Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Brief History of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

by Carmen Doyle

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is an imposing structure that dominates the downtown Fort Wayne skyline. It wasn’t always that way.

The Cathedral started life as St. Augustine’s, a small log church, in 1836. In 1857, the Diocese of Fort Wayne was established. With Fort Wayne now the seat of the Diocese, a Cathedral was needed as the principal church for the Bishop’s throne.

Father Julian Benoit had come to Fort Wayne in 1840 and had been planning to build a larger, more impressive church since he arrived. With Fort Wayne now the center of the newly created Diocese, there was even more reason to build a permanent and magnificent church.

Fr. Benoit was the biggest influence on what would eventually become the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.  He was the man who raised the money to build the new church. Before he even began to raise money for building, Fr. Benoit had started improvements to the parish. In 1843, three years after his arrival in Fort Wayne, Fr. Benoit opened St. Augustine’s Academy, the first Catholic school in Fort Wayne. Establishing a school meant more families would be attracted to the church and be eager to help improve the parish. By 1846, Fr. Benoit had persuaded the Sisters of Providence to open a girls’ school at St. Augustine.

In 1859, the cornerstone for what would become the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was laid. A short 18 months later, the structure was finished and consecrated. (In contrast, the Allen County Courthouse was begun in 1897 but not dedicated until 1902.)
Fort Wayne in this time period really could boast of being “the City of Churches”. There was an informal rivalry between the different religions and parishes in the city to see which of them could build the most elegant place of worship. Fr. Benoit knew he could not rely solely on area Catholics to contribute funds toward building another church.  Some money did come from among Fort Wayne residents, including non-Catholics.  Fr. Benoit visited New Orleans in order to raise money to build the Cathedral in Fort Wayne. However, a large portion of the funds came from Fr. Benoit himself. Fr. Benoit also served as architect for the Cathedral.

Portions of the Square were originally purchased to be used as a cemetery. A European custom was to build a church over the graves of the deceased. The Cathedral is built in part over a Miami Indian burial ground, and as a condition of buying the land where the church sits, it was agreed that those graves would not be touched. A prominent Native American and Catholic originally buried at Cathedral Square is Chief Richardville. In front of the church on Calhoun Street is a boulder with a plaque marking his burial site and telling why he is honored. (The gravesite is Site 41 on the Bicentennial Heritage Trail map.You can also find a more detailed description of why Chief Richardville was honored in a blog post from August.)

Chief Richardville is not the only notable person buried at the Cathedral. Monsignor Benoit, after serving 45 years as a rector for the Diocese, requested to be buried in the Cathedral that he had helped to develop and build. Originally buried at the entrance to the sanctuary, his remains were moved to the crypt when it was constructed in 1906. Also buried in the crypt are Bishop Luers and Bishop Dwenger, the first two bishops of Fort Wayne.

While the Cathedral has experienced many interior changes in its 152 years, the structure has not. The fourteen columns holding up the vaulted ceiling are original, if a different color than what Fr. Benoit had designed. While the stained glass windows along the sides of the church were not installed until 1896, the famous stained glass window over the sanctuary is the same one Fr. Benoit had installed in 1861.  

While today Fort Wayne has more than churches dominating the downtown skyline, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is still one of the most recognizable landmarks. The Cathedral may have undergone some small cosmetic changes over the last century, but it nevertheless rises proudly over Fort Wayne.

Worthy of the Gospel of Christ-Joseph M. White
E-mail conversation with Janice Cantrell, Archivist for the Diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend
Frontier Faith- George R. Mather
The Diocese of Fort Wayne (1907) -
National Register of Historic Places Inventory- Nomination Form (September 1978)
Welcome to the Cathedral- pamphlet
Reflections: A History of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception-booklet available from Cathedral Museum

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Some final thoughts on history & your family

With the holiday break almost upon us and the threat of some pretty crummy weather to go with it, here are some final ideas on studying American history via your family’s history.

Get out a map of the United States and plot all of the places where family members have lived or live now. See how spread out they all are and then study the history of those areas. For example, if you come from the Great Plains as I do, what was going on when your family made it to Nebraska (my home state). I could easily ask, “Do you know anything about the Oregon Trail? The Plum Creek Massacre? General Stephen Kearny?”

It may take a little work, but the public library will be open the day after Christmas and the internet is always open, so explore and learn something about your country.

Have each family member make a timeline of their lives and then add in important dates from American history. This is a great project when you have the whole clan together because you will span a great deal of the last century and all of  this one. In my case, that would mean Sputnik, the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, Watergate, the Civil Rights Movement, a man on the moon,…..well, you get the drift.

This activity can spark some really interesting conversations about childhoods that the kids will LOVE because it makes the adults in their lives more human. If there’s someone in the family who’s good at this, create an entire family timeline as the basis for a multi-month study in 2013.

Some families make quilts together, some create photo albums. One of my husband’s cousins-in-law is a professional photographer and after most family get togethers we receive an album in the mail of pictures Kim has taken. It’s a great way to preserve family memories, even more so this year for the Bonnen’s as it was the last Thanksgiving in the family homestead before it goes on the market.

One suggestion from the book we’ve been using for these blog posts – “My History is America’s History” – is to create a family museum. I’ll let you decide if you want to do this with “stuff” or photos (which you should take of family treasures any way), but it is a neat idea because you’ll likely be surprised at what other family members value.

Investigate genealogy resources and start working on your family tree. As we’ve said before, we’re lucky in Allen County to have our genealogy department at the downtown public library. It doesn’t get any better than that. But there are also, and to help along the way and get you started.

And if you’re hunting for a unique gift for someone, why not write down a story about that person and send it them? If you have a particular memory of an event in someone’s life such as a graduation, award they received or a special vacation, share your impressions. As you grow older, send your children photos from their childhood. They’d probably like to have some of those when they become adults.

Finally, I must put in a plug for the History Center and our programs. Even if you didn’t grow up in Allen County, Indiana, the history of this area is a microcosm of American history that is unrivaled. Visit the museum and see our new exhibition gallery “Allen County Innovation”, attend our lectures, come out to the Chief Richardville House this summer. You will be amazed at what you will learn.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fort Wayne's Most Famous Female Architect

We’re side tracking a little from our plan to relate ways for your family to study history based upon your family’s story to tell you about a Fort Wayne architect who changed the face of  housing in our community.

Joel Roberts Ninde was a woman who disliked the lack the “curb appeal” in many of the houses of her day. “Whole blocks with houses hammered together from one dismal plan, made bleak the lives of their inmates, dwarfed ambition and blighted spiritual growth,” was the assessment of early 1900s architecture in Fort Wayne from a story in Wildwood Magazine in the summer of 1916.

“The great majority of people tenaciously clung to the idea that a home that cost less than $5,000 must necessarily be a cheap home—a home to be built on a forty-foot lot by a stereotyped plan.”

Mrs. Ninde never set out to be an architect. Born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1874, she married Lee J. Ninde, an attorney who eventually gave up his law practice to help his wife form the Wildwood Builders Company in 1910. In 1914, they founded Wildwood Magazine, a forum for city planning throughout the United States, according to Roseann Coomer, a former Education Director for the Historical Society.

Mrs. Ninde’s foray into architecture was pure accident. Disliking most of the houses that she saw, and not wanting to move into her father-in-law’s house because she saw it as dark and oppressive, she designed her own. It was so well liked that she and her husband sold it and she designed another home, only to sell that one also. This continued on until she and her husband decided to form their company.

“It came to pass in time that the whole city was talking of ‘Mrs. Ninde’s houses,’ and the neighborhood in which they had been constructed was so individually attractive, as distinguished from other neighborhoods of moderate priced houses, that the demand for her services in house planning began to monopolize her whole endeavor,” according to the 1916 summer issue of Wildwood Magazine.

Coomer adds that, “Her aesthetic sense led her to design houses to fit the natural setting in an area. Thus, the neighborhood became part of the house and the house became part of the neighborhood.”

Mrs. Ninde had no formal training as an architect. Rather she was an artist who saw the need for homes that “take into account …the needs of the daily life of a family. While the interiors are related to the normal facts of life, the exteriors are always of an interesting simplicity, that seem indeed the ‘outward expression of an inward grace.’”

Her houses were built with the “maximum of comfort with the minimum of cost.”
“A living room is made to seem a place to live in…The dining rooms are suited to dining and the bed rooms are comfortable and airy. The kitchens are planned with the remembrance that few of us can keep a chef, though all of us eat dinners.

“It comes as a natural result that a thinking woman should plan rooms that would conserve the ‘mother and daughter power’ of the household.” Quotes from The Story of Wildwood.

Wildwood Builders was formally established in 1910. Stockholders were selected who had backgrounds in merchandising, law, real estate and banking. According to The Story of Wildwood,  “The individual characters constituted a guarantee of successful management and fair dealing.”

A draftsman was then hired and laborers as well as carpenters. Thirty-nine houses were built in two years. To facilitate better pricing of materials, Wildwood Lumber Co. was organized so that building supplies could be purchased at wholesale and then resold to the building company, assuring that houses could be built for the best price possible.

Mrs. Ninde built her houses in what is now the South Wayne Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

“Most of the area which comprises the South Wayne Historic District was once part of an 80 acre tract operated as a county farm between 1848 and 1853. When the farm was divided and sold, a few houses were built but the area remained rural in character. One of the best known of the country estates built in the area was that of Judge Lindley M. Ninde, who in the 1860's, built an impressive house known as "Wildwood" on Fairfield….
“The establishment of the Packard Piano and Organ Company on Fairfield Avenue in 1872, led to increased development and population growth in the area. Eventually a movement was formed to incorporate South Wayne as a town. After a lengthy court battle with the City of Fort Wayne, which wanted to annex the area, the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of South Wayne and the town was incorporated in 1889.
“Fort Wayne eventually succeeded in annexing South Wayne in 1894, bringing with it streetcar lines, utilities, and a new school. The annexation, coupled with growing industrial development, led to increased residential interest.
“During the early 20th century Fort Wayne began to experience unprecedented growth, becoming one of the three largest cities in Indiana. As the city grew more dense and industrialized, and as transportation options broadened, those who could afford to moved to new "suburban" neighborhoods with larger, landscaped lots. In the South Wayne district, 80% of the homes were constructed between about 1910 and 1920 and another 15% constructed between 1920 and 1930. Craftsman, Colonial Revival, and American Foursquare are the dominant architectural styles. Consistency among the houses in terms of style, scale, materials, setback, and other character-defining features creates a pleasing rhythm along the district's streets.
“… Other notable early residents include: Guy Mahurin, a prominent local architect who resided at 927 W. Wildwood; Charles Worden, a lawyer, banker, and Civic Improvement Association president who lived at 1022 W. Wildwood; Charles Lane, a Fort Wayne newspaper man and Commercial Club director who was active in state and national politics and resided at 917 W. Wildwood; and Senator Homer Capehart who located his phonograph company in Ft. Wayne in 1929, and lived at 709 Packard Avenue.”
Mrs. Ninde died of a stroke at the age of 42 but her work lives on in the beautiful homes and neighborhoods she designed. With her friend Grace E. Crosby, she developed a design and decorating firm that played a major role in the development of housing south of downtown.
“Although examples of her work ranging from modest cottages to large brick homes survive in various parts of the city, the South Wayne Historic District contains the largest concentration of Ninde's work. The following list comprises known Ninde houses within the district: 701, 702, 706, 710, 722, 726, 810, 814, 818, 902, 912, 922, 926, 1002, 1018, and 1025 Wildwood Avenue and 3131 South Wayne Avenue.”
If you’ve never driven through this part of Fort Wayne, we encourage you to do so. The architecture is beautiful and it is truly a look at days gone by in Fort Wayne.
In the Wildwood Magazine published the summer after Mrs. Ninde’s death on March 7, 1916, editors of the magazine paid tribute to their co-founder.
She established…”a standard to which all building companies were obliged to conform and which individual builders accepted as the desirable thing….
“…while a technical education is a most desirable asset, its lack is not an insurmountable obstacle in the path of endeavor. It proves that genius, if it asserts itself, will win recognition and approval under any circumstances, and that those with a message are remiss if they withhold it from the world.
“The zeal, the earnestness and the conscientious devotion which she brought into her labors here, she imparted to her associates, and the force of her fine example endures as a beneficent inspiration and a most helpful influence.”

Friday, December 14, 2012

Need a book suggestion? Check this list!

As an admitted "book-aholic", I love ANY list of book suggestions...particularly those involving history.

So here's a list of books from the Registrars Committee of the American Alliance of Museums that features museum workers. Thanks to OUR registrar, Karen Butler-Clary, for sending along this list!

**Fun Reading List**
-- for registrars, collections managers, and other museum people --
Coming to you courtesy of the Registrars Committee of AAM -- reprinted 2012
In 2008, registrar Megan Cavanaugh started a thread on the RC-AAM listserv concerning fiction that features registrars and collections managers.  The list came to include novels featuring museums, and then nonfiction.  Here, for your reading enjoyment, is the current version of the list.  Please suggest your own personal favorites to the listserv, as the compilation below is an ongoing work in progress. Enjoy!

Bound for Eternity, by Sarah Wisseman
Dead as a Dodo, by Jane Langton
Death and Restoration: A Jonathan Argyll Mystery, by Iain Pears
Emily Dickinson is Dead, by Jane Langton
Faking It, by Jennifer Crusie
First Light: A Magical Journey, by Carol O’Biso
From Bauhaus to Our House, by Tom Wolfe
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by El Konigburg
Giotts Hand: A Jonathan Argyll Mystery, by Iain Pears
Harmony in Flesh and Black (Missing Mysteries), by Nicholas Kilmer
Immaculate Deception: A Jonathan Argyll Mystery, by Iain Pears
Last Judgement: A Jonathan Argyll Mystery, by Iain Pears
Life Before Man, by Margaret Atwood
Making the Mummies Dance:  Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Thomas Hoving
Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder:  Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and other Marvels of Jurassic Technolory, by Lawrence Weschler
Murder in the Museum of Man, by Alfred Alcorn
Museum Vaults:  Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert, by Marc-Antoine Mathieu
Pug Hill, by Allison Pace
Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Reliquary (Pendergast, Book 2), by Douglas Preston
Self-Portrait with Donors, by John Walker
Stone Virgin, by Barry Unsworth
The Archivist:  A Novel, by Martha Cooley
The Bernini Bust (Art History Mystery), by Iain Pears
The Bone Vault, by Linda Fairstein
The Bowl is Already Broken, by Mary Kay Zuravleff
The Bride’s Kimono, by Sujata Massey
The Cabinets of Curiosities, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown
The Flanders Panel, by Arturo Perez-Reverte
The Girl with Botticelli Eyes, by Herbert Lieberman
The Hound in the Left-Hand Corner:  A Novel, by Gikes Waterfield
The Lost Van Gogh, by A.J. Zerries
The Man Who Stole the Mona Lisa, by Robert Noah
The Murder Room, by P.D. James
The Raphael Affair (Art History Mystery), by Iain Pears
The Sixteen Pleasures, by Robert Hellenga
The Titian Committee:  A Jonathan Argyll Mystery, by Iain Pears
To Be A Registrar, by Matthew Fischer
What’s Bred in the Bone, by Robertson Davies
Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art, Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

More on ways to study history

My husband and I love old houses. Before we moved to Fort Wayne, we lived in a 100-year old home in Kearney NE near what had been in my childhood the junior high school’s football field and prior to that the high school’s stadium. That stadium is long gone, replaced by new housing, but the neighborhood that was built just to the west of downtown remains with an active neighborhood association working to keep the area in tip top shape. Here in Fort Wayne, we live in Wildwood Park, a neighborhood begun in 1916 at the end of the streetcar line. While our house is one of the newer ones in the Park, the oldest is just across the street and it’s nice to live in an area where every house is different in appearance.

As we’ve lost parents, aunts and uncles to death, we’ve started to inherit family memorabilia and furniture. Tom’s family is from upstate New York, and by virtue of being an area that was settled long before my native Nebraska, family objects from his parents tend to be older and have more history. That’s not to say those objects have more value because it’s the history of an object that gives it value. Witness a 1930’s era blue cream pitcher I own that had once been my grandmother’s. According to my mother, those pitchers were premiums given away by a company when she was a child. The company logo is long gone but the creamer is on our coffee table as a penholder. It was on the table for every meal we ate at my grandparent’s house and I don’t intend to ever part with it.

Old houses and family items are an excellent way to teach history to your children. You can research objects via your local library or antique stores. If you know some of the history of an item, such as when it came to the States from Europe, write this information down and keep it with the item or in a spot where it won’t get lost. I have the history of a cake plate that came to Nebraska from England…I hope. But I haven’t seen the history in awhile so I can’t be positive I still have it. That’s why taking care of the information is so important.

You can research the history of your home, in part, through public records. Old newspaper articles and books of photographs can also be helpful. Along the way you may learn something about architecture. We are fortunate here in Fort Wayne to have the Genealogy Center at the downtown public library. What a phenomenal resource!

Once you know how old something is, you can then do some research about the world in that time. Ken Burns’ recent work on the Dust Bowl, for example, can give you a glimpse into the time in which many of our parents and grandparents lived. Novels about a certain time period, biographies of key persons (one of the best ways to study history in my opinion), old movies, etc. give you a feel for a time period that is more than you get from memorizing facts, dates and dead presidents. Right now, I’m reading Madeleine Albright’s book “Prague Winter”, a look at pre-World War II Europe that is almost as good as Erik Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts”.

If you want your kids to love history, you need to love it too and be creative about how you share that love. It will rub off to a certain extent…trust me on that one!