The Historic Marker on West Columbia Street reads:
“For nearly a century, the principal business street of Fort Wayne, named for Dana Columbia, hotel and canal boat operator. Here was the terminal for passengers and freight arriving and departing via stagecoach and canal. Ground broken for Wabash and Erie Canal 1832 and dedicated in 1843. Canal right of way sold 1880 and now occupied by elevated rail road. Rear of buildings north side faced the canal and docks. Two canal basins located on the street, “Orbisin Basin” at Harrison Street and “Comparet Basin” at Lafayette Street. Government land sale occurred in 1823 in Washington Hall (Ewing Tavern) at Barr Street from this sale came the original plot of Fort Wayne. Here Allen County and Wayne Township organized in 1824. Also meeting place of county commissioners and circuit court. Many Fort Wayne firsts appeared on this street such as a post office in 1820, hotel 1823, Newspaper 1833, theater 1851, and the railway station in 1853”.
The three rivers became the avenues for human traffic and branching off of them were trails; Columbia Street began as a trail that lead westward from the military garrison to connect with other trails such as the Great Northwest and Wabash routes. Early city planners, Messers Barr and McCorkle had intended for Main Street to be the hub of business thoroughfare; however, Columbia Street seemed to have dictated the off compass plotting of the downtown area. Dana Columbia’s house stood at the back door of the present City-County Building on the approximate Clinton Street site of the tavern Old Dutch Lunch. The Landing handled much of the canal traffic due to the three basins that neighbored it. The Orbison Basin, a lagoon that cut off the northeast corner of Columbia and Harrison Streets, Little Basin that was just west of the Randall Hotel, and the large Comparet Basin that was at the east end of Columbia Street. These basins were used to turn canal boats around and they supported the boat yards as well. Traveling up to only six miles per hour, the canal boats fed machinery to budding industries along with building supplies, merchandise from the east, and food.
For many years, there were two faces to Columbia Street; one façade faced the canal and later the railroad and the other teeming retail traffic on the street side. Columbia Street’s shipping front was neglected in later years but the evidence of it remained until the redevelopment of downtown. The original plan of Fort Wayne was held in 1823 at the Ewing Tavern (Washington Hall), located on Barr St. The Landing gave home to many firsts such as the first theater which was named Colerick Hall in 1851, the first public bathhouse, and the first telegraph office. The business district of Columbia Street was reflected by the many and diverse businesses that occupied it. Some of them were wholesale and retail outlets, hotels, taverns and restaurants, boarding houses, lodges, barbershops, newspaper and printing offices, banks, bakeries, a stone yard, railroad terminal facilities, pool halls, second hand stores, bawdy houses, and more. Thomas Edison lived upstairs of the business on the northwest corner of Columbia and Calhoun streets in 1864 and worked for the railroad as a telegraph operator. In the same building, which later became the Old Drug Company, druggists Cornelius and Joseph Hoagland along with their partner Thomas Biddle developed the formula that became Royal Baking Powder.
Dana Columbia changed careers due to the financial panic of the 1830s. He became Captain Columbia, whose packet boat, the Chief, was the first to carry passengers along the Wabash and Erie Canal from Fort Wayne to Lafayette. Dana Columbia moved to Junction City, Ohio, where he died in 1865. Columbia is buried in Lindenwood Cemetery along with his daughter Sarah and her husband David Comparet, who was one of the first directors of the cemetery. In 1978, the Landing, at a cost of $167,000, was given a new street, new sidewalks, landscaping and street lamps that resembled gas lamps from the turn of the century. In October of 1980, the Drug Building collapsed, and the Markey Building was torn down after officials determined it could not be rehabilitated.
Site of the Randall Hotel:
At the west end of the Landing once stood a five story hotel that raved about it being “The best $2 hotel in Indiana”. Between 1890 and 1930 The Randall Hotel could proudly proclaim its motto, “Everything first class”, for there was running water, a telephone and streamed heat in every room. At first in 1828, the site of the hotel belonged to the Jacob Fry Tannery, which was noted for its horrible odors. In 1870, a hotel called the Robison took the tannery’s place and later this became the Grand Hotel. The Grand Hotel was a “Methodist Hotel” due to the fact that drinking was not permitted. Perry Randall, a local attorney and promoter, bought the Grand Hotel and renamed it Randall Hotel. Randall had a hand at building a canal from Fort Wayne to Chicago and producing Fort Wayne’s Centennial. After his death in 1916, his wife, Winifred, took over the business of the hotel. Winifred was the first woman to operate a lumber mill in the United States. The hotel had become a residence after the Great Depression of the 30’s and in 1963 the building was razed.
NOTE: The concrete pillars that now stand on the location of the Randall were not features of the hotel but of the Wayne Hotel.