At the beginning of the new year of 1887, on Jan. 3, members of the Fort Wayne Curling Club gathered on the ice-crusted lake at the estate where businessman John H. Bass had his beautiful “Brookside” home to compete for a “point medal.” Contestants that day included James K. Mann, Thomas Kavanaugh, John Kidd, Fred A. Hull, R. Craik, W. Miller and James Gillie. John Kidd won that curling match by one point over an impressive performance by Thomas Kavanaugh.
Years later in 1891, a “bonspiel” or curling exhibition was staged on that same lake which is part of the present-day campus of the University of Saint Francis. In her book, “John Henry Bass and his Brookside,” Grace Leslie Dickerson wrote about her Grandfather Bass and his fondness for Galloway and Black Angus cattle imported from Scotland. With the prized animals came Scottish herdsmen, “bringing with them their bagpipes and Collie dogs. Several of these men stayed on at Bass Farm, and in the winter they enjoyed playing their native game of curling on the ice of Bass Lake.”
Sixty-two years later on Sunday, Jan. 18, 1953, the Journal Gazette announced that memories of that exposition would be recalled at the Memorial Coliseum in an upcoming highlight during the Komets-Grand Rapids hockey game on the following Tuesday evening. According to the newspaper, curling was a popular activity in the Fort Wayne area in the early part of the 19th century with regular matches played at Brookside and at the old Caledonia Curling Rink located at State Street and Spy Run Avenue. Expositions like the one to be played before the upcoming hockey game had once again created a lot of interest among winter sports fans.
So the sport of curling, which dates back several centuries, has some fairly deep roots here in Northeastern Indiana. Most of us are familiar with this on-ice sport from watching the Winter Olympic matches with a contestant ever so carefully sliding a large teakettle-like object on an icy surface and whose teammates eagerly sweep away at the ice helping influence the stone object as it comes to rest at a distant down-course target.
It’s an old Scottish game played as a match between two teams of four players each who slide a total of eight “stones” down the lane into the “house” with its coveted bulls-eye target. The idea is to see which team can get their stones closest to the center spot of the circle. But not just any old stone was used. These stones are highly polished granite complete with a gleaming brass handle, and they weigh more than 40 pounds. Knocking away the opponents’ stones to clear the way for a teammate shooting later makes for an exciting chess-like strategy in this shuffleboard-like contest-on-steroids event.
Under the current leadership of Craig Fischer, president, together with co-founders Greg Eigner, Jerri Mead and Dan McCoy of the Fort Wayne Curling Club, this exhilarating team game has returned to Fort Wayne. An active organization, the Fort Wayne Curling Club has been hosting a renewal of the ancient sport with its annual Fort Wayne Summerspiel. It has been held at the Lutheran Health SportsCenter, played on an ice surface about 140 feet long and 14 feet wide. Circular stones measuring approximately 12 inches in diameter and weighing about 42 pounds are once again sliding carefully across an icy playing surface. At each end of the course is the “house,” a circle 12 feet in diameter with a target called the button. Sliding a stone across the ice so it stops inside the circle closest to the center is the objective that competing teams of four players seek.
The curling club has monthly Learn to Curl sessions, and after a single session participants are making shots and having a grand time and qualify to join one of the club’s two leagues. (For more information, log on to www. fortwaynecurling.com.) Curling continues to be celebrated here in Fort Wayne. The 125th anniversary of the 1887 exposition played on Bass Lake at the University of Saint Francis, weather permitting, was to be recreated this January to commemorate that team of old. Curling is back!
Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi, a retired Essex vice president, hosts "On the Heritage Trail," which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m. and 8:35 a.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM, and "Historia Nostra" heard on WLYV-1450 AM.