A Brief History of ARCH

ARCH celebrates, protects, and preserves architecture

and community heritage in Allen County and Northeast Indiana.

— ARCH Inc. mission statement,

most recently affirmed in Strategic Plan adopted for 2018-2022

By Angie Quinn

In 1974 Mayor Ivan Lebamoff appointed a committee to plan a number of events and activities for Fort Wayne’s celebration of the United States Bicentennial. Chairperson Ladonna Huntley led the efforts, and a number of committees were created to plan specific activities. One of these committees began as “a special committee on historic restoration, preservation, and planning.” By December, 1974, it had identified an old canal-era warehouse on Superior Street as its first restoration project. The committee’s goals soon broadened to include many aspects of modern historic preservation, as is seen in its first marketing piece, developed in early 1975:


–To define and discover the structures and areas in need of restoration and preservation in our community

–To register buildings and districts with the appropriate city, state, and national designations

–To restore individuals’ homes

–To preserve and protect endangered structures.


The Bicentennial Commission’s special committee on historic restoration, preservation, and planning

–ADVISORY, helping individuals, business and government protect our physical environment

–EDUCATIONAL, furnishing information on restoration, and acting as a clearinghouse for local, state, and national developments

–A WATCHDOG, keeping track of decisions made in both the public and private sectors that affect restoration and preservation

–A CITIZEN’S LOBBY, testifying at public hearings, acting as an ombudsman for individuals and organizations, critiquing and commenting upon governmental activities, giving counsel to policymakers, and drafting legislation concerning restoration, preservation, and planning


–To conduct a survey of our historical and physical resources

–To do research in all forms so that the value of restoration and preservation can be presented to the community

–To raise money and facilitate the education of the community

–To keep track of legislation and governmental decisions

–To restore buildings in desperate need of restoration”[i]

By April, 1975, the committee had taken on the name ARCH, and incorporated as a non-profit organization devoted to historic preservation in Allen County. The committee was led by Ladonna Huntley, Karen Anderson, and as Anderson described them: “about 30 architects, attorneys, researchers, teachers and housewives.”[ii] The Articles of Incorporation of ARCH list the following as the original Board of Directors: Karen Anderson, Willa Cramton, Brian Dunnigan, Gary Ernest, Mark Rozeen, Fred J. Reynolds, Lorraine Davis, Stephen Sims, Joseph Wood, William R. Rockhill, Gretchen Wiegel.” The committee completed the restoration of what has since been called the “Canal House,” which became offices for the Fort Wayne Fine Arts Foundation (now Arts United.) In August, 1975, ARCH successfully nominated the Edsall House to the National Register of Historic Places, as the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission acquired the property, and designated it as a local district. The following March, ARCH published its first book, “The House of William S. Edsall,” and began working to assist with the restoration plan for the home.

1976 –the United States Bicentennial—provided the public interest for historic preservation activities to expand. Indiana’s statewide historic preservation group, Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, provided a speaker at the community’s first public forum on the subject in May. The first downtown walking tour of the old west end of downtown was organized by ARCH in October, and in December, ARCH applied for funding to complete a formal survey of all potentially historic structures in Fort Wayne. Although funding was not received that year, community interest continued to grow.

In September of 1977, plans were formalized to include the restoration of the William Edsall house with a new Senior Citizen’s apartment complex. ARCH worked with the developer to complete an appropriate restoration. In that same year, ARCH and the Fort Wayne Junior League began efforts to create a revolving fund to purchase, restore, and resell local endangered structures. Led by Madelane Elston and Edie McMahon and others, the effort—entitled Operation Preservation—would culminate in the successful relocation of the Strunz-Sponhauer house from 333 East Berry to 1017 West Berry in 1980, which was televised nationally, and encouraged the community to become even more committed to the preservation of such cultural resources. In 1981, the fund was used to relocate the Edsall-Brown-Wise House from 836 West Berry to a location next door to the Strunz-Sponhauer house.

In October of 1977, the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission adopted a resolution giving ARCH oversight over the Embassy Theater restoration. After successfully raising the funds to purchase the Embassy Theatre/Indiana Hotel, the Embassy Foundation had also successfully raised the necessary funds to begin its restoration. This project would continue through the 1980s.[iii]

In 1978 the historic Hugh McCulloch house in Fort Wayne was donated to ARCH, in an effort to rescue the home. ARCH would own the house briefly, and nominate it the National Register of Historic Places, before reselling it to private interests.

In 1979 the City of Fort Wayne and ARCH worked together to research and publish the first survey of historic structures in Fort Wayne. The survey attempted to document the location, importance, and condition of all older structures within city limits. This first attempt would be corrected an updated several times, before its most recent publication with over 5000 entries in 1996 as the Fort Wayne Interim Report, Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory (City of Fort Wayne, 1996). ARCH accomplished a similar survey of areas in Allen County outside of Fort Wayne in 1991-1992.

Local efforts to nominate historic structures to the National Register continued during the 1980s. In 1981, the West Central neighborhood worked with ARCH to have an area known as the West End Historic District listed. The West Central Neighborhood Association had organized in 1969 and was incorporated in 1972.  They have held an annual Home and Garden tour featuring successful restorations each year since 1983.[iv] West Central soon was listed as the large Local historic district, joined in 1985 by Williams Woodland Park, and by Shawnee Place in 1998. In 2005 additional sections of the West Central neighborhood were being considered for local designation, and the South Wayne neighborhood, already listed on the National Register, had begun the process of achieving Local Historic District status as well.

In 1983 the City of Fort Wayne began offering Historic Façade grants to restore downtown buildings. First administered by ARCH, the program was incorporated into the city’s Historic Preservation program when it was reorganized in 1984. In 1984 the City of Fort Wayne created a new preservation protection ordinance.

In September 1990 Amtrak announced the closure of its passenger Train Station on West Baker Street. Designed by the Philadelphia firm of Price and McLanahan, the Baker Street Station was considered to be among the community’s most important cultural resources. Advocacy efforts by ARCH convinced the City of Fort Wayne to acquire the building and allocate $249,000 in federal Community Block Grant funds to stabilize the structure until a new owner could be found. Although the building remained vacant during the 1990s, advocacy continued, and the building was purchased in 2000 by the architectural firm of Martin Riley Mock. The building has been listed as a Local Historic District, and has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2003 it received ARCH’s Leonard G. Murphy Award for Outstanding Restoration of a Commercial structure.

Restoration training education was first made available to the community through an Indiana-Purdue Universities at Fort Wayne (IPFW) Continuing Education class during 1988-1989. Led by ARCH Executive Director Gretchen Wiegel and Architectural Historian Craig Leonard, the classes focused on energy conservation, architectural identification, and interior and exterior Victorian wall coverings.

Historic Preservation became an important tool in the renovation of housing for those in need in 1993. ARCH, Anthony Wayne Services, Fort Wayne Neighborhood Housing Partnership, Norwest Bank and Home Loan Savings Bank contributed expertise and resources in the renovation and rehabilitation of 1332 and 1328 Swinney Avenue in the West Central neighborhood. Both homes were then made available to disabled individuals identified by Anthony Wayne Services.

In 1994 this program continued, with the renovation and rehabilitation of a home located at 1017 College Avenue, by ARCH and Fort Wayne Neighborhood Housing Partnership. This home had been donated to ARCH and was located within the West Central Local Historic District, combined restoration of the exterior with the construction of a contemporary interior.

The surveying of historic structures continued during the early 1990s, as the City of Fort Wayne’s Preservation office updated its inventory, in advance of publication of its 1996 Fort Wayne Interim Report Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory. ARCH completed the surveying of historic structures in Allen County outside of Fort Wayne City limits in two phases between 1990-1992. The ARCH survey counted almost 2000 cultural resources.

Historic Preservation efforts have been a success in many other cases. In December, 1993 ARCH and the Allen County Bar Association announced that $8000 had been raised to have art conservator Perry Huston investigate the condition of the Allen County Courthouse murals. Other portions of the interior decorative details would be considered for restoration as well. By August of 1994 a new organization –The Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trust—was formed, in order to complete an $8,000,000 restoration of the structure, which was described as a national treasure. Restoration work began in 1998, and was completed in September 2002, in time for a rededication of the building on its 100th anniversary. In August 2003 the Allen County Courthouse was declared a United States National Historic Landmark, ranking it among the nation’s most significant cultural treasures.[v]

ARCH identified the ornate wrought-iron Wells Street Bridge as a valued cultural resource, and worked with the city to restore it after its closure in 1981. In 1991 ARCH created a “Most Endangered List” and added the c1884 Whipple-through-truss bridge. Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation acquired the bridge in 1998, to be used as part of the Rivergreenway system. Utilizing funding from the Park Foundation, a Park Bond issue, Fort Wayne Community Foundation, Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission, and federal transportation enhancement funds, the bridge was restored and re-opened for pedestrian traffic. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Allen County Highway Department has also completed several bridge restorations in recent years. The Tennessee Avenue and Columbia Street bridges—both concrete filled-spandrel arch designs—received restoration that included the installation of original-design light fixtures. In the county, the Marion Center Bridge was restored in early 2005, with period-appropriate paint colors chosen by ARCH.

Neighborhood Associations throughout Fort Wayne also hold regular events that highlight and provide education about restored homes and business. A number of regular tours of restored homes and neighborhoods take place, including: Williams Woodland Park Holiday Home Tour, South Wayne Garden Walk, South Side Neighbors Home and Garden Tour, and others. ARCH holds an annual historic home and garden tour each spring, featuring historic areas throughout the county. The largest annual tour is West Central Home and Garden Tour, held the weekend after Labor Day each September. This tour draws an audience from the tri-state area, with over 2000 visitors each year. Most tours are accompanied by a brochure with specific historic information about the featured homes, providing new documentation of cultural resources.

Today, ARCH, with the assistance of skilled staff and board members, continues to provide a wide range of historic educational programs to the community through hands-on workshops, informative talks, and walking tours. Lectures have been given by local and national experts on such topics as historic landscapes and gardens, tax incentives for historic preservation, documentation and conservation of historic interior finishes, and other topics.

[i] Fort Wayne Bicentennial Commission brochure for ARCH, April 1975.

[ii] Koyanagi, Karen. “Here: Bicentennial Group Spawns On-going Unit.” Fort Wayne News Sentinel, Roto Magazine, January 10, 1976. Pages 6-8.

[iii] Resolution of the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission, Governing Body of City of Fort Wayne, Department of Redevelopment, Endorsing Request of A.R.C.H., Resolution No. 77-52.

[iv] Jill Downs, West Central Historic Preservation Specialist, email, August 29, 2005.

[v] “Courthouse deemed historic landmark,” Journal Gazette, August 2, 2003.