Preservation and Cultural Research

John B. Franke

Franke House - Forest Park Blvd

John Bohn Franke Donation

In August 1921, John Bohn Franke (1866-1927), president of the Perfection Biscuit Company, purchased an 80-acre tract known as the Kraeger-Wallace woods to protect it from subdivision and development.[1] The land was just north of the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Fort Wayne. The land included “picturesque Spy Run creek,” said to be “one of the most beautiful Spots in Fort Wayne,” and had been used for picnics and gatherings for several years.[2]

John B. Franke and his wife, Amelia A. (Schmidt) Franke (1865-1928), lived in the Forest Park neighborhood, east of the St. Joseph River. The Frankes’ Prairie Style house at 2131 Forest Park Boulevard, was designed by prominent Chicago architect Barry Byrne and built in 1914. During the 1920s, they became major philanthropists in the Fort Wayne community.

In December 1921, Franke donated the 80-acre property to the City of Fort Wayne, stipulating that it “be forever used as a public park, free to all the people.” [3] The deed included ten conditions intended to reinforce this mission:

  1. Intoxicating liquors shall not be sold on the grounds.

  2. Gambling will not be permitted on the premises.

  3. The grantee within one year after acceptance of the deed shall provide entrances and drives to the park.

  4. Within three years, the city must build, install and operate a swimming pool within the park.

  5. At least $1,000 a year for 25 years must be expended by the grantee for improvements.

  6. The real estate must be properly maintained.

  7. No general or special concession shall be granted to any person, firm, or corporation.

  8. Private or public dancing will not be permitted on Sunday.

  9. The grounds shall be used exclusively for park purposes.

  10. The grounds shall be known as the John B. Franke park. [4]

Some of these conditions were designed to force the City to commit to investments in public space, while others were intended to reinforce Protestant Christian moral values of the period—no alcohol, no gambling, no dancing on Sunday—within that public space. The Fort Wayne Board of Park Commissioners voted to accept the gift and the ten conditions, noting that the land “shall be forever maintained as a public park for all our people…”[5] The new park was mentioned in a syndicated column published in newspapers across Indiana, noting that the Franke gift was intended to make Fort Wayne a “healthier and happier city in which to live” and that the property was “famed for natural beauty.”[6]

[1] “Franke Park to be Presented Tuesday,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, 3 December 1921, 3.

[2] “North Side Park Site Purchased by Franke,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, 21 August 1921, 19.

[3] “Board Accepts Franke Park,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, 7 December 1921, 1.

[4] “Board Accepts Franke Park,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, 7 December 1921, 2.

[5] “Board Accepts Franke Park,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, 7 December 1921, 2.

[6] “Indiana Brevities,” Brown County Democrat (Nashville, IN), 15 December 1921, 4.

Spy Run Bridge

1922 Sentinel Picnic

Early Development

In 1921, the Fort Wayne Street Railway Company began plans to extend light rail service to the new park to make it accessible to the city’s 86,000 residents.[1] Improvement of Franke Park began in the summer of 1922 under the direction of Park Superintendent Adolph Jaenicke. Work included removal of all dead trees, installation of benches along Spy Run and a series of trails, grading and mowing open spaces, grading and paving Suburban Avenue with cinders, the construction of a footbridge over Spy Run from Sherman Street to provide better pedestrian access, the installation of horse-shoe pitches in several locations, and the installation of swings suspended from existing trees. Future work was planned to include modifications to the creek to make it suitable for swimming or the construction of a swimming pool. Suburban Avenue was intended to be renamed Franke Parkway but was later given the more generic name of Franke Park Drive.[2] The Bloomingdale Civic Improvement Association, representing the north suburbs of Fort Wayne, began an annual Labor Day Picnic in Franke Park in 1922.[3] Period descriptions highlight the natural beauty of the landscape, the gravel bed of Spy Run, and topography that created natural amphitheater.[4]

In December 1922, the Park Board announced that it was attempting to purchase seven acres of “rolling wooded ground, necessary to complete a natural amphitheater” in Franke Park.[5] In 1923, a public petition gained support for the purchase of 150 acres of land to expand Franke Park and the Park Board later obtained an option on 80 acres to the west and 30 acres to the east.[6]

[1] “Park Board at Work on Tract,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, 24 August 1921, 9.

[2] “Franke Park is Being Improved,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, 27 June 1922, 16; “Start Improvements in New Franke Park,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, 28 June 1922, 5; “Complete Work in Franke Park,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, 18 August 1922, 1; “Franke Park Work Nearing Completion, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, 19 August 1922, 6.

[3] Fort Wayne Sentinel, 19 August 1922, 4.

[4] “Building Fort Wayne,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, 2 September 1922, 17.

[5] “Will Add to Franke Park,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, 29 December 1922, 18.

[6] “Franke Park Project Fails to Reach Board,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, 17 November 1923, 2; “Have Options on Ground,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, 18 December 1923, 25.

1926 Shurtleff Plan

Shurtleff Plan

Arthur A. Shurtleff’s “General Plan for Franke Park” was dated March 1926. Shurtleff identified several potential features for future development, including a system of trails, drives, recreational spaces, and sites for park structures.

  • Shurtleff planned for streets around the perimeter of the park, providing access to the trail system on all sides and forested frontage facing existing and future neighborhoods. This road system was only partially built and the alignment of Sherman Boulevard was changed to run through the east part of the park instead of framing its eastern boundary.

  • He planned a gently curving boulevard extending from Suburban Avenue (Franke Park Drive) to the west, connecting to a loop drive around an area of open meadow and groves of trees. The boulevard was never built, but Franke Park Drive followed its approximate course until it was cut off by the construction of the zoo parking lot in 1964. The western loop drive was partially realized by 1938 and the West Loop trail approximates the rest of the intended route.

  • Shurtleff designed a grand entrance off the Lincoln Highway (Goshen Road) at the southwest corner of the park. This entrance would have featured a vista across the meadow and Spy Run Creek. 

  • He proposed the creation of a large lake in the northeast part of the park, taking advantage of existing topography. The east side of the lake was to be provided with a boat house and dock. Shoaff Lake was built in the 1940s at this location.

  • Shurtleff identified the site for a “picnic grove” forest north of the lake. This was to include a trail system leading to an oval lawn, a pavilion overlooking the lake, and an observation tower set in the forest.

  • He identified a site in the south part of the park for a collection of native animals including deer, elk, bison, and bears.

  • Shurtleff identified a site near a bend in Spy Run Creek for the creation of a semi-natural swimming pool with a bath house. These features were never built and Sherman Boulevard was routed through the proposed site.

  • He identified the site for an outdoor theatre using a natural depression north of the proposed boulevard. A restroom building would be located to one side of the theatre. This site was later excavated to form the zoo pond.

  • Shurtleff proposed the creation of an open field for athletics on a site between the boulevard and the proposed lake. This field appears to have been built but was covered by the western extension of the zoo in the 1980s and the remnants were paved over for parking lots in the early-2000s.

Although the development of Franke Park did not realize all of Shurtleff’s ideas, his plan provided the framework for the park’s development over the next 25 years.