Statement as issued Wednesday by the History Center:
Persons attending the Taste of the Arts this Saturday or Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown on September 8, will have the opportunity to “live” history in a unique way. The History Center is bringing out of storage for those events a portable jail or holding cell, circa the 1880s, and will offer it as a photo booth during both events.
There will be no charge to take your own photos and those without cameras will be able to have History Center personnel take photos which can be obtained later from the History Center’s Facebook page.
Visitors can go inside the cell and take photos. Various props including the prisoner outfits and a makeshift ball and chain will also be available. A brief, educational display will cover the prison system of the late 19th century.
In addition to the jail activities, the History Center will also be doing a Fort Wayne Make your own Stamp contest. Children can design their own Fort Wayne-themed stamp and the best ones will be featured on the organization’s Facebook page. The Settlers will also be on hand for arts and crafts projects.
The cell once belonged to Jim Stahl, a Fort Wayne police officer who retired in 1980. Stahl began collecting law enforcement objects for a “police museum” in the late 1970s and was contacted by Bob Harrison, a reserve deputy sheriff (now deceased) who worked for the Fort Wayne Parks Department. The cell had been used in Shirley City, Allen County Indiana, to hold detainees until the Sheriff could pick them up.
According to History Center curator Walter Font, the cell was most likely a town or township jail, purchased with town or township funds. In use, it is similar to the city jail in the basement of the Old City Hall which was used for temporarily housing prisoners until they could be transferred to county jail. Although there was city court for minor offences, criminal trials for the most part were held in the courts of the County Seat.
“The jail was in possession of the sheriff department or the sheriff reserves at the time (1970s) and they wanted to get rid of it. It was located inside a storage building where they used the portable jail to store tools such as rakes, shovels and hoes. Because it was an Allen County item, Jim took it and had to hire a flatbed wrecker to move it. He bought a trailer for the jail which was used in a few Three Rivers Parades along with the printed metal signs,” Font said.
The portable jail, which will be available near the front entrance to the History Center at 302 East Berry, has 4 apron bunks and is made of iron with bolted construction. The cell was made by E.T. Barnum Wire and Iron Works, Detroit, MI; founded in 1882.
Taste of the Arts is the annual festival of Arts United Members and will take place all day Saturday, August 24, on or near the arts campus between Main and Wayne Streets. Barr Street, which runs along the west side of the History Center, will be closed for event and performance booths as well as the YLNI Barr Street Market.
Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown is the annual event sponsored by Visit Fort Wayne highlighting area attractions which offer free admission one Sunday each year. This year’s event is September 8.
For more information, contact the History Center at (260) 426-2882 or visit the website at www.fwhistorycenter.com.