The Sunday Wildwood Park House & Garden Tour offers stylish, suburban grandeur

FORT WAYNE, Indiana (WANE) — When Tim Harmon and his wife, Linda Wight-Harmon, moved to Fort Wayne from Granger, just outside of South Bend, eight years ago, 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 first and earliest female architect, which is all the more surprising considering the house was built in 1930.

The Harmons’ home, trimmed entirely 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 to 1960 was originally developed by Lee Ninde, who founded Wildwood Builders. Ninde brought in landscape architect Arthur A. Shurcliff to help create a different style of suburb that preserved trees and followed the natural slopes of the land.

Development “would proceed without cuts and fills and without avoiding grading of the lots,” according to information from ARCH, the local conservation society, which is 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 south side of town; Brookside, just north of the state, said Wight Harmon, who has the original plans for her home. Forest Park Boulevard, which was lined with stately mansions, was added later.

In Wildwood Park, the trees, winding streets, and landscaping create the kind of grandeur older suburbs often have, but not all homes were built on a large scale. Some are relatively modern, built in the mid-century style that has inspired the past 21 yearsStcentury housing. Some are huts.

About 50 houses were built in the first 20 years, a third of the houses in the park today, most of them the work of local architects, she added.

“At the time it (the suburb) was a bit exclusive because every house had to be different. All lots were different, all streets were different. What they wanted most was quality homes of all sizes that respected the contours of the land, and that’s what you see today,” Wight Harmon said Friday.

For reference, in the landscaped center of Willowdale Drive, there are actually willow trees bending over the small creek, although willow trees are not the only species that line the aesthetically unusual feature.

The last time the public was invited to a tour of the neighborhood was 10 years ago, said Wight Harmon, who helped organize this year’s event. Her gardens are full of shade-loving hostas, hydrangeas, holly, rhododendrons, geraniums, astilbes and creeping junipers that seem to understand their role as a boundary to the slate path.

Black-painted flower boxes complement the black shutters, which contrast with a red-brick facade, stone benches, limestone keystones, and a white-painted entrance with Corinthian columns.

A large magnolia occupies a corner of the brick patio accessed from the rear kitchen, where Wight Harmon has satisfied her green fingers with plenty of potted plants.

Inside, the Harmons showcased the natural Indiana walnuts featured on the windows, French doors and crown molding with pale yellow walls in the living and dining rooms and cream walls in the remaining spaces. The oak flooring, laid when the house was built, complements the family furniture, keepsakes, linens and crockery passed down by both families. Waterford Kildare crystal and Wedgewood china fill a corner buffet in the spacious dining room.

Wight Harmon, a talented seamstress, has continued the traditional interiors with her own design sense, sewing slipcovers and plush cushions. Of particular note are the many Drexel lyrebacked mahogany dining chairs.

For the tour, people are asked to park at Portage Middle School at 3521 Taylor St. Though Wildwood Park is walking distance, ARCH offers a trolley service to and from the neighborhood that also takes people to homes and takes them to others, she said. The tour lasts from 10am to 4pm

“People with bikes can access the neighborhood on the Towpath Trail,” Wight Harmon said.

The Park at the Point neighborhood park at the intersection of North Washington Road, Freeman Street and West Jefferson Boulevard has food trucks, live music and a range of vendors – crafts and antiques. Tickets are $15 on the ARCH website and $20 at the box office.

“The tour is going to be fantastic,” predicts Wight Harmon. “It’s the biggest ARCH has sponsored with a neighborhood everyone can remember.”

For tour information, visit Wildwood Park Community Association, ARCH on Facebook or visit www.wildwoodparkneighborhood.org.

Leave a Comment