The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, August 22, 2017 1:00 am

Driven by city history

Driver's education course includes tours of downtown

Austin Candor | The Journal Gazette

Growing up in New Haven, Jim Pickett got hooked on the adventures of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett at an early age.

His cousins would often find arrowheads in their backyard, and with an orchard and creek across the street from his house, Pickett could let his imagination run wild for days at a time.

But on visits to Fort Wayne, Pickett realized he had a new world to explore, one that Boone and Crockett might have really been a part of. History surrounded him in the form of statues, markers and signs, including one marked “Harmar's Defeat” in the Lakeside neighborhood, that would catch his eye.

Now, Pickett is hoping the younger generation will catch on like he did. He recently wrote a book – “The Bones of Kekionga” – that blends a historical and fictional depiction of what really happened during the 1790 Battle of Kekionga between American General Josiah Harmar and Miami Chief Little Turtle. 

But outside his writing, Pickett prefers teaching when it comes to the subject of history.

Pickett, 67, gives driving lessons for the Safeway Driving School on Maplecrest Road. He got into driver's education while teaching at DeKalb Middle School, where he would often need something to pass the time during the summer.

If you ask him about his initial interests for driving, he will humbly talk about his intentions of being a good citizen and keeping bad drivers off the road.

“It's dangerous out there,” Pickett says. “I'm more concerned about other drivers. We get cut off a lot. How can they not see us?”

Pickett is in his 20th year as a driver's ed instructor, having retired from teaching in 2011. And it's no surprise that Pickett's interest in history carries into all aspects of his professional career.

It's usually on the fourth drive that Pickett takes his students through downtown Fort Wayne, making sure to point out the classics, as well as a few historical sites.

As they enter the city, Pickett takes them down West Jefferson Boulevard, where they'll pass Parkview Field, Grand Wayne Center and Embassy Theatre.

Before Pickett continues his tour, he makes sure the students already have a grip on their driving skills. The last thing he wants is his remarks to be a distraction for his young drivers. But if Pickett believes they can handle the multitasking, the real history lesson begins.

He'll often take students along Berry Street and point out the railroad tracks where the Wabash and Erie Canal would flow through Fort Wayne. He'll also show the rock on the corner of Berry and Clay streets that symbolizes where the first fort existed.

Pickett likes to say he and the students are touring town with a purpose.

“Two purposes,” Pickett quickly adds with a smile as he relays the real reason he is letting high-school kids drive him around for an hour.

But over the past year, Pickett's love of history has taken him beyond the daily drive times he has had with his students.

Last fall, he began digging deeper into research, wondering how he could incorporate his imagination into Fort Wayne's history.

“What was it like? What did they say? What did they talk about? Were they afraid? Those types of things,” Pickett explained, remembering how he researched to the point that he even bored himself with details of the battles that were fought in the late 1700s.

Now, Pickett has a hard product to show for his efforts.

His fictional history book can be found at

As a former teacher, Pickett says the book is fit for fifth- and sixth-graders. But as a history buff, Pickett smiles, saying anyone in the area who picks up a copy will soon find themselves buried in a story of pre-Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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