Historical Society honored by DAR

The Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society has received the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution Award for the restoration of the former City Council Chambers and Courtroom in the History Center. The award was announced at Tuesday’s annual meeting of the historical society.

The Mary Penrose Wayne Chapter of the DAR nominated the Historical Society for the award. Betsy R. Kuster, national vice chairman of the DAR’s Historic Preservation Committee, said in her announcement letter to the local DAR chapter that the “award was designed to recognize worthy local individuals and groups for outstanding achievements in all areas of historic preservation. The award recognizes and honors your recipient for outstanding volunteer service at the community level for historic preservation.”

The History Center is housed in the Old City Hall Building, which was constructed in 1893 for $63,000. It has been deemed one of the state’s finest examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture for the design work of John F. Wing and Marshall S. Mahurin.

The first City Council Chamber décor is believed to have been very plain. This was changed in the early 1900s with the first photograph of the room showing complex geometrical and swooping floral patterns with gold leaf accents. It is believed that this design work was painted over shortly before World War I with a border design above the wainscoting, thus creating a hybrid design of Colonial Revival and Arts and Crafts elements. Over time, the room went from white to pale green, light yellow, off white, black and white.

Restoration of the room began in 2003 with seed monies from the Journal Gazette Foundation. Restorationists methodically stripped layer after layer of paint until they reached the target layer from 1900. Once the over two dozen designs and patterns were uncovered, as well as paint coloration samples, multi-part stencils were made for each of the pieces and a reveal slice was created in 2004 as a kick off for funding.

One of the more difficult bits of restoration work was created by the need to replace nearly 100 individual panels of the quarter inch, quarter cut gold oak wainscoting and trim. The wood was costly around the turn of the last century and is rare and expensive yet today. A Michigan company specializing in exotic wood provided materials and craftsmen replaced all necessary boards as well as rebuilt a large section of wall that had been covered with foam board. All woodwork was stripped, stained and refinished. Period lighting fixtures were added with a replica of the original chandelier now in production. The room’s entry way has been stenciled with the original room designation—“City Council (Room) 200”—over the doorway.

After eight years and $250,000, the room had its formal ribbon cutting in 2011. James and Margaret Shields, the Journal Gazette Foundation, the Edwin M. and Mary McCrea Wilson Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and a host of individual supporters provided the funds to complete the room.

Small portions of the original stenciling have been left in their original state as an educational and historical teaching tool. The Shields Room is used for a variety of purposes both educational and social and is available for private rentals.

A variety of photos of the Shields Room are available on the History Center’s Facebook page.

For more information, contact the History Center at (260) 426-2882 or visit the website at www.fwhistorycenter.com.