Deepening a neighborhood's cultural memory: This Fort Wayne audio tour shares resident stories

Have you ever walked through a neighborhood and been curious about its history or the lives of the people who have lived among its streets?

Bringing these stories to life and pairing them with local places is the idea behind SoundWalk, a made-in-Fort Wayne app by artist and developer Kurt Roembke, which offers cost-free, audio walking tours of Fort Wayne. 

The SoundWalk app pairs music and podcast-like stories of local residents and historians to physical places, made possible by funding from grants, donors, and support from local volunteers. 

Roembke

So far, Roembke has built three SoundWalk experiences: One for the Little Turtle Memorial, one for McCulloch Park, and one for the Fairfield Corridor, which is still under development and collecting stories. While you don’t have to be on-site to access the Fairfield Corridor tour, it provides a guide that is best experienced by foot.

"The project we're working on now is a historical and architectural walking tour of the Fairfield Corridor, which includes stories about buildings that no longer exist, as well as interviews with local residents," Roembke says.

SoundWalk allows anyone with access to a smartphone to experience a solo music adventure.

The Fairfield Corridor SoundWalk stretches from the Oakdale neighborhood to Fairfield Elementary, highlighting four neighborhoods along its route: Oakdale, Fairfield, South Wayne, and Creighton Home. While it is currently available via the app store on your phone, it will be updated later this month with a few resident stories. Then it will be regularly updated with additional stories, as they come in, Roembke says.

Cornelia Schulz, a volunteer with Wunderkammer Company contemporary gallery, helped raise funds to make the Fairfield Corridor SoundWalk happen. Wunderkammer contributed $3,000 to the project, and they received a $3,000 match from the Indiana Humanities Action Grant. This funding went to paying artists and developers to create the audio tour. The stories are all read by volunteers and recorded cost-free at WELT-LP Fort Wayne 95.7FM inside the Allen County Public Library.

SoundWalk provides people with a new type of place-based listening.

In addition to featuring resident and neighborhood stories, the project will spotlight local businesses and organizations–both past and present–along the route, including Wunderkammer and artists who have painted murals on its exterior. In this way, the project can preserve some of the history and art made in Fort Wayne today for future generations, Schulz says. She sees SoundWalk tours as engaging digital alternatives to traditional historic signage in neighborhoods.

SoundWalk is also intended to deepen an area’s cultural memory, Roembke adds.

“One woman we’ve interviewed so far shared a story about her great-grandma who used to run an unofficial bed and breakfast across the street from the old Lutheran Hospital on Fairfield,” he says. “We haven’t found any other writing about her B&B elsewhere, so having that story recorded on Soundwalk helps us preserve the neighborhood’s history.”

There's a new app-based audio walking tour along the Fairfield Corridor, offering residents the chance to contribute stories.

Along with sharing stories, the SoundWalk is designed to get residents out and about in the neighborhood. As funding allows, Roembke would like to create more SoundWalk experiences for neighborhoods and communities across Fort Wayne. 

If you would like to contribute a story to the Fairfield Corridor SoundWalk, fill out a contribution form on Soundwalk’s website. Then Roembke’s team will be in touch to schedule a recording session.
 
“There doesn't have to be a deep historical element to your story to participate,” Roembke says. “Even if your story just adds an emotional connection to the place, or shares an interesting tale about your friends or family or yourself, we’d love to hear it.”

So far, stories have been voiced by Amy and John Beatty, Dixie Bradley, David Fenstermacher, Jafet Garcia, Doug Peconge, Cornelia Schulz, Theopolis Smith III, Dan Swartz, Kody Tinnel, and Charlie Pratt. Icon art and logos for the project are created by Nicolle Ginter.
 
Learn more

To schedule a recording for the Fairfield Corridor SoundWalk, fill out a contribution form online.

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.