by Tom Castaldi
At the intersection of Superior and Lafayette streets near the river bridge there is an historical marker that tells of a once popular spot on the Maumee River known as the Pirogue Landing. Pirogues had been a time-honored means of navigating the rivers of the Midwest and active from the late 1700s until the canal era. Hollowed out from thirty to sixty foot long logs, these tree trunk boats brought families and cargo up the Maumee River from Toledo and Detroit, and returned with furs to Lake Erie in exchange for traders’ supplies. Likewise, produce was sent down the Saint Mary’s River in these boats from Dayton and Piqua, Ohio.
Constructed from poplar trees, one of the most plentiful and easy to fashion resources in the region, fur traders used pirogues to haul heavy quantities of goods and furs in and out of the wilderness. Early settlers ventured into the surrounding woods, cut down a poplar tree as large as three feet in diameter and as long as the log would make a practical craft. When finished out, these dug-out canoes were packed with as many furs as they could hold and sent down the Maumee River to Lake Erie.
The U.S. military garrisons stationed at Fort Wayne often used pirogues for supplies. The last detachment of soldiers at Fort Wayne left the garrison by pirogue in 1819, even carrying their heavy artillery in the stout boats.
Perhaps the first certain account of the arrival of Johnny Appleseed in Fort Wayne recalled, “that in 1830 he was seen one autumn day, seated in a section of a hollow tree, which improvised for a boat, laden with apple seeds fresh from the cider presses of a more eastern part of the country, paddling up the Maumee River, landing at Wayne’s fort….in Fort Wayne.”
The first women to teach in Fort Wayne, Susan Man and Alida Hubbell, came to the town in a pirogue all the way from the mouth of the Maumee at Toledo in 1836. By the mid–1830s, however, keel boats and then canal boats began replacing the wilderness form of water transportation.
Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine
“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – May 2007 No. 32Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com.