Recently, the city’s Fort Wayne Historic Preservation Commission unanimously approved a Local Historic Designation of the Prairie Grove Chapel and Cemetery. This comes as a huge first step for the longstanding property that predates the original unincorporated town of Waynedale.
Located at 6000-6200 Old Trail Road, the cemetery was used for burials as early as 1833 with the chapel and additional structures coming more than 20 years after. According to the Local Historic Designation petition it was argued that the property and structures should receive the status because it is “Associated with the events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.”
The petition also notes that “The property is associated with the history of early settlement and the building of rural communities in Wayne Township. This role in the development of the area contributed to founding the community of Waynedale. Prairie Grove Chapel & Cemetery is an outstanding example of a simple rural church and cemetery that represents mid nineteenth century construction of a rural chapel, and typical development of an associated rural cemetery.”
Reportedly, the land was originally part of Miami Indian Chief Richardville’s estate and eventually came into the hands of landowner Richard Beck. The church was one of several in Allen County of similar construction, built by the United Brethren in Christ denomination, who, in 1855, purchased this particular one-acre parcel of land from Beck for $1. In keeping with the United Brethren mandate that the construction be simple and the seats free of charge, this one-room structure was home to countless services, where the rafters rang with lively praise and circuit-riding preachers proclaimed the undiluted gospel of God’s redemptive love for His creation. Through the years, the Prairie Grove Chapel was the birthplace of several church groups, including Avalon Missionary Church.
Currently owned and maintained by the Prairie Grove Cemetery Association, Inc., the chapel typically opens its doors each year for church services just before Christmas. Thought to be caused by arson, the chapel suffered a fire in March of 2008. However, since that time the building has been completely restored to its original historic integrity, funded by fire insurance and local donations.
The Local Historic Designation will still need to be approved by the City Council to be officially recognized. The local designation differs from a National Register of Historic Places status, as any noticeable exterior changes must be approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.