Audio: “Old City Hall / History Center” featuring Tom Castaldi. Courtesy of WBNI-Fort Wayne.
The Old City Hall was built in 1840 on land donated to the city by Samuel Hanna at Barr and Berry streets. On April 20, 1893, the building was dedicated with speeches made by the chairman of the building, Herman Michael, ex-Senator Charles McCulloch, ex-Mayor C.F Muhler (who had originally pushed the City Hall project), Colonel Oakley,and Circuit Court Judge Edward O’Rourke. In 1855, a market place was built, but because of the inconveniences of the city bureaucracy, the Council ordered that a new market building be built to replace the older structure in 1869. Offices in this building were to be provided for by the City Clerk and the City Treasurer (the mayor had to find his own office elsewhere).
Despite the improvements made to the market building, by the 1880s the increase in population and development of land within the city made it clear that a more suitable municipal facility was needed.
During the years of 1885-1889, plans for a new building had begun, but it was in the administration of Charles Zollinger that the project was finally realized. The northern end of the building was designed for public business; the south end was used by the police department and the jail, or “calaboose.” On the second floor, The City Court and City Council Chambers were located. Officers would bring offenders to the second floor by way of a hidden stairway to avoid having to go up the public stairways. At the turn of the century, the garage housed the rescue boat and paddy wagon with a hayloft for the horses that were stabled nearby. The City Hall cost $69,806 to build including, $1,889 for the inside furnishings. By the end of its public career in 1971, the structure had gained a great affection from the community.
The north entry of the Old City Hall/History Center remains primarily unchanged since the structure was opened to the public. There is an arched opening that is flanked by short columns which exposes two large wooden doors with an arched window above. A hexagonal tower sits on the northwest corner (the three other corner towers are square in shape) with a steep slanted roof and checkerboard stonework (all four towers feature this checkerboard stonework). Amongst the foliated frieze and griffins flanking the entry is engraved “The City Building.” Prior to WWII, the west entry doors were remodeled, but maintain the Romanesque styling. The west to east side also contains large sandstone gables and arched windows. On the south side of the building are two garage doors (only one of the doors is original to the structure) and a single entry door. The east side of the building is similar to the west except for the addition of an elevator shaft that was added in 1979 to allow handicap access to the building. Inside the City Council/City Court Rooms remain the original woodwork, ceiling, and walls. Rising from the original marble floor on the first floor to the second floor is the grand oak double staircase. The city jail still retains much of its 1890s configuration.
The Fort Wayne Interim Report Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory-1996 reports that a two story house with a porch once sat where the parking lot to the east of the building is now.
One hundred and seventy five citizens formed the Fort Wayne Historical Society in 1921 in the auditorium of the Wolf & Dessauer department store. The group carried on what Mary Penrose’s Wayne Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) had begun when they displayed local artifacts in the “relic room” of the Allen County Courthouse in 1902. The first membership meeting was held at Central High School on March 23, 1921; they elected William Peltier president and Mrs. Samuel Taylor as curator. In 1924, the group became the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society and in 1927 moved to the historic Swinney Homestead. The city of Fort Wayne committed a Federal Grant to rehabilitate the Old City Hall for use as a historical museum in 1977. This is now the home of the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society.
On Display at the History Center are mini-exhibits that can be seen which change periodically and there are exhibits that are shown at the museum permanently. Some of these exhibits include the Anthony Wayne exhibit that showcases his fold up camping bed, the Industry exhibit that has a recreated blacksmith shop, and the newest exhibit, Allen County Innovation, that has inventions that were conceived and produced in our area on display. There are several more permanent exhibits to see at the Museum of History.
Photos courtesy of Allen County-Fort Wayne HIstorical Society and The History Center
- The Bicentennial Heritage Trail Group, ARCH Inc., Essex Group, Inc., On The Heritage Trail Fort Wayne,Indiana: A Walking Guide Book (1994), pp.26-28.
- John Ankenbruck, 20th Century History of Fort Wayne (1975), p.174.
- William Carlton.“Back In Time”, News-Sentinel (5/16/1996).
- Rosa Slater Rodriquez..“City Showcase Restored”, Journal-Gazette (2/13/11)
- Kevin Leininger. “Museum Contracts ‘Cancer”, News-Sentinel (10/7/1998)
- McCammon-Hanson,Nancy. Fort Wayne History Center.
- Other resources from ARCH,Inc. files