A love story lives on in Downtown Fort Wayne at the Declan, a historic venue for parties and events

If you ask Kristina Wiley, the story of the Declan is a love story that started with the home’s previous owners and builders, Jerry and the late-Linda Vandeveer. 

As transplants to Fort Wayne from Chicago in the 1970s, the Vandeveers opened the now-shuttered architectural salvage company, Wood Shack, at the corner of Baker Street and Fairfield, and quickly realized the area was riddled with crime at the time. Jerry and Linda Vandeveer first owned the spacious home at 438 Baker St.

They moved into the neighborhood themselves in the 1990s, two doors down from their shop, and began working closely with local police to reduce blight and criminal activity in the area, sometimes patrolling the streets themselves. 

This inspired them to build the Police Memorial Garden on Fairfield to recognize the officers who helped them or were killed in the line of duty. Later, in 2016, the Vandeveers earned Indiana’s highest civilian award, the Sagamore of the Wabash, for their efforts. (You might even argue that catalytic developments in Fort Wayne, like Parkview Field nearby, wouldn't have been possible without their foresight and contributions to making the area the safe place it is today.)

But long before the Vandeveers were officially recognized for their work, they loved where they lived. They even started an effort known as Baker-Fairfield Improvement District to catalyze beautification acts among their neighbors, like flower planting. Over the years, they ended up buying most of the homes on their block, purchasing 11-12 properties to prevent them from becoming rentals or sources of crime. 

Most of these homes, they fixed up themselves and kept vacant as storage for their architectural treasures salvaged from historic houses and buildings torn down throughout Indiana and the Midwest. 

As the Vandeveers outgrew their family’s own home on Baker Street, they thought about building a new house somewhere else in Fort Wayne, but opted instead to put their house together with a property they owned next door at 438 W. Baker St., which was nearly identical in shape and layout.

Jerry and Linda Vandeveer started renovating their house, connecting it with the house next door in 2002.

In 2002, they began working on the project as a labor or love, doing all of the handiwork themselves as they were able and adding special touches and vintage furnishings to the house, like those they had at the Wood Shack. 

“We had to take our time because we didn’t really have the time or money to do everything we wanted,” Jerry says. “It was probably only about three-quarters of the way done when we sold it.”

Unfortunately, in 2016, Linda was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, which started in her colon. (You might remember a colonoscopy awareness campaign Jerry led in her honor.) After she died, he sold the property in 2018—along with the Wood Shack and all of his other properties on the block—to an investment group that intends to turn the area into a concept they call Brackenridge Village, a mixed-use urban neighborhood of sorts, similar to Broad Ripple in Indianapolis.

That’s how the Declan came to be. Fort Wayne developer John Freiburger, who is a member of the Brackenridge group, purchased the large, duplex-like home at 438 W. Baker St. in 2018, and finished renovating it to Jerry and Linda’s standards. 

“What he’s done with it is everything we would have done if we had the time,” Jerry says. “He finished it right.”

To complete the project, Freiburger worked with his Property Manager, Wiley, who is also the artist behind Gallery K on Broadway. Together, they opened the Declan to the community as an Airbnb venue in 2021, rentable for weddings, parties, corporate events, and overnight group stays. 

The Declan at 438 Baker St. in Downtown Fort Wayne.

The spacious house dates back to 1906 (in parts) and can now easily accommodate 50 guests with five bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, and 3,686 square feet. It sleeps up to 16, and can be rented in whole or parts. For overnight stays, you have to book a minimum of two nights.

“We hope it is self-evident when you stay here how much love has been shared within these walls and how much care went into the renovations,” Wiley says.

Linda Vandeveer works her home, which became the Declan at 438 Baker St.

Freiburger says the Declan is named after his first-born grandchild, Declan (an Irish name pronounced Deck-len). He and Wiley hope the space will bring new joy to the community in a new era, as the Electric Works development nearby catalyzes growth on the South end of Downtown.

“In the downstairs, as you look around, you’ll see a lot of wood Jerry repurposed from other big mansions in town at the Wood Shack,” Freiburger says.

Wiley reminds guests that she also offers custom catering and has been in the hospitality industry for more than 25 years.

“I just love the spaciousness of the home,” she says. “It's more modern upstairs, and it’s more traditional downstairs, so it’s the best of both worlds. There are so many historical treasures in it, too.”

If you visit today, Jerry says be sure to check out the back porch, which is spacious and entirely new. He also left behind many vintage finds, like an 8-foot by 8-foot cabinet he salvaged from a historic home in Ohio and gifted to Linda in the 2000s. They had to cut a hole in the side of the house just to get it inside, and they built part of the home’s layout around it.

“That’s probably the neatest thing,” Jerry says. “It has beautiful hardwood we stripped and refinished and gorgeous leaded-glass doors.”

A peek inside Jerry and Linda Vandeveer's former home, which became the Declan.

The 55-foot front porch was another favorite of Linda’s, Jerry says. Before Linda moved to the Midwest with Jerry, she grew up in the South. The two met while Jerry was in the stateside armed forces during the Vietnam War, stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

“A friend of mine in the army took me to meet his girlfriend in a town about 35 miles from where we were stationed,” Jerry says. “I stole her and married her.”

Jerry says Fort Wayne will always “feel like home” to him, Linda, and their son, who now owns a share in the Brackenridge Village group, helping to rebuild the neighborhood's future.

“Moving to Fort Wayne was the best thing we ever did,” Jerry says. “We loved this place.”

Jerry Vandeveer works her home, which became the Declan at 438 Baker St.

Wiley has started writing Jerry and Linda’s story as a part of a larger narrative describing the Declan’s past and future.

“We hope while you stay with us at the Declan, you’ll become a part of this never-ending love story, too,” she writes.

Learn more

To inquire about renting or catering, call 260-705-2959 or email [email protected]. The Declan’s website is currently under construction.
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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.