(Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” - Jun 2014, No. 114)
Great Lakes in Fort Wayne
Our Indiana history has its roots firmly planted in the Old Northwest Territory within whose larger boundaries are found the Great Lakes and define this part of the North American continent. Eventually, the Northwest Territory was carved into individual states and joined with the United States.
An old “school-days” memory trick to remember the five Great Lakes made use of the acronym H•O•M•E•S − Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. It is more than obvious that the Great Lakes have had an important influence throughout our region. For a time, Fort Wayne celebrated each of the five Great Lakes throughout the community by naming the streets after each of those large fresh water bodies.
Angus C. McCoy, born in 1886 authored a monograph titled, Streets of Fort Wayne in 1953 concluding that five streets were in fact named for the Great Lakes. Using our acronym, we begin with the first. Huron Street originates on the east at Mechanic Street two blocks south of East Main. A block or so long it melds neatly into a northerly direction and becomes Cherry Street.
Ontario three blocks south of Taylor, begins at Brooklyn Avenue and is laid out toward the west reaching McKinley near the railroad tracks. To add to the celebration of the second on our list, near its eastern end a circular drive can be found named Ontario Circle.
Now comes Michigan Avenue and unlike Chicago’s famed thruway, our Fort Wayne attribute is laid out as an east–west paved passage that extends from Riedmiller Avenue to Broadway on the East. Michigan is three blocks south of Taylor Street.
What was once Water Street likely took its name because it was bordered on its east and west ends by the oxbow formed by the Saint Mary’s River, and it also paralleled the grand Wabash & Erie Canal. The street was renamed reminding us of the largest of the Great Lakes and according to Angus McCoy in a 1945 Quest Club paper the name was changed to Superior. During the canal era, many buildings along Superior Street served drayage wagons lined with loading docks, storage buildings, and warehouses such as the “Canal House” at 114 East Superior Street still standing. Also, extant is the Hugh McCulloch home at 616 West Superior where Abe Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury once lived.
Notice the one Great Lake name that’s not included. Erie Street does not exist on present-day city maps. However, that wasn’t always the case. Anyone living in Fort Wayne during its early years, and wished to call on say the Francis Comparet family, would find themselves standing at an address that read “59 Erie Street.” Years later when Berry Street was extended, no longer dead-ending at Monroe Street where it meets the Maumee River, there was another road running a few blocks to the east. It was named Erie Street which disappeared when Berry was cut through. It seems that Benjamin Berry Kerchival was a modest man who served as the sub-agent for Indian Affairs. When approached to honor him using his name he declined, however, agreed that the community could use his middle name.
Out of the Old Northwest Territory were carved the familiar states we know as the “Great Lake States.” Interestingly, the boundary that separated the Indiana and Michigan territories established on June 30, 1805, lined up horizontally with the lower shore of Lake Michigan. Not long before Indiana gained statehood in 1816, the line was moved ten miles north to permit Indiana an access on Lake Michigan.
As our community expands, perhaps other byways have or will recall the names of our Great Lakes. They are truly a worldwide attraction and define our homes in more than one way.
Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi and retired Essex Vice President, is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; a contributing writer for Fort Wayne Monthly magazine; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast Mondays on Northeast Indiana Public Radio WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 FM Fort Wayne and 95.7FM South Bend.