(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” –June 2011, No. 79.)
It is not unusual to hear people new to the Allen County area mention that our local history seems to be a prominent topic not normally heard as much in places where they once lived or visited. It’s based on good reasoning too. Some make the observation that because northeast Indiana was the stage for much of the back story of this nation’s history. It was through this country that an early crossroads was formed from natural formations that sent rivers flowing in each of the four corners of the compass.
From here a traveler could move up the Saint Joseph River into Michigan or follow the Saint Mary’s River well into Ohio or head down the Maumee to the Eastern Great Lakes. To the west too, much of our history unfolded because of a short land barrier over which the traveler could portage to the headwaters of the Wabash River. It led directly to the Mississippi Valley and to the heart of the continent.
Militarily, whoever controlled this crossway of trails and the rivers they followed commanded one of North America’s critical sites in the wilderness days. Desperate and savage battles were witnessed in the region. It resulted in the displacement of the indigenous American Indian peoples having lost the struggle.
General history books tell of battles such as those fought at Concord, Yorktown, Gettysburg or developments such as the Wright Brothers’ first flight or Edison’s light. Our region is filled with the behind the scenes stories driven by our unique location that was best described by Miami Chief Little Turtle in 1795 when he spoke to General Anthony Wayne saying that it was here in the Three Rivers vicinity where, “that glorious gate…through which all good words of our chief’s had to pass from north to south and from east to west.”
Historian Michael Hawfield once described our region for our time saying, “In later years, long after the wilderness had been tamed, transportation enterprises, financial corporations, and major manufacturing companies continued to be drawn to this crossroads in the heartland of the American marketplace and industry. Also, attracted to the crossroads were all those extraordinary and wonderfully ordinary individuals who conceived the inventions, made the components, drove the trolleys, designed the buildings, built the parks, and served in wars, put out the fires, developed the businesses, created the hospitals and much more.”
Here are found the enduring signs of this lively heritage, as well as a dynamic present and promising future. As Hawfield wrote, “There are churches of touching compassion and beautiful architecture full of meaning, and parks full of recreation, tradition, and natural beauty, and there are noble and curious monuments, the oldest buildings, and the grand homes of bygone magnates. These are the constant reminders of our origins, our challenges and our promise.” It’s all here to celebrate at a crossroads found here in northeastern Indiana.
Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi© is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 fm. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.