FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — When Tim Harmon and his wife, Linda Wight-Harmon, moved to Fort Wayne eight years ago from Granger, outside South Bend, they knew what they were looking for – a historic neighborhood with character and beauty.
They found all three in a two-story, neo-colonial home in Wildwood Park, a suburban neighborhood designed by Lee J. and Joel Roberts Ninde more than a century ago. Joel Ninde is Indiana’s premiere and earliest female architect, all the more surprising since the home was built in 1930.
The Harmons’ home, trimmed throughout in natural, dark Indiana walnut, is one of 12 homes and two gardens on Sunday’s Historic Wildwood Park Home & Garden Tour.
The neighborhood of 150 homes built from 1916 through 1960 was initially developed by Lee Ninde who founded Wildwood Builders. Ninde brought in landscape architect Arthur A. Shurcliff to help create a different kind of suburb that preserved trees and followed the natural slopes of the land.
Development “would proceed with an absence of cuts and fills and the avoidance of grading the lots,” according to information provided by ARCH, the local historic preservation society co-sponsoring the tour with the Wildwood Park Community Association.
The former apple orchard became Fort Wayne’s first suburban neighborhood, but others followed, such as Lafayette Esplanade and Harrison Hill on the city’s south side; Brookside, just north of state, said Wight Harmon who has the original blueprints for her home. Forest Park Boulevard lined with stately mansions came later.
In Wildwood Park, the trees, winding streets and landscape establish the kind of grandeur older suburbs often do, but not all the homes were built on a large scale. Some are relatively modern, built in a mid-century style that has inspired recent 21st-century residential homebuilding. Some are cottages.
About 50 homes were built in the first 20 years, one third of the homes in the Park today, most of them the work of local architects, she added.
“At the time, it (the suburb) was somewhat exclusive because they required every house to be different. All the lots were different, all the streets were different. What they mostly wanted was high quality homes of any size that respected the contours of the land and that’s what you see today,” Wight Harmon said Friday.
For reference, the landscaped center down Willowdale Drive actually has willow trees bending over the small stream, although willow isn’t the only specie lining the aesthetically unusual feature.
The last time the public was invited into the neighborhood on a tour was 10 years ago, said Wight Harmon who helped organize this year’s event. Her gardens are full of shade-loving hosta, hydrangea, holly, rhododendron, geranium, astilbe and creeping juniper that seems to understand its role as the border to the slate walkway.
Black-painted window boxes complement the black window shutters that contrast with a red brick exterior, stone sills, limestone keystones and a Corinthian-pillared entry painted white.
A large magnolia takes ownership in a corner of the brick patio accessed off the kitchen in the back where Wight Harmon has satisfied her green thumb with many potted plants.
Inside, the Harmons set off the natural Indiana walnut featured on the windows, French doors and crown molding with pale yellow walls in the living room and dining room and cream-colored walls in the rest of the rooms. The oak flooring installed when the home was built harmonizes with the family’s furniture, keepsakes, linens and tableware handed down from both families. Waterford Kildare crystal and Wedgewood china fill a corner buffet in the spacious dining room.
A talented seamstress, Wight Harmon has continued the traditional interiors with her own sense of design, sewing slip covers and plush pillows. Of particular note are the many mahogany Drexel dining chairs with a lyre back.
For the tour, people are asked to park at Portage Middle School at 3521 Taylor St. Although Wildwood Park is within walking distance, ARCH is providing a trolley service to and from the neighborhood that will also drop people off at houses and transport them to others, she said. The tour runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“People on bikes can reach the neighborhood on the Towpath Trail,” Wight Harmon said.
Food trucks, live music, a number of vendors – artisans and antiques – will be at the neighborhood park, The Park at the Point, at the intersection of North Washington Road, Freeman Street and West Jefferson Boulevard. Tickets cost $15 on the ARCH website and $20 at the door.
“The tour is going to be amazing,” Wight Harmon predicts. “It’s the largest one that ARCH has sponsored with a neighborhood that anyone can remember.”
Tour information can be found on Facebook under Wildwood Park Community Association, ARCH or at www.wildwoodparkneighborhood.org.