By CJ Woodring
Illustration by Ben Swygart
Fort Wayne has carved a niche among Indiana cities since its 1794 establishment, acquiring designations including “Summit City,” “Magnet Wire Capital of the World,” “City of Churches,” and “The City That Saved Itself.” We’ve also been designated a “Tree City” and several times were cited as an “All-American City,” most recently in 2021.
Thus, I was excited when I spotted a WANE-TV online article in January: Greater Fort Wayne, Inc., supported by Mayor Tom Henry and other city leaders, has joined forces in creating a 10-year economic development plan with goals that include recognition as a “Top 10 Music City” by the end of 2023. This will include “expanded festivals, music venues, training and education and music-industry innovation,” according to the article.
While Fort Wayne’s current musicians and performers most often are acknowledged, little has been mentioned, thus far, of the music history that led us here. And which we’re partially recalling in several newsletters, noting both commercial endeavors and individual efforts and accomplishments.
INITIAL CONTRIBUTIONS TO INDIANA’S MUSIC HISTORY
Moreso than any other art form, music unites people. Thus, while acknowledging music is a universal language that conveys happiness and joy, it is also a globally recognized anchor when times are bad: global chaos and war, community violence, the Great Depression, pandemics such as COVID-19. In these shared times of collective misery and woe, music offers hope and, to many, a reason for living. Individuals have been known to spend their last dime on a form of music: Nourishing one’s soul is often more important than feeding one’s belly.
No stranger to music in any form, or forum, the Hoosier State has been associated with music since at least the early 1900s, when Elkhart earned distinction as “Band Capital of the World.” Although instruments were produced in various Hoosier cities at the beginning of the nineteenth century, more than 60 manufacturers were at one time based in the City with a Heart.
One of Fort Wayne’s first, and perhaps most notable, foray into music lauded an instrument: the Packard piano. Isaac Packard and associates relocated to Fort Wayne from Chicago following the 1871 Great Chicago Fire. They established the Fort Wayne Organ Company the following year. In 1899 the name officially was changed to The Packard Company and, in 1915, to The Packard Piano Company.
Located on Fairfield Avenue, the company was a go-to for musicians in the market for parlor pianos as well as orchestral organs that graced venues including the Emboyd Theater. The company went into receivership after the 1929 stock market crash. In 1937, the city of Fort Wayne acquired the property, tore down the buildings and created Packard Park in its place. (See packardorgan.com.)
In the interim, local General Electric employees, whose former campus currently is undergoing adaptive reuse as Electric Works, enjoyed making music, entertaining not only coworkers but city residents. According to author Clovis E. Linkous’ 1994 book, “General Electric at Fort Wayne, Indiana: A 110-Year History,” the Electro-Technic Club Band first entertained in February 1910 at an ETC roller skating party. The group later held Thursday noon luncheon concerts in McCulloch Park, formerly known as G.E. Park. In the spring of 1925, the Male Glee Club was organized, followed five years later by construction of a new bandstand in the park.
A 25-member Male Chorus was introduced in 1935 and performed that fall for the Parent-Teachers Organization at Nebraska School. The last group of GE music makers was a 36-piece band organized in 1937. Linkous suggests that World War II “probably disrupted the musical organizations” at the Fort Wayne plant.
More recently, in June 2009 the City renovated the 1930 bandstand on the four-acre green space, adding a musically-themed playground with fanciful instruments that make different sounds, allowing children to create their own music. The City’s Parks & Recreation Department, Broadway Corridor merchants, businesses, organizations and others celebrated the rededication during the first Broadway Family FunFest, which featured the Fort Wayne Area Community Band, formed about 40 years ago.
Read Part II Here.
CJ Woodring has been affiliated with the 46807 district since growing up on W. Oakdale Drive. She graduated from South Side High School and reared her sons on Kinnaird Avenue, where she served as a former HSWNA newsletter editor. She has lived in –– and loved — historic places and spaces for more than 30 years. She currently resides in her sixth historic home.