old building to the English Lutherans.  When the completion of their new structure was delayed for two years, the Presbyterians were forced to rent their old church from its new Lutheran owners.

Under the leadership of the first full-time ordained minister with pastoral experience, Reverend William Patton Ruthrauff arrived in 1859 and the membership of Trinity English Lutheran doubled. It meant that the parish might now support a larger church.  A lot on the corner of Wayne and Clinton streets was purchased and the cornerstone was laid on July 29, 1863.   By 1864, a gothic-style brick church building was erected.

 In 1868, the Reverend Samuel Wagenhals assumed the pastorate, continuing for fifty-two years, the longest tenure of any Fort Wayne clergyman.  His successor, the Reverend Paul H. Krauss, served the parish for nearly fifty years and led the congregation in the erection of the present facilities on the south side of Wayne Street between Fairfield and Ewing streets.
Designed by B.G. Goodhue, one of the leading architects of the Gothic revival style, the church was dedicated in 1925.  From the steeple still rings the town’s oldest church bell.  Originally installed in the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church, the bell first rang in 1837 both as a call to worship and as the town’s “fire alarm.”

In the autumn of 1995 through the spring of 1996, the congregation celebrated its 150th anniversary.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – March 2010 No. 64.
  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