Friday, June 28, 2013

A short historical tour of central Fort Wayne

by Nancy McCammon-Hansen

As summer gets into full swing, finding something for the kids to do (and those kids can be of any size and age) can sometimes be a challenge. Since the weather is beautiful, it’s time to get out of the house and explore your city.

In 1978, Clifford Richards and Pat Boice published an article in the Old Fort News entitled  “Two Hour Tour of Fort Wayne Historical Sites”. We offer here a brief overview of the first part of this trip as something to do that will allow you to learn more about the city in which you live.

Begin at the Swinney Homestead on West Jefferson where Jefferson and Washington make the split and become two one-way streets. This home of the Swinney Family was once the home of the Historical Society. The Settlers maintain this property and offer events throughout the year. You can keep up with the Settlers via their website at:

The front of the Swinney House.

A historical marker on the site.

Cabin on the property.

Another historical marker.

Then head down Thieme Drive toward Main. Stop along the way at the marker for the Old Methodist College. OMC was once the center of education in northeast Indiana. In 1893 it moved to Upland, IN and became Taylor University. The marker is right by the river and very close to the turn for Wayne Street.

As you look across the St. Mary’s River, you’re looking at the Camp Allen Area where young men were trained for battle in the Civil War. Camp Allen Park was the location of the first professional baseball game ever played on May 4, 1871. Fort Wayne won. See for more information.

As you come to the intersection of Thieme Drive and West Main, you will see the Aqueduct Marker. This monument, one of a number in Fort Wayne, is dedicated to the young men who swam in the Old Aqueduct. According to the OFN article, “The Aqueduct was a huge covered wooden structure which carried the waters of the Wabash and Erie Canal across the St. Mary’s River. It was located where you now see the bridge of the Norfolk and Western Railroad crossing the St. Mary’s River.”

Statue on West Main just to the east of the Carole Lombard bridge.

This plaque lists members of the Aqueduct Club.

On the corner of Main and Union, you will see the house where actress Carole Lombard was born. Don’t know who Carole Lombard was? Read this blog post from Tom Castaldi:

The Lombard Home

Drive on down Main Street to the corner of Main and Van Buren. The Rockhill House once stood on this site, the hotel where Stephen Douglas stayed in his campaign visit to Fort Wayne on October 2, 1860. See for a little more information about this event or The Old Fort News article “The Douglas Has Come!”  Stephen A. Douglas and the Presidential Campaign of 1860 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  John D. Beatty.  72:2, 2009, 18 pages.

Turn left onto Van Buren, crossing the railroad tracks, and continuing about two blocks. Here you’ll find the site of the first French fort, established around 1700 as Fort Miami and a historical marker noting this. For more on this site, see

It’s easiest at this point to turn around and take Van Buren to Superior Street, turning left. A little way down on your left (about a block to Fulton) will be a large grey house with white pillars. This was once the home of Hugh McCulloch, the father of modern banking. McCulloch was Secretary of the Treasury under Lincoln, Johnson and Arthur. His home once faced the Wabash and Erie Canal. Learn more about McCulloch at

The McCulloch House

The McCulloch Family

As you travel on down Superior Street to the east, you can turn right on Ewing (which becomes Fairfield) and then left on Main. At the southwest corner of Main and Webster is the Edsall House. Built in 1839, it’s considered the oldest structure still standing in central Fort Wayne. William Edsall was the original owner and after his death, the house became Fort Wayne City Hospital, the precursor of Parkview.
The Edsall House is now the offices for the Home Builders Assn. of Fort Wayne.

From there, continue on Main to Calhoun and turn left. Travel north to Superior Street, turn right and stop one-half block on the south at the Canal House. You can learn more about the canal… and another idea for a day trip from Tom Castaldi’s blog post

“The Canal House was built in 1852 by John Brown, a stone mason and building supply dealer. The date of construction and Brown’s name can still be seen above the doorway. The ground floor was used as a place of business. Apparently the upper floor was rented as living quarters. In 1971 the Norfolk and Western Railroad gave the building to the city. It was renovated under the auspices of the Fort Wayne Bicentennial Commission” and later became offices for Arts United of Fort Wayne, which is now housed in the Auer Center. (OFN, Vol. 41, No. 1)

The Canal House on Superior Street

Continue down Superior Street to Barr and turn right. Drive under the railroad elevation and park near Freimann Square. Here you can relax a bit and get a close up view of the Anthony Wayne Statue. See and the latest edition of the Old Fort News with a photo of the statue on the cover. The railway elevation that you drove under runs along the site of what was the Wabash and Erie Canal. Two blocks to the west along Columbia Street was “The Landing”, where canal boats loaded and discharged passengers and cargo in the 1840s and 1850s.

Now that you’re in Freimann Square, it’s just a short walk over to the History Center where you can explore your city’s history in more detail. Remember, we have free admission on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the summer when the Barr Street Market is open.

Take your own photos and compare them to the ones in this book.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Indiana’s Best $2 Hotel

by Tom Castaldi

Just off the west end of The Landing, across Harrison Street from the west end of Columbia Street downtown, there was once a fine Fort Wayne five-story hotel that boasted it was “the best $2 hotel in Indiana.”  The Randall Hotel in its heyday, between 1890 and 1930, could proudly proclaim its motto, “Everything First Class,” for each room had a telephone, running water and steam heat.  The site of the Randall Hotel, however, began in 1828 as the Jacob Fry tannery, which was noted for its awful odors.

  By 1870, a simple hotel called the Robinson took the place of the tannery; later this became the Grand Hotel. This was a “Methodist Hotel,” and there was no drinking allowed.  It was classy, nevertheless, with a horse-powered elevator and wood stoves on each floor.  The hotel was also the favorite lodging for such visiting greats as Buffalo Bill and the many traveling theater groups that came to town. 

In 1889, Perry A. Randall, a prominent local attorney, bought the old Grand Hotel and renamed it the Randall Hotel.  Perry Randall was a promoter.  Raised in Fort Wayne, he dabbled in all sorts of schemes, from building a canal from Fort Wayne to Chicago to producing the Fort Wayne Centennial.

 When Randall died in 1916, his widow, Winifred, took over the hotel.  She had been the first woman in the United States to operate a lumber mill, and she managed the hotel with the same great efficiency. After the Great Depression in the 1930s, the hotel became primarily a residence.  It was razed in 1963.

Originally printed:

Fort Wayne Magazine, “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” Sept. 2005, No. 15, p. 45

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Meshekinnoquah (Little Turtle)

A quote from Little Turtle at his memorial off Lawton Place.

by Tom Castaldi

Chief Little Turtle was one of the most feared and respected native leaders during the frontier wars of the 1780s and 1790s when Fort Wayne was born.  Known to his Miami people as Meshekinnoquah, Little Turtle is thought to have been born in 1752 in a village along the Eel River, a few miles northeast of Columbia City.

He rose to prominence as a warrior in 1780 when he destroyed the United States irregulars of Colonel August LaBalme who had attacked the Miami town of Kekionga (present –day Fort Wayne, Ind.).  When the U.S. Army under General Josiah Harmar was sent by President Washington to destroy the Indian towns at the Three Rivers, Little Turtle assembled warriors from the region and defeated General Harmar’s troops at the Battle of Kekionga on October 22, 1790.  In 1791, at the present-day site of Fort Recovery, Ohio, the Indians under Little Turtle again defeated U.S. Army troops, this time under territorial governor General Arthur St. Clair, in the Army’s worst defeat ever at the hands of native peoples.

 When Major General Anthony Wayne finally defeated the Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, Little Turtle was not the leader; he had urged the Indians to avoid a “climactic” battle with General Wayne because of information about the strength of Wayne’s forces he was receiving from Wayne’s Chief of Spies and Little Turtle’s friend and son-in-law, William Wells.

After his military career, Little Turtle became a diplomat for his people.  He was a principal negotiator for the Indians at the Treaty of Greenville in 1795 and made four trips to the nation’s capital, meeting with presidents George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (twice).  He sought U.S. assistance to end the destructive and illegal liquor trade and help from the Society of Friends to bring new farming methods to his people.  He also attempted to bring the new process of vaccination against the dreaded smallpox to his people.

Little Turtle died peacefully on July 14, 1812, and was laid to rest with military honors in the Miami’s ancient burial grounds.

The Little Turtle Memorial is just off Lawton Place. Turn right from Spy Run and look for the sign in the median.

Plaque you will see in the Little Turtle Memorial.

You can learn more about Little Turtle in another blog post:
 and see photos of some of the Little Turtle artifacts owned by the History Center on our Facebook page at

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Black and White Balls

by Nancy McCammon-Hansen

Back in the late 1960s, the idea of getting both black and white citizens of the area together for a social event was deemed a rather radical—if you’ll pardon the use of what was at that time an inflammatory word—idea. But this “radical” idea became a resounding success and showed people of all races that they had far more in common than they realized while providing funds for programs that needed some extra dollars to continue providing services.

My friend Barb Fries—then Barbara Hawley—was actively involved in this group and this past week donated some of her files to the History Center for our archives. Barb has worked with social issues in Fort Wayne for most of her adult life. She’s a two-time nominee for the Peggy Hobbs Award, an honor bestowed by the YWCA on women who have had a positive influence on our community via the volunteer sector. When I worked at the “YW”, Barb was my “go to” person when I needed to know about services in the community and their history.

(the photo of Mrs. Williams is a scan from a yellowed newspaper clipping)
The Black and White Ball was the idea of Evelyn Williams, who founded The Civics, Inc. in 1968. The group sponsored the Black and White Ball until 1977. In 1978 the ball was cancelled due to snow. Attendance at the 1977 ball was approximately 900 and had outgrown Southtown Mall, one of the locations for the event. But in 1985, when the Grand Wayne Center opened, the Civics brought the event back because there was now space again that was large enough to accommodate the crowd. The twelfth and final ball was held in 1987.
 In documentation from early files:

“The purpose of this organization is to assist in meeting the health and welfare needs of the community, particularly in the Inner-City. The funds for this purpose are to be acquired by the annual planning and execution of a ‘Black and White Charity Ball’.

“It is hoped that “The Civics”, Inc., will be able to provide:

  • “Funds to establish expanded programs where needed (where such expansion is not covered by a regular funding agency)
  • “Funds to establish pilot programs to determine and dramatize gaps in services that do exist
  •  “The catalyst to stimulate the development of services that are needed but presently do not exist

  •  “Seed money to other groups for initial funding

  •   “An opportunity for blacks and whites to come together on a social basis, dispel myths on both sides, and aid in reversing the trend towards two societies, both separate and unequal.”

Membership in The Civics, Inc. was interracial “in keeping with the purpose of the Ball. Membership is limited to 50% Black, 50% White and no more than 15 members. At the beginning of each Ball year, members will donate seed money, if enough money is not available from the year before. This amount will be a minimum of $5.00 and a maximum of $25.00. When members resign from the active group, new persons will be accepted by a quorum vote.”

The members of Civics, Inc. were racially diverse and from different fields of work. They realized that this diversity could be an asset in bringing about positive changes in Fort Wayne. “If we pool our resources we can accomplish difficult feats. We are in a world of change and we move with it, back, or out. There is need for leadership in our community in various areas. We may be able to close the gap. We can serve as a group that various segments of our community can identify with. Maybe we can serve in our small way to ward off some of the hostilities that identify with the hot summer, that is suppose (sic) to be approaching.” (from a Civics, Inc. document dated 3-12-68)

The first two balls were held at the former Van Orman Hotel. Attendance in 1968 was 150—this doubled to 300 in 1969 and doubled again in 1970 to 600. The 1970 ball was held at The Lantern. By 1975, 800 guests attended the ball. Income obviously increased, with disbursements totaling $21,645.91 between 1968-1985.

In Volume I of the "History of Fort Wayne and Allen County IN" (copyright 2006, edited by John Beatty) Barb is quoted as saying, “The idea of its being an integrated ball doesn’t have the impact it did in the first couple of years we had it. But eight years ago it was a revolutionary idea.” 
Barb Fries is pictured on the far right with Mrs. Wallace Fosnight and Mrs. Charles Phillips in a clipping from the Feb. 21, 1978 edition of the News-Sentinel. They are standing in the Martin Luther King Center. Mrs. Fosnight was the chair of the Black and White Ball that year.
You can read more about race relations in Fort Wayne in this first volume of the city and county history in articles by Hana Stith and Will Clark.

In an article from the News Sentinel, March 15, 1985, by Alan Derringer:

“The idea is not as radical now as it was in 1968, when Williams was warned that Fort Wayne was not ready for such an experiment. In the time since that first ball, there have been changes in the community, big and small.

“‘I think there’s a more relaxed climate now, and there’s just not the problem there was at the beginning,’ Williams believes. ‘Everybody might have a hang up here and yon, but not to the extent that they don’t want to have a nice time with their friends. You have white friends and black friends, everybody does unless they really set themselves apart. You’re going to get involved with all the races if you take part in civic work or the arts or schools or anything.’

“She believes the Black and White Balls have played a small part in bringing about that change: 

"'There were white people that had never been in a social setting with blacks, and vice versa. And it gave a mutual respect, because we had from the very wealthy to the very poor. Everybody was dressed in black and white, and for one night, everybody looked the same, except if I looked at you, you were white, and if you looked at me, I was black. It gave a different enlightenment, and the music was good and broke down a whole lot of barriers, and we all talked to people we never thought we would talk to.’”

An “Historical Analysis of Civics, Inc. 1968-1975” showed the extent of many of the  organizations receiving monetary gifts at least one time and possibly several.

Hot lunches for St. Mary’s children

East Wayne Street Center

Neighbors Inc.

Midtown Day Care Center

Well Baby Clinic

Martin Luther King School

Head Start

Chamber of Commerce “Help a Kid”



West Central Neighborhood

Harmar School

Urban League

Allen County Peoples Credit Union

Fine Arts Festival Foundation

East Central Improvement Corp.

Shepherd of the City Child Care Center

Federal Peoples Credit Union

Benito Juarez Center

Reading Clinic

Civic Theater for Sr. Citizens

University Center for Women

Chamber Camp Program

The Learning Center


Inner City Day Care Center

Purdue’s Scholarship Coordinating Council for Handicapped

Parkview Hospital Scholarship

Child Care of Allen County Peabody Language Kit

McCulloch School PTA

Allen County Cancer Society

Lavengro Foundation

Franke Park Zoo

Martin Luther King Center

Matthew 25

Mental Health Center

Miami Senior Citizens

The Old Fort

Embassy Theater

Miss Virginia Schantz Mission House

Fort Wayne Philharmonic

Women’s Bureau

Three Rivers Neighborhood Health Service

CANI—St. Paul Head Start

A scan of two covers of invitations to the Black and White ball.