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Canal House

By Randy Harter

Fort Wayne Reader


John Brown, stonecutter, mason and merchant of related building supplies, constructed his warehouse at 114 E. Superior Street (which at the time was called Water Street) in 1852. This building, still standing, is the oldest commercial building in Fort Wayne, and the last local structure that is directly linked to the Wabash & Erie Canal.

While most of the businesses and residential activity would have been on the south side of the canal, the real estate on the canal’s north side would have been priced to fit Brown’s needs, as his back door (which then very likely would have been considered the front door) was about 50 feet from the towpath and adjacent canal. Just outside his door would have been mules and horses pulling packet (passenger) and line (freight) boats going east to Toledo or west to Huntington and beyond with the southern terminus being in downtown Evansville, just two blocks from the Ohio River.

Brown’s business occupied this rubble-style building for about 10 years before he sold it 1862. Over the next few decades, the building had a number of owners and uses before ownership was transferred to the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railway Company in 1885 who then owned it for the next 86 years. Also known as the Nickel Plate Railroad (later Norfolk and Western and now Norfolk Southern), it was that company that purchased the canal right-of-way through Fort Wayne in 1881 and began filling it in. The first regularly scheduled Nickel Plate passenger train arrived over the old canal bed in the fall of 1882.

In 1971 the railroad deeded the canal house to the City of Fort Wayne. As preparation for the nation’s bicentennial two years hence, in 1974 the building was identified as a potential restoration project. This led to the formation of ARCH, our local architecture and heritage preservation organization, who with many helping hands completed the Canal House project in 1976. The building then housed the Fine Arts Foundation (now Arts United) offices from 1977 to 2010, when they moved to Arts United Center and then on to the Auer Center in 2011.

The 166-year-old Canal House has now sat empty for the past eight years and is deteriorating from neglect. It, along with the old bus depot lot to the east (who moved to Baker Street in 2012) and the empty site to the west that was the Trolley Bar and adjacent Norfolk & Western passenger depot, all belong to the City of Fort Wayne. With the Landing Project revitalization, Superior Lofts, Promenade Park and other touted nearby development, one hopes a new use for this historic block that includes preservation of the forlorn Canal House will also soon be announced.

(Image courtesy of ACPL)

A tip of the hat for research and information by John Loveland, Tom Castaldi, Walter Sassmannshausen, Betsy Kachmar
and Susan Mendenhall.

Randy Harter is a Fort Wayne historian/author and the architecture/history guide for FortWayneFoodTours.com

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