Quite some time ago, I wrote about Thieme Drive and the St. Marys River, both of which are within a few dozen feet of my front door. In July 2003, we experienced what was labeled a “100-year” flood event with the St. Marys cresting at its highest level ever at 21.20 ft. on July 9, 2003.
After the waters had receded, the City requested that the United States Army Corps of Engineers undertake a Section 205 Study. Section 205 of the 1948 Flood Control Act, as amended, provides authority to the Corps of Engineers to plan and construct small flood damage reduction projects that have not already been specifically authorized by Congress. The City made such a request and the Corps submitted the Section 205 Study results in February 2005. The Study was released just a month after the third highest crest of the St. Marys at 19.06 ft. on January 14, 2005.
The Study identified four areas that had flooded in July 2003 that were not protected subsequent to the Flood of 1982 and its aftermath of building berms, levees, and walls. One of those areas was the Thieme-Berry area, with the suggestion made by the Corps to place an 1100-foot wall along Thieme Drive. The Study noted that not many homes in the Thieme-Berry location were impacted. After the release of the Section 205 Study, the City decided to go ahead with meetings to obtain input from the public on the four sites analyzed by the Corps.
Thus, began my fight against “the wall.” I attended meetings that were held not only in my neighborhood but also in other neighborhoods included in the Study. I wrote to the City numerous times, and I attended my neighborhood association meetings to ask for help in fighting the wall. The West Central Neighborhood Association was and has been extremely helpful, and we sent two letters to the City to let them know that a wall was not wanted.
All I could envision during this time were the monstrosities along St. Joseph Boulevard in the Lakeside area and along Camp Allen Drive in the Nebraska Neighborhood. Camp Allen Drive intersects with Main Street just across the Main Street bridge. The homes on Camp Allen Drive face a wall along the west side of the river, and driving along Camp Allen is like driving in a tunnel. The same can be said for driving along St. Joe Boulevard from Tennessee Avenue to the Columbia Avenue bridge. The traffic lanes restrict motorists, edging the drivers against the Wall in the traffic lane closest to the wall heading toward the Columbia Avenue bridge.
In a charrette held this past summer, a number of West Central residents impacted by the flooding of the St. Marys gathered with representatives of the City to discuss options to help with the flooding. No one supported an 10-foot wall, much to my relief. Those of us who actually suffer the flood waters stated that the water comes through our basement walls as the water filters through the ground. When I flooded in July 2003, I only had about an inch or two of water in my basement – most coming from oozing through the northwest corner of my basement wall. My home also sits at the low point on my side of West Berry, so the flow of water is naturally to my home and its foundation.
After much discussion, what was settled on as a consensus was a 4-foot wall with intermittent columns where barricades could be lowered into place to block the flood waters. These plans were then carried to the City by the two city employees who had facilitated the charrette.
I still did not want a wall of any type. Erecting even a 4-foot wall would have meant destroying the river bank environment since any wall would have required setting foundations in place deep in the ground. Trees would have been removed, many of them decades old. I realize to some this is not important, but we have very few river drive views left in Fort Wayne. Many once-visible river banks are now hidden either behind concrete walls or earthen levees and berms.
After the charrette, the City took soil borings, and, much to my delight, found that Thieme Drive is mostly fill with no way to support the footings that would be necessary for any type of wall. The City has determined that it would not be cost effective to go forward with a wall given that only a few homes are impacted by the flooding.
While I was elated at this news, it does not mean the fight is over. The City could place the project in the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers. But if the Corps becomes involved, it will trigger a Section 106 review. The following are the mandates of Section 106:
Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires consideration of historic properties in the thousands of federal actions that take place nationwide each year. The law and regulations require federal agencies to consult with the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) and/or Tribal Preservation Officer and give the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation an opportunity to comment before projects are implemented. The Section 106 process also provides for public input in the decision making.
This is relevant to Thieme Drive because Thieme Drive has been included in a multi-property document filed with the state and national historic registers, thus providing protection of a historical nature. Let me explain a little about the historic nature of Thieme Drive.
Thieme Drive History
Thieme Drive is named after Theodore F. Thieme, an early Fort Wayne entrepreneur who started the Wayne Knitting Mills and who donated the home where the Arena Dinner Theatre is located. He was also active in city improvement projects and was an early supporter of the beautification of our rivers. The overlook at the junction of Rockhill and Thieme Drive was built by Mr. Thieme on what was an old dump site. He donated his home to be used as an art studio, and it now houses the Arena Dinner Theater. One of my prized possessions which I found at the Hyde Brothers Book Store is a personally-autographed book of Mr. Thieme’s life titled “Theodore F. Thieme: A Man and His Times” by Ross F. Lockridge. I cannot help but think from reading the book that Mr. Thieme was a true “renaissance man.”
Around 1907, the citizens of Fort Wayne combined their effort with the local government to implement plans to beautify their city. The first plan was submitted by Charles Mulford Robinson of New York in 1909. This plan was followed by a park and boulevard plan by noted landscape architect George Kessler in 1911. The Plan highlighted and capitalized on the city’s most important and significant asset – its three rivers and the opportunity they presented.
After the Flood of 1913, the River Improvement Association was formed to review options for control and prevention of floods. The existing River Front Commission hired Kessler to supervise the work of revising the park system and beautifying the river banks. Kessler’s plan called for connecting the nine miles of rivers running though the city via parkways and boulevards.
The 1912 Kessler Park and Boulevard System for Fort Wayne included Present Parks and Parkways, Proposed Parks and Parkways, and Proposed Boulevards. A parkway includes the river, its bank, public green space along the bank, the vehicular drive along the landside of the green space. At the time of the Plan, the city had only two lengths of existing parkway:
- one running along the east bank of the St. Joseph River south from the Tennessee Boulevard to link to the Maumee River at its confluence, and
- one associated with Thieme Drive, along the east bank of the St. Marys River extending south from Main Street to Swinney Park.
The river drive along St. Joe Boulevard is encased on the river side by a cement wall over which no one can see from the street. Thieme Drive is the only river drive left of the original Kessler Plan. It is also one of the few drives left in Fort Wayne where motorists can actually drive right along the river – a rare sight indeed in today’s Fort Wayne landscape of berms, levees, and concrete walls hiding our rivers from view.
But Thieme Drive is neglected. Its river side is overgrown with unsightly brush and weeds and Trees of Heaven, which grow quickly and overtake almost any area they invade. The Drive is need of upkeep and care – it needs cleaned and weeded. The River Greenway runs alongside the river, but no formal path exists – I don’t know why because one could surely be established. This would require turning Thieme Drive into a one-way running from Washington Boulevard to Main Street, but that could be accomplished.
So, as I leave my home each morning and turn onto Thieme Drive and drive along the river, I breathe a sigh of relief – Thieme Drive is safe for now. I can only hope that somehow, someway the powers-that-be will soon look at Thieme Drive in a new light – a light that sees it for what it is – an historic river drive in need of care and attention to turn it into what could be a beautiful reminder of the man who gave it its name – Theordore F. Thieme.