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1900-1909: THE ERA OF OPTIMISM


The Calhoun Street area was home to Fort Wayne's red-light district. Gamblers and drinkers caroused at 40 saloons. (Photo courtesy of the Allen County Historical Museum)

Hope and despair characterized times


The rich moved to the suburbs while the poor struggled to survive.


By KEVIN KILBANE of The News-Sentinel

The dawn of a new century was a time of high hopes and prosperity for upper classes in Fort Wayne. But for many in the working class, the first decade of the 1900s was a time of struggle and despair.

Booming manufacturing businesses drew more and more people to Fort Wayne. Between 1900 and 1910, the city's population jumped from about 45,000 to about 65,000, a 45 percent increase.

However, the existence of 34 labor unions by 1900 attested to the sometimes difficult working conditions. At what became General Electric Co., for example, factory employees typically worked 10-hour days, six days a week.

A growing number of those employees included young or widowed women, most of whom previously had been limited to jobs as maids or household servants.

While the upper classes dined with fine crystal and wore the latest fashions, the poor scraped to put food on the table, said Linda Huge, who portrays an 1890s teacher at the one-room Center School on Aboite Center Road.

Homes in poorer neighborhoods probably didn't have running water or indoor plumbing, added Huge, who also belongs to the local history group Settlers Inc. In addition, the city didn't have garbage pickup as we know it today.

"Can you imagine how the place smelled?" Huge asked.

The sanitation problems and limited knowledge of germs contributed to communitywide battles with deadly diseases.

Quarantine signs popped up regularly on homes' doors to warn of occupants' infection by diphtheria, smallpox, scarlet fever and tuberculosis. Tuberculosis alone killed 70 to 100 people almost every year during the decade.

By decade's end, however, sanitation improvements, vaccines and other advances began reducing quarantine cases and deaths.

Families witnessed other improvements as well.

Expanding electric trolley service made it easier to get around town without walking or riding a bicycle or horse. So upper- and middle-class families began moving to new suburbs in what now are the Lakeside Park and Williams-Woodland Park neighborhoods.

People also rode trolleys downtown to buy medicine, clothing, shoes and other items. Stores, restaurants and banks stood wall-to-wall along Calhoun Street and on the blocks bordering the current Allen County Courthouse, which was dedicated in 1902 with great civic pride.

Calhoun Street also was home to the city's red-light area, where gamblers and drinkers caroused at 40 saloons.

People shopped for food at the 65 tiny meat markets and 149 neighborhood groceries sprinkled throughout the city.

Those who had leisure time became more interested in enjoying it. They would ride a trolley to Robison Park amusement park or stroll through flower gardens at one of Fort Wayne's eight parks.

By 1908, the city and Fort Wayne Playground Association began installing swings and merry-go-round-type playground equipment at a few parks, much to the joy of local children.


Sources: Linda Huge; "Fort Wayne in 1900," by Fred J. Reynolds, Old Fort News, 1980; Don Orban, city historic preservation planner; annual City Reports, 1900-1910; "General Electric at Fort Wayne, Indiana," by Clovis E. Linkous, 1994; and Angie Quinn, executive director of ARCH Inc.

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