Twenty-first century scientific analysis is giving substance to one of Fort Wayne’s enduring legends from the early 1800s.
A scientific paper just published in the Journal of Conflict Archaeology solidly establishes some key facts about that legend for Fort Wayne’s historic Merchant Huxford House, the 1853 home of the city’s third mayor that ARCH bought, restored and protected as a Local Historic District in 2014 before selling it to a new owner for a new and useful life.
The study determined that at least three hewn white oak timbers date from 1815, the year that the final Fort Wayne was built, and local legend has long said that timbers from the old fort were used to build Huxford’s home.
But the historians and dendrochronologists who did the study, including Christopher Baas, associate professor of landscape architecture at Ball State University; Taylor N. Davis, a Ball State master’s degree candidate in biology, and Darrin L. Rubino, a Hanover College biology professor, also looked for evidence that the timbers in the house really did come from the fort.
What they found is slightly different — but no less fascinating. According to an 1852 daguerrotype by Charles C. Stevens, which they confirmed with comparisons to the precisely detailed drawings made by fort designer and builder Major John Whistler, the timbers most likely came from the Indian Agent’s residence, which was a separate structure just outside the fort palisades but built at the same time.
That Indian Agency structure was the last part of the old fort still available to the people of Fort Wayne to salvage timbers from for new constructions projects by the time Huxford’s house was under construction. The authors won’t claim complete certainty, but they say this building is the most likely source of those 1815 timbers.
“A decisive connection, perhaps something written in an undiscovered military report, personal journal, history, or newspaper account, is needed to connect Huxford directly to the fort,” the authors write. “Until then, tree rings are our best line of evidence that the fort is in the Doctor’s house.”