Meet Mark C. Honeywell, the visionary behind Wabash’s Honeywell Center

When you hear the name “Honeywell” what do you think of? If you’re from Northeast Indiana, you might think of the Honeywell Center in Wabash. 

But, you might also think of the name on the thermostat, bedside fan, or portable heater inside your home. The Honeywell name found around the world on thermostats and on other various heating and cooling products is the same Honeywell of Wabash, IN. 
Mark C. Honeywell
Mark C. Honeywell is the man behind the Honeywell name known around the world. He was considered a visionary, an innovative businessman, and an advocate for community investment. 

He passed away almost 60 years ago, but local historian Pete Jones is very familiar with Honeywell’s story. Jones is a life-long resident of Wabash County with family connections to Wabash six generations back. He’s shared his knowledge of Honeywell’s life and impact on Wabash with Input Fort Wayne.

Mark C. Honeywell was born in Wabash in 1874. It’s no wonder that he adopted an interest in business, as his family owned and operated several businesses. His parents owned orange groves in Florida and operated a flour mill and apple cider mill in Wabash. When Honeywell was young, two consecutive freezes hit the orange groves and put the Honeywells out of the orange business.

“I think, quite frankly, that's one of the luckiest things that ever happened because Honeywell might have spent his career in Florida had those orange groves survived,” says Jones.

After graduating from Eastman Business College in Poughkeepsie, NY, in 1891, Honeywell returned to Wabash. He had a number of interests, one of which was bicycles. Jones says that he sold bicycles and rode in local races throughout the 1890s. It was after getting married to his first wife, Olive, in 1899, that Honeywell’s wheels really started turning regarding the type of business he wanted to invest in. 
Mark C. Honeywell's storefront.
By 1902, he had established himself in the heating and cooling industry. And by 1905, Honeywell had invented a hot water heating system, which he installed in his own home on Main Street in Wabash.

He opened a hot water heating system factory in Wabash, Honeywell Heating and Specialties, which employed approximately 250 people. Honeywell was also known for making improvements to the thermostat, which led to a merger in 1927 with a company in Minneapolis that primarily manufactured thermostats. The newly merged company was named the Minneapolis-Honeywell Company. 

Honeywell served as president of this company until 1935. In the 1950s, the company simplified its name to Honeywell Inc.

He delegated most of the responsibilities required to run his companies, allowing him the time to invest in two of his hobbies: photography and filmmaking. He had film studios in both Florida and Wabash where he created short films. The studio in Wabash, known as Honeywell Studio, eventually became the Wabash Country Club that continued operation until approximately 15 years ago. 

Mark C. Honeywell played the violin.Beyond his role in creating one of the biggest heating and cooling brands in the world, Mark C. Honeywell is most known for bringing the Honeywell Center to Wabash. 

In the 1930s, there was a building in Wabash known as “Community Service.” This facility provided recreational opportunities for the people of Wabash. However, in the late 1930s, this building was condemned by the fire marshall. Although money was tight due to the depression, the city decided that they would purchase an old bakery building in town and turn it into a community center. Honeywell was in Florida at the time but caught wind of what was happening in his hometown. He sent a telegram to the mayor at the time, James Smallwood, which said something like, ‘Don’t buy the bakery. I have an idea.’

Honeywell wanted to build a community center in memory of his wife, Olive, who died in 1939. He shared his vision for the facility and eventually, that vision turned into construction. The groundbreaking took place on June 24, 1940. As a very young boy, Jones attended the groundbreaking with his grandfather. 

The groundbreaking of the Honeywell Center in 1940.“I could not understand why these men in business suits were digging in the ground,” says Jones. “When my grandfather worked in his garden, he didn't dress like that.”

The Honeywell Center was under construction for 12 years until completely finished in 1952. Building efforts were interrupted by WWII, so the facility was opened in phases. 

“Mark C. Honeywell was a perfectionist and didn’t want to rush the completion,” Jones says. 

The gymnasium was one of the first areas to open; Jones says he remembers attending the first basketball game in 1947.

The Honeywell Center is located at 275 W Market St. in Wabash.In 1942, Honeywell married his second wife, Eugenia. She was a pianist, and Jones says he wonders if she nudged Honeywell to include arts facilities within the Honeywell Center. While Eugenia was undoubtedly influential, with interests in photography, filmmaking, and violin Honeywell was passionate about the arts too. He understood the importance of arts and was committed to bringing those opportunities to the community, in addition to the social and recreational offerings of the Honeywell Center. 

When the Center opened Honeywell promoted its use to everyone, including his employees at the Wabash Heating and Cooling Facility. Jones says he suspects that Mark’s philosophy was “healthy employees are happy employees.” 

The Honeywell Foundation was formed to oversee the construction and management of the Center in 1941. Today, the Foundation (DBA Honeywell Arts & Entertainment) has grown to encompass a range of offerings including live theater shows, art galleries and exhibits, an extensive arts in education program, music lessons, and much more.

Gifts support the Honeywell Center Ford Theater and Eagles Theater, programming at the Honeywell House, Dr. James Ford Historic Home, Charley Creek Gardens, and movies at the Eagles Theater and 13-24 Drive-In.Honeywell owns and operates six venues to host these offerings: Honeywell Center, Honeywell House, Eagles Theatre, Charley Creek Gardens, Dr. Ford Historic Home, and the 13-24 Drive-In. Honeywell Arts & Entertainment remains committed to each venue following Mr. Honeywell’s vision stated on the Honeywell Center dedication which reads, “May it ever be useful to them.”

If you visit the Honeywell Center today, you can dine at Eugenia’s Restaurant. You can also find a portrait of Olive Honeywell, Mark’s first wife, in one of the building’s meeting rooms. 

Eugenia’s Restaurant at the Honeywell Center, which is named after Mark C. Honeywell's second wife, Eugenia.Although Mark C. Honeywell is most known locally as the donor and originator of the Honeywell Center, Jones says he believes he should be most known for “his generosity to the community and interest in young people.” 

While Honeywell didn’t have any biological children, he took a great interest in children. If you visit the Honeywell Center today, you will find a statue of Mark interacting with a young boy and girl. He was a supporter of the Boy Scouts, and even constructed a cabin on his personal property in 1940 for the local Boy Scouts troop to use. 

A statue of Mark C. Honeywell sits outside the Honeywell Center.Honeywell was very involved with the Honeywell Center until his mid-80s when he became too ill to be an active part of the facility’s happenings. He was a unique and interesting businessman who was admired for his love of community. He played the violin, loved gardening, and had an affection for Chow Chow dogs. But most of all, he wanted to see his hometown of Wabash, Indiana, as a place where people could live happy and healthy lives.

Wabash is the focus of a Partner City series in Input Fort Wayne underwritten by Visit Wabash County and Honeywell Arts & Entertainment. This series will capture the story of talent, creativity, investment, innovation, and emerging assets shaping the future of Wabash County, about an hour Southwest of Fort Wayne.

To learn more about a partnership with Honeywell Arts & Entertainment, contact Eric Seaman (​​[email protected]) or Beth Squires ([email protected]).