Fort Wayne, Indiana derives its name from a U.S. military fort established in 1794 by General Anthony Wayne. This fort (built in what is now downtown Fort Wayne) is located where the St. Joseph and St. Mary’s rivers come together to form the Maumee. Though the original Fort is gone, you can enjoy re-enactments at Old Fort Wayne, built near the original site.
To learn more about Fort Wayne’s rich history (and how you can interact with it today), search by one of these four categories:
The History Center is the Place to start to learn about Allen County history. Maintained by the Allen County- Fort Wayne Historical Society, the museum has an extensive exhibit about Miami Indian history, complete with items from Chief Little Turtle and the Miami village of Kekionga. A notable item in the collection is the watch and ceremonial sword George Washington gave to Chief Little Turtle. Other exhibitions include artifacts from Anthony Wayne, Industrial improvements in Fort Wayne, and others. The newest exhibition, Allen County Innovation, shows the exciting technological and product developments made here in Allen County. The museum is housed in the original 1893 City Hall building. Adjacent is the Barr Street Market, which is the oldest public space in Fort Wayne, dating back to 1837. The Chief Jean Baptiste de Richardville house is the oldest of any of the museum's spaces, going back to 1827.
The Chief Richardville House is an historic landmark and the oldest Native American house in the Midwest, as well as the first Greek Revival home in Northeast Indiana. Richardville was a key leader of the Miami Native Americans and was the nephew of Chief Little Turtle. As head of the tribe, Richardville was able to negotiate to help the Miami stay in Northeast Indiana longer than many other tribes until 1846. The home was built in 1827 with contributions from the United States and Chief Richardville himself with a final cost of $2,200 at the time. When Richardville died in 1841, he was the richest man in Indiana. Visitors can tour the newly-renovated home on the first Saturday of May through November.
The Old Fort - the current fort is a replica of the originals built by Major John Whistler from 1815-1816, the last forts at the junction of the St. Mary's, St. Joseph, and Maumee Rivers. The forts were built to defend soldiers from the Native Americans. Tours and reenactments at the fort are meant to educate visitors about Historic Fort Wayne, the Northwest Territory, Indiana, and the United States in the 1600 and 1700s. Be sure to check the schedule to see what reenactments or tours are happening. Even if there is not an event, you can still walk around the grounds.
Located in the John Dixie Building, the African/African-American Historical Society and Museum has preserved African-American history from Allen County. This cozy museum has docent-led tours through its ten exhibits, including information on African villages and coming to America. Diary entries from William E. Warfield, publisher of Fort Wayne's first Black Newspaper are featured on the first floor of the museum. There are also exhibits about music, local history, the Underground Railroad, and sports.
One of twelve in the nation, the Karpeles Museum is the world's largest private collection of important original manuscripts and documents. Started in 1983, the museum rotates exhibits every three months. Past exhibits have included documents about the theories of Darwin or the Boy Scouts and The Great Depression. The Karpeles Museum is a great free attraction for any history buff visiting Fort Wayne.
Near downtown Fort Wayne, explore the history of Swinney Park and the Swinney Homestead. Colonel Thomas W. Swinney's home from 1844 was leased to the in 1893 under Swinney's direction that the land be used to benefit the entire city. The home and surrounding land became a city park, which from 1920 to 1953 was leased to other organizations and hosted an amusement park. Today, the park and Swinney Homestead is on the National Registry of Historic Places. You can tour the Homestead, operated by Settlers, Inc., during its public tours. Be sure to check the calendar for dates and availability.
The Embassy Theater opened in 1928 as the Emboyd Theater and was used as a movie palace and vaudeville house. Complete with a pipe organ and 250-room hotel, the Emboyd had the biggest acts of its time. The named changed to the Embassy Theatre in 1952. However, at this time the organ was used much less, so local volunteers like Buddy Nolan paid to maintain and restore the organ. As times changed in the 1960s and 1970s, the Indiana Hotel adjacent to the theatre closed, and in 1972, the Embassy was slated to be demolished. Fortunately, community members were able to save the Embassy with two days to spare. Today, the Embassy has a renovated interior and new sign. The Theatre offers tours and other events for a small fee; check their website for dates and availability.
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Indian Village Historic District's construction followed on the footsteps of the City's 1912 Beautification Plan to increase the appeal of Fort Wayne. Lawrence V. Sheridan, important Indiana architect and city-planner, was hired to do plan and construct the neighborhood in 1925. Designed to be easily accessible by vehicles, free of smoke from factories, and spacious enough so none of the houses felt cramped, the Indian Village was meant as an oasis from the realities of modern life. The Native American theme was used to market the neighborhood as a return to simpler time without noise and factory smoke. During the Great Depression, John R. Worthman became in charge of the neighborhood's development and held true to the neighborhood's essence as he continued its expansion. Indian Village Historic District represents houses made a time when home ownership was pushed by national policymakers and when new construction practices were taking place. As such, the Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Forest Park Boulevard Historic District was envisioned by Louis Curdes, a local builder. The layout of Forest Park was highly publicized in 1906 and 1907, as well as when George Kessler created a plan that would link together all the city parks with nice streets, connecting business, and residential areas in 1912. However, many people thought that the Forest Park neighborhood was too far away from downtown, even though it was located near two railcar lines. Years later, the wide Forest Park Boulevard design, with its large lots facing the street, appealed to important members of the city, many of whom moved to this part of town. Curdes, thinking ahead, created restrictions in the housing deeds so even today the neighborhood has kept its distinctive character.
The Shawnee Place Historic District is more notable for its design cohesion than any one major landmark. Shawnee Place was built by the Wildwood Builders, which was run by Lee J. and Joel Ninde. By 1916, most of the homes had been completed. Mrs. Ninde designed her first home without any architecture training after not finding any home suitable for her family. Lee Ninde eventually left his law practice and founded the Wildwood Builders in 1910. Mrs. Ninde's partner Grace Crosby also helped draft and design many of the homes; when Mrs. Ninde died in 1916, Grace Crosby remained with the Wildwood Builders for many more years. The company kept building new houses and developments into the 1920s. The Shawnee Place neighborhood best displays the design esthetic of Joel Ninde and Grace Crosby because all the houses were built in a relatively short period, approximately 1916, and show a modern, tasteful, and not expensive style. The neighborhood also uniquely shows practical perspectives of women in architecture.
Oakdale Historic District is located in part of the city that was once called South Wayne. Land in this area became more attractive once swamps were drained and large plots were planned out. Augustus Beaver was one of the earliest residents; he bought property in 1866 and built a home in 1873. South Wayne was annexed into Fort Wayne in 1894, and the area became more attractive when Lutheran Hospital and the Fort Wayne Bible Training School were built in 1904. In 1912, land was donated to the district that would become Foster Park. When the city of Fort Wayne began expanding, more land and transportation options were added to the Oakdale district. The City Beautiful movement came to emphasize zoning, park space, and other concepts to keep the city looking great and organized. Residents of the Oakdale neighborhood include employees of important companies like General Electric or Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, professionals, and state congressional representatives.
Illsley Place-West Rudisill Historic District - the name Illsley comes from the large home owned by Frank Illsley Brown and Anna Bond Brown. The Illsley Place neighborhood has an organized layout, lots of trees along the streets, sidewalks, and brick entries into the neighborhood. Illsley Place was described by one point as "Fort Wayne's Most Exclusive District." The development was very popular, as all but three of the homes were built prior to World War II. Rudisill Boulevard was a prominent neighborhood for the well-to-do in the city. Created as part of the Fort Wayne Civic Improvement Association's city planning in 1909, Rudisill was designed to move traffic in an efficient and scenic manner. Homes in both neighborhoods are examples of Colonial Revival, Tudor, Craftsmen, and other styles and were designed by many prominent city architects.
Williams-Woodland Park Historic District was once part of a great deal of land owned by Jesse Williams, who was the chief engineer of the Wabash and Erie Canal. The Williams-Woodland Park Historic District was once a large public park opened in the 1870s. The Williams family tried to sell the land to the city, who did not want it. The family then turned to Louis Curdes, a real estate dealer who bought sixty-six lots. After adding development-wide restrictions to the deed, Curdes sold all of the lots at a lottery in one night. The neighborhood is meant to have a uniform and park-like look; when homes were built, keeping the existing trees was highly emphasized. Some of the homes were designed by architects, while others were designed using patterns from books. After a decline in the 1950s and 1960s, the neighborhood began rehabilitating homes in the 1970s, and this process of improvement continues today.
The first patron in The Oyster Bar location was in 1888, but the restaurant changed hands many times until the real Oyster Bar era began sixty-six years later. Hughie Johnston, local athlete and first basemen for the Zollner Pistons Softball team, bought the restaurant with teammate Neal Barille in 1954. These new owners also are the first to bring oysters to the location. The restaurant gained a reputation among professionals in Fort Wayne. Barille purchased Hughie's portion of the bar in 1963 and renamed the establishment "Neal's Oyster Bar." Others have owned and renamed the space, which has been owned since 1987 by Steven M. Gard and Brenda K. Gard. Today, The Oyster Bar serves seafood, steak, and a variety of other items in a tavern-like setting. For a more detailed history of The Oyster Bar, read their history.
Coney Island Weiner Stand has been serving steamed hot dogs to Fort Wayne for 100 years. In 1914, depending on who is asked) a large amount of Greek Macedonian immigrants came to Fort Wayne. Harry Dorikis, James Samaras, and Stilos Papas were the three original owners of Coney Island; they decided to survey the wiener on a bun, which had an explosion in popularity following the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. The ownership changed hands a few times until Russ Choka bought the property several years later. Russ Choka worked at Coney Island every day for over forty years and was involved with the restaurant for fifty-three years. His daughter, Kathy Choka, is now behind the counter, serving up coneys, burgers, baked beans, and homemade pies.
Cindy's Diner is a Valentine Diner, a type of restaurant almost exclusively found in Kansas today. Entrepreneur Arthur Valentine invented these portable and small restaurants in Wichita after the Great Depression, imagining a small restaurant that one or two people could operate alone to serve eight to ten patrons. These Valentine Diners shipped all over the country, becoming portable restaurants or the only restaurant in many small towns. In Fort Wayne, Noah Clauss purchased the diner, which he named "Noah's Ark," for $6,000 in 1954, establishing one of the city's first fast food restaurants at the northwest corner of Clinton and Jefferson Streets. In 1960, the diner was bought a second time and became "Paul's Diner," and six years later the restaurant was sold again and transformed into "Marge's Diner." In 1990, restored to its original luster, it was dubbed "Cindy's Diner" and moved to its present location to the delight of nostalgia buffs and others who enjoy the excellent food and cheery atmosphere. In 1997, the addition of the Murphy's Dime Store Donut Machine adds to the nostalgia and memories of the "good old days" in downtown Fort Wayne. Some favorites from the locals include Garbage, Cindy's specialty of hash browns, ham, eggs, and cheese all fried together. Its slogan today is "Serving the World, 15 at a time," a reference to the 15 seats in the diner. Today additional seating is available outside.
In addition to the resources above, we recommend these historic buildings as "must-sees" for architecture buffs.
Concordia Theological Seminary - The entire campus, consisting of a total of 25 college buildings plus faculty housing, was designed by the internationally famous architect Eero Saarinen and his associates. The design has been the subject of articles in leading architectural publications and received the top award for design of college buildings in the United States in that year's annual design award program of Progressive Architecture.
The Lincoln Tower is an art deco highrise building, built in 1930. For decades, it was the tallest building in the state.
Seven bronze panels at the main entrance depict scenes from the life of President Abraham Lincoln. The building is constructed of 1 774 tons of structural steel, faced with 21 250 cubic feet of cut Indiana limestone and granite with gold highlights. It features lead spandrel panels, a 58-ton terra-cotta crown, and 500 tons of marble. At the top of the building is a slender observation tower topped by a flagpole.
Between the entrance and the lobby, there is a snack shop with the original 1930 soda fountain still in use. The main banking lobby itself is 85 feet (26 m) wide, 110 feet (34 m) long, and two stories tall. There are large art deco murals depicting the industries and the seasons, using elemental symbolism from Greek and Egyptian traditions, such as a female form to represent fecundity and the sun to represent energy. Materials include hand-wrought bronze, Milford granite, Italian Travertine marble, several rate types of green Vermont marble, and Indiana limestone.
Allen County Courthouse - Located in the heart of downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana, the busy hub of public life is the magnificent Allen County Courthouse. Completed in 1902, it was a gift to future generations from visionary leaders who wished to express in art and architecture the dignity of the government, the supremacy of the people and the grandeur of the law. The Allen County Courthouse is recognized as a National Historic Landmark for its original murals and sculptures, scagliola faux marbling, unique tile floor designs and abundant stained glass. The courthouse is open daily to visitors who are encouraged to enjoy this treasure.
Embassy Theatre - In 1928, the doors of the magnificent Emboyd Theatre opened in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Built as a movie palace and vaudeville house, the Emboyd provided a majestic backdrop for the entertainment of the day, complete with a Page theatre pipe organ. The Emboyd came complete with the seven-story, 250-room Indiana Hotel wrapped around the north and west sides of the theatre. Clyde Quimby, theater operator, had commissioned A.M. Strauss and John Eberson to design the Emboyd and the Indiana Hotel.
Vaudeville was at its height of popularity and the Emboyd featured acrobats, comedians, magicians and musicians. For nearly 25 years the biggest and brightest stars of stage and screen graced the Emboyd stage. In 1952, the Emboyd Theatre and Indiana Hotel were sold to the Alliance Amusement Corporation, along with the Indiana Hotel adjacent to the theatre. The name changed to the Embassy Theatre.
Constant preservation and restoration work, renovation, fund-raising and countless hours of work from generous volunteers and staff go toward keeping the Embassy not just alive, but growing, teaching, entertaining and inspiring.
Through all renovations and improvements, the Embassy Theatre has maintained the historic integrity of the building that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Brookside Mansion at the University of Saint Francis - The university offers tours of the historic Richardsonian masterpiece. Tours are available for groups 10 or fewer on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons. To learn more, and to make reservations click here.
To learn more about historic Fort Wayne architecture, visit www.archfw.org