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South Wayne area was once a city unto itself

from the archives of The News-Sentinel

The square half-mile known as South Wayne is one of Fort Wayne's most familiar districts.

Once a favored hunting ground of the Miamis, South Wayne today is a residential district characterized by a rich mix of architectural styles and a strong sense of unity in the neighborhoods. Indeed, almost a century ago South Wayne was, for a brief time, a fully incorporated town separate from Fort Wayne.

South Wayne is the area south of Creighton Avenue, north of Rudisill, and west of Hoagland Avenue to the St. Marys River.

The streets that crisscross the district, such as Fairfield, Nuttman, Packard and Wildwood, recall some of the more notable settlers and developers of Fort Wayne.

For these and other early settlers, the area was a byword for good hunting, beautiful woods and - for youngsters - adventure. Exciting tales were told of the Indians who lived, hunted, and sometimes fought there. A stream that ran northwest through South Wayne from Rudisill to empty into the St. Marys River just west of the old Wells Street Bridge was known as Shawnee Run. Noted for its many plum trees, it got its name from the Shawnee bands of Indians that lived along the St. Marys in the 1820s.

More excitingly, the stream was also called Bloody Run. Several stories tell of a Miami Indian who stabbed a Shawnee brave (or was it an Ottawa brave?) to death on the steep banks of the creek in 1824. Enraged kinsmen of the murdered man armed themselves for revenge, and the whites in the region of Fort Wayne feared an uprising would put them in danger as well.

At this point, the stories continue, Jean Baptiste Richardville, chief of the Miamis, stepped in and mediated a settlement, persuading the wronged family to accept a retribution payment from the Miamis.

Richardville was the first owner of the lands that became South Wayne. Born about 1761, he was the son of Chief Little Turtle's brilliant sister, Tacumwah, and a French trader named Joseph Drouet De Richardville. Given the Miami name Pechewa, Richardville preferred to use his French name, and he became the symbol of the American Indian who adapted to the new culture that replaced his own.

A peaceful, even timid man by nature, Richardville rose to become civil chief of the Miamis (Little Turtle was war chief). If Richardville's fame rested on his reputation as a mediator and businessman, his success rested on the very capable shoulders of his mother, who not only engineered his rise to civil chief, but also managed to gain control of the lands along the ancient portage trail, which became the basis of the Richardville fortune.

Through extensive land dealings, Richardville took advantage of peace settlements after the War of 1812 and the huge increase in pioneer immigration that followed Indiana's admission to statehood in 1816.

Destined to be known as "the wealthiest Indian in North America," Richardville was branded by some as a hypocrite and a traitor to his people. Yet to others, like the old Indian agent, Sen. John Tipton, who had found it easy to negotiate with the accommodating chief, Richardville was "the ablest diplomat of whom I have knowledge. If he had been born and educated in France, he would have been the equal (of the best diplomat in Europe)."

In exchange for supporting the American cause in the Indian treaty negotiations of 1818 at Marysville, Ohio, Richardville was given vast tracts of land south of the old fort, on both sides of the St. Marys River. Much of South Wayne was included in this grant, but in 1828 he gave this portion back to the U.S. government, which began to sell its lots to new settlers.

Among the first investors in South Wayne was James Barnett, the partner and brother-in-law of Samuel Hanna. An amiable man, known as "Uncle Jimmy," Barnett had first visited Fort Wayne in 1797, and he was with Gen. William Henry Harrison's relief expedition when the fort was beseiged by Indians in 1812. In 1818 he settled permanently in Fort Wayne and built the first brick house in town, on East Columbia Street.

In 1827 Barnett and Hanna built a small dam in the St. Marys and downstream erected a mill just south of the over the river (near today's Sears Pavilion). Old Mill Road was later named after this mill, and the bridge that carried the Indianapolis State Road (Broadway, today) across the river to the Little River Turnpike, or Bluffton Road, was the principle southern route out of Fort Wayne. During the 1840s and 1850s South Wayne remained wild. Game was plentiful. One old-timer remembered that pigeons roosted in such numbers in the sycamore trees along the St. Marys that he was awakened in the middle of the night by the noise of the breaking limbs, brought down by the weight of the birds. Wolves became such a menace because of the abundant game that bounties were offered, and farmers competed with one another in the number of wolf traps they could set. Malaria was common. One settler recalled that "quinine was a necessity and as regular an item as the staples of diet." It was not until the 1870s that the area was drained and the disease brought under control.

Among the important developments which occurred in the 1850s, the Barton family sold its extensive acreage to Wayne Township, and the homestead was turned into the first county poor farm, or asylum (at the northern corner of Broadway and Savilla Avenue). It was used as a "pest house," or isolation ward, in 1849 when a cholera epidemic struck. This deadly disease hit again in 1852 and 1854, and one doctor estimated that as many as 600 people died in those three attacks. Many victims were the poor quarantined at the county asylum.

The pace of growth in South Wayne is best illustrated by the appearance in 1871 of the Fort Wayne Organ Company on Fairfield Avenue (where Packard Park is today). Isaac T. Packard came to South Wayne from Chicago in 1871, his organ company there having been destroyed by the Great Fire of Oct. 8-11 . Although Packard himself died only two years after establishing his new organ business in South Wayne, the company was taken over by Stephen Bond, a banker who made the business one of the finest of its kind in the country.

Prosperity was such in the 1870s and 1880s that there was considerable agitation to incorporate South Wayne as an independent town. In large measure this movement began in order to prevent Fort Wayne from annexing the area for its tax revenue. The first petition for incorporation, filed in 1872, stirred a bitter court fight with the Fort Wayne City Council. In the end, the city failed to annex the area, but South Wayne also failed to win independence.

Fifteen years later, the movement for incorporation was taken up again, this time led by William J. Vesey and Henry Ninde. By 1889 the Allen County Commissioners agreed to order a general referendum of South Wayne residents to decide the issue. An overwhelming vote for incorporation as a town was returned, and South Wayne was declared by the commissioners an independent town of Allen County.

Independence lasted until 1894. By that year the costs of sidewalks, sewers, waterworks , and Jenney Electric lights at the intersections had become so costly that the town board was forced to levy a stiff property tax - the very thing the citizens had originally sought to avoid by fighting annexation by the city.

Many residents now saw benefits in becoming part of Fort Wayne. But because the majority still voted for continued independence from Fort Wayne, the issue went to the highest courts. Fort Wayne attorney James Barrett finally won for the city, and South Wayne was annexed in 1894.

After the turn of the century, South Wayne's community centers began to assume their identity. South Wayne school was established, and Pastor Philip Wambeganes founded the Emmaus Evangelical Lutheran Church and school. The old "Wildwood" estate of the Ninde family was sold to the Lutheran Hospital Association in 1904, marking the beginning of Lutheran Hospital.

The old Fort Wayne Organ Co. fared well only until the Great Depression of the 1930s. After the death of Stephen Bond in 1907, his son, Albert, had taken over the business and made it a model of management-labor relations in the early 20th century.

The name of the company had been changed to the Packard Organ Co. in 1899, and after abandoning the faltering organ business, became the Packard Piano Co. in 1915. A productive and proud company, it even lent its skills in woodworking to the war effort in 1918 by making propellors for Army warplanes. After the stock market crash of Oct. 29 , 1929, the company went into receivership and collapsed in 1930. This was the first, last and only industry in the primarily residential district of South Wayne.

--Feb. 21, 1994