Fort Wayne, Indiana

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Scott Sinkler spent his childhood years in the 1960’s living on the Southside of Fort Wayne, Indiana. For him, the cultural memories begin and end with singing patriotic and religious songs at Fort Wayne Christian School.

Today, it’s hard to walk through a once dreary downtown and surrounding historic communities without encountering a mural, art installation, or eye-catching artisanal business. Plus, they are often in the most unlikely of places.

I easily filled a long weekend with uniquely mid-western vibe activities. A ‘can-do’ attitude of reinvention was heard throughout this community with its small-town feel. As Charles Shepard III, President and CEO of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, said, “we punch outside our weight class.”

Here are some of my favorite encounters:

“Spring Dawn Kimono”, woven strands of colored glass.
“Spring Dawn Kimono”, woven strands of colored glass.
Photo by Ellen Kahaner

The Glass Wing

My first stop was the new Glass Wing of the Fort Wayne Art Museum. It boasts one of the largest contemporary studio glass collections in the U.S., with over 100 pieces on display. The museum has a rotating collection of 400, so chances are, if you revisit, you’ll see something you haven’t seen before.

I was transported by the images of snow melting, cherry blossoms, daffodils and crocus glinting as light hit the glass in “Spring Dawn Kimono”. Strands of colored glass were woven to look like printed fabric, a technique developed by artists Eric Markow and Thom Norris. The kimono consists of 17 separate sculptures joined together. However, it is the only one of their four pieces, each representing a different time of day and season, that is on public view.

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No beeps or wires or display cases got in the way of a closeup look, or under, as is the case with a large yellow Chihuly chandelier that CEO Shepard purchased for a very good price at auction. The framed and matted auction paddle nearby winks at this fact. 

Chefs and owners, Tran and Therkildsen serving a flight of flavors at Brooklyn Pints
Chefs and owners Tran and Therkildsen serve a flight of flavors at Brooklyn Pints.
Photo by Ellen Kahaner

Brooklyn Pints

Shops are on the ground floor, and apartments are on the floors above Sheridan Court. It was the first large and luxury apartment complex built in Fort Wayne in 1926. I headed into Brooklyn Pints and was greeted by owners Trisha Tran and Brian Therkildsen. Both are ex-pat chefs from the fine dining scene in NYC; they opened their shop in 2022.

Since then, they have been spinning their own ice cream and baking their own waffle cones. I tried a flight of flavors: cinnamon honey, fig, Earl Grey with lemon and vanilla (tastes like fruit loops), and blueberry corn, with a side of waffle chips. Is it any wonder we all scream for ice cream?

Big Peony mural in Fort Wayne Indiana
Literally, Big Peony. Photo by Ellen Kahaner

Art This Way

You’ll want to “Walk This Way” (to either the Aerosmith or Run DMC version) on an “Art This Way” self-guided tour. The tour will take you to some of the 100+ murals and art installations that weave through downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

Underutilized, bland public spaces have been transformed with vibrant art. The corrugated metal side of a historic building is now the ‘canvas’ for the largest of the murals. It is a 6,000-square-foot array of peonies, the Indiana state flower. The artist, Ouizi, said, “If I was an ant on the ground, looking up, this is what the flowers would look like.”

The installation of 300 light tubes strung over a narrow alleyway had me counting my steps to match its name, “77 Steps.” This is the number of steps it takes to get from one end of the 150-foot alleyway to the other. I stretched my stride to meet that number.

photo of Mary Todd Lincoln
Curt Witcher, Director of Special Collections, points out the spirit of Abraham Lincoln above the photo of Mary Todd Lincoln. Photo by Ellen Kahaner

History, Including Your Own

I could easily have spent all weekend in the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in downtown Fort Wayne. The Center collection includes over one million physical items, such as census records, city directories, passenger lists and naturalization records. With access to the largest and best databases, librarians experienced in genealogical research are on hand to help with the research.

The only existing Abraham Lincoln family album is part of the enormous Lincoln Collection at the Allen County Public Library. Much of the collection is now digitized and available online. But the public is welcome to walk in to The Rolland Center for Lincoln Research and view photographs, letters and documents up close, along with interactive digital displays. In that 21st-century setting, I was immersed in the life and times of my favorite president.

Even as a first grader in Whitestone, Queens, I’d heard of Johnny Appleseed, who lived in Fort Wayne from the 1830s until his death in 1845. But what I didn’t know is that Johnny Appleseed wore a tin cooking pot on his head, which is now the namesake for the Fort Wayne minor league baseball team, the Fort Wayne Tincaps. He sits on a bench next to their playing field.

“Johnny ”Tincap” Appleseed relaxing on a bench
“Johnny ”Tincap” Appleseed relaxing on a bench. Photo by Ellen Kahaner

Where to Stay in Fort Wayne

If the name “Vera Bradley” sends chills up your flowery and quilted spine, as it does mine, then you must stay at the Bradley Hotel. Vera Bradley headquarters are in Fort Wayne. The Bradley sisters, with the hoteliers of Provenance, have also opened a boutique hotel in the Landing District that pops with color and warmth.

Furthermore, the breakfasts in their ground-level restaurant are divine. Finish with a cocktail at the rooftop bar accompanied by gorgeous views of downtown and that big Midwestern sky. It’s a perfect way to end the day.

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Even the bikes have fenders with flowery designs at the Bradley Hotel.
Even the bikes have fenders with flowery designs at the Bradley Hotel. Photo by Ellen Kahaner

Where to Eat in Fort Wayne

With restaurant row on The Landing, Union Street Market and a hip food hall in a revitalized building on the former General Electric campus, there is no shortage of fabulous eating options. In addition, for beer lovers, there are plenty of breweries in surrounding neighborhoods.

For a throwback, try the $1.95 hotdog at Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island, across the street from the Bradley Hotel. Or, try “The Garbage” (a blend of eggs, potatoes, cheese, onions, and ham bits) at Cindy’s Diner’s 15-seater counter.

FORT WAYNE, INDIANA

How to Get to Fort Wayne

My flight from Chicago O’Hare to Fort Wayne International Airport was under an hour.

From Indianapolis, Indiana’s biggest city, to Fort Wayne, Indiana’s second-biggest city, it is about a two-hour drive.

Detroit is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive, and Cincinnati is three-and-a-half hours away.

Author Bio: Ellen Kahaner writes frequently about her travels for Goworldtravel.com
and will grab her backpack and go at the drop of a hat (or pen). She’s published six books for young adults and children as well as many articles in magazines and newspapers on a wide range of topics.

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