If you are passing through town and you want to take a quick peek at local history, make a stop at the Historic Fort Wayne—known as the Old Fort!
Where is the Old Fort?
Believe it or not, Fort Wayne, Indiana still has a fort you can visit! The Old Fort is located at 1201 Spy Run Avenue, right along the St. Marys River. Parking is available in a gravel lot across Clinton Street, on Fourth Street (between Spy Run Avenue and Clinton Street), or across the river at Headwaters Park. A walking bridge spans the river and takes you directly to the Old Fort.
Here, you're looking at the Downtown Fort Wayne Skyline from the Old Fort
The Old Fort is on city park land and is open to curious passers-by who want to take a closer look. Pedestrians are welcome to walk through the parade grounds and walk around the Old Fort itself at any time. However, the buildings are only open during events or when volunteers are on site. The volunteer group, Historic Fort Wayne, Inc., hosts history events in the buildings quite frequently. Check their schedule here to find out which weekends have scheduled events.
Why is the Old Fort in Fort Wayne?
First, a brief history. Fort Wayne—aka the "Summit City"—has been a major transportation hub for hundreds of years. Due to the presence of three rivers here, the St. Joseph, St. Marys, and Maumee, early travelers were able to travel by boat from Detroit or Quebec all the way down to this area, then take a short portage foot path, and re-launch their boats on the Little River, which connects to the Wabash River. This all-water route allowed travelers to reach the Gulf of Mexico with minimal foot travel.
The area was held first by Native American groups, including the Miami, Potawatomi, Wea, Fox, Chippewa, and Huron. The Iroquois threatened to take over the region during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, only to be met with resistance from combined French and Miami forces. By 1712, the French and Indian groups had retaken the area. French forts were built, and the ownership of the forts and land changed many times, as the result of different wars and treaties.
According to John Beatty, a contributor to the book The History of Fort Wayne and Allen County 1700-2005, American General Anthony Wayne arrived here in September of 1794 and built the first American Fort Wayne (see pages 14-15). The American military was actively stationed here from 1794 until April 19, 1819, when the final Fort was decommissioned. By this time, Indiana had become a state. Bits and pieces of the old buildings disappeared, probably used by area residents when building their homes. By the twentieth century, the Fort had disappeared. Read more of the history.
Blockhouse on the reconstructed Old Fort
The fort that is standing today is a reproduction of the third American fort built here in 1815 and designed by Major John Whistler. Today, the Old Fort is used to portray many different periods of history, from the early days of French Colonial history to Civil War re-enactments. And, when it isn’t hosting an event, it is open to passersby who just want to look it over.
Historical re-enactors and their gear help bring the past to life, even outside the Old Fort walls. Check out their interesting artifacts - like this shelter. Note: this is a temporary display, only present during a living history event.
A Tour of the Old Fort
Start at the main entrance. STOP—before you walk inside, notice that apple tree, newly planted in December of 2016. This is a Rambo apple tree, a descendant of the trees that Johnny Appleseed planted here in the early years of the nation’s history. Rambo apples are not sweet, but they do make delicious apple cider, and the trees are hardy—good qualities for growing in frontier land. Read more about the apple tree here.
Wood floors, fireplace, log and chinking walls - this place has all the comforts of home with a rustic touch.
The main gate of the Old Fort cuts through what was known as the Enlisted Men’s Quarters. Soldiers with families would have housing up on the second floor of this building. The Quartermaster’s office, where soldiers would get supplies, has been re-created in the eastern half of the building.
Directly opposite of the Enlisted Men’s housing is the Commander’s Quarters. This is where the commander of the fort lived. Everyday activities, such as writing orders and holding court martials, were completed on the first floor.
Outside of the Old Fort, there is a sidewalk that winds along the river. Some of the land outside the main entrance is devoted to recreating gardens that the people of the Old Fort had, to grow vegetables and herbs that would have helped to enhance the bland military diet.
Historic Old Fort
Historic Fort Wayne is an interesting place to explore. From visualizing the colorful costumes of the past to feeling the wood-and-chinking walls of the fort, history comes to life when you just wander through it—even if you only have five minutes to stop by. Unlock some history and start exploring.
*This post was originally published in July 2017 and has been updated.