Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Remembering Columbus in Fort Wayne

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” -  Oct 2010, No. 71)
It was a matter of time before the East and the West would meet on this big globe of ours. We all know about October 12, 1492, and the mariner adventurer Christopher Columbus. His voyage changed the world and his achievement is commemorated in many places and in many ways. You’ll find “Columbia” and “Columbus” on maps today for names of cities, towns, streets, roads and monuments everywhere.  Even the fraternal organization known as the Knights of Columbus reminds us of the great Italian navigator.

Here in Fort Wayne we have Columbia Street, Columbia Bridge and Avenue as candidates but for the popular thought that they are the namesake of innkeeper Dana Columbia when Fort Wayne was platted in 1824 and later an admired canal boat captain.  Along the Heritage Trail, however, there are at least two sites worthy of mention. Still standing on the northwest corner of Barr and Washington streets is the colonial revival styled office building erected by Oscar Foellinger in 1925. It was the home of the Fort Wayne News Sentinel until 1958. Later the building served as headquarters for United Way along with other community organizations such as its major current occupant Community Action of Northeast Indiana.  Inside the Washington Street entrance is an outstanding mural recalling Columbus’s achievement. A map of the first Voyage of Discovery’s landing is enhanced with Christopher Columbus’ coat of arms over the motto scroll, “Landing of Columbus 1492.” This painting recalls the name of the hero of many European immigrants to this country and the strength of the convictions of Christopher Columbus.

During the first decades of the 20th century one immigrant group that struggled to adapt to its new nation home were those of Italian extraction. Aided by the public schools’ intent on turning them into “Americans” in those early days, neither Italy nor anything Italian was mentioned, according to historian Nancy C. Carnevale, anything that is except for Christopher Columbus. These were the immigrants coming to America who faced unexpected prejudices. They came not knowing if they would survive the sea voyage; not speaking the language; not having an education, and without money. All they wanted was to be given a chance just as their hero Columbus had when he requested ships for his first voyage.  As important a hero-figure as he represents for Italian Americans, Columbus serves as an inspiration for peoples throughout the world, personifying the determination to pursue a dream.

Along Fort Wayne’s Heritage Trail at Wayne and Harrison streets once stood the Community Center a structure with large meeting rooms that has long been raised and now the site of the Metro Building.  On June 12, 1927, a charter was granted forming the Order Sons of Italy Colombo Lodge No. 1446 a name later changed to “Columbus” its more familiar Americanized version. In the Italian language figli found in the name L’Ordine Figli d’Italia or The Order of Sons of Italy, may mean both children and sons, hence the organization embraced entire families.  

  It was a Lodge that for several decades was filled with activity and compassion for fellow immigrants. For example, at the close of WW II a number of U.S. servicemen returned to Fort Wayne with women they had met and married in Europe. The local lodge members showed exemplary hospitality as they reached out to the newcomer assisting them with language difficulties, finding living quarters and in general helping the new arrivals get adjusted to life in an American city.  Order Sons of Italy Lodge celebrated its fiftieth anniversary on October 15, 1977.  It had become so popular that an auxiliary organization had been created in 1962 under the patronage of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini.   However, as the 1990s approached, interest waned, and the Columbus lodge No 1446 along with the auxiliary group became inactive.

Remembered as Columbus Day, October 12 is one of the oldest of America’s holidays first celebrated in 1792 during the 300th anniversary of the 1492 discovery.  Established by President Benjamin Harrison, it hails Columbus as the symbol of America’s achievements and progress.  A champion of so many immigrants and their children, Christopher Columbus is not forgotten Along the Heritage Trail.

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.


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