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The Journal Gazette

  • File photos The home of the Rev. Jesse and Ionie White, 1223 Summit St.

  • 1014 Broadway, formerly the Canton Laundry

  • Downs

Sunday, August 19, 2018 1:00 am

History close to home

City awash in areas with architectural, social significance

Jill Downs

Think you qualify?

Property owners interested in seeking Local Historic District designation should consult the City of Fort Wayne Historic Preservation webpage at or call 311.

I am a fan of old buildings, a fact I realized after noticing the majority of photos I took on a trip to Savannah, Georgia, were of architecture.

This trip was no different than others, though, as old buildings figure prominently in my photo collection. However, there are intrinsic values to historic structures that you just can't capture in a photo. The structures have to be experienced, and in order to do that, they have to exist.

In Fort Wayne, one tool we have to help property owners preserve our historic resources for future generations to experience is through Local Historic District designation. Such places consist of historically or architecturally worthy buildings, structures, sites and districts that serve as visible reminders of our city's historic heritage. Some familiar examples include Cindy's Diner, the Embassy Theatre/Indiana Hotel, and the West Central Historic District; you probably understand why these have been recognized as significant to Fort Wayne's history. However, there are a number of lesser known, but no less important, Local Historic Districts in Fort Wayne. Here are a few examples.

The Rev. Jesse and Ionie White House at 1223 Summit St. is significant for its association with our social history and the civil rights movement. It's also significant for its association with the life of the Rev. Jesse White, a Fort Wayne civil rights leader. Following a 1963 visit to Fort Wayne by Martin Luther King Jr. and the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Rev. White and others organized a coalition of African-American churches, social and fraternal organizations and community leaders, called the Council for Civic Action. Many organizational activities were known to have taken place in the Whites' modest home, which eventually became known as a hub for the local civil rights movement.

The house at 413 W. DeWald St. is significant for its association with Grace E. Crosby, Fort Wayne's first and most prolific female architect. Crosby worked as a “tracer” and draftswoman for local architects as early as 1894 at a time when women seldom had a career. She later found work as an architect with the Wildwood Builders Company, where she was the design partner of female architect Joel Ninde.

Together they designed and built more than 300 houses, typically in the Colonial Revival and Craftsman styles, with innovative features that appealed to housewives of the period. From 1913 to 1917, Wildwood Builders also published The Wildwood Magazine, a nationally known publication that featured topics such as architecture, city planning and interior design. Crosby eventually worked more than 35 years in the architectural field. The house itself is one of Fort Wayne's few examples of a Gothic Revival-style home.

The Tilbury Farm, located at 1928 Reed Road, is significant as a rare surviving example of a farmstead within the city limits, and it helps illustrate the original rural character of the area. Dating from the late 1800s, the farm consists of an unusually large and elaborate Queen Anne-style house and barn as well as a stable built circa 1950.

The collection of buildings at 1006, 1010, 1012 and 1014-1016 Broadway are known collectively as the Broadway Commercial District. Their significance lies in their character, interest and value as part of Fort Wayne's development as a city, particularly the Broadway commercial corridor.

Now rare in Fort Wayne, this intact group of commercial buildings is representative of those built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to take advantage of the traffic on this busy thoroughfare. The buildings provided economical space at street level for new business ventures and residential spaces on the upper floors, a situation that still exists today.

Once threatened with demolition, this block has seen a recent revival with the establishment of new businesses and revitalized living spaces.

I cite these examples to illustrate that Fort Wayne's heritage and identity are derived from its varied collection of historically and architecturally significant buildings, structures, sites, and districts. Without these, we risk becoming placeless.

Each of us should be interested in preserving our history for future generations to experience.

Jill Downs is a Fort Wayne resident who has spent more than 15 years working with organizations and individuals on historic preservation efforts.