Tours help share lessons and sites of local history

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The Swinney House survives as a reminder of Fort Wayne’s history. Settlers Inc. will serve a lunch as part of a tour of the mansion and the Allen County Courthouse.

Linda Huge is passionate about history. An elementary school teacher turned historian and local history instructor, Huge has been working to preserve Fort Wayne’s history for about 40 years.

“They weren’t doing anything for local history,” she explained, saying that she created local history tours as a result of her experiences in education. While children in fourth and fifth grades are required to take state and national history, Huge felt that there was a gap when it came to the past and the hometown. Tours of Fort Wayne sites were her remedy.

Her identification card for Southwest Allen County Schools officially lists her as the “Schoolmarm,” and she’s proud of that title. Dressed in a white shirtwaist and long, black skirt (typical dress for teachers from 1880s and 1890s), Huge has taught local history for Southwest and Northwest Allen County Schools, as well as Canterbury School.

What fuels her passion? The beauty and the significance of the places she has helped to restore. “It belongs to everybody,” she said. “We want it to stay not only for today but also for tomorrow!”

The Settlers Inc. tour on March 23 will cover the Swinney House, lunch, and the Allen County Courthouse. Both locations are loaded with interesting details and provide plenty of food for thought.

“The Swinneys were some of the richest people to ever hit Fort Wayne,” Huge said. Thomas Swinney was 23 years old when he met his future wife, Lucy Taber, here in Fort Wayne.

Miss Taber, the daughter of a wealthy Boston clipper ship captain, had come to Fort Wayne with her family — mother, father, and two brothers. While Lucy Taber’s family eventually moved out of the region, she stayed in Fort Wayne and married Tom Swinney, bringing with her the 250 acres that her father had left when he moved away.

Those 250 acres were the site for the Swinney homestead. What started out as a cellar and first-floor humble abode turned into a three-story, 14-room mansion, which still stands today. A stone cellar houses the kitchen, and tour meals are usually prepared on site. This tour will only be of the interior of the house, not any of the outdoor gardens or the log house.

While meals are usually prepared on-site for tour guests, this time the meal will be catered by Goeglein’s, as the regular cook is unable to attend. The luncheon will be eaten in the two dining rooms of the Swinney house, which are beautifully decorated. “Everybody has to see it!” Huge exclaimed.

The lunch will be completed in time for tourists to get themselves to the Allen County Courthouse by 12:30 p.m. This is usually when the courts are not in session. Huge has been pivotal in helping to restore the interior of the courthouse, so seeing that others appreciate the beauty — and the history — of the building is important to her.

“I realized a lot of grownups hadn’t been to the courthouse,” she mused, in thinking about spreading the word on local history. So, she guides adult tours — such as the one on March 23 — that focus on the glass ceilings, imitation marble, and the historic paintings inside the courtrooms, “the gorgeous ones I want everyone to see!” she added.

Reservations are required to join the tour. Lunch will be at the Homestead, 1424 W. Jefferson Blvd., Fort Wayne. The tour will last from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.. A $25 reservation per person is required, and payment is due by March 16. Transportation is not included. Tourists should be age 14 and older. This tour is limited to 25. Call (260) 747-1501 or (260) 747-1229 for more information. Proceeds support the maintenance of the Historic Homestead.