Detroit: A City on the Rise – Fort Wayne
Published March 20, 2012 • 3 comments
BY CHRIS ZADOROZNY, Staff Columnist
Fort Wayne. Isn’t that a city somewhere in Indiana? Well, yes, you are correct, and it’s even the same city that the Detroit Pistons came from. But I bet you didn’t know that Detroit has its own Fort Wayne.
It’s not very well known, and it is indeed a real fort, like the ones they built back in the late 1700s and early 1800s. This fort is located in the Delray neighborhood of Detroit, not too far from Downtown. The foot of Livernois Ave. and Jefferson Ave. holds the official address for Fort Wayne, but it’s not the first fort that Detroit had throughout its history. In fact, it’s the third fort in Detroit history.
The first fort that Detroit had was named Fort Detroit. It was built in 1701 by the French to keep the British from occupying the land west of New England. Its northern border was at Griswold St. and Larned St. all the way to Cobo Center, with the southern border being the Detroit River. It was occupied by the French, British, and the Americans throughout the late 1700s, before burning to the ground in the fire of 1805.
Fort Lernoult, later renamed Fort Shelby, was the second fort in Detroit. It was located just north of Fort Detroit, built in 1779 by the British. It was ceded to the Americans in the Jay Treaty in 1796. Then, during the War of 1812, it was surrendered to the British for just about a year, until the Americans took control when the British surrendered the war. After the fire burned the original Fort Detroit, Secretary of War Henry Dearborn, for who the city of Dearborn is named, renamed Fort Lernoult as Fort Detroit. After the War of 1812, the Americans renamed it to Fort Shelby.
The original location of the fort is Fort St. and Shelby St., surrounded by Michigan Ave., Griswold St., Congress St., and Cass Ave. It was torn down in 1827, one year after it was given to the city of Detroit.
The third and final fort which still stands today is Fort Wayne. It was built in the 1840s, with renovations taking place during, before, and after the Civil War. The grounds contain a star fort and other buildings outside of the walls. Those buildings included additional barracks other than those in the fort, officers quarters, a hospital, shops, a recreation building, a guard house, a garage, and stables.
Inside the star fort, the main barracks were made of limestone, which still stand today. There were also officer’s quarters inside the fort, which has been since destroyed, but the powder magazine still remains.
It was built because the United States realized the lack of fortifications along the northern border of the country. The government quickly acted in the 1830s and commissioned a fort to be built somewhere near Detroit. With the proximity to Fort Malden in Amherstburg, the United States sent Army Lieutenant Montgomery Meigs to find a location. He bought farm land three miles south of Detroit, at the closest point to Canada. The river spanned less than one mile from side to side.
In 1843, construction started, and the original walls were made of cedar wood, with earthen dirt supporting them. Eight years later, the fort was completed at a cost of $150,000 (that is just under $4 million in today’s market). The fort was named after Revolutionary War hero General “Mad” Anthony Wayne.
Surprisingly, the fort has never seen action. Before cannons were installed, the British and the Americans resolved their differences, eliminating the need for a fort. Once the Civil War rolled around, tensions rose. Out of fear of attack from Canada because of British support for the Confederacy, reconstruction began on the fort, fortifying the walls, but no attack ever came.
The fort was retired in 1976, and has been operated by the Detroit Historical Museum. The Historic Fort Wayne Coalition now operates the fort. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and designated a Michigan State Historic Site in 1958.
Historic Fort Wayne, which it is now called to avoid confusion with the city of Fort Wayne, hosts a lot of events, most of which are in the summer. The Tuskegee Airmen National Museum is housed at the fort, which you can tour.
The fort hosts a Civil War re-enactment each summer, tours, ghost hunts, baseball games, veteran’s recognitions, and a Christmas party.
Historic Fort Wayne is still in disrepair, with only a few parts that are renovated. Many of the buildings outside of the star fort still need repair. A small fee to park and to gain access goes toward renovating the rest of the grounds.
The fort is scheduled to open in late March with a flea market. Tours start sometime in April. If you would like to visit this historic piece of Detroit, go to www.historicfortwaynecoalition.com. Make sure to check the event page out and plan your visit around something interesting.
Fort Wayne is just a small piece of Detroit, but its history is so great. For the many Great Lakes cruises starting in June that will stop in Detroit, Historic Fort Wayne could be a possible destination for many history buffs.