Fort Wayne (Detroit)
Original barracks at Fort Wayne
|Location||6053 West Jefferson Avenue
|Area||96 acres (38.8 ha)|
|Architect||Montgomery C. Meigs|
|NRHP Reference #||71000425|
|Added to NRHP||May 6, 1971|
|Designated MSHS||February 19, 1958|
Fort Wayne is located in the city of Detroit, Michigan, at the foot of Livernois Avenue in the Delray neighborhood. The fort is situated on the Detroit River at a point where it is about a mile to the Canadian shore. The original 1848 limestone barracks (with later brick additions) still stands, as does the 1845 star fortification (renovated in 1863 with brick exterior facing). On the fort grounds but outside the original star fort are additional barracks, officers quarters, hospital, shops, recreation building, commissary, guard house, garage, and stables.
The fort sits on 96 acres (38.8 ha). Since the 1970s, 83 acres (33.6 ha), including the original star fort and a number of buildings, has been operated by the city of Detroit. The remaining area is operated by the Army Corps of Engineers as a boatyard. The fort was designated a Michigan State Historic Site in 1958 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
History prior to and during fort construction
The site of Fort Wayne has a history going back to about the year 1000 A.D. Approximately 19 Native American burial mounds were present in the immediate area, as well as a larger one at the mouth of the Rouge River. The sole remaining burial mound at Fort Wayne was excavated by archaeologists at University of Michigan in the early 20th century, and at that time was found to contain human remains dating over 900 years old. It was also discovered that a unique type of local pottery was also native to the site, subsequently dubbed "Wayne Ware." The present star fort was built atop one of the burial mounds, and it is from this site that Springwells Township (later annexed into the City of Detroit) took its name. The site originally consisted of a high sand mound, with freshwater springs found along the marshy waterfront of the Detroit River.
Fort Wayne is Detroit's third fort. The first, Fort Detroit, was built by the French in 1701. This fort, constructed shortly after Cadillac landed, was manned by the French until it was surrendered to the British in 1760 during the French and Indian War. The second fort, Fort Lernoult, was built by the British a few years later, and was manned by the British until 1796. When the United States took over Detroit, Fort Lernoult was renamed Fort Shelby. When Cadillac founded Fort Detroit, he also purportedly made arrangements with the local Potawatomi people to set up a small village at the site of Fort Wayne for purposes of trading, which was occupied and thriving by 1710.
During the War of 1812, British General Isaac Brock crossed the Detroit River with his troops and landed on the site where Fort Wayne sits today (the narrowest part of the river), then known as "the sand hill at Springwells" before marching to Detroit. Under the impression that he was completely surrounded and outnumbered, General William Hull surrendered Fort Shelby to the British during the Siege of Detroit without offering any resistance. The British later abandoned the fort and American troops reoccupied it. Following the end of the war Fort Shelby fell into disrepair, and in 1826 it was sold to the City of Detroit and demolished. In 1815, the site of Fort Wayne was used for the signing of the Treaty of Springwells, which marked the official (though belated) end of hostilities between the American government and the local Native American tribes of the area who had allied with the British during the war. Among those present for the signing of the treaty were Lewis Cass and soon to be U.S. President, General William Henry Harrison. Despite Fort Wayne's long-touted slogan, "Never a shot fired in anger," it is also documented that its site, the "sand hill at Springwells" is where the opening shots of the War of 1812 took place, when Michigan militiamen bombarded the town of Sandwich, Canada (later annexed into Windsor) on July 4, 1812, though this occurred before an official declaration of war had been made.
In the late 1830s, small, short-lived rebellions occurred in Canada to protest corruption amongst its colonial government. Many Americans believed there was widespread Canadian support for these rebellions and formed volunteer militias to overthrow Canada's colonial government. This led to a series of militia attacks on Canada known as the Patriot War. American troops were mustered to suppress the American volunteers and maintain America's official neutrality in the conflict. However, at the same time, the United States government realized there were a lack of fortifications along the northern border to repel a potential British attack, and in particular, no counterpart to the British Fort Malden located in Amherstburg. In 1841, Congress appropriated funds to build a chain of forts stretching from the east coast to the Minnesota Territory, including one at Detroit.
Soon afterward, the Army sent Lieutenant Montgomery C. Meigs to Detroit. Meigs bought up riverfront farm property three miles below Detroit, at the point on the Detroit River closest to Canada. Construction on the fort began in 1842, with Meigs superintending. The original fortifications were cedar-reveted earthen walls. The fort was completed in 1851, costing $150,000. The Army named the new fort for Revolutionary War hero General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, who had taken possession of Detroit from the British in 1796.
Architecture and construction
The original fort is star-patterned, with walls of earthen ramparts faced with cedar, covering vaulted brick tunnels that contain artillery ports. The design was based on fortifications developed by Sebastian Vauban, a 17th-century French military engineer, and modified by Dennis Hart Mahan. Artillery emplacements are atop the walls, designed for 10-inch (250 mm) cannons mounted to fire over the parapet, although there is no indication that artillery intended for the fort was ever installed. There is a dry moat surrounding the fort, and a demilune facing the river.
Although the star fort today is substantially similar to the original construction, some changes have been made. Starting in 1863, under the supervision of Thomas J. Cram, the walls of the fort were reconstructed, replacing the original cedar facing with brick and concrete. In addition, the entranceway to the fort has been altered. The original entrance to the fort was a small sally port in the southeast bastion. In 1938, an arched entrance was constructed through the fort's walls to accommodate vehicular traffic; later, the arches were removed to fit larger trucks.
Within the star fort (and built at approximately the same time) is a Federal style, 3 1⁄2-story limestone troop barracks, consisting of five independent but adjacent sections. Each section contains a ground floor mess, two floors of barracks rooms, and an attic. Brick additions were added to the rear of the building in 1861, housing washrooms and kitchens. Next to the barracks is a powder magazine, also constructed of limestone. Additional buildings originally built within the star fort, such as officer's housing, have long since been destroyed.
Numerous additional buildings have been built on fort grounds outside of the star fort. A row of wooden Victorian officer's homes was built in the 1880s. In 1937, these homes were completely refurbished and clad in brick by WPA workers. One home was restored in the 1980s to its original appearance. A Spanish-American War guardhouse, built in 1889, is in the center of the fort grounds. The guard house was restored in 1984. In 1890, a brick hospital was built, with a later addition in 1898. In 1905, a new guardhouse, still in use today, was built near the gate to the fort grounds. Around the same time, four barracks buildings for enlisted men were built, as well as a service club (1903), headquarters (1905), and post office. By 1928, duplex housing for senior NCOs. In 1939, more NCO houses were built in a row facing Jefferson Avenue.
Before any cannon had been installed at the newly constructed Fort Wayne, the United States and Britain peacefully resolved their differences, eliminating the need for a fort on the Detroit River. Fort Wayne remained unused for a decade after its initial construction, manned only by a single watchman. There is evidence suggesting that the fort was a final stop on the Underground Railroad during these dormant years, as the Irish farmer who lived next to the fort's demilune operated a small ferry to Canada to supplement his income, the only such ferry in this part of the city at that time.
In 1861, the American Civil War again made Fort Wayne relevant. British sympathy for the Confederacy renewed fears of an attack from Canada, leading to a reconstruction and strengthening of the fort walls. Two weeks after the beginning of the war, the Michigan 1st Volunteer Infantry Regiment was mustered into service at Fort Wayne. For the rest of the Civil War, the fort served as a mustering center for troops from Michigan, as well as a place for veterans to recover from their wounds. Alfred Gibbs was the first commander to occupy the fort, serving his parole at Fort Wayne after being captured by the Confederacy.
After the Civil War and until 1920, Fort Wayne served as a garrison post, with regiments rotated from the western frontier for rest. During the Spanish-American War, troops from the fort headed to Cuba and the Philippines; the fort's guardhouse also housed the first telephone exchange in southwestern Detroit. During the Red Scare, the fort served as a temporary detention center for accused communists awaiting trial. Starting in World War I, Fort Wayne became instrumental in acquisition of cars, trucks, and spare parts for the military. During the Great Depression, the fort was opened to homeless families and it housed the Civilian Conservation Corps".
The motor vehicle supply function reached its peak in World War II, when Fort Wayne was designated Motor Supply Depot and additional buildings were constructed for warehousing and shipping. At that time Fort Wayne was the largest motor supply depot in the entire world, the command center controlling the flow of materiel from the automobile factories to the city-wide network of storage and staging facilities, which included the Michigan State Fairgrounds, and the Port of Detroit terminal. Every single tank, truck, jeep, tire, or spare part that was sent to the fronts of World War II from the Detroit factories came through Fort Wayne, making it the arsenal of America's Arsenal of Democracy. At that time there was a railroad spur along the riverfront, docks for large ships, and over 2,000 (mostly civilian women) workers were employed; the drivers and mechanics of the Red Ball Express were also trained here. Fort Wayne served as home to Italian POWs captured during the North African Campaign, and were employed as servants, cooks, and janitors. After Italy's surrender, the POWs were given the chance to return to Italy, but many chose to remain and settle in Detroit.
At the end of World War II, plans were made to close the fort. In 1948, the star fort and original barracks were turned over to the City of Detroit's Historical Commission for operation as a military museum. In the 1950s, anti-aircraft guns were installed at the fort, later upgraded to Nike-Ajax missiles. However, even during the Cold War, Fort Wayne served as an entrance station for the armed services, with thousands of enlistees and draftees being sworn in during the Korean War and Vietnam War. The fort was again used to provide housing to displaced families after the 1967 12th Street Riot, with the last families staying at the fort until 1971.
The remainder of Fort Wayne was turned over piecemeal to the city of Detroit, with the last bit of property delivered in 1976.
From 1949 until 2006, the Fort Wayne Military Museum was operated by the Detroit Historical Museum. Since early 2006, the fort has been operated by the Detroit Recreation Department, assisted by the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition, the Friends of Fort Wayne, and the Detroit Historical Society.
Also on the grounds is the Tuskegee Airmen Museum and an ancient burial mound. It hosts historic reenactments (usually Civil War), spring and fall flea markets, concerts, youth soccer league matches, Hispanic and Boy Scout events and is open for some civic events. Areas can be rented for special events and family reunions as well.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- "Fort Wayne". Michigan State Housing Authority. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
- Vivian M. Balduch (February 4, 1999). "Detroit's Fort Wayne Under Siege". The Detroit News Michigan History (detnews.com). Retrieved October 22, 2010.
- "S0182". Michigan Markers web site. Retrieved 2008-01-17.
- Conway, J. and D. F. Jamroz (2007). Detroit's Historic Fort Wayne. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7385-5112-8.
- Hill, Eric J. and John Gallagher (2002). AIA Detroit: The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-3120-3.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fort Wayne (Detroit).|
- Historic Fort Wayne Coalition (Detroit)
- Detroit Recreation Department
- USGS aerial color image of Fort Wayne in Detroit and surroundings