(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” - Apr 2011, No. 77)
Sometimes referred to as, “the Old Mill Stream,” the early nineteenth century Duck Creek became the namesake for our present-day Duck Street. Duck Street between Clinton and Barr streets is now engulfed by the south end of Headwaters Park. Duck Creek once drained an area from the higher ground near Superior Street on into the Saint Mary’s River. The small stream entered the river not far upstream from the Samuel Bigger Memorial Bridge. Several hundred yards farther upstream on the opposite bank, the Spy Run Creek is still visible as it drains the northern watershed into the river.
In the 1840s and 1850s, the creek received the runoff from the large City Mills that stood along that stream. It flowed as an open run until nearly the 1900s. However, the old Duck Creek was soon forgotten. City Mills was built in 1842 and put in operation the next year by Allen Hamilton and Jessie Lynch Williams. It was ideally located in the business section of the city one and a half blocks north of the County Courthouse, on the west side of Clinton Street between Superior Street and the old Wabash & Erie Canal line now replaced by the elevated railroad.
During the years the mill received its power from Duck Creek. There was enough flow to turn a large 18 or 20 feet in diameter overshot wheel that operated four buhrs or grinding stones. An L-shaped frame construction building, the mill equipment occupied three floors with grain storage bins above. Powered by water for forty years, steam equipment was installed and still later a roller processing system was added.
Roy Bates writing for the Old Fort News wrote that it “was one of the best patronized mills of the county. Farmers, coming to the city, could do their buying while their grain was being ground. In early days grain was brought to the mill in ox-carts and other primate means of conveyance.” The mill was discontinued in 1920, and all of the equipment except the steam engine was sold to a Mexican businessman and shipped to a town south of Mexico City.
When preparations were being readied in late 2000 for the new Allen County Criminal Justice Center on the northwest corner of Superior and Clinton streets, workers uncovered a wooden structure. Located nearly fourteen feet below street level, it measured over ten feet wide by over three feet deep. The visible portions of the structure appeared to be nearly thirty feet into the building site and seemed to extend farther under Superior Street to the site of the old Wabash & Erie Canal line. At its northern extremity of the structure, crews saw a naturally occurring stream bed, continuing to the north several feet and then turning sharply to the east. It appears the structure was an extension of Wabash & Erie Canal Culvert No. 25 that once passed Duck Creek under the canal. So long ago has the old mill and culvert been covered over, that it and Duck Creek are all but forgotten. Among the culvert timbers, rocks and soil turned up at the discovery site were a few old clay bottles.
Canal Society of Indiana Hoosier Packet editor, Carolyn Schmidt, investigated the discovery at the time of the excavation saying that if the culvert under the canal were extended, it would have been some sixty feet long under the canal, plus about one half a city block long from the canal to the street, plus the width of Superior Street, plus the remaining few feet into the County Criminal Justice Center site...quite long but not an impossibility. Editor Schmidt concluded that future research needs to be done before fully concluding what the remnants reflect.
Duck Creek, the small stream with an unusual name, is one that once was an important drainage system for pioneer Fort Wayne, a source for a growing city’s economic development, buried and left undiscovered until it was unearthed by a building intended to serve justice in a modern society.
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.