Historic Fort Wayne’s losing battle

This past weekend we packed up a backpack with turkey sandwiches and oatmeal cream snacks, loaded up the lads Shamus and Sean and took a trip to Detroit.
Our destination: right where Livernois Avenue almost dumps into the Detroit River — as the crow flies, about a mile from the sunny shores of Canada. It’s a place that has acres and acres of history — what 5-year-old Sean lovingly calls, Historic Fort John Wayne.
What a cool place.
What a depressing place. What a cool history and a sad history.
There’s even a moat. There are underground bunkers, tunnels and places to fire cannons and rifles. We spent about four hours there exploring. We walked down stairways leading into underground rooms built over 150 years ago. No lights, no electricity — we used the flash from our camera to see what was in front of us. Way cool!
The archways of brick are wonderful . . . yet . . .
The place is falling apart. Bricks are literally crumbling and falling down. Outside, trees grow unmanaged — dead limbs hanging precariously over sidewalks. Inside some of the 42 buildings, trees grow out of second floor windows. Roofs are collapsing. Some grand architecture wasting away. Weeds have overtook this little city within The City.
What, you haven’t heard of Fort Wayne? That’s not surprising as not many folks go there anymore.
The place isn’t open for public tours since it was closed in 1992. We were able to wander around (unchaperoned) because there was a flea market taking place.
We walked from building to building, rubbing clean patches on dirty windows to look inside. On more than one occasion, I could have gained entry. Okay, one time I did further the excitement by going into one of the buildings, leaving Dear Wife Jen to explain to the younguns that they could not go in, even though their stealthy (?) and sure-of-foot father could. Going into one of the non-commission officer’s dwellings is probably a federal offense or something, so don’t squeal on me.
There’s an interesting web site folks can visit for more information on the history of Fort Wayne (www.savefortwayne.org). Here’s a little bit I gleaned.
The fort was built over a period of four years (1844-1847) on a military campsite that dated back to 1796. It was built because ‘tensions were high along the border with Canada. There was talk of war with England over a border dispute concerning the Oregon territory and the entire U.S.-Canadian border was being fortified.?
So much for our ‘friends? across the Detroit River. I guess time really does heal all wounds — we all like each other now.
Son Sean will be sad to learn that the fort was in fact named after Revolutionary War General ‘Mad? Anthony Wayne and not the Duke — but because Sean is still young and since I don’t feel the need to crush him, I’ll let him live the lie for a few more years.
The fort was never engaged in a skirmish, yet from 1939-1944 (WW 2 years), became the largest motor vehicle and parts depot in the world.
The saddest part of the fort’s history? In 1996 (and renewed in 2001) Wayne County voters approved a tax to help save the fort. Folks were promised that at least $4.75 million would go to fix-up the grounds. Only about $2 million went there.
From the web site: City officials estimate repairs to cost about $20 million. ‘The real problem here is that a piece of American History is being neglected and we as citizens don’t even enjoy the right to view our historical site. The only events that occur are soccer games on the parade grounds and an occasional flea market put on by the museum. The Fort is still owned by the City of Detroit and run by the Detroit Historical Museum. On site are the original Fort, the added buildings built in the 1930’s, Indian Burial Mound, Great Lakes Indian Museum and the Tuskegee Airmen Museum. There are also warehouses on site stuffed with historical artifacts, ranging from old cars to authentic costumes. The complex includes a 12-acre parade ground.?
That’s how I spent my weekend, and you?
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