Home | Whats New | Site Index | Search

Harrison Hill Historic District

Fort Wayne City, Allen County, IN

Located in south‑central Fort Wayne, Allen County, Indiana, the Harrison Hill Historic [†] District occupies approximately 85 acres that were platted in 1915. The district is medium‑sized in the number of homes compared to other major developments in Fort Wayne's early decades of the 20th century, the district demonstrates many key principles propounded by Charles Mulford Robinson (1869‑1917), urban theorist and University of Illinois professor. His conceptual ideas for creating an ideal place to live away from the dirt, noise, and frenzy of the downtown streets, found physical being in the streets and boulevards of the time; his ideas found fertile ground in the minds of landscape designers of the period. Evidence of this is found in Harrison Hill and other developments similar to it. Frank H. Hilgeman, one partner in the firm, was born in Allen County. He participated in the partnership for a number of years as both an investor and an officer. Albert H. Schaaf became an influential member of the community as a businessman and as a civic leader. A graduate of Cornell University, he partnered with Hilgeman for many years. The developers of many prominent subdivisions, Hilgeman & Schaaf brought to life the essence of good planning in Harrison Hill by maximizing land use and adding back into the community favorable features such as recreation areas, affordable housing, access to transportation resources, and a pleasant environment that focused on winding viewsheds, wooded parking along with an esplanade. Interpretations of Robinson's ideas are visible in the physical and visual images within the district. Outside its boundaries, residents had recreational opportunities afforded by Foster Park to the west and Lafayette Park to the southeast. This district is one of the seven property types identified in "The Civilizing of a Midwestern City," a Multiple Property Documentation developed in four contexts, the pertinent one for this district is #3 — Residential Development. The Harrison Hill Historic District meets the registration requirements for that property type through its formal platting and real estate marketing. streets in semi‑circular plans and true boulevard design with esplanades. Notable is Redeemer Lutheran Church which terminates the axis of the boulevard on its north end, and Harrison Hill School at the west end of Radial Lane.

Architectural styles of the 215 middle‑class residences range from Tudor and Colonial Revival houses, to Craftsman bungalows, a large number of American Foursquare, a few American Small Houses and lastly even a Ranch type home or two that are demonstrated in the district. The district is an example of early suburban subdivision design and development during the early decades of the 20th century. The District is an example of architectural style choices popular in the 1910s‑1950s and the professional expertise of local builders and real estate development firms in the mid‑west.

The early decades of the 20th century were a time of significant change in Fort Wayne and this change would point the way for many of the community's forthcoming suburban developments. In 1909, Fort Wayne's Civic Improvement Association hired Charles Mulford Robinson to evaluate the city and its surroundings with a view/goal being a beautification plan that would enhance the positive aspects of the city and while providing the citizenry with a more healthful environment and an escape from the dirt and clutter of downtown living. Robinson, the noted author of The Civic Art, the book which details the City Beautiful concept and its implementation, provided the association with his report which offered specific recommendations and objectives for the future. According to Robinson, the implementation of successful civic art had to pass two tests—one test judged the urban good gained/provided and the other judged the aesthetic value of the endeavor.

In the pursuit of a grand plan that would pass these two tests, the city hired, in 1911, a noted landscape architect named George Kessler. Kessler's mission was to articulate, in his design, concrete and achievable objectives aimed at meeting the city's immediate and future desires in urban and suburban planning. Kessler came up with "The Park and Boulevard System of Fort Wayne" that incorporated existing and proposed parks into a widely dispersed collection of green spaces connected by a system of boulevards and parkways superimposed on existing thoroughfares, new future construction plans, and the extension of in place rights‑of‑way. These green spaces, old and new, sought to bring a new vitality to the city by providing recreation opportunities and the benefits of a more rural lifestyle to citizens denied those because of the encroachment of a modern industrialized way of life. This plan accomplished more than the provision of more parks and a more efficient and attractive transportation system, it was in fact a major component of a much larger plan aimed at the overall growth and development of the city in an orderly manor.

Kessler, like many of his contemporaries, subscribed to the basic tenets Robinson proposed in his book. This book became the guiding light for a generation of landscape architects/designers and developers focused on the need for planning developments not merely building streets and houses. Through planning, the design and construction of parks, parkways and boulevards, subdivisions, and other civic requirements could be met while at the same time providing a quality of life "that advances civilization from mere survival."9 Subdivisions within the city would follow on from other aspects such as the improved transportation infrastructure.

The practical application of Robinson's concept came in the form of a number of design principles demonstrated, to some extent, in most of the subdivisions of the time. These included: deep and consistent set back of homes; fenceless front lawns resulting in open, uncluttered view sheds; placement of utilities along rear lot lines; plantings and small masses of trees to provide variety; parking on a strip of lawn between the sidewalk and the street with staggered shade tree plantings; a wide esplanade or park; curving streets; and finally, terracing or use of natural elevation changes to create variety in the landscape. As an adjunct to the improved transportation system, city planners and civic leaders expected the new parks envisioned in the recent plan to spark new additions expanding the city limits and to motivate real estate entrepreneurs in their search for land in their vicinities. The Fort Wayne Parks Commissioners/Board maintained a "dog in the hunt" by being on the approval line for development platting as is evident in Harrison Hill's case.

In the 1910s and 1920s, real estate entrepreneurs in the Fort Wayne area fully embraced the city planning movement. They enhanced their market objectives from merely selling lots upon which future owners would build their homes but also constructing houses for sale to these same buyers. On a really grand scale, developers adopted a "community approach" and included neighborhood considerations such as proximity to schools, parks, commercial activities, and even religious structures in their master plan as selling points for their projects. Although an article in a local newspaper advertisement by Hilgeman & Schaaf claimed that the addition was for "residential purposes only" eventually there was some commercial activity along a short portion of South Calhoun Street.

Land developers in Fort Wayne, Indiana, followed the national trend in affording a more complete real estate package to their prospective clients. Newspaper advertisements in local sources heralded the availability of all sorts of benefits for new owners in terms of park space within the addition, access to public transportation resources, proximity to downtown business centers/factories, and improvements to the land that would increase property values. These enticements offered a menu from which the prospective buyers could choose their future home.

Among the many developers in the Fort Wayne arena was the firm of Hilgeman & Schaaf. Frank H. Hilgeman, the senior of the two partners, was born in Allen County in 1873. He participated in the partnership for a number of years as both an investor and an officer; Frank died in 1944 but Schaaf kept his name associated with the firm throughout its life time. Albert H Schaaf, on the other hand, stayed in Fort Wayne and became an influential member of the community as a businessman and as a civic leader. Born in 1884, Schaaf returned to Fort Wayne in 1906 after his graduation from Cornell University with a degree in mechanical engineering. Subsequent to his partnering with Hilgeman, the firm began to establish itself in the real estate business. Its first development was Arcadia Court in 1912 followed by developments such as Oakdale and its showcase subdivision, Southwood Park in 1917. Many of Robinson's design imperatives can be seen in Hilgeman & Schaaf's subdivision planning.

Common to all of Hilgeman & Schaaf developments was the use of restrictions—monetary, physical, and visual—to promise an environment in keeping with the City Beautiful concept, while at the same time creating an air of exclusivity that guaranteed new owners a sense of "making the right choice." Monetary restrictions dealt with minimum costs of the residences facing a particular street. In an advertisement about all the facts on Harrison Hill the developers make strong assertions that any house facing Harrison Boulevard must have a minimum value of $4,000.00 and any other house in the development must have a minimum of $2,500.00. The homes in the district along Harrison Street north of Cornell Circle are clearly of higher value than others in the bulk of the district; the houses are larger and so are the lots. The addition's designer stipulated building lines no closer than 75 feet from the street and only one residence per lot. Land equivalent to 163 lots was apportioned for playgrounds, wider streets, and open spaces within the addition. A small triangular lot at the intersection Lexington Avenue and North Cornell Circle was planned and remains in use for that purpose. Two open spaces bracketing the South Calhoun Street entrance remain from the original plan. Advertising writers loved to herald the coming of the new subdivisions. One enterprising writer used such glowing statements thusly;" the ring of the carpenter's hammer is singing the songs of the addition [Harrison Hill] of true American homes."

Physical restrictions to what new home owners could do on their lots maintained a level of orderliness and openness. Easements between lots and the easements along the rear lot lines (boundaries for the park land set asides) provided each neighbor with a "feeling" that their privacy could not be encroached upon. Each lot around the circles opened to the rear to a space suitable for children's play.

Visual images of streets, parks, and residential developments maintained a priority in the hierarchy of Robinson's concerns for an ideal community. Developers in the Fort Wayne area and especially Hilgeman & Schaaf accepted these concerns and practiced, in their planning, the use of restrictions to enhance the visual image of a project's worth to the overall vision afforded today's owners and visitors. Travel along any of the sidewalks and gain an appreciation of early prohibitions/decisions made by the developers. Hilgeman & Schaaf took their responsibility to maintain the property at a high standard by agreeing to "...take care of the [entire] property for a period of five years..." including snow removal and grass cutting so first home builders would not have a weed‑filled lot next door nor would they have to plow their way to the street car lines in the winter.

Harrison Hill was also touted in many news articles as "The Heart of New South Wayne" and part of the attraction came from the fact that the project was going to be fully operational when "it stood up." This would be "... one of the largest wholly improved additions ever made to Fort Wayne." Sidewalks, sewers, water lines and street paving would be accomplished "immediately." Ornamental lighting, trees, grass, and shrubbery would be put in as rapidly as possible. In fact, Hilgeman & Schaaf arranged to have the new American elm trees along the esplanade planted under the supervision of Carl Getz, city forester, and the forestry division of the parks department. The close association of city functionaries and the subdivision developers (the city parks commission approved the plat) reinforces the notion that Fort Wayne and its community builders, in the larger sense, worked closely to carry out the dream that Robinson and Kessler presented. Entrance structures on both Rudisill Avenue and South Calhoun Street welcomed new prospective buyers. The South Calhoun structure was replaced by the simpler signage visible in photograph 23, circa 1958.

New lot owners had numerous alternatives available to have their homes built. The Federal Securities & Investment Company was one of the earlier contractors to build a home in Harrison Hill. Others like the City and Suburban Company and Wildwood Builders were actively engaged in the district by the early summer of 1916. Executives and middle managers from firms such as the Old National Bank, the Prudential Life Insurance Company, and the S.F Bowser Company flocked to this new addition in south Wayne.

The relative closeness of Foster Park, to the west, served to interest prospective buyers. Having the large green space available to use for recreational activities seven days a week offered unlimited opportunity to citizens of all ages. A short and straight walk west along Lexington Avenue opened up a wholly new experience for folks looking for recreational pursuits. Although surely rough to begin with, the park eventually had a large municipal golf course, walking trails, a bridle path along the riverside, access to the river for boating, and formal fields for many purposes. Lafayette Park, small but truly a green space, opened up for use to the southwest of Harrison Hill in 1915. Demographically, the first residents of the district were clearly middle‑to upper‑middle‑class in their economic and educational background. Louie Hull, the school teacher, Roy Young the electrical engineer, Wilson Boucher, the cabinet maker, and William Moellering, the president of Queen City Coal all did their part to make Harrison Hill a cross‑section of the greater Fort Wayne community that was growing and prospering during these early decades of the 20th century. The promise of a new home with clear air, minimal noise intrusion, play space for the children, and a place for the family to prosper drew these folks and many others like them to new subdivisions sprouting up around Fort Wayne.

The Harrison Hill Historic District is an instructive example of the busy building years of the first decades of the 20th century and greater Fort Wayne's history. Its high degree of architectural integrity, and its visual affirmation of the planning and real estate development philosophy/practices of one of Fort Wayne's most prominent development firms, Hilgeman & Schaaf, make it a special element of the overall community. Early civic leaders and local citizens with a will to make Fort Wayne a better place to live, supported and brought to fruition plans devised by experts in landscape and subdivision design. The Harrison Hill Historic District is, in company with other subdivisions like Lakeside Historic District, the result of foresight and determination of community leaders.

† John Warner, amended by Kurt West Garner, Harrison Hill Historic District, 2019, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C., accessed September, 2021.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Branning Avenue West • Harrison Street South • Hoagland Avenue • Lexington Avenue • Maxine Drive • North Cornell Circle • North Cornell Circle • North Seminole Circle • Pasadena Drive • Radial Lane • Rudisill Boulevard West • South Calhoun Street • South Cornell Circle • South Harrison Street • South Seminole Circle • Webster