Barr Street Market full of history
By MICHAEL HAWFIELD
from the archives of The News-Sentinel
The Barr Street Market is one of the oldest and best-known features of downtown Fort Wayne. Although it has been changed many times over the 147 years since it opened, it remains a popular seasonal outdoor market.
Located between the Historical Museum at 302 East Berry St. and Washington
Boulevard, the market is undergoing yet another change in its appearance. The
new Barr Street Market will be a much-widened brick and concrete plaza shaded
by new trees. A water fountain will be located by Wayne Street. Thanks to the
Waterfield Mortgage Co., 333 E. Washington Blvd., the old National Mill
building on the eastern edge of the market will be remodeled as an office
space with a restored 19th-century exterior.
The Barr Street Market Association, which has operated the market since
1966, will continue to bring together craft, fruit and vegetable dealers in
the fair- weather months, with retail traffic perhaps buoyed by current
The man for whom the street and its market were named was John T. Barr, a
Baltimore, Md., merchant. Although little is known about John Barr, he and his
partner, John McCorkle, of Piqua, Ohio, were the original proprietors of Fort
Wayne. In 1823, Barr and McCorkle came by canoe to the newly opened government
land office in the fort, which had been abandoned by the military in 1819. On
Oct. 23, they paid $26 per acre for the area that was to become the center of
the city of Fort Wayne. The two men immediately laid out the plat (or street
grid) of 118 lots and nine streets, with a public square, thus the town of
Fort Wayne actually was born on Oct. 23, 1823.
McCorkle died 10 years later and Barr fell victim to the national financial
panic of 1837, forcing him to mortgage his western lands. It was Samuel Hanna
who eventually assumed most of Barr's Fort Wayne properties, but the
eastern-most street of the original town plat was given Barr's name in his
The land for the market was donated in 1837 by Hanna, Fort Wayne's most
famous pioneer. Hanna offered the lots for the market from his large, newly
acquired expanse of land, known as "Hanna's Addition" (which is much of
downtown Fort Wayne today). By this grant, he looked forward to the time when
Fort Wayne would be incorporated as a city, the center of which he wanted to
be sure would be located on his land. Based on the design of the Philadelphia
Market, the Barr Street Market was quickly established, with its center a
modest frame building measuring 30 by 60 feet. Farmers could rent stalls for
$5 per year.
The need for a specified central market area was evidence that the town was
rapidly growing in population and that surpluses were being produced by the
pioneer farmers of the region. The appearance of the market also serves as a
reminder of how closely the people of early Fort Wayne depended on the Allen
County countryside for their provisions.
Throughout much of the 19th century, there were no grocery stores or
shipments of produce from other parts of the country. The meat, bread, dairy
goods and many vegetables consumed by Fort Wayne residents were largely the
products of their country neighbors. The Barr Street market was a central
feature for the provisioning of Fort Wayne as a growing trade and industrial
By 1852, the requirements of both the city government, which operated the
Barr Street Market until 1966, and the market itself called for larger
facilities. At first, the contract for a new market building was to be let to
James Humphrey and his partner, John Brown (the owner and builder of the Canal
House). The citizens passed a special tax levy for the job, but City Council
tried to move the whole project to another site.
A storm of protest forced Council to reconsider, and, in 1855, a new
contract was given to Humphrey and his new partner, Henry Nierman. A new
market house (with two city government offices upstairs) was built at a cost
This brick building, which was located partly in Barr Street itself, was a
two story, rectangular structure: a few covered stalls, rented at $40 per
year, extended north and south. Otherwise undistinguished, the building was
notable for its squat square tower topped by an onion-shaped cupola.
The outdoor part of the market was not elaborate. The stalls were randomly
placed between the many short trees that defined the market area. Horse-drawn
carts and wagons by the dozen were backed into the tree line where the
shopping took place, while the animals stood in the unpaved street.
Market Masters were named by the city to operate the market. Among them was
Peter Kiser, one of the more interesting characters of mid-19th-century Fort
Peter Kiser was physically impressive, weighing more than 300 pounds and
standing well over six feet tall. Widely known around town, he was a frequent
participant in gala parades, usually found striding proudly along the caravan
route carrying his magnificent scrapbook for all to see, filled with
memorabilia of Fort Wayne's past, from postage stamps and canal bonds to
calling cards and campaign ribbons.
Born in Ohio to German parents, Kiser came to Fort Wayne as trader in 1822,
but did not settle here until 1832. He then established the city's first
butcher shop, and came to hold considerable political power, despite the fact
that he could neither read nor write. In 1847, he was elected to the state
legislature. During this term, and again in 1867, Kiser was an aggressive
figure in the push to develop free public schools in Indiana. Twice, in 1849
and 1852, he served as a City Councilman.
Toasted as a local dignitary at the great canal opening in 1843 (he brought
the oxen for the barbecue), Kiser also served as a member of one of the city's
first volunteer fire departments, called the "Anthony Waynes," and he was the
standard bearer of the local militia, the "Wayne Guards," formed in 1841. He
was, in addition, an eloquent opponent of the Temperance Movement, at one time
calling upon its local leaders "to be themselves temperate in all matters and
not denounce their fellow man so intemperately."
Under such masters as Peter Kiser, the market flourished throughout the
second half of the 19th Century, making possible important additional income
for area farmers and local truck gardeners.
In 1892, when Fort Wayne's first real city hall (today's Historical Museum)
was about to be erected, the old market house was torn down. In 1910, at a
cost of $20,000, the outdoor market was given its greatest embellishment when
it was covered with concrete pavilions joining triumphal arches between the
City Hall and Washington Boulevard. A great pointed double- gothic arch made
of iron was erected over Wayne Street, connecting the two market pavilions.
In the first decades of the 20th century, the market saw its best years. It
was operated day and night, six days a week, under the supervision of the
market master. There were 120 stalls rented at $15 to $20 per year, with a
rental of 25 cents per stall during the nighttime hours. According to one
recollection, the market in the late 1920s drew thousands of customers each
As with the early market houses, City Hall also became very much a part of
the Barr Street Market complex, though mainly by virtue of its proximity. The
city police and ambulance service that operated out of the back doors of the
City Hall became a permanent fixture of the northern end of the market, giving
the area a rather special flavor. Police, especially in the summer, often were
found taking their ease at the tables and chairs of that end of the market.
The arrival of the full patrol wagon at the police station or the detention
of a rowdy always made for an interesting diversion from ordinary market
business. Less appetizingly, the bloodied stretchers of the ambulance service
were dutifully scrubbed at the convenient catch basin at the end of the market
near the meat and dairy stalls.
By the 1950s, with the growth of supermarkets and the first outlying
shopping centers, business at Barr Street market began to decline sharply. The
pavilion nearest to City Hall was razed in 1957 to make room for parking, and
in the next year the Wayne to Washington Street pavilion was destroyed,
leaving only a few trees and the concrete walkway where once thousands of
customers shopped daily. The market remained idle for almost a decade, until
1966, when the Barr Street Market Association was formed to revitalize outdoor
trade in the center of downtown. Although the market today is much smaller
than it was in its heyday, and the center of city government has shifted from
Barr Street to Main Street, the recent renovation of City Hall as a museum and
the current reconstruction of the market area promises to bring yet more
activity to the site of one of the city's oldest institutions.
--Nov. 29, 1993