Tuesday, February 23, 2016

State Historical Markers in Allen County

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” - Oct 2011, No. 83)
Revised February 26, 2016 per information received from Indiana Historical Bureau

Have you noticed the historical markers with the distinctive gold on the aluminum cast raised letters with the painted blue background?  They are known as the Indiana History Bureau format or “State Format” markers for short. Other organizations that sponsor and support historical signage include the Allen County Fort Wayne Historical Society, the Fort Wayne Bicentennial Heritage Trail, and the Daughters of the American Revolution are among them.

When applying for a state historical marker, it must be deeply researched then pass the approval of a panel of experts and the requestor must be able to come up with the $2,200 current cost before the markers can become a reality. These large markers commemorate significant people, organizations, places, and events in Indiana and American history.

Allen County has a rich history and can be considered well documented with markers. In the myriad of the heritage remainders, state format markers have been put in place.

One marker located on Fort Wayne’s southeast corner of Center and Huron streets is at the Camp Allen Park playground entrance and was erected by the Indiana Civil War Centennial Commission. It commemorates the Civil War mustering-in camp where the 30th, 44th, 74th, 88th, and 100th Indiana Regiments and the 11th Indiana Battery were organized.

A second marker is at the “Home of Philo Farnsworth” found on St. Joseph Boulevard near the intersection with East State in Fort Wayne.  Placed in 1992, it celebrates the famous television inventor who was living here in this home between 1948 and 1967. Farnsworth is credited for, “perfecting the image formation mechanism which enabled the first effective image transmission in 1927.” His company, Farnsworth Radio and Television Corporation, was located in Fort Wayne from 1938-1949.

A marker was placed at the corner of West Main Street and Growth Avenue to commemorate the February 22, 1832, groundbreaking of the Wabash & Erie Canal.  When completed the canal would link Lake Erie at Toledo with Evansville on the Ohio River.  It was long a site that historians wrote and talked about and took a lot of research to determine where the marker in 1992 was most appropriately to be placed

 Guldin Park is the site of where one of the area’s several forts once stood.  The park is located on the southeast corner of the Van Buren Street Bridge in Fort Wayne, and in 2000 the Indiana Historical Bureau and Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Indiana collaborated to install a marker. With separate text on two sides of the marker, it recalls where the French built a fort in 1722 named Fort Saint Philippe. It was one of three French forts built in what is now Indiana to protect French fur trade from the encroaching English. The opposite side tells of the strategic waterway system connecting Great Lakes regions with Mississippi River Valley and the use of the portage between the Maumee and Wabash rivers.

 Just beyond the U.S. 24 east interchange of I-469 bypass in New Haven Indiana Historical Bureau, Canal Society of Indiana, and New Haven Kiwanis placed the Gronauer Lock No. 2 marker in 2003. It too has two separate texts on two sides. One notes that the Wabash & Erie Canal lock was discovered in June 1991 during excavation for highway construction was named for lock keeper Joseph Gronauer. On the reverse side the text mentions the many artifacts and pieces of timber that were recovered and a portion of the timbers that were sent to be used as an exhibit in the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis.

If you want to spend an enjoyable afternoon, take the time to drive around our historic county and don’t overlook the many markers on the sites where history was made.


Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi© is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast 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, February 9, 2016

Louis William Bonsib

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – September 2011, No. 82)

Louis William Bonsib

Louis Bonsib, artist and advertising executive, was born in Vincennes, Indiana, in March 1892, a grandson of his name sake who had immigrated to the United States from Alsace-Lorraine during the years of Napoleon Bonaparte. He and four brothers or step brothers made the trip to New Orleans in the mid-1800s.  How the name became Bonsib from whatever the surname was in Europe remains a mystery. Grandfather Louis met Henriette Caspermor, married and moved to Vincennes. Here the couple became the parents of four children. The youngest, John F. Bonsib and father of Louis W. Bonsib, was born in 1862.

John opened a business buying bicycle parts and assembled them for sale. Later he opened a furniture store which became quite a successful venture.  By 1890 John met and married Ida Brown and two years later Louis W. Bonsib was born. Unfortunately, Ida died in 1894 and Louis was cared for by his Aunt Molly.  It was she who encouraged Louis to pursue his natural art talent drawing and painting leaves.  By the time Louis was fifteen, he heard a lecturer speak about building a radio to transmit Morse code. Louis built and assembled a radio from parts he could find and using a window screen for an antenna, was able to communicate with a distant friend.

Later as crystal radio sets became available Louis was able to produce a better radio and while still in high school he was granted a license to operate the first ham radio in the state of Indiana.  Modern Electrics magazine featured him in an issue to show the achievements of a young amateur. It was so early in the days of radio that Louis was able to purchase and sell parts to companies and individuals interested in building their own sets.

Although first pursuing art courses in 1910 through the International Correspondence School, Louis had visions of becoming an electrical engineer.  That same year he enrolled at the University of Cincinnati and later at Vincennes University. Not entirely pleased with his choice, he decided to enroll at Indiana University in 1912 and in 1914 was studying Sociology at the University of Illinois. Returning to IU he was accepted into the Phi Beta Kappa Fraternity while a member of the wrestling team. He also started as the center on the football team and found the time to work on the IU yearbook, the Arbutus.  He graduated Summa cum laude and took a position with the Indianapolis Engraving Company. It led him into the advertising agency business and in 1923 he set up his own shop in Peru, Indiana.  Not pleased with the business’ performance he moved his activities to Fort Wayne.

At first, the Fort Wayne clients did not think to pay for the artwork produced by ad agencies. Louis thought differently and demanded payment which the clients did without complaint. In 1926 to solidify the agency-client relationship, Louis organized the Fort Wayne Advertising Club which thrived until the Great Depression came along. After World War II the Ad Club was reconstituted and Louis initiated a speakers’ bureau that found him traveling the Midwest promoting the opportunities an advertising agency offers business operations. Serving as many as twenty accounts in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, Bonsib grew the agency concentrating on radio and automobile manufacturer clients. Others included Wayne Pump and Magnavox.  In 1941 he listed more than one hundred companies that had been or continued as Bonsib Advertising clients. Bonsib Advertising grew and became one of the most successful and highly regarded agencies in the state.

Painting continued to be one of Louis’ passions, and he continued using his oils and watercolors to capture the scenes of favorite sites especially in Brown County.  Other locations took him around the world from Maine, Quebec and California, Appalachian valleys, to Hawaii, Japan, Alaska and Europe. If he did not have the time to paint on his visit, he’d photograph the scene to paint later. The celebrated Hoosier Salon exhibited his work in a gallery in New Harmony, Indiana, exhibitions in Chicago, and the Salon’s Broad Ripple, Indianapolis gallery.  Bonsib’s paintings hang today in many collections and in many private homes.  One titled, “Morning in Brown County” was presented to Indiana University’s Union in Bloomington, Ind., where L. W. Bonsib served as a board member in 1915-16. In 1939, commencement visitors to the university could view Bonsib’s, “Snow in Tennessee” which formed a part of that year’s prize-winning selections from the Hoosier Art Salon.

As Dr. Michael J. Mastrangelo stated in his December 2009 Quest Club paper reviewing the life of “Louis William Bonsib 1892-1979 More than an Artist,” Louis chose to donate the major portion of his library of over 200 art books and pamphlets to Vincennes University as well as several hundreds of his paintings. Not long after, the school honored him with an honorary doctorate degree.  A room at that university was dedicated in Bonsib’s honor for the Northwest Territory Art Guild in the Old State Bank Building.  He treasured the honor for being presented the first Silver Medal Award for lifetime achievement and service presented by Printers Ink magazine and the Advertising Federation of America.

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, February 2, 2016

Frances Slocum

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – August  2011,  No. 81)


Most Hoosiers are familiar with the story of Frances Slocum, born in 1773, the five year old daughter of Quaker parents who was kidnapped from her home in eastern Pennsylvania on November 2, 1778 by three Delaware braves.  When last seen she was being carried off on the shoulder of one of her captors, her red hair flying in her face and crying out for her mother.  Frances’ mother never gave up the hope of finding her daughter, and until her dying day urged family members to continue searching for the child’s return.

During the years of the great Revolutionary War many people, often children, who were abducted from their families by the natives were frequently treated with kindness and adopted as a member into their tribes .

After Frances was seized the Delaware party took her through western Pennsylvania, into Ohio and to the present site of Detroit.  During these early years of captivity, the tribe migrated into northeastern Indiana and the village of Kekionga near Fort Wayne.  Frances acclimated to the life of the Indian people assuming the name of Maconaqua meaning Little Bear and marrying a Delaware warrior.    Eventually, she married Shapoconah, a Miami war chief, who lost  his hearing and became known as Deaf Man.  

Leaving the Fort Wayne area, Frances and her chieftain husband moved west to live at the Osage Village on the bank of the Mississinewa near Peru, Indiana.  After the passing of her husband about 1833, Frances expressed no desire to return to her birth family. She had been with the Indian people for nearly sixty years before she revealed her white blood to anyone.  It happened in 1834 or 1835 when Colonel George Ewing, who operated the trading firm of Ewing, Walker & Company in nearby Logansport, and was making a tour among his customers on the Mississinewa.  Because the daylight was fast fading to darkness, Ewing asked for lodging overnight in Frances’ comfortable log house.  Growing old and frail, fearing that she had not much longer to live, she decided that it was time to reveal her origins.  Frances felt at ease speaking in the Miami language with the equally fluent Ewing of her abduction and life among the Delaware and Miami.  All she could recall was that her father’s name was Slocum and that they lived along a river that Ewing correctly identified as the Susquehanna near Wilkesbarre.  When Ewing returned to his store, he sent off  a letter to the Postmaster at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to be reprinted in the Lancaster Intelligencer. The letter told of Frances’ experience hoping that some Slocum family member might read the letter and come forward.  For some reason the Ewing letter was set aside and it was two years before it was published and Frances’ family finally learned of her fate. The family traveled to the Mississinewa but Frances would not give up her way of life. “I shall die here and lie in that graveyard, and they will raise the pole at my grave with the flag on it, so the Great Spirit will know where to find me.”

After her death in 1847, she was buried near her Mississinewa home along side her husband in the Bondy cemetery.  However, in 1965 when the flood control dams on the upper Wabash River were built to create the Mississinewa reservoir and flood the cemetery the graves were removed.  The relocation was a two-acre plot located on Bowman Road near the Frances Slocum State Forest.  To ensure that no one will disturb the resting place of this woman, who rose to a position of prominence among her adopted people, a new grave was opened, the remains set in place and entombed in concrete to insure security.


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, February 1, 2016

Megan's Mystery Monday - Finding Perspective

Hello fellow history lovers! I hope everyone had a great holiday season and is ready for more mysteries from the museum! Our first of the New Year is twofold.

To begin our Mystery Monday, there are some key facts to go over. As many of you know, the Historical Society has been a repository of local history for almost 100 years now. We house all sorts of things, some artifacts and some just the random collection of items over the years. Our mystery piece this week is one of the latter, a painting that came to us from the Historic Fort Wayne offices.

The History Center is home to many pieces like this, things that aren’t quite artifacts but are still held here. This painting was stored in the fine arts collection without an accession number. It was easy enough to show it to my boss and have her determine provenance, and soon enough we had a new entry made for it in the database. With one mystery solved, it was then on to filling the entry up with as much information as possible about the subject matter.

This painting, given the identification number INV 4535, portrays the Battle of Harmar’s Ford which took place in 1790. When I first stumbled upon this piece, what immediately struck me was the artist’s choice of perspective. I’m no expert in art but as a history student you’re taught to analyze many types of primary sources, including artwork. Every piece is made deliberately and thus every artistic choice is done with a goal or theme in mind. The painting makes a conscious effort to place the viewer on the side of the Native Americans, watching as they hold off the army of soldiers attempting to ford the river. This was a bit unusual to me, so I became intrigued.

I wasn’t familiar with the Battle of Harmar’s Ford, so after a little research I was able to gain a better understanding of why the artist chose the perspective he used. 

During the autumn of 1790, a series of battles took place within the Ohio River Valley between soldiers and Native Americans. Named after General Josiah Harmar, Harmar’s Campaign was fought in order to gain control of the Northwest Territory after news of increased conflict between settlers and Native Americans reached Washington in the east. To combat this, George Washington sent out a troop of soldiers to quell the Native Americans, who were led by Chief Little Turtle.

Accounts of the battles fought were bloody, the odds of victory often overwhelmingly in favor of the Natives, and the defeat equally as overwhelmingly embarrassing for the soldiers. The battles were typified by resounding defeats on the part of the soldiers, thus giving the military campaign its less flattering name, Harmar’s Defeat.  It became pretty obvious why the artist chose to depict such a scene, placing the viewer firmly behind Native American lines while the soldiers knee-deep in the river were shot down. This piece doesn’t sugar coat the colonial loss one bit.

As hard as it can be to admit it, history often times is not kind. It can be ugly, gruesome, and vilify those we’d rather consider heroes. Artwork like INV 4535 is a good example of history as a humbling power, reminding viewers that things weren’t as cut and dry as sometimes thought and that history is almost always a tumultuous conflict with contentious contenders.

If you’d like to learn more about Harmar’s Defeat and other early conflicts, check out the History Center’s 200 at 200 exhibit this February, Contention for the Confluence.

Until next time!