The current Allen County Courthouse is the fourth to stand on the site.

Sun shines on courthouse dedication


It rained all morning, and President Theodore Roosevelt canceled his planned appearance at the last minute. Despite those setbacks, the Sept. 23, 1902, dedication of the Allen County Courthouse was a festive occasion that drew one of the largest crowds in county history up to that time.

The community fathers who planned the event wanted a record-setting crowd to be on hand when the $817,553 government building was formally presented to the county's 80,000 residents. To their dismay, the day dawned with what a Fort Wayne Sentinel reporter described as "unfavorable" weather, particularly a "deluge of rain."

Organizers had decided to move the event inside, but they reverted to their original outdoor plans when the skies began to clear about an hour before the dedication's 2 p.m. starting time.

Rain had caused colors to run on the bunting decorating the speaker's platform (set up on the southeast corner of the courthouse), "and the stand presented a most bedraggled and uninviting appearance," The Sentinel reported.

Nevertheless, "unnumbered thousands" of people came to celebrate the dedication of a courthouse that — even in 1902 — was considered unrivaled among county courthouses in its grandeur and architectural technique.

The Sentinel noted: "Berry Street for a square on either side of the speaker's stand was packed with a dense mass of people before 2 o'clock." Also, every window was filled with spectators.

The crowd was treated to a lengthy dedication program of music and speeches. First, the City Band played the "Dedication March," written for the occasion by G.E. Holmes; then the First Regiment Band played "Stars and Stripes Forever." The Rev. Herman Alerding, Catholic bishop of Fort Wayne, gave the invocation.

James M. Barrett, the county attorney, recounted the history of the three previous courthouses on the site and spoke for the county commissioners in presenting the building to the people of Allen County. Charles McCulloch, chairman of the day's ceremonies, formally accepted the building on behalf of the people.

W. Bourke Cockran, a Democratic congressman from New York, was the orator of the day. He spoke for about an hour on patriotic topics. He declined to accept any compensation for his speech because he was so impressed with the courthouse and so flattered to have been part of its dedication.

A reception that evening in the courthouse was "a brilliant affair," said The Sentinel. The bands that played at the dedication alternated in a concert program.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the day was President Roosevelt's cancellation.

Roosevelt had agreed to stop in Fort Wayne at the Cass Street train station, travel downtown by carriage and make a few remarks to the public from a window in the courthouse before the evening reception. He had to renege, however, because that day he had an operation on an abscess in his lower left leg. The abscess had developed because of a bruise he received in a trolley car accident in Pittsfield, Mass., several days earlier, in which his car was demolished.

Graeco-Roman Renaissance in style, the courthouse measures 270 feet in length (parallel to Calhoun Street) and 134 feet in width. The primary construction material is blue Bedford stone; the base is Vermont granite; and pink Milford granite columns stand at entrances on all four sides of the building.

Crime in the crowd

Pickpockets reportedly netted $30 at the courthouse dedication ceremony. According to the Sept. 24, 1902, Fort Wayne News, several people told police their wallets had been stolen. One victim said he lost $15. Police said the men probably worked the crowds in front of the New Aveline Hotel. One empty wallet was found behind the hotel, the News reported.

Comparing the decades

Population of Allen County77,270300,836
Life expectancy at birth (U.S.)47.375.8 *
Annual murder rate per 100,000 (U.S.)1.28.2
Percent of high school graduates among adults (U.S.)6.8%White-33.9%
Black-35.1% **
National population76,094,000267,636,061
Note: Today figures are the most recent numbers available.

Sources: 1997 Statistical Abstract, Historical Statistics of the U.S. and U.S. Bureau of the Census.

Research by James Grant of The News-Sentinel

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