A BIT OF MARKET HISTORY
The Southside Farmers Market has come a long way, undergoing many changes since the early 1920’s. Although the market continues to thrive today during peak produce season, it once was a way of life the whole year round for families throughout Allen and surrounding counties. In some ways, visiting the market today seems like a step back in time.
In the 1920’s, there were a few paved streets, but no homes on East Rudisill Boulevard. The area surrounding the market was wooded or farmland. The original market was an open-air gathering place with no doors or roof for shelter. When stormy weather was on the horizon, the farmers and producers packed up. Thanks to the insight of the original directors, there is now a facility where, rain or shine, the market goes on and is the oldest continuous operating farmers market in Fort Wayne.
In 1926, the Allen County Producers Association oversaw the South Side Market. Henry and Maude Voight owned the property enclosed between Warsaw, Dalman, Oxford and Monroe streets back then. At that time, the directors offered to buy their property to build an indoor market. They raised money by offering stock in the market. Twenty-six stockholders united to raise $7,000, and the dream began. Over the following year, many pitched in and helped build the market.
By 1928, the enclosed building had 97 occupied stands. Some were rented, but most were purchased. There were dirt floors and no shelves had been built yet, but still 26 farmers set up displays outside, hoping for a chance to occupy indoor spaces when they became vacant. It soon became apparent that the market was a success. Around 1930, two of the stands were converted to a kitchen, which soon became a meeting place where patrons and sellers could get a warm cup of coffee or a bite to eat – a tradition that has continued throughout the years.
The market was open every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, year round. As the market grew, so did the need for upgrades. In 1937, additional ground was purchased to put in a parking lot. Eventually, the Board of Health began to monitor the market and put in guidelines. The producers could no longer put food items such as watermelon on the dirt floors, so cement floors were laid. In 1955, chimneys were built and wood-burning stoves installed to keep the market warm during chilly weather. Eventually restrooms, electricity and a stone parking lot were also added.
During the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the growth of supermarkets and large grocery store chains challenged the market’s existence. As produce became easier to get in stores, the attendance at the market declined. Government regulations and grocery competition made it harder for farmers to make a living. The market cut back its hours to Saturday only, opening the Saturday before Easter and continuing through Thanksgiving for many years.
In 1984, the east lot was purchased to expand the market grounds for the last time. In 1986, Mayor Win Moses declared the market a historic site. Several board members were descendants of the early board of directors, and many families continued selling their produce over multiple generations. As the market is always in need of some type of upkeep, and some years the money collected from stand rentals barely covered expenses, the board of directors decided to apply for a non-profit status. They reorganized under the Allen County Ag. Producers, Inc., and in February 2009, were granted that status. Hopefully grants and donations can now help preserve this historic venture on Fort Wayne’s southeast side.
There are still local farmers that bring in fresh produce every Saturday morning, as well as master gardeners who are more than willing to share their knowledge. We are seeing a definite upswing back to the days when folks either grow their own back-yard gardens, or want to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables to feed their families.
As it has since the early 1920’s, the market continues to this day to be a warm and inviting place for people to gather.
And now those wood stoves are keeping the market comfortable enough to stay open until mid-December. Each season brings new items, so it’s always interesting and worthwhile to make a trip to see what the South Side Farmers Market has to offer.