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Brookside ca. 1940’s
By Randy Harter
Fort Wayne Reader
Industrialist John Bass, along with his wife Laura and their two children, lived in a large home at the southeast corner of West Berry and Fairfield Avenues in the late 1800’s. Bass decided to build a summer home just outside the city, a scant 2.5 miles from their main residence. This 300-acre country estate, Brookside, was named after the creek that meandered through the property, which was later dammed to form Mirror Lake. Located at 2701 Spring Street, the home now houses the administrative offices of the University of Saint Francis.
Bass was the founder of the Bass Foundry and Machine Works, which was to become the country’s largest manufacturer of railroad car wheels and axles at a time when new railroads and tracks began crisscrossing the United States in earnest. In addition to the massive Fort Wayne works, covering 20 acres just south of the Pennsylvania RR tracks on both sides of Hanna Street, Bass also had substantial foundries in St. Louis and Chicago. A prodigious supplier to the railroads, his factories also produced Corliss steam engines, power plants, and heavy castings of all kinds. Bass was additionally the organizer of a number of other local enterprises including the city’s first trolley line (Citizens Railway Company), the Fort Wayne Organ Company (later renamed Packard Piano), president of the First National Bank (later to become Fort Wayne National Bank – now PNC) and owner of Brookside Dairy (across from his estate and including the area of today’s Tower Heights addition).
As for Brookside itself, what we see today is its second incarnation. The first home, completed in 1889, and designed by Fort Wayne’s premier architects, John Wing and Marshall Mahurin, was leveled to the foundation as a result of a boiler explosion and fire in 1902. Bass immediately tasked the architects with erecting an even grander Richardsonian Romanesque mansion on the same foundation, which was completed in 1903 very closely appearing as it still does today. Resting on a slight knoll, the hand carved sandstone structure, resplendent with gargoyles, is massive in size. For some idea of its ornate 33-room, 25,000 square foot interior scale, the first floor ceilings are fourteen feet tall, second floor ceilings eleven feet tall, and third floor ten feet tall and the rooms are embellished with intricate carved wood work, stenciled walls, murals and decorative plasterwork. In addition to the traditional living spaces the mansion had a variety of specialty rooms and features including a billiard room, card room, library, sitting room, solarium, breakfast room, pantry, den, servant’s quarter, guest rooms, dumb waiter, speaking tubes and a third floor starlit ballroom.
John Bass died at 87 years old in 1922, and his wife in 1935. Their only surviving child, Laura Leslie, sold Brookside in 1944 to the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration who then moved their Lafayette, IN women’s college into the former family home. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the home went through a two year $4.5M dollar professional restoration which was completed in 2010. (Image courtesy Jan Sanner)
Randy Harter is a local historian, author, and the history/architecture guide for Fort Wayne Food Tours.