|Grand Army of the Republic
David N. Foster
Department Commander 1885
From: The Pictorial History of Fort Wayne Indiana-A Review of Two Centuries of Occupation of the Region About the Head of the Maumee River, Volume 2 Biographical, by B. J. Griswold. Robert O. Law Company, Chicago. 1917. pp 187-190.
David N. Foster.—While, for the past forty years, Colonel David N. Foster has been intimately identified with nearly every activity designed for the good of the people of Fort Wayne, he will be best remembered by coming generations as the "father" of the present city park system. It is of such a man that this sketch treats—a type of citizen which has enabled Fort Wayne to take and to maintain a leading position among the municipalities of the middle west. Colonel Foster was born in Coldenham, Orange County, New York, April 24, 1841. At the early age of fourteen, he left his father's farm and commenced his career as a business man in the capacity of "bundle boy" in the store of W. E. Lawrence, an old-time New York City dry goods merchant. In 1859, at the age of eighteen, in company with his brother, Scott Foster, he formed the retail dry goods firm of Foster Brothers, of New York City, which firm, in 1868, turned its attention to the west and opened its first branch establishments. In 1861, Colonel Foster enlisted as a private in the Ninth New York State Militia. With this regiment he saw three years of severe service in the Union army, resigning, at length, because of disability arising from wounds. He was the first volunteer from Orange county, New York, in the Civil war. He came home from the service captain of the company in which he enlisted as a private, having, meanwhile, gone through the lesser grades of corporal, sergeant and lieutenant.
In 1871, Colonel Foster came to Indiana and opened the store of Foster Brothers at Terre Haute, which is still in existence. In 1873 he was attracted into the field of newspaperdom and withdrew from the Terre Haute firm. At Grand Rapids, Mich., he established the Saturday Evening Post, a literary and news paper, an enterprise which met with marked success. In 1877, Colonel Foster's attention was directed to the wide-awake city of Fort Wayne, and he sold his newspaper at such a satisfactory figure that he was enabled to re-enter the old firm of Foster Brothers, which had established the Fort Wayne branch in 1868 on a scale that had made the business at once a leader in the city.
One of the earliest acts of Colonel Foster which exhibits his public-spiritedness was the effort to secure the passage by the Indiana legislature of 1882 of the Public Library act by which libraries would come under the direct control of the boards of public school trustees, and which should be established through the levying of a special tax by the city council. The present public library and its excellent management are the outgrowth of this pioneer effort. In 1885, Colonel Foster was chosen Department Commander of the Indiana Grand Army of the Republic, in which organization he has been deeply interested and in which his activities have resulted in the accomplishment of splendid benefits to his former brothers in arms. He is a member of the Loyal Legion of the Commandery of Indiana, and in 1895 was its junior vice commander. He was largely instrumental in the establishment of the Indiana State Soldiers' Home at Lafayette, his service as a member of the commission which selected the site and purchased the grounds proving of high value to those of his companions who sought only the highest good of the remaining members of the country's defenders. He helped to prepare the bill which established the home and succeeded in securing its passage by the legislature. Governor Claude Matthews appointed him to serve as a member of the first board of trustees of the institution. He served a second term under the appointment of Governor James A. Mount.
In 1891, with a clear vision of Fort Wayne's future growth, Colonel Foster organized the Fort Wayne Land and Improvement Company, which assumed the big task of creating the present beautiful section of the city known as Lakeside. With a firm belief that saloons should not be permitted in residence districts, he advised that the sale of liquors be forever prohibited in that addition, consisting of one hundred and sixty acres, and the company so decided. The same clause was subsequently placed in the provisions of other contiguous and neighboring additions, until an area of five hundred acres in that part of the city never knew the presence of a saloon.
In the same year that the Fort Wayne Land and Improvement Company came into existence, Colonel Foster assisted in the organization of the Tri-State Loan and Trust Company as the subscriber for the first twenty-five shares of the company's stock. He was one of the original stockholders which, under the leadership of Theodore F. Thieme, organized the great corporation known as the Wayne Knitting Mills. He was one of the organizers of the German-American National bank and the German American Trust Company. He was one of the original stockholders of the Huntington Trust Company, and, in 1907, he organized the People's Trust Company, at Muncie, Indiana, which bought out the People's National bank of that city and succeeded to its business. He assisted in the organization of the Indiana Road Machine Company and the Port Wayne Furniture Company. The latter concern, like a great many furniture manufactories, met failure in the financial panic of 1893. Colonel Foster was left with something like $50,000 of endorsed paper to pay. It has always been a matter of pride to him that the entire obligation was paid, one hundred cents on the dollar, principal and interest, "and without the loss of a single night's rest." Colonel Foster was an active spirit in the organization of the Fort Wayne Hotel Company which built the Anthony hotel, one of the leading places of entertainment in the middle west. He was one of the organizers of the Commercial Improvement Company, which purchased the Rockhill farm and made possible the large industrial district immediately west of the city, known as Westfield. The object of this company was not to create financial gain but to add greatly to the city's manufacturing interests. At the time of the destruction of the old covered bridge over the Maumee river at East Main street, Colonel Foster led a two years' "fight" which finally resulted in its re-location at Columbia street, thus giving that oldest of business streets a direct approach over the river from the east and north where before it had always had a dead end at Lafayette street.
Colonel Foster was one of the leaders in the erection of the splendid home of the Young Women's Christian Association on West Wayne street. He served as a member of the building committee. He is a member of the First Presbyterian church, and was a member of the building committee which erected the present church building. For several years he served as a member of the board of trustees of the church society. For nearly all his life, Colonel Foster has been a Republican, but he uniformly refused political office. In 1912, believing that the management of the Republican party had fallen into the hands of scheming politicians, he joined the movement for the organization of the Progressive party, and was chosen a delegate to the Chicago convention which nominated Theodore Roosevelt for the presidency.
For some years he was the president of Hope Hospital association, and has always been active in behalf of this valuable institution. In fact, there has scarcely been any public activity in any direction in Fort Wayne for nearly forty years in which Colonel Foster has not borne an active part. But, as has been suggested before, he believes his most valuable service and that which will longest endure has been performed through his long connection with the Board of Park Commissioners of Fort Wayne. As its president he has given to the duties of the office for many years nearly one-half of his time without other compensation than that which comes from the performance of public service. He will always be remembered as the "father" of the present splendid park system of Fort Wayne. In 1909, in connection with his brother, Samuel M. Foster, he donated to the city Foster Park, the largest, and in some respects the most useful and most beautiful of all the parks of Fort Wayne. He has said that the only praise to which he and his brother are entitled in this connection is the credit of having shown discriminating sense in the selection of a monument which would endure and grow more beautiful and more serviceable as the years go by. Colonel Foster is inclined to think that he was the first of Fort Wayne business men to incorporate a retail business. The D. N. Foster Furniture Company was incorporated in 1884, the business which had heretofore been a partnership having been established in Fort Wayne in 1868. This business he has so efficiently organized that he has often said that he could drop out of its management at any time and it would continue just as successfully without his aid. On January 10, 1878, Colonel Foster was united in marriage with Miss Sara J. Pyne, of Grand Rapids, Mich., daughter of John and Sara Pyne, of Hamilton, N. Y., and to this union were born the following children: Pearl Poster Rahe, wife of Prank J. Rahe, of Los Angeles, California, and Florence Foster Hall, wife of Harvey Hall, of Charleston, West Virginia.
David Foster enlisted May 27, 1861 in Co. A, 9th New York Militia (afterward designated as the 83rd New York Volunteers). He was wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg Virginia and mustered out due to disability from these wounds on December 11, 1863.
Col. Foster passed away on September 13, 1934 at the age of 93 and is buried next to his wife, Sara, in the Lindenwood Cemetery (Section G, Lot 178), Fort Wayne, Allen County Indiana.
See also his Find a Grave Memorial:
Submitted by Tim Beckman
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