The Pennsy Shops

from the archives of The News-Sentinel

Next to the entrance to the new downtown post office, a small black-on-white marker stands almost unnoticed by people hurrying to buy a stamp or mail a letter.

The marker contains just a few words, but they tell of one of Fort Wayne's most important early industries: The Pennsylvania Railroad.

``For 100 years - until the early 1950s - the Pennsylvania Railroad used this site for construction and repair of rolling stock,'' the marker reads. ``Three hundred locomotives and 12,000 cars were designed and built here.''

Today, just that lonesome plaque is left to tell of the Pennsy Shops which once spanned several blocks and employed more than 1,000 people.

The shops began to grow in importance in September 1857, when they were sold to the forerunner of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago line, by Jones, Bass & Co. The Bass in the company's name was Sion Bass, brother of John Bass, owner of Fort Wayne's famed Bass Foundry. The Bass Foundry was for a time the world's largest maker of railroad wheels and was a major supplier of the Pennsy Shops.

Major buildings were completed in 1863. But the real rail boom came in the years following the Civil War. The Fort Wayne shops during this time turned out some of the most ornate rail passenger cars ever made. The interiors contained carved wood and silver-plated accessories.

The locomotives were basically of medium and small design. Although relatively small, these Fort Wayne-built engines were also very fast and for years held railroad speed records. Fort Wayne, in fact, produced the smallest locomotive on the Pennsy system's rails. It weighed just 51,900 pounds. The much larger ``Fat Annie'' locomotives were not constructed in Fort Wayne, but they were designed here.

Engine construction in Fort Wayne came to a halt near the turn of the century. The bigger, heavier locomotives made the local shops too small to handle both construction and repair.

Built adjacent to the shops in 1860 was the original Pennsy Depot. The depot was closed in 1914, but not before it was visited around 1860 by Abraham Lincoln. A brief stop at the depot is the only recorded visit here by Lincoln. The depot was razed in 1966. In its final years it was owned by Grieger Chevrolet; its lot used to store used cars.

The Pennsy Shops continued locomotive repairs through the Great Depression. Car maintenance continued for a few years after that. But the handwriting was on the wall; operations here were dying.

In the mid-1950s, the massive complex between Clinton and Lafayette was sold piecemeal. Grieger bought the depot in 1957; Lincoln Life bought the machine and blacksmith shops and tore them down for parking space.

International Harvester purchased the largest buildings, and much of their original rail equipment was finally vandalized or stolen. The last of the complex's buildings came down shortly before work on the new postal facility began in the late 1970s.

--Dec. 26, 1981

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