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Web letter by Alan D. Gaff: A look back in history shows wisdom of Courthouse site for statue

I would like to offer some background regarding the Anthony Wayne Equestrian Monument, the location of which may be moved from Freimann Square to the Allen County Courthouse Plaza. In addition to being a life-long Fort Wayne resident, I am also the author of “Bayonets in the Wilderness: Anthony Wayne’s Legion in the Old Northwest.” This is the definitive account of a period in America long neglected by historians, and this book explains all of the circumstances behind the first settlement at what is now Fort Wayne.

I thought that it might prove informative to investigate the selection process that resulted in the original placement of the Wayne monument in Hayden Park. After researching newspaper accounts from 1915, it became clear that there were five legitimate contenders presented for consideration by the Anthony Wayne Monument Commission.

The first location was on the sidewalk at the southwest corner of the Allen County Courthouse. At that time, this sidewalk was 40 feet in width and could have easily accommodated the monument, which would face south. Because of previously unregulated construction, there was no area in front of the Courthouse large enough to accommodate the statue. If this site had been chosen, community leaders planned to balance Wayne’s monument with one of General Henry W. Lawton on the southeast corner.

The second proposed site was along the railroad at Old Fort Place. This plan was heartily endorsed by all the veterans’ organizations in the county but soon declined in importance because the site was small and it was feared that soot and cinders would damage the statue. A group of downtown businessmen put forward a third proposal of erecting the monument on Harrison Street, somewhere between Jefferson Boulevard and Brackenridge Street, the area now occupied by the botanical conservatory, E. Ross Adair Federal Building and other structures. Of this plan, The Journal-Gazette noted, “This would place it on what, it is predicted will sometime be the city’s foremost business street.”

Two Fort Wayne parks were also advanced as potential locations, pitting West End supporters and East End advocates. The West Enders suggested that Anthony Wayne be placed in the east edge of Swinney Park where everyone leaving the city could see the monument. This site was near the park entrance and about where the old cannon can now been seen in front of the Swinney house. East Enders offered up Hayden Park, where the statue would welcome visitors coming into the city on Jefferson Boulevard (then a two-way street). At this spot the newly constructed Harmar School would serve as a backdrop for Wayne’s imposing memorial. The Journal-Gazette offered its editorial opinion of the Hayden Park site: “This location is on the route of the Lincoln Highway, and in the warm months it is passed by hundreds of touring automobiles daily. It is nearer the center of population than any other site that has been suggested, (the editor had already dismissed the Old Fort and Harrison suggestions) and is in a section of the city that has been neglected in the way of beautification.”

After an inspection of the various sites by Mayor William J. Hosey and members of the commission tasked with selecting a site, the seven commissioners took a secret ballot. The result was a tie. Both the Courthouse and Hayden Park received three first place votes, two second place and two third place. The Swinney site received one first place, three second place and three third place votes. Hoping to resolve this deadlock, the commissioners asked for public input. In reporting these results, The Journal-Gazette again indicated a preference for the Hayden Park site, predicting that travelers on the Lincoln Highway would drive by the imposing Wayne monument, “causing them to comment upon the public spirit shown by Fort Wayne.”

The East Enders outmaneuvered their West End opponents, as well as the Courthouse proponents. On Dec. 2, 1915 backers of the Hayden Park location held a mass meeting in the auditorium of the Harmar School. B.J. Griswold gave some historical background of the site and Col. David N. Foster, president of the Anthony Wayne Monument Commission, explained the commissioners’ role in the selection process. The assembly unanimously passed a series of five resolutions declaring its intent in selecting this specific site.

The first resolution was titled “Historical.” Relying upon Griswold’s historical introduction, this resolution noted that, according to him, the route of Anthony Wayne’s march passed over this very ground as he moved to Three Rivers after his victory at Fallen Timbers. In addition, the assembly noted that the region around the site “teems with historical recollection.” This claim of Wayne marching over the site was an exaggeration on Griswold’s part since no one knew then, or now, exactly the route used by Wayne.

The second resolution was titled “Artistic and Esthetic.” The first sentence of this resolution reads: “A monument, a work of art, commemorating a great man should be placed in surroundings which not only make it possible to gain an unobstructed view of the statue from all sides, but which also insure (sic) to it an appropriate setting that is fully in harmony with the idea and creation of the artist or sculptor.”

The third resolution was titled “Accessibility.” This resolution contains the following sentence: “Outside of the congested business streets of the city there is hardly any thoroughfare in Fort Wayne which is used more by our city than Lincoln Highway or Maumee Avenue.”

The fourth resolution was titled “Education and Patriotic.” A sentence from this section reads: “It is of vital importance to keep the memory of the great men of our country before the mind of the growing generation.” The assembly agreed that Wayne’s monument would be an inspiration to the schoolchildren of Harmar School, as well as all other city schools within walking distance.

The fifth resolution was titled “Fairness and Equity.” This resolution noted that the East End had been overlooked and should be awarded the Wayne Monument to balance public memorials in the city geographically.

The Fort Wayne News and Journal-Gazette both carried the complete set of resolutions, an accomplishment not often seen in the partisan press at that time. City Councilman Albert H. Keller, who had chaired the East End meeting, took a swipe at the Courthouse location in an interview: “Since the west side of the court house has become ‘jitney row’ and is thronged with people all day and evening it would seem to me that the monument would be a hindrance to foot traffic.”

The East Enders won the public relations battle and the Anthony Wayne Monument Commission voted to erect their memorial in Hayden Park. The Wayne monument was publicly dedicated on July 4, 1918 as America fought in World War I. Vice President Thomas R. Marshall was the principal speaker.

It is possible from these press reports to understand the motivation and intent of those Fort Wayne citizens who paid for, publicly debated and selected a proper location for the Anthony Wayne Monument. It was always the intent of everyone involved in the debate that Anthony Wayne should be given a place a of special prominence and visibility to both local residents and visitors to the city. This was best expressed by the quotation, cited above, from the successful backers of the selection process:

“A monument, a work of art, commemorating a great man should be placed in surroundings which not only make it possible to gain an unobstructed view of the statue from all sides, but which also insure (sic) to it an appropriate setting that is fully in harmony with the idea and creation of the artist or sculptor.”

I would like to add my personal support for the removal of the Wayne Statue to Courthouse Green. Although the Courthouse location lost out in 1915, primarily because of space considerations, it now seems fitting that the location be given a second chance. The extraordinary efforts by Fort Wayne citizens to restore the Courthouse, both inside and outside, are truly commendable. The Courthouse Green is a beautiful addition, and I am impressed and grateful every time I drive past on Clinton Street. But I personally feel that the Anthony Wayne Monument would be a huge addition to the current park. Just from an esthetic point of view, the Wayne Statue, dedicated in 1918, would seem more logically placed in front of the Courthouse, built in 1902, rather than in Freimann Square, which was landscaped in 1973.


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