I had to draw you in somehow. Seriously, though, how many fellow Fort Wayners grew up thinking Fort Wayne is “boring” and that there’s nothing to do here? I was one of them, hence, my moving away–repeatedly. I’m back now and have no plans to leave again as life, love, and happiness have brought me back a final time.
I don’t recall learning about the history of the region in my K-12 years, but I made up for it with countless “historical vacations” my parents took us on and I read abundantly in college. Since then, I’m an active researcher and writer, and have worked with Miami Indian communities for years. I’m really grateful for those historical vacations as a kid and while Fort Wayne may not tantalize one in the same way as Disney World does for some, I love history and historical treasures abound in the region–many of which you CAN experience.
What do you know about our historical namesake, Fort Wayne? I never realized growing up that there were actually several forts here. The French built the first fort, Fort Miamis, in 1697, and in 1721, it was replaced by Fort St. Philippe des Miamis. By 1760, after British defeat in the French and Indian War, the area was ceded to England and the fort was renamed, Fort Miami. Miami Indians and other Native Americans in 1763 rebelled and took Fort Miami, “Kekionga” to them, and held the area for over 30 years until the creation of the first of 3 American forts. The first American fort, “Fort Wayne”, named after General Mad Anthony Wayne, was built in 1794, and the current FORT is a replica of one constructed by Major John Whistler in 1815-1816. Events are scheduled at Historic Fort Wayne throughout the year.
A must-see in the Fort Wayne area is the The History Center–home to the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society. This museum houses 26,000 artifacts, photographs, and documents from the history of the Fort Wayne/Allen County area. They also oversee the historic Barr Street Market and maintain the home of Miami Chief Jean Baptiste de Richardville. If you’ve never been to the Richardville house (1827) in Waynedale, GO! This is noted to be one of the oldest Native American homes in its original location east of the Mississippi River. Take a tour and visit the History Center, too. Also worth noting is the Historic Forks of the Wabash which has another Richardville homes on-site as well as two other historical buildings. And, don’t forget the George Mather Lecture Series at the History Center where local experts share their passion for Fort Wayne history and culture throughout the year.
There are blogs you can follow that capture Fort Wayne’s (ethno)history, too. Nancy McCammon-Hansen maintains a blog with the History Center at History Center Notes & Queries. Her knowledge of the area, backed with artifactual evidence from the History Center, not to mention her wit as a writer are delightfully insightful. Local historian Tom Castaldi also writes for a blog called Along the Heritage Trail . Miami scholar, George Ironstrack, also maintains a blog with the Myaamia Project at Miami University Aatotamankwi Myaamiaki: A Miami Community History & Ecology Blog that delves into Miami history, language, and culture.
And, Erik Olson, television journalist and weekend anchor at the Indiana News Center, has a popular series called Your Country often featuring interesting historical and cultural segments from northeast Indiana. To listen to archived segments go to Your Country.
ARCH (Architecture and Community Heritage) is another gem in the city. This organization protects and preserves historical and cultural assets in northeast Indiana. In addition to preservation efforts, ARCH offers a lecture series and walking and bus tours of historical places in the area. They also conduct archaeology bus tours, haunted sites tours, and have published several interesting books including Fort Wayne’s participation with the Underground Railroad. Make sure to check out other ARCH Publications. I have several myself and they are extremely interesting.
I recently learned of the Fort Wayne 1X1 Project. The mission of the 1X1 Project is to amass photographs documenting the Fort Wayne area. They accept online submissions and photographs can be of just about anything. Their goal is to “reveal a diverse portrait of our city…one square at a time.” Even if you’re not a shutterbug, please look at the Online Gallery. These is a great project and one that will continue to reveal changes in the Fort Wayne area, because, yes, things DO change here.
In addition to the Fort Wayne 1X1 Project there are 2 publications that host a great collection of photographs. The first is Historic Photos of Fort Wayne (2007) that photodocuments the city from 1860-1979. And, the second book Allen County Photo Album(2008) showcases photographs of the greater Fort Wayne area from 1852-1954. These books are genuinely interesting even for the passive Fort Wayner, and depending on your age, some of the photographs may even bring back a memory or two. They can be purchased online or locally at the History Center.
The history of this area goes back long before European settlement. Miami Indians and other Indian communities called this area home for hundreds if not thousands of years, before white settlers arrived. The Three Rivers have brought people and commerce together for a long time, and while its historical relevance may not seem grand to you at first blush, ‘Fort Wayne’ was well known even before it was named as such. I’m grateful to call it home.