Irvin Arnold, former neighborhood president of Caribe Colony, remembers when he first received a phone call about Antigua Lane in 1992.
The 165-foot-road, which neighbors used as a secondary exit from the neighborhood, had been filled with dirt.
“I went down there, and there it was,” Arnold said. “It was a big mound of dirt, and there was no way anybody could drive through.”
He had no idea the barricade would unfold into a five-year court battle between the neighborhood, the city and Thelma Graham, now deceased, who blocked the road.
When Graham and her late husband, Jack Winebrenner, purchased their house on Caribe Boulevard in the 1960s, it came with an easement on the south end of the property.
Secured Properties Inc. developed Caribe Colony, a 128-lot subdivision, in 1961. The company used the easement on Graham's property in 1964 to build an asphalt road for its construction vehicles.
Once construction was finished, residents found the road convenient and began using it to enter and exit the south end of the neighborhood.
The city developed it into a chip-and-seal road and put up a sign reading “Antigua Lane,” according to Arnold. While residents used the road, the city never plotted it.
That was until Sept. 22, 1992, when Graham, then 79, put up barricades, according to newspaper stories published in 1997. By then, the road was an essential route for many residents, so the neighborhood decided to sue.
Allen County Superior Court Judge Vern E. Sheldon issued a summary judgment in August 1994, saying the neighborhood had a right to use the street and that Graham was in the wrong.
Graham had waited too long to close the road. Until 1988, state law recognized a statutory dedication, which allowed property owners 20 years after a property was built to address issues of private land being given over for public use. The barricades were eight years too late.
“After we went to court, we found out that after 15 or 20 years of being a street, that's how it becomes a street, and that's how we won the court case,” Arnold said.
In August 1995, Sheldon ordered Graham to remove the barricades from Antigua Lane.
Sheldon also ruled Graham pay $10,549 to repair the road and pay an additional $15,000 in punitive damages for her conduct in the matter to prevent similar situations in the future.
“I think it's outrageous,” Graham told a reporter in 1997. “I've never had that much money at one time.''
Graham appealed the decision, sending the case to the Indiana Supreme Court. According to documents from the Indiana Court of Appeals, Sheldon's opinion was upheld.
Over the course of five years, the neighborhood incurred about $50,000 in legal fees to keep the road public.
According to John Perlich, spokesman for the city of Fort Wayne, records indicate Antigua Lane became an official public street in 2000, and it has been maintained by the city since that time.
Arnold, who's resided at the same home in the neighborhood for about 30 years, said the court battle was worth it.
“It was our only second access to the neighborhood,” Arnold said. “If there was an emergency on the plot, the main drag coming in is Caribe Boulevard. If that was blocked, we would have no way to get out of the neighborhood.”
The street has been essential since March, as the city works on a $1.2 million improvement project, which includes spot repair and reconstruction of concrete streets in the Caribe Colony neighborhood.
“Antigua Lane has been a major road here, as a way in and out,” Arnold said. “On several occasions, they've completely blocked the front of the subdivision.”
The repaving project is scheduled to be finished by Sept. 15.
If the street hadn't been made public 19 years ago, Arnold said the repaving project would have been a disaster.
School buses often come in on Antigua Lane, and some stops have had to be rerouted because of the construction. Emergency vehicles also use the Antigua entrance, because it provides immediate access to the back of the neighborhood, Arnold said.
“I still talk to people who were around when this happened, and we just laugh at what they would have to do if we didn't have that street when we were doing this repaving,” Arnold said. “It was worth it. I just smile when I think of it.”