Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Park at the Headwaters

by Tom Castaldi

Headwaters Park was created by the citizens of Fort Wayne through their donations, ideas, and labor as a means of flood control in the city. Earlier designs had a similar purpose.  George Kessler’s plan of 1912 envisioned a green space for recreation in the great bend of the Saint Mary’s River to absorb springtime floods, as did the park design submitted to the city in 1927 by Robert Hanna. In 1984, the Indiana Department of Transportation also developed a plan for the downtown flood plain.

George Kessler

The earliest recorded flood in the Three Rivers area occurred in 1790, four years before there was a Fort Wayne, when the Indian settlement of Kekionga suffered from the disastrous combination of a rapid spring thaw and heavy rains. In the years before dikes were built, the average flood level was about fourteen feet, but after engineers built dikes, to protect riverside neighborhoods and businesses, the flood levels rose steadily.

Dam on the St. Joseph River


By the 1920s floods were more frequent and the average flood level jumped to nearly twenty feet. The worst flood on record was in March 1913, when the Maumee rose overnight from seven feet to over twenty-six feet. The dikes along the Lakeside neighborhood gave way. In the end, fifteen thousand people were made homeless and six people lost their lives. Mayor Jesse Grice organized a heroic relief effort and martial law was declared with orders given to shoot looters.  Fort Wayne saved itself then, as it would do again in 1982 when an immense volunteer effort preserved the dikes against the second-highest flood waters on record. 

Maumee River from Main Street Bridge

St. Mary's River from Spy Run Avenue Bridge
In the wake of these disasters, plans for allowing flood waters to wash across the bend in the Saint Mary’s River assumed increasing importance. At the ground-breaking ceremony on October 26, 1993, Headwaters Park was heralded as the premier “lasting legacy” of the Fort Wayne Bicentennial celebration and a monument to the cooperative efforts of all segments of the “City That Saved Itself.”

Map of Headwaters Park c. 2006

Governor Frank O’Bannon was on hand on October 22, 1999, for the 205th anniversary of Fort Wayne to help dedicate the park,. On January 1, 2000, the Headwaters Park Commission turned operations of the project over to the city’s Park’s Department.  Later that same year, the non profit Headwaters Park Alliance was given full-time management responsibility for the space by the City of Fort Wayne’s park board. In doing so, a public-private arrangement was established bolstering a spirit of individual citizens working together with local government.

Today, Headwaters Park has become the place where people come together for festivals, concerts and other special activities. Ice skating attracts the young at heart in the cooler months and children play in a dancing waters fountain in the warm summer days. Here too stand fourteen Heritage Trail markers that celebrate the headwaters where people have gathered for centuries.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – August 2008  No. 45
 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, July 10, 2014

Mayor Hosey’s Three Rivers Water Plant

by Tom Castaldi

The Three Rivers Water Filtration Plant was constructed between 1931 and 1933 as a solution to persistent difficulties suffered by the growing city of Fort Wayne in obtaining a sufficient quantity of safe drinking water

Before the 1870s, water was drawn from the rivers, springs, and creeks that flowed into the confluence or from shallow wells, cisterns, and even the abandoned Wabash Erie Canal. The rapidly growing population brought increased fire hazards, a fear that was especially acute after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Worse yet, epidemics of water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid were not uncommon.

Agitation for a city-wide water system began in 1875 and quickly became an urgent political issue. Controversy began when the owners of the old Feeder Canal proposed that the city buy water from them, maintaining that this stagnant stream was perfectly safe and an inexhaustible source. City Council hired a hydraulic engineer who envisioned construction of a tall cylinder five feet in diameter and 200 feet high “standpipe” that would serve as a water tower. The canal owners offered to build a system, including pumping equipment, 21 miles of pipe and the standpipe itself, if the city would buy their water. A majority of the City Council members were in favor of this idea, but a strong citizens’ opposition defeated their offer to use the canal water. In the meantime, an election occurred, and every candidate who favored the use of canal water was defeated.

The new City Council hired another hydraulic engineer who developed a plan that centered on construction of a great reservoir south of town. Ground was broken for this first water works project in the fall of 1880. Still, the source of the water for the system was a matter of intense debate. The canal owners continued to urge Council to buy their water, while others maintained that water ought to be pumped from the St. Joseph River. A third faction argued for Spy Run Creek to be the city’s water source. Opting for this last idea, but grossly underestimating the quantities available in Spy Run, the Council ordered a large steam-powered pump to be built near the creek. A severe drought in the first year of operation dried up Spy Run Creek and, finally, the Council bought the city’s water from the owners of the canal.

Within several years, however, the city abandoned the canal water and sank several “deep rock wells,” down to the safe and seemingly limitless source of the lower water table. For half a century the great reservoir on the south side of town was the heart of the water system. But the quality of the water and the dependability of the supply were difficult to maintain.

Mayor William Hosey in the early years of the 20th century was convinced that the deep wells were the best source for a water supply. Several years of severe drought in the late 1920s, however, greatly reduced the capacity of the deep wells and persuaded the mayor that new technologies in treating river water safely and dependably would provide for the city’s supply. Ground breaking for the Three Rivers Filtration Plant took place in 1931, and the dedication of the facility was held in 1933. This $2.5 million effort during the Great Depression was heralded as one of the finest public works projects in the nation. The architecture of the building is unique, especially the intricately carved stone panels that show scenes from the history of water supply. “Gothic” in style, great attention was given to the appearance of the building as seen from a distance. The interior continues the “Gothic” theme in Indiana limestone. Additions to the building in 1954 and 1979 were each completed to match the original design.

The Filtration Plant draws its supply of water for treatment from the St. Joseph River at the Hosey Dam near Coliseum Boulevard through two 42-inch diameter pipes. The present-day plant treats tens of millions of gallons of water per day, distributes more than 100 million gallons daily through more than 600 miles of pipes, and maintains a 20-million gallon underground reservoir, in addition to the large Hurshtown reservoir that was completed in 1969.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – July 2008 No. 44.

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 

For more information and photos see:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Liberty Bell in Fort Wayne

by Carmen Doyle
Ninety nine years ago, Fort Wayne residents had what would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to view a national symbol without leaving Fort Wayne.

July 6, 1915 was the day the Liberty Bell visited Fort Wayne. 

The Bell left Philadelphia on the afternoon of July 5th, beginning a slow journey across the country to San Francisco and the Panama-Pacific Exposition- the World’s Fair.

The Liberty Bell had been on trips outside of Philadelphia before, but never as far as San Francisco. It had visited New Orleans in 1885, Chicago in 1893, Atlanta in 1895, Charleston in 1902, Boston in 1903, and St. Louis in 1904. But the Bell had never visited the West Coast before.

There was concern over the Bell’s travels. When the Bell had returned from St. Louis, many thought the crack had widened. It had also been the target of souvenir hunters. None of the Bell’s caregivers had wanted to let the Bell move out of Philadelphia again. It took a petition with signatures of several thousand California students to persuade Philadelphia to let the Bell travel across the country. A special railroad train was custom built to ensure the Bell’s safety. A lighting system was designed to show off the Bell at night. The trip covered 17 states and 105 cities. 

The Bell stopping in Fort Wayne, even for 45 minutes, was of course a huge event. Mayor Hosey asked everyone to take time out from their job to visit the Bell, and for all the schools to make preparations to see one of the most recognizable icons of American history. The Bell was paraded through three streets in Fort Wayne, in order for the many people to get a good look at it. Huge crowds followed the Bell, with people hanging out windows and off utility poles in order to get a better look. Every building the Bell passed was decorated with red, white, and blue bunting. A band played “America” at one interval. It was the event of a lifetime.

The Bell returned to Philadelphia after a stay in San Francisco. It passed through more states and cities on the journey home, stopping in some towns for only five minutes. When the Liberty Bell returned to Philadelphia, it was re-hung in Independence Hall, and the city has refused any tour requests since.

July 6, 1915, was the day the Liberty Bell toured Fort Wayne. It was an event that will never be repeated.

For more on the Liberty Bell’s visit to Fort Wayne, and to see photos, check out the 2006, Vol. 2 Old Fort News: The Day the Liberty Bell Came to Town.

Editor's Note: Photos are from our collection.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Road Trip with Harry

by Nancy McCammon-Hansen

If you’re looking for a fun read that’s chock full of historical facts you probably never knew, check out “Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip” by Matthew Algeo.

After he left office, President Truman and his wife Bess took off on a road trip from Independence, MO to the east coast with no Secret Service detail, no bodyguards and Harry driving. Former presidents at that time were not assigned a security detail. Harry and Bess liked it that way.

President Truman loved cars. His new 1953 Chrysler was not equipped with seat belts—American auto makers didn’t think the public would go for something that “frivolous” and Harry scared Bess quite often because he had a “lead foot”.  Seat belts, by the way, were the innovation of Robert McNamara when he worked for Ford prior to becoming Secretary of Defense.

Both of Truman’s grandmothers had migrated from Kentucky to western Missouri and it was this facet of his family tree that led Truman to become the president of the National Old Trails Road Association in 1926. The group advocated for a transcontinental roadway along the routes of historic trails. Along those trails you will find statues of pioneer women named “Madonna of the Trail”. The DAR erected these statues in 1928-29 in tribute to the women who followed their “crazy husbands” (per the website west. The website describes the statues as:

“… a pinkish, stony-faced pioneer Mom, in long dress and bonnet, strutting westward with a rifle on one arm, an infant on the other, and another little cruncher grasping Mom's skirt.”

One of Truman’s favorite authors was Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain. Twain helped Ulysses S. Grant out, when, after leaving office, he was close to being penniless and fighting throat cancer. Truman, too, was struggling financially because ex-presidents at the time had no pension and so he and Bess lived on his Army pension and what monies they could bring in. Truman’s favorite Twain quote was:

“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

He had a framed copy of the quote on his desk in the Oval Office.

Because of their financial woes, the Truman’s tried to save money on the trip as best they could. One way was to spend the night either with friends or in a motel—a relatively new aspect of American travel in the early 1950s. The motel was “invented” in 1925 as the popularity of the automobile picked up pace. Typically a motel was a series of bungalows with attached garages that were owned by individuals, not huge corporations. By the 1930s, motels had gained wide appeal with gangsters who found their out of the way locations ideal for “hiding out”.

In 1951, Memphis businessman Kemmons Wilson and his family traveled to Washington State, staying in motels along the way. Wilson was more than a little disgusted with the accommodations they endured and went on to found the Holiday Inn.

Travel across out continent was not a new thing for Truman’s family. His grandfather, Solomon Young, made a small fortune moving merchandise via wagon train from Missouri to Utah and California but lost all of his money in the Civil War. A typical wagon train consisted of forty to eighty wagons pulled by oxen teams. The roads, if you can call them that, were not good and wouldn’t be until a new mode of transportation—the bicycle—came along. The bicycle craze of the 1880s created a desire and lobby for paved roads.

Truman, in many circumstances, kept his mouth shut about how he felt the Eisenhower administration was handling world affairs. He loathed Richard Nixon but in public was known to shake his hand and smile. Eisenhower snubbed Truman on the former general’s inauguration day and Truman remembered this for a long, long time. But the purpose of the road trip was not only a vacation but to visit former members of Congress and make a speech about our country’s national security to the Reserve Officers Association convention in Philadelphia. Truman was heartily opposed to Eisenhower’s plan to trim back the defense budget. He was also the first ex-president to address the Senate since Andrew Johnson in 1875. Johnson was the only former President to be elected to the Senate and served less than five months before dying. Truman had been one of Missouri’s senators before being tapped as a vice presidential candidate. 

Knowing Fort Wayne’s link to the invention of the television, you’ll be glad to know Truman was ahead of his time when it came to this medium. He didn’t care for the way television turned politicians into “play actors” but he understood how important television was going to be in the future. On August 13, 1943, he declared, “Television is on the threshold of great development….It is true there are many technical and commercial difficulties that must be overcome. But the day cannot be far off when our homes, schools, offices and automobiles will be equipped with television sets. We will see news and sporting events while they are actually happening.”

Wonder what he’d think of the Internet, Facebook and Twitter?

Most of us know of Air Force One but did you know that FDR was the first president to fly while in office? And did you know his plane was dubbed the “Sacred Cow”? Truman also used the plane and for multiple purposes—you’ll have to read the book to find out but one of them involves our neighboring state of Ohio. The “Sacred Cow” was replaced by the “Independence” which was painted to resemble an eagle. Truman flew more than 135,000 miles while in office, taking 61 trips. Eisenhower’s plane, a new one because he didn’t want to use Truman’s hand-me-down, was dubbed the “Columbine” after Mamie’s home state of Colorado flower. The Air Force called it AF8610 but when it entered the same airspace as Eastern Airlines flight 8610, the Air Force changed the name to Air Force One and that’s been the name of the President’s plane ever since.

On July 7, 1953, Truman and his wife spent the night in Richmond, IN. The chapter on this Indiana community was a real eye-opener to this Indiana transplant. Suffice it to say there have been some pretty dark times in our state’s history thanks to the Klan. Truman himself was once a Klan member because it was one thing you had to do in Missouri to get elected. But when he was told he couldn’t hire Catholics and be a Klansman, he withdrew his application and got his money back. He’d commanded too many Catholics in WWI to put up with this.

Books like “Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure” are a wonderful way to study history beyond what you get in a classroom. Our presidents, their spouses and others in the public eye become real human beings and that only adds to the fun of studying history.

If you have a favorite history book, send me an email at and tell me a little bit about it. We just might share your enthusiasm for the work on our Facebook page or in another blog post!