Thomas Swinney House 2017-04-19T10:39:05+00:00

Thomas Swinney House

Older Historical Marker Text:

Original construction of the house was begun in 1844. The second story, wing, and rear portion was added in 1885. Col. Swinney bequeathed this house and about 240 acres of land to the city as a park that was to “remain open and free to the public…” This was the first land donated for that purpose to the city. The historical Society occupied the house in 1924. An earlier log cabin was built behind this one about 1826.

The Thomas Swinney Homestead

Thomas Swinney came to Fort Wayne shortly before 1824. Born in Piketon, Ohio in 1803, Swinney was a land speculator who developed a large part of west end Fort Wayne. Soon after his arrival in the pioneer town, he married Lucy Taber, daughter of Paul Tabor, who was a sea captain during the War of 1812 and a land speculator. When they married, Lucy brought to the marriage a dowry of 240 acres of land. Taber’s principal holdings in Fort Wayne were on the east end of the town. Construction of the Swinney Homestead was started in 1844 and the family moved in in 1845. The original house was in the Federal style with one story and four basic rooms. The basement was part of the house with seven small rooms and one large room used as the kitchen. Another story and half was added in 1885 giving the house an approach to an Italianate style. A wing was also added on the south side.[1] After Swinney’s death, his daughters remodeled the house adding the porch, the paired brackets, and the central wall dormer which simulates an Italianate tower.[2] The west-end lands that Thomas Swinney held, including the present day West Swinney Park, were often the center of large community gatherings.

Here on the Swinney property on July 4, 1843, hundreds of people of Fort Wayne and the surrounding region gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the Wabash and Erie Canal, the longest canal ever built in North America. Its ground-breaking had been held here in 1832, and in this presidential election year of 1843, candidate Lewis Cass appeared in town to make laudatory speeches along with the state and local notables. Peter Kaiser, one of Fort Wayne’s earliest German settlers and a butcher, was in charge of the free barbecue of four great oxen driven up from Logansport (the beasts wisely had refused to board a canal boat for their last trip).

In later years, Swinney gave to the city of Fort Wayne eastern portions of his property. In 1874, the Allen County Fair was established on these grounds, with a half-mile race track as well as the usual display of pens and corrals. The annual September fair was held here for many years afterward. More than a decade later, in 1889, the first Labor Day celebration was held on the Swinney grounds, and labor leaders long viewed the area as special for laboring people.

By the terms of Thomas Swinney’s will, the remainder of his great pioneer estate was bequeathed to the city of Fort Wayne upon the death of the last of his daughters, Caroline and Frances. In 1893, Swinney’s daughters, Rhesa, Frances, and Caroline allowed the City to take early possession of the land for development of Swinney Park.[3] As a park, the area was famous for its Japanese Gardens (changed to the Jaenicke Gardens soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941), picnic grounds and country setting. Other portions of the western lands were acquired by the city in 1918 for park development, and a public swimming pool was constructed. Some of these acres were leased to George Trier, an entertainment entrepreneur, who developed what came to be renowned in the middle of the twentieth century as “Trier’s Park,” which included a roller coaster, bumper cars, dance halls, and other amusements until a great fire swept the place in 1953.[4]

 

[1] “Handwritten Swinney Homestead History,” 1424 West Jefferson Blvd File, Street Archive, ARCH, Inc.

[2] Fort Wayne Historic Preservation Commission, “West Central Historic District,” Brochure published by the City of Fort Wayne.

[3] Don Orban, “Swinney Homestead: Remains Neighborhood Anchor,” Indiana Preservationist, 6, November/December 2004.

[4] The Bicentennial Heritage Trail Committee, On the Heritage Trail: A Walking Guidebook to the Fort Wayne Heritage Trail (Fort Wayne: ARCH, Inc., 1994), 138-140.

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