Thursday, June 26, 2014

Whistler and the Last Two American Forts at the Three Rivers

Old Fort Wayne in 1797

by Tom Castaldi

John Whistler came to America as a British soldier in the Revolution, under the command of General John Burgoyne. He was captured, paroled and sent back to England. His elopement with Anna Bishop, daughter of Sir Edward Bishop, a close friend of his father, brought the young man and woman to America where they made their first home at Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1790.

The following year, after joining the army of the United States, John Whistler came west with General St. Clair’s army. He escaped after suffering severe wounds received at the “Wabash slaughter field” handed to the Americans by Little Turtle’s warriors at Fort Recovery. Back in Cincinnati at Fort Washington Whistler returned to receive a new assignment and was joined there by his wife.

When General Anthony Wayne’s army arrived, Whistler joined them on the march into northwest Ohio where he participated in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. After defeating the Indian confederation under the leadership of the Shawnee brave Blue Jacket, on August 20, 1794, Wayne moved his “Legion of the United States” up the Maumee River to the large American Indian settlement of Kekionga at the confluence of the Three Rivers.

Wayne ordered a fort to be built in 1794 on the high ground overlooking the confluence of the Saint Mary’s and Saint Joseph rivers and the Miami town of Kekionga. In 1798, Colonel Thomas Hunt began construction of a second American fort at the Three Rivers. This fort, near present-day East Main and Clay Streets, was completed in 1800 and served as a replacement for the first hastily built one erected nearby to the south by General Wayne.

The American forts at the Three Rivers came under attack only once during nearly a quarter-of-a-century while they guarded United States interests in the midst of Indian territory. In 1815, after having withstood a siege three years earlier, this stronghold was replaced under the direction of now Major John Whistler. By 1816, Whistler, the Fort’s Commandant, was transferred to a new assignment in Saint Louis, Missouri. The fort Whistler had rebuilt during 1815 and 1816 was the last in the Three Rivers region and on April 19, 1819, was abandoned by the U. S. Army.

After the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Whistler and his wife resided in the fort at Fort Wayne, and here, in 1800, George Washington Whistler was born, one of fifteen children. George became “Whistler’s Father” the father of James Abbott McNeill Whistler whose renowned oil on canvas, “Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother”, is known to the world as “Whistler’s Mother”.

The Indian Agency continued to operate in the fort after it was decommissioned by the government and the first school in Fort Wayne was established here by the Baptist missionary, Isaac McCoy, from 1820 to 1822. The land immediately around the fort was ceded to Allen County by an act of Congress in 1830 and it wasn’t until 1852 that the last building of the fort was demolished.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – January 2008 No. 39 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, June 19, 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 country; 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.
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.

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.

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 and 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. 

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.

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.
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).

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 has 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." 

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, June 18, 2014

More than Legs and Lederhosen

by Carmen Doyle

Fort Wayne has a rich German heritage. While at Germanfest it is obvious how much Fort Wayne wants to celebrate its German heritage, it can be easy to overlook the real importance of Germans in Fort Wayne in favor of beer steins and wiener dog races.

One of the most influential people in encouraging German immigrants to come and stay in Fort Wayne was Henry Rudisill. Although born in the U.S., Henry could speak German, and for many years was the only person in Fort Wayne who could speak German and English. This skill made him highly valued among the many German immigrants who came to Fort Wayne.

When Henry Rudisill arrived in Fort Wayne to manage the landholdings of John Barr, he had a difficult time finding people to help clear land. Rudisill wrote to Barr and suggested hiring some German emigrants and sending them to Fort Wayne to help with labor, even writing that he thought the Germans “were more to be depended on” than local Americans and that hiring “whole families it would be better” because “they are more industrious and temperate.”

Henry Rudisill may have been one of the biggest influences on German culture in Fort Wayne, but he wasn’t the only one.

Bishop Luers was consecrated the first bishop of the Fort Wayne Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. Born in Germany, John Henry Luers had come with his family to the United States when he was 14. In his 13 years as Bishop, Luers laid the cornerstone for the Cathedral and created as many schools as he could find teachers for. He also brought an order of nuns from Germany, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.   

The Poor Handmaids, led by Mother Mary Katherine Kasper, another German immigrant, established their mother house downtown. The sisters also started the first hospital in Fort Wayne--St. Joseph Hospital.

For more on the Poor Handmaids and St. Joseph Hospital, see our blog

Jesse Hoover
Catholics were not the only German influence on Fort Wayne. Henry Rudisill was instrumental in bringing Jesse Hoover, a German speaking Lutheran minister, to Fort Wayne. Hoover was able to preach in German and English and was considered a wonderful speaker. Susan Man McCulloch, a teacher, told her friends that Hoover was such an excellent speaker it was difficult to endure the poor speakers. There was a large German Lutheran population in Fort Wayne and many were eager to hear sermons spoken in German. Many people came for miles to listen to Hoover’s sermons. 

Susan Man McCulloch

Unfortunately, the German Lutheran population, although large in numbers, did not have much money and it was difficult for Hoover to be able to support himself. He opened up a school and his wife took in boarders to make ends meet, but at times Hoover was still unable to support himself and his family. (For more on Jesse Hoover, see the Old Fort News, Vol. 50:1, 1987 "Fort Wayne Celebrates the Arrival of the first Lutheran pastor: Jesse Hoover")

Jesse Hoover died suddenly about a year after coming to Fort Wayne and was deeply missed by both German and English speakers. The next Lutheran pastor, Rev. Friedrich Wyneken, had been born and educated in Germany. Wyneken became too conservative for many parishioners, who left to found another Lutheran church in Fort Wayne. When the pastor succeeding Wyneken, Wilhelm Sihler also became ultra-conservative, Henry Rudisill led other parishioners to form a new Lutheran church that spoke English.

Germanfest may be over, but the German influence on Fort Wayne continues, beyond bratwurst.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Jack Prindle

Originally published Feb. 1, 2005 in The News-Sentinel

When Blake Sebring delivered his Mather Lecture on June 8, he related part of this story. We thought it interesting enough that we wanted to share the entire story with you because it covers several aspects of history--from Vietnam to Harvester to Fort Wayne Sports. Our thanks to Blake and the News-Sentinel for allowing us to re-publish this piece.

by Blake Sebring

The other day, Komets defenseman Troy Neumeier said he wished he could be as laid-back as Jack Prindle. It seems no matter what happens, the team's assistant equipment manager just glides through life. But that's because he's seen and done much, much more than your average 56-year-old.

"I tell the guys that I think everybody should go through a traumatic experience once in their life, only because it makes you appreciate what you have," Prindle said. "I think you become a better person. You look at people a lot different."
Besides his calm demeanor, Prindle is also known for being able to recall exactly defining moments in his life, although there are many he'd like to forget.
 * * *
After growing up on the corner of Dewald and Broadway and attending Central High School, Prindle was fed up with the strict lifestyle of his parents, so he chose another one, enlisting in the Marine Corps at age 17. Instead of the shirt and tie his parents required him to wear, he put on a new uniform two months after he turned 18.

"I thought I wanted something more exciting," he said.
He went through boot camp in San Diego and then was sent to Camp Pendleton. In June 1968, he entered the Vietnam conflict at DaNang. He arrived a couple months after the Viet Cong's Tet offensive.

Prindle won't be specific about what he saw or did in Vietnam, except to say that he was a sniper and sometimes spent as much as a month at a time living in trees. There was no one else to talk to for weeks, and any movement or noise meant possible discovery - and death.

"After a while, you didn't know what you were there for," he said. "...You could say you were helping people, or you thought you were at times. Little kids in the daytime would be your friends, and at night they'd turn on you in a heartbeat."

He took part in two tours and five operations and says the movie "Full Metal Jacket" is as close as Hollywood has come to what the tension was really like. The stress finally built to where he couldn't function, and nightmares forced him out of the military. He was ruled unfit for military duty and given a general discharge under honorable conditions.

 That was only the start of his hard road through life.
   * * *
 After being discharged in April, 1970, Prindle was given medication and sent home to Fort Wayne, where he married the first girl he ever dated. Her brother got him a job at Harvester, and soon a son and a daughter were born. That was the positive side of life.
 "I was drinking really, really heavy, and my wife wanted to get me some help," Prindle said. "I said I didn't have a drinking problem, but I was acting weird, such as sleeping in my car and not coming home, and I started missing work. The only way they would let me back was if I saw a psychiatrist."
A doctor recommended Prindle be admitted to Parkview South Unit, where shock treatments were ordered to help eliminate the nightmares. First thing in the morning, nurses would grease up his ankles, wrists, temples and sides and give him a shot to put him to sleep. A rubber bit was put in his mouth so he wouldn't swallow his tongue.
 "When they put the shot in your arm, it felt like your head would explode," he said. "You'd wake up and never know where you were for a while. You felt like a zombie.
"At the time, if I smelled something or something caught my eye, your mind would race right back there. (The treatment) did work pretty well."
The treatments were held Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings until 20 were completed. After eight months he was released to return to his marriage and his job, but, unfortunately, to his drinking as well.
 "I put my wife through a lot. I'd show up and I'd leave again. I had no business being married. I wasn't fit to live with."
His wife eventually got a restraining order, but after she would leave for work in the morning, Prindle would crawl in through a window and sleep off his drinking. They finally divorced in 1980.
 * * *
 Three times Prindle tried to re-enlist with the Marine Corps, the last time at age 35.
"There was something about it I just missed," he said. "Maybe it was the thrill. You come back here and get married, which was fine, but that wears off and your mind is always somewhere else."
 He was living off insurance checks from Harvester and had plenty of drinking buddies who would support his habit when he didn't have the money. Eventually, however, he became homeless. For two years, he often lived under bridges. He eventually checked himself back into Parkview for 10 more rounds of shock treatments in early 1979.
There he met a woman, and they moved in together that November using money the Veterans' Administration paid him. He also got his job back at Harvester - but the drinking continued.
"I thought I was a big shot, bringing home steaks, and of course bringing home beer, too. May 25, 1980, I had one of my drinking binges, scared her and she took off."
He was crushed, falling into a fog of alcohol, doubt and self-pity, and didn't pay his rent for months. The sheriff's department evicted him, and Prindle returned to the streets.
 * * *

 For a while he lived out of a 1963 Chevy, until he sold it for $30 or $40, which he spent drinking. Often he'd eat at St. Mary's Soup Kitchen or at the Rescue Mission. He hitchhiked to Florida twice.
"Don't go through Ohio because it's a booger to get picked up there," he said. "Down in Kentucky and Tennessee, all they wanted to do was party, and that's all I wanted to do."
He recalls going to Komets games, picking up enough aluminum cans to buy cigarettes, a ticket and a bottle of rum. Then he'd pour the rum into a soda at the coliseum. One night he passed out in Section 31, woke up at 1 a.m. and tried walking home to the bridge, but passed out again at the corner of Parnell and Spy Run. The grass was long, he said, but that's about all he remembers.
 He was trying to figure things out, he said, and having a pity party. There was no direction in his life, and he wasn't sure if he really wanted to find one.
"I remember when I was in my heyday drinking, I'd look in the mirror and see my bloodshot eyes and curse myself out," he said. " `You worthless bastard.' I'd stay off the booze for a day and then go right back into it."
In June 1983 a buddy suggested they take a bus to Las Vegas and live in the desert. The only problem was the buddy got scared and left for home the day after they arrived - but didn't tell Prindle. After a while, he couldn't get into the casinos any more, so he would clip coupons for free hot dogs and Cokes to survive.
* * *

He stayed on the streets of Las Vegas for a month, then checked into a Salvation Army Clinic for a year of alcohol rehabilitation. He also found religion while watching a Billy Graham Crusade on TV. Somehow, he felt the message was directed at him.
"I came to the end of the road," he said. "I had nowhere else to go. Anything else there is in life, I tried it, and none of it worked. It always left you empty because it's not meant to fulfill you."
 He came out of rehab and returned to the Las Vegas streets. A buddy and some of his friends took a vacation to Las Vegas in 1984 and saved enough money for Prindle to get a bus ride home. He stayed with some friends for more than a year, trying to get his life together.
"I finally started to taper off from the booze," he said. "I could see myself going back in the same position again, and I think I just got sick of it. Maybe I looked at the past and said this isn't worth it. I realized I had not only made a mess of my life, but a lot of people's."
After coming home, he found summer employment with Galbreath Landscaping. He received unemployment during the winters but one day in 1989 decided he needed something to do, so he went to McMillen Park Ice Arena to learn to skate. He was 40 years old and started playing pickup hockey as a goaltender.
 Then, in 1993, on the last day of pickup hockey for the year, he was leaving the arena when manager Mitzi Toepfer asked if he'd like a job. He'd be responsible for cleaning the building late at night and making sure the ice was ready to go the next day.
That fall he stuck around after his overnight shift and set up some of the Komets' equipment, organizing sticks and filling water bottles to help equipment manager Joe Franke, who has become Prindle's mentor. Eventually, Prindle started to work full-time for the team during the season and for the Parks and Recreation Department during the summers. Now he practically lives at the rink, often arriving before 6 a.m., and when he's not there he's usually doing something with his son or daughter and his three grandsons and three granddaughters. He repaired his relationship with his kids in 1986, and said they never held anything against him.
"They've never said one negative thing," he said.
* * *
So, no, very little flusters Jack Prindle these days.
 "I took a hard road to get here, but I think it's the only road I had," he said. "Maybe I used that stuff as an excuse to do what I wanted to do. You have to remember it was my choice to live on the streets. I wanted that lifestyle because it made me think back. I used to be bitter, but I'm not anymore."
He loves being around the Komets, finally finding the camaraderie he had searched for since leaving the Marine Corps.
Now he looks forward to the next day and sleeps only about four hours a night. The players and former players know that and often call in the middle of the night to talk. After a life spent trying to miss everything, now he doesn't want to miss anything.
 "You know what I told these guys? I love getting older. It's more fun. Right now I wouldn't trade what I went through. Look where I'm at now - I'm the happiest I've ever been. I see the Lord leading me and I know I'm on the path I'm supposed to be."
 In a life scarred by war and his own personal battles, he has finally found peace.
Today, Jack Prindle, 64, works for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department where he's been the last 21 years.