The Importance of This Location
Two crucial factors explain Fort Wayne’s strategic importance. The first is the presence of three rivers; the St. Joseph and St. Mary’s meet at the edge of modern-day downtown Fort Wayne to form the Maumee River. Second, the geography of the area allowed travelers to easily carry goods and canoes a short distance of approximately two to twenty miles (depending on how high the rivers were running) from the St. Mary’s to the Little River (formerly known as the Little Wabash River). The Little River flows into the Wabash River, which is a tributary of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, in turn. The combination of the juncture of the three rivers and opportunity for portage provided the ability to easily travel and transport goods from Canada all the way to the Gulf of Mexico almost entirely by water.
Early European Settlers
The French were the first Europeans to settle in the Great Lakes region. They arrived in northeast Indiana in the late 1600s to find that the Iroquois (a confederation of tribes from central New York), with support from the British and Dutch, had driven out most of the area’s original woodland tribes. A treaty in 1701 created peaceful relations between the Iroquois, British, French, and original tribes, who were allowed back into the area. One of those tribes was the Miami, They formed a village at the confluence of the three rivers called Kekionga (also referred to as Kiskakon in some records). A detailed history of this conflict can be found at https://www.americanhistorycentral.com/entries/beaver-wars/.
To help facilitate the lucrative fur trade with the Native American tribes, the French built a trading post near Kekionga. Approximately 80,000 – 100,000 beaver pelts were harvested per year and shipped back to Europe, via Detroit to Montreal.
To protect their new venture, the French completed construction of Fort Miami in 1722, the first of five forts built in the area. Located on the St. Mary’s River near the intersection of Superior and VanBuren Streets, it housed a garrison of 20-30 men.
Political enmity between the British and the French in Europe carried over into North America. under British goading, the Miami, led by War Chief LaDamoiselle of the Piankeshaw, captured Fort Miami. They took the entire garrison as prisoners and burned the fort to the ground.
France would not be deterred and by 1750, they had built a second Fort Miami. This fort was located on the St. Joseph River, near Delaware and Alabama Avenues, and remained French until the end of the French and Indian War. Fort Miami was surrendered to the British who occupied the fort until 1763. It was then taken by the Miami as part of “Pontiac’s Conspiracy.” There would not be another garrison or military company in the area until the arrival of Anthony Wayne.
In 1793, the United States government sent in General Anthony Wayne to subdue the local Native Americans and build a lasting US presence. Wayne knew that he would need to establish a protected supply line from Fort Washington (present-day Cincinnati, Ohio) up to the new fort he was assigned to build at Kekionga (present-day Fort Wayne). He constructed or rebuilt existing forts along the Indiana-Ohio border leading up to Kekionga. The Native Americans and Wayne collided at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in the present-day city of Maumee, Ohio, a suburb of Toledo. In August of 1794, Wayne defeated the Native American army consisting of various tribes, thus effectively ending the Native American resistance on the Northwest frontier.
After his victory, Wayne returned to the three rivers area and began building a permanent fort which was completed on October 20, 1794. Wayne’s fort was located at the present-day corner of Clay and Berry Streets and named in his honor. This fort would be the first of the three US forts built in what is now downtown Fort Wayne.
In 1798, Colonel Thomas Hunt became commander of Fort Wayne. Due to the poor condition of Wayne’s original fort, Hunt erected a new fort in 1800. It was positioned about 300 feet from the old fort and sat closer to the rivers. It stood on the site where the Fort Wayne Fire Department Station #1 sits today. During the War of 1812, this fort survived a sustained siege, and was able to hold the frontier from falling to the British.
The third and final American fort was established in the fall of 1815, on the same site of Colonel Hunt’s structure. It was built by Major John Whistler, who had served under Anthony Wayne. He had assisted Wayne with construction of the original Fort Wayne, as well as working on Fort Dearborn located in present-day Chicago, IL.
FUN TRIVIA…Major Whistler’s grandson, James Whistler is best known for the famous painting of his mother, titled Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, better known as “Whistler’s Mother”.
The Native American resistance had ended with the War of 1812, so a military post was no longer necessary. On April 19, 1819, the fort was decommissioned and the last soldiers departed. It found new use as a church and school for the Miami, and functioned as a social gathering place for city dwellers. Later, fort timbers were re-purposed as beams and foundations for construction of homes. The Officer’s Quarters was the final building still standing. It was finally torn down in 1852.
The Reconstructed Fort
This project began in 1964 when Historic Fort Wayne, Inc. was established and started planning a reconstruction of the Old Fort, using Major Whistler’s 1814 drawings. After much fundraising, they purchased property in the late 1960s and sought a fort builder. Lok-N-Logs Inc., a log home company in Sherburne, New York, took on the unusual project, constructing the fort first in New York, then transporting it to Indiana, where it was reassembled. It officially opened shortly before July 4, 1976, to celebrate the nation’s Bicentennial, and remained open daily until the early 1990s. Historic Fort Wayne, Inc. disbanded in 1989, and the current Historic Fort Wayne, Inc. was formed in 2004 as a volunteer effort to preserve the Fort. Though they share a name, the two groups are not connected.