Thursday, February 27, 2014

Canal Hotels on Rosemarie Alley

by Tom Castaldi

Rosemarie Alley on West Columbia Street was once a focal point of one of the central commercial districts of Fort Wayne. The Alley is named for the last building to occupy the site, the Rosemarie Hotel, which was destroyed by fire in February 1975.

Originally it was the site occupied by Dana Columbia, after whom Columbia Street was named. There in 1831, he built a twenty-room hotel called the Columbia House.  The hotel was replaced in 1836 by the American House and, in turn, the New American in 1865 and finally in 1877 its name was changed to the Tremont House.  In 1887 a new building named the Wayne Hotel was erected by J.C. Peters.  Peters was the grandfather of the 1930s movie actress Carole Lombard and one of the founders of the Horton Manufacturing Company that introduced the world’s first contained washing machine.
J.C. Peters
The Wayne was a grand, four-story brick and stone affair, with gas lights, the city’s first hydraulic barber’s chair, an elevator, and plush furnishings.  Here was first demonstrated in the city the marvels of the teletype.  Perennial presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan spoke from its balcony on October 21, 1896, about the evils of the gold standard, and former presidents Benjamin Harrison and Rutherford B. Hayes thought highly of the place after their visits.

In 1930, Jasper Jones purchased the Wayne Hotel, remodeled it to accommodate 115 rooms and renamed it the Jones Hotel.  The Jones was bought by John Arnold in 1966, who renamed it the Rosemarie Hotel and extensively restored its old ninetieth century grandeur, making it renowned for its tobacco shops, billiard and card parlors, barber shop, ball room bar and dining room. Rosemarie Hotel was destroyed by fire in February 1975. Appropriately, today a focal point of West Columbia Street is remembered as Rosemarie Alley named for the last building to occupy the site.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – Nov 2007

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history

Thursday, February 20, 2014

World-Class County Courthouse

by Tom Castaldi

Allen County’s first courthouse was built on the "courthouse square" in 1831 but was so poorly constructed it had to be abandoned a few years later as unsafe.  The second courthouse was erected in 1847 by local contractor Samuel Edsall, yet this also proved to be inadequate.  The third courthouse was a large brick structure designed by Edwin May of Indianapolis; its cornerstone was laid in May 1861 and the building was in use by July 1862.

The courthouse yard was the scene of many patriotic gatherings during the Civil War and afterward; however, by the 1890s, the building had become so dilapidated that it had to be replaced.  Some civic leaders proposed to build a shared building for both the city and the county; when no agreement could be reached among the politicians, the mayor led Common Council to build a city hall while the county commissioners built the fourth and present courthouse. It was not until 1971 that a combined City-County facility was built.

Allen County Courthouse Late 1800s
On November 17, 1897, the day the cornerstone was set, thousands filled the streets around the court house square to see Governor James A. Mount and his entourage officiate in the ceremony.  Louis Peltier, who had been born in the Fort in 1813, was the guest of honor.  Designed by local architect Brentwood S. Tolan, the structure was completed on September 23, 1902.

Laying of the Cornerstone
Including its interior furnishings, this proud Allen County Courthouse building cost over $800,000.  The courthouse is constructed of the blue limestone of Bedford, Indiana, and Vermont granite in a balanced combination of styles from Grecian and Roman to Renaissance.  The simple Doric lines of the first floor rise to the more elaborate Ionic columns of the second story, while the ornate Corinthian and Roman Imperial styles dominate the third level.
West Entrance


Crowning the structure is the great copper-sheathed dome on which turns the copper statue of Miss Liberty, 225 feet from street level.  A wind vane, a 13 feet 8-inches goddess weighing 800 pounds, Liberty always holds her torch of enlightenment toward the breeze as she turns on graphite-packed ball bearings.

This remarkable building that serves the county's judicial needs, has been called “among the very finest ‘Beaux Arts’ style public building in the nation”, according to Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Art’s senior curator, Richard Murray.  
South Entrance

One look at the great structure inspires the spirit of the Renaissance reflected in the exterior decorations.  The friezes and cornices around the building are filled with the sculptured images and proverbs of the history of Allen County, American government, industry, virtue and the law.
Inside, the celebration of civilization and local history continues in brilliant color.  Through each of the four entrances the visitor passes the bright pillars of marezzo scagliola an imitation marble that represents the largest collection of this lost art of faux marble in the nation and possibly in the world.
Hall and Rotunda

Across the intricately tiled floor stands a marble stairway leading to the second level.  At the center of the building, in the rotunda, the eye is drawn to the brilliant illuminate glass dome that connects the galleries to the Circuit and Superior Court chambers.
Interior Rotunda 1st Floor

Interior Rotunda 2nd Floor
The four large murals in the dome were painted by Charles Holloway, a gold-metal winning artist at the Paris Exposition of 1900 who also executed the paintings on the proscenium arch of the historic 1888 Auditorium Theater in Chicago.  On each of the walls the murals depict in allegory the opposing themes of Despotism and Anarchy (on the south wall) and Democracy and Lawful Government (on the north wall), with those of Peace and Prosperity (on the east wall) and finally images of War and Despair (on the west wall).
Interior Rotunda South

Scenes and sculptured panels continue throughout the four courtrooms.  Here are murals and sculptures depicting the history of the law, and the peaceful pursuits of agriculture, the terrors of war, and the workings of justice.  There is also artwork showing the earliest events in local history, including the arrival of Anthony Wayne, the burial of Little Turtle, and the completion of the Wabash & Erie Canal.

By 1995, a badly needed restoration of the old Courthouse was initiated.  Amateurish attempts to improve the murals in the 1930s completely painted over the original artwork.  Gold leaf ceiling panels ornately stenciled had darkened due to a coal heating system and now have been restored.

A group of concerned citizens formed the Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trust to raise necessary funds to restore and maintain the artwork to the original grandeur of this national treasure.  Jeffrey Green, president of the Ever Greene Studios, said, "It is certainly on par with the Library of Congress, the Paris Opera or any other world class building of the period."

Allen County Courthouse between 1902 and 1908

Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine 
 “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – Oct 2007 No. 36

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Black History Resources

by Nancy McCammon-Hansen

As we head toward the end of February and Black History Month, we’d like to call your attention to a few resources on Black History in Fort Wayne.

Dodie Marie Miller wrote a book published by Arcadia Publishers in 2000 entitled African Americans in Fort Wayne, the First 200 Years. The work is a part of the Images of America series and available in the History Center’s gift shop.

In Chapter Four of her work, “Black Firsts in Fort Wayne”, Miller says, “The occupations that were considered groundbreaking, if held by black people 50 or so years ago, are now taken for granted. The trailblazers of yesteryear are to be remembered for their bravery. They literally went where no person of color had gone before, and their lack of fear in the face of blatant hatred is an inspiration for everyone.

“Many people featured in this chapter did not accept positions simply to be ‘first’. Instead, they discovered what their passions were and followed them. The fact that they made history in the process is a fact to be made much of by later generations.”

Those of you who know something about Fort Wayne history will recognize a few names in the “list of firsts”. You can find the complete list on pages 116-117.

A brief overview of Black History in our city, in addition to Miller’s book, can be found at: This article appeared in the News Sentinel and was written by Eunice Trotter, a past associate editor.

There are several good articles recapping Black History in past issues of the Old Fort News:

“History of the Negro in Fort Wayne, Indiana” by Marjorie D. Wickliffe, Vol. 45, No. 4, 1982

“The Appearance of Blacks in Fort Wayne Before 1820” by J. Randolph Kirby, Vol. 48, No. 2, 1985

“Notes on the Emergence of a Black Community in Fort Wayne, Indiana Between 1820 and 1850” by J. Randolph Kirby, Vol. 54, No. 1, 1991

“To Make Fort Wayne Safe for Democracy” by Clifford Scott, Vol. 75, No. 1, 2012

The Old Fort News is a publication of the Allen County/Fort Wayne Historical Society and celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2011. Past issues are for sale in our gift shop.