Finding history at the HistoryCenter in Fort Wayne

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When traveling, I love to step back in time and learn about the history of the city I am in.  On a hosted trip to Fort Wayne this past April, my mom, Lori Disque and I stopped at the beautiful History Center to learn more about this lovely city.  The History Center is housed in a historic building that was built in 1893. The building served as the center of local government and was home to Fort Wayne’s courts, mayor’s office, jail and police department until 1971.

Locals once called the building,  the “Hapsburg Horror”.  This non-endearing term was used in part because of the Richardsonian Romanesque architecture that was favored by the Hapsburg’s, European royal dynasty and because the building cost a whopping $69,000 when it was built, a cost the locals considered an exorbitant amount at the time.

The History Center is the last building standing downtown that was designed by Fort Wayne architects Wing & Mahurin.  The building has a true gothic look and visitors can even see gargoyles above the original entrance. 

Run by the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society, the building serves as their main office, plus museum and collections.  The society was formed in 1921, and today they maintain a collection of more than 26,000 artifacts, photographs and documents representing the history of Fort Wayne and Allen County. Besides the building, the History Center also oversees the historic Barr Street Market (adjacent to the building), the oldest public space in Fort Wayne, dating back to 1837, and the 1827 home of Miami Chief  Jean Baptiste de Richardville.  I really had hoped to see this house, but it was closed during our visit.

The museum has several items to view for me I focused on the innovations and one of my childhood hero’s Johnny Appleseed.  Most everyone knows the story of John Chapman and how he planted apples throughout Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, as well as the northern counties of present-day West Virginia. What some may not know was that he was also a missionary.  The History Center has a cool pocket flask that Johnny Appleseed is said to have given to a young girl on her 8th birthday. He died in 1845 in Fort Wayne and is buried in the area.  There is a Johnny Appleseed in Fort Wayne is September that would be fun to attend.  This year they will celebrate their 43rd year.  Log onto http://www.johnnyappleseedfest.com/ for more information about the festival.

Political history is always fascinating especially for a Land of Lincoln girl when they have a brochure showing a picture of Abraham Lincoln.  His likeness was not used for any election, but was for a “Beverage” campaign in 1908.

The museum has information about the early inhabitants from Indians to innovators.  I write for Toy Farmer  and Farm World and I am always keeping my eyes open for agricultural and farm toy connections.  One cool item in the museum the pioneer display and I loved the model of the Conestoga wagon. This wagon was a heavy, covered wagon that was used extensively during the late eighteenth century and the nineteenth century in the United States and Canada. It was large enough to transport loads up to 6 tons (5.4 metric tons), and was drawn by horses, mules or oxen.

Another neat model pointing out the railroad history includes the Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive and tender made by Charles Benoy in 1888.  Benoy owned a foundry and while their is a sign that says the locomotive and tender do not agree in design, because the smokestack suggests wood burning locomotive and the tender is designed for coal, the model is quite amazing considering the time frame it was built in.  In the innovation section there is a neat salesman sample of a washing machine model from 1910 as well as a model of the Bowser Gasoline pump that was created by Silvanus F. Bowser.  His self-measuring pump was built in Fort Wayne. On the wall is a blow up of a photo of men working at the Bowser Pump factory that brings the display to life.

One of the modern innovations was an exhibit about Vera Bradley.  We came to Fort Wayne to attend the amazing Vera Bradley shopping event and I was very impressed by the amount of products that the two women innovators made and the impact they have had on the area.

The agricultural side of me loved the Blacksmith Shop that also served as the Chas Ferber Horse Shoeing and Repair Shop.  The display has tools and all!

On the second floor is a big surprise, the lovely ceiling and chandelier in the Former City  Council Chambers that now serves as the Shields Room.  I sat in a very beautiful bishop chair on the second floor and felt quite royal.  Maybe there is some Hapsburg blood somewhere lurking in my past!

For your own visit log onto www.fwhistorycenter.com for details!