Monday, August 22, 2011

Allen County's Oldest Restaurant

The Nine Mile Restaurant sits rather inconspicuously on the east side of U.S. 27, and motorists unfamiliar with its excellent food and rich history often drive by on their way to Decatur without giving it a second look. They shouldn't. The tavern and one-time inn is one of Allen County's treasures - very likely one of the oldest, if not the oldest,restaurant in the northern part of Indiana.

To appreciate the restaurant's history, one must go back to the early 1830s and the pioneer settlement of what became Marion Township. Several ancient trails ran through the area, including Wayne Trace, through which Anthony Wayne's army had marched after leaving Fort Wayne in 1794, and the Piqua Road, which was surveyed in 1830 and made use of what was probably an older Indian trail. This road became what is now U.S. 27. In the 1830s, however, it represented one of the few paths a pioneer had for reaching Fort Wayne - once considered a far-away place from the more settled parts of central and southern Indiana. The land was so marshy that travelers on the road often had to fell trees and find parallel paths in the woods to get around the thick mud that rendered the road impassable.

Pioneers began settling Marion Township in 1832. Philo Whitcomb, one of the first to arrive, established a post office at a place called Root near what is now U.S. 27 and Flat Rock Road.
Then in 1837, John Karn opened a tavern at the site of the present Nine Mile Restaurant. As the Piqua Road improved, a stagecoach line was established, and Karn's tavern became an important stop. In 1850, John Holmes acquired the tavern and rebuilt it in a Greek Revival style, calling it Nine Mile House, because it stood exactly nine miles from the Allen County Courthouse. The site became one of the most important gathering places in the southern part of Allen County - a place where travelers spent the night and where pioneers met to exchange news over a pint.

A series of owners followed Holmes. At one time, it was known as Bubb's Nine Mile after its then-owner, Anthony Bubb. The oldest known image of the structure, shown above, dates from the 1930s, when there were gas pumps and a Coca-Cola sign in the front. Later the structure underwent a series of significant renovations that changed and greatly expanded its appearance.

Today the restaurant is painted brown, but the original roof-line can still be seen within the other additions. Nine Mile is popular with residents in the Hoagland and Poe areas, but it is less well-known to Fort Wayne residents. It has an excellent menu, with barbecued ribs being one of its specialties. The cuisine is very much of the down-home variety, and while I don't profess to be a restaurant critic, I have always found my visits there enjoyable. My wife, who has deep ancestral roots in Marion Township, likes to speculate that many of her ancestors must have eaten there over the last century and a half. We enjoy the ambiance, even if the interior isn't designed to be historic. We know that buried deep within the walls is still the 1850 structure.

Nine Mile is well worth a visit. Plan on having an intimate dining experience, with tables placed close together, and with excellent service. While there, you can celebrate how unusual it is for any business, especially a restaurant, to operate continuously at the same location since 1837.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tierces, Kits, Firkins, Kegs, Barrels and Hogsheads

Historians write about the days before automobiles and of early grocery stores that received edibles in barrels, cloth bags or wooden boxes. Today, we as consumers understand those "packaging" terms, but there were names for shipping containers that we no longer use nor would we understand. With a few small tools to loosen and remove the nails that fastened the wooden box lids, a pine box top was removed and the bulk contents were ready for display. The same was true with barrel heads that could be removed and the contents opened for easy viewing. When a customer made a selection the product was weighted out usually by the pound and placed in a paper bag for the customer to take home.

Many products were stored and shipped in barrels such as smoked pork or pork packed in brine. Some held apples and flour in the days before refrigeration. Iced compartments were not thought to be practical until railroad cars were fitted out to provide the service. Wood barrels churned out by local cooper shops made both “tight” and “slack” types. Tight barrels were made for holding liquids such as vinegar or cider requiring hardwoods such as white oak with strength enough to endure rough handling during the days of the mid-nineteenth century. Slack barrels made of softer woods such as elm, basswood or linden were fine for sugar, fruit, flour, or salt. Then there were different grades of slack barrels since flour required a tighter fit than say one for apples.

Next a grocer had to know the several sizes and capacities of barrel design. Smallest of them was a tight barrel called a “kit” which held one or two gallons used often for salt-mackerel in brine. “Kegs” came in various sizes as did half-barrels used to contain linseed oil that were made of oak and some times reinforced with iron hoops. Depending on the product a slack keg was ideal durables such as nails. A “firkin” normally held about one quarter of a barrel and typically was a tight barrel used for consumables such as butter or lard. Standard sized barrels were supposed to hold 31-1/2 gallons. A larger size called a “tierce” had a nominal capacity of 42 gallons and the type most often produced. Another was the “hogshead” which was larger ranging up to 140 gallons.

As a suggestion, the next time you go grocery shopping please don't confuse that hard working clerk with a line like, "Oh, I don't know, how about giving me a tierce worth, but I will have to have help getting it to my car."

From an unpublished manuscript with the working title, The Merchants of Vittles, T. Castaldi - 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Be a Tourist In Your Own Hometown!

Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown takes place this year on Sunday, September 11th, from noon to 5 pm.

You, your friends and family can visit 12 of Fort Wayne’s museums and attractions for free!

Simply pick up a FREE passport and begin your travels.

For more information, contact Visit Fort Wayne at 424-3700 or at

Here's how the program works:

1. Pick up a passport at any Fort Wayne Scott’s or Kroger’s location. Or download a one-page passport online at:

2. On Sunday, September 11th, you will be able to visit 12 of Fort Wayne's participating attractions and museums - FOR FREE! Just use your passport to gain free admission to all attractions listed within - one passport good for entire party.

Participating Attractions:
African/African-American History Museum
Allen County Courthouse
Embassy Theatre
Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory
History Center
Fort Wayne Museum of Art
Parkview Field
Science Central
The Lincoln Tower
Historic Fort Wayne

Historic Swinney Homestead

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Discovering history via quilts

My grandmother was a quilter. Every year she spent the winter months making a quilt as something to do during those long, grey days when she couldn’t be outside in her garden. I still have two of those quilts—one a wedding ring quilt and the other a bow tie quilt made from fabric of the dresses my mother, sisters and I had back in the 1950s. What a piece of family history!

Since moving to Fort Wayne I’ve gotten to know another quilter. Jan Johnson moved here from the Pacific Northwest to live closer to her grandchildren after the death of her husband. Jan is a quilter AND a history buff!

So this year at the Buffalo Tro, we once again have Jan’s history quilts in our Silent Auction—one of Underground Railroad signs and the other made from the wrappers that went around cigars in the early 1900s, showing the flag of the country where the tobacco was grown and the cigars made.

It seemed only appropriate with Tro coming up that we blog a little about it and more posts will start appearing about the magic of the Chief Richardville House on a warm fall evening. Peace and quiet, a sense of the fabulous parties the Chief hosted at his residence, the taste of buffalo cooked in an open fire and the knowledge that your presence can help school-age children attend the History Center via our Heritage Education Fund are all part of the evening.

But back to the quilts. Last year I mentioned to Jan that we have a hands-on exhibit for kids that features artwork of quilt block patterns that were allegedly used to direct runaway slaves on their path to freedom. Jan hadn’t heard of this use for quilts—but she was intrigued—and so she began her research into historical quilts. As she travels, she looks for fabric—like the tobacco flags—that can be incorporated into quilts or for historic patterns that she can replicate.

We can’t possibly tell you all there is to know about the history of quilts in one blog post—or even multiple posts. The books on this art form are many and varied and take up quite a bit of space at the Allen County Public Library’s main branch. But here are a few quick bits of history to know:

American women in the 19th century regularly made quilts to raffle to raise funds to support political causes. Just because they couldn’t vote didn’t mean they couldn’t express their opinions!

The origins of American quilts extend to Europe, Asia and India.

Quilts were a rare item in the 17th century and were found only in the homes of the well-to-do and merchants. These quilts were not handmade by their owners but imported.

During the Civil War, women on both sides raised money for the cause by making and raffling quilts. One such quilt sold the first time for $100, the next week for $400 and four more times in amounts of $115, $500 and $250. The quilt was entitled “Gunboat” and made in 1860 by Martha Jane Singleton Hatter (1815-1896), of cotton, silk and silk taffeta. It measures 66 x 66 inches and now is a part of the collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art.

There has been much study of African-American quilts but authenticated quilts are often difficult to find because they remained in the possession of slave owners.

Two exceptions are quilts made by Harriet Powers, born into slavery in 1837. Fifty years later she made two quilts, one of which hangs in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the other in the Smithsonian. According to “African American Quilt Making in Michigan”, “Powers used appliqu├ęd silhouettes of human figures, geometric motifs, and other design combinations that resemble the styles found among the people of ancient Dahomey in West Africa.” Quilts made by Elizabeth Keckley, a slave who bought her freedom with her skill in needlework, are thought to contain scraps of garments she made for Mary Todd Lincoln.

Flour and feed sacks were often used to make quilts (and clothing) during the Depression and on into the 1950s in some areas. Booklets were printed giving instructions on how to remove the dye stamps of the logos. It was even suggested that the string be saved to make doilies and tablemats. THAT’S recyling!

When trying to date a quilt, it is suggested that, if there is no documentation as to when it was made, you settle for a 25 to 50 year span.

If you’d like to know more about native quilting, you can visit the Michigan State University Museum or sign onto:

Each of Jan's quilts contains information about the patterns used for the quilt blocks.

The information above comes in large part from the book “The American Quilt: A History of Cloth and Comfort, 1750-1950” by Roderick Kiracofe, text with Mary Elizabeth Johnson, copyright 1993.

Other works consulted for this article were:

“Quilts from the Civil War” by Barbara Brackman, copyright 1997

“To Honor and Comfort: Native Quilting Traditions” edited by Marsha L. MacDowell and C. Kurt Dwhurst, copyright 1997

“African American Quiltmaking in Michigan” Marsha L. MacDowell, editor, copyright 1997