Nyla Doswell lives with family history all around her.
A lot of it is in the Fort Wayne home she and her husband, Robert, share and have been remodeling for the last two years. Even more history is in the house’s immediate neighborhood, composed of a row of four homes across from the West Main Street entrance of Lindenwood Cemetery.
And, some of the history is in the cemetery itself, a final resting place for several Doswell relatives, including some who designed or managed Lindenwood for nearly a century. Robert’s great-grandfather John Doswell designed Lindenwood and was its first superintendent, and his son George succeeded him in that post.
The four homes right by the cemetery are all Doswell homes, says Nyla, 70. They’ve been in the family for about 100 years and are all still owned by the family.
Those who lived in Fort Wayne in the mid-20th century might remember a Doswell-owned flower shop and more than a dozen huge greenhouses, as Nyla puts it, on the three acres on which the homes sit.
The shop was one of two run by the family, Nyla says – the other was at West Main and Webster streets and operated until 1967.
The greenhouses, heated by coal, had a tall landmark tower made of brick, until they were torn down in the late 1960s, having become too expensive to heat and maintain, Robert Doswell says.
But the Doswell family stayed put.
Robert’s brother Donald owns the two houses closest to the cemetery, while Nyla and her husband own the two closest to West Main Street.
They live in 2310 W. Main, which was built by Robert’s grandfather and grandmother, John and Charlotte Doswell, around 1913. They, his great-grandmother, Lisette Maxwell, and Bonnie Doswell, an aunt who never married, occupied the house until the mid-1990s, when Robert acquired it through a sale to settle his aunt’s estate.
For several years, the house was maintained as a rental. But two years ago, the couple, who also have a home on Jimmerson Lake in Steuben County, decided to remodel the house as their house in town, Nyla says.
Active co-owners of in G.I. Joe’s Army Surplus and Tactical Supply store at 1638 N. Wells St., the couple got tired of commuting to Fort Wayne, especially in bad weather.
The older you get, the less you want to drive I-69, Nyla says.
The couple started working on the exterior of the two-story Craftsman-style house, which features a big front porch with a new, widened front door flanked by hanging ferns. The home has been sided and now has a sage-green color scheme with mint and cinnamon trim that is eye-catching to east-bound drivers on West Main Street.
The siding is a bit of a regret, Nyla says. The house was originally covered in cedar-shake shingles coated with black tar, one of only a few like it in Fort Wayne.
But, Robert says, the shingles had had holes drilled into them to add insulation and were breaking and coming loose. We couldn’t find any replacements, not that matched, he says.
But inside, few changes have been made. Perhaps the home’s most striking feature, a large cobblestone fireplace topped by a thick, unadorned pine mantel, is intact.
My mother and father were married in front of that fireplace, Robert says.
Also intact is a built-in arched corner cabinet in the dining room, and double bi-fold doors that once led to what was either a sewing room or a butler’s pantry. The room has been turned into a hidden laundry and powder room.
The home is trimmed with natural-finish woodwork and doors, throughout. Nyla says it took gallons and gallons of paint stripper to get them back to that condition.
Robert, 67, said after the couple decided to live in the house, it took awhile to get it in shape.
We renovated it for over a year – new wiring, new plumbing, new ceilings, new furnace, he said.
One change was taking a fourth bedroom, likely designed as a sleeping porch, and expanding the home’s upstairs bathroom into the space. The bath originally had no tub and only a step-in shower, with a seat and a hand-held nozzle.
I said that wasn’t going to work for me, Nyla says.
The room now has a new tub-shower combo, vanity and period-appropriate black-and-white mosaic tile floor. A plumbing closet has been turned into an upholstered window seat.
The kitchen also has been remodeled, while keeping original features. They include a diner-style breakfast table and bench seats built into a windowed nook and a tall and narrow broom closet by the back door.
The couple added stone-look flooring and countertops, and in the center of the sun-filled room there’s a square island. It’s the same size and shape as one that appears in an old picture of Robert’s great-grandmother in the kitchen.
Nyla calls her decorating style eclectic, and has put together an earth-toned, world-traveler look with family antiques, garage sale finds and new furniture.
A guest room has Robert’s parents’ double bed. One bedroom has a drop-center vanity from her family, while a floor lamp in the dining room was salvaged from the remodel of the Emboyd Theatre (now the Embassy) downtown.
She recalls struggling to get the master bedroom’s triple dresser into her car – its former owner was about to put it on the scrap heap after it failed to sell at a garage sale. She gave it to me, she says.
Nyla says she’s extremely happy with how the house turned out, noting her husband’s grandmother and grandfather are buried in the cemetery across the way.
They’re looking over at us from the cemetery, she says. They’re smiling, we think.