Fort Wayne, Indiana was founded on October 22, 1794. To mark the anniversary of the city's founding, check out the following bits of history that you may not know.
Quick History of Fort Wayne, Indiana
Fort Wayne is Born
After winning the Battle of Fallen Timbers over in Ohio, General Anthony Wayne traveled west to the junction of three rivers: the St Marys, the Maumee, and the St. Joseph. A Miami settlement had ruled at Kekionga (now Fort Wayne) 30 years prior to Wayne's victory at Fallen Timbers and arrival at the confluence of the rivers. Wayne built a fort here—though the French had already built Fort Miami here in 1722—and Fort Wayne was born in 1794. The fort was named after General Anthony Wayne, and the area was now under the authority of the U.S. Government.
The Third Fort in Fort Wayne
A third fort was built in 1816, and today you can visit its replica on Spy run Avenue. The Historic Fort Wayne you can explore today during historic reenactments, demonstrations, and educational events, was built during the U.S. Bicentennial year of 1976, and has since been renovated.
Fort Wayne saw its first school built in 1825, when the population was just 200. This was a small private school that doubled as a church and public meeting house, named County Seminary. The first public school opened in 1853, founded by Hugh McCulloch, Charles Case, and William Stewart. The school, named McJunkin School, was located on Lafayette Street. Schools were a bit rare in those days due to so many children helping at home with harvesting and planting on family farms.
Canals Come to Fort Wayne
Our city is famous for its three rivers. But in the 1830s, residents decided to begin building a canal. There was a debate over whether to proceed with a canal or a railroad, but the canal won out. Many Irish and German workers moved to town to help with this huge project, which extended 452 miles from Fort Wayne across the state to Evansville, and took 18 years to build.
The Wabash and Erie Canal was popular for a time, and you could travel from Fort Wayne to Toledo on a canal boat for $3.25. It was a major factor in Fort Wayne's exploding population: we reached 2000 people in 1840. That year, the town of Fort Wayne became a city and elected George Wood as its first mayor. When the canal was at its peak, Fort Wayne was a major docking point for boats. The next street over, Columbia Street, earned its nickname "The Landing," and became the center of activity in Fort Wayne. While the canal is no longer active and was sold to the Nickel Plate Railroad, The Landing is currently being redeveloped, bringing life and energy back to where it started. You can also enjoy a tour of our rivers aboard Sweet Breeze, Fort Wayne's 1840s replica canal boat.
Fort Wayne Firsts
- Fort Wayne's first Christmas tree appeared in 1840 at the home of Dr. Schmidt. It arrived via the Wabash and Erie Canal, and was lit by candles.
- The first German congregation in Fort Wayne was formed as St. Mary's Catholic Church in 1848. The beautiful church, which was a Fort Wayne landmark, was destroyed in a fire caused by a lightning strike in 1994. The current church was built in 1999 on the site of the original.
- 1848 saw the first telegraph line along the canal. It connected Fort Wayne with Toledo.
- In 1854, the canal brought the first railway locomotive to Fort Wayne. This marked the beginning of a new mode of transportation: the railroad.
- 1891 was the date of the first electric car in Fort Wayne. It was battery-powered and went 12 miles per hour. Soon after, trolleys arrived as a means of transportation.
Fort Wayne at 225
As it turns 225, Fort Wayne continues to build on its past. We are the second-largest city in Indiana, second only to Indianapolis. We've been called the Summit City, the City of Churches, the All-American City, the City that Saved Itself (after a 1982 flood), and one of the country's most livable cities. It's a wonderful time to visit and live in Fort Wayne, as the city undergoes a thrilling revitalization. In many ways, the city is returning to its roots. Thanks to the new Promenade Park, we are reconnecting with our three rivers in new ways. The Landing is bringing back the excitement of the canal-era days on Columbia Street. It will be exciting to see what's ahead for Fort Wayne in the coming years!