Old Fort celebrates state’s Bicentennial

June 13th, 2016

News Coverage:

June 12, 2016

Old Fort celebrates state's Bicentennial

Jamie Duffy | Journal Gazette

The old timbered fort was bustling Sunday with a battalion of U.S. soldiers, gunsmiths, woodwrights, potters, blacksmiths, hat makers and rugmakers.

Every so often a cannon would boom out towards the St. Marys River, one of the Old Fort's boundaries along Spy Run Avenue.

This weekend was a celebration of Indiana's Bicentennial, 200 years of statehood. About 3,500 visitors came to talk to plenty of re-enactors sitting under pitched canvas tents and perhaps buy some frontier equipment or even talk to Johnny Appleseed aka Steve McPhail who wore a floppy hat and carried a rucksack full of stones, herbs and appleseeds.

Ruby Haller, 12, came with her father, Kyle, to soak up all the history, something she said she loves. She set herself down on a long plank to listen to Norm Gable, board chair overseeing Historic Fort Wayne, Inc., talk about the early days of the area.

In 1816, the War of 1812 was over which meant a mighty militia was no longer around, but there were some soldiers building a fort on the present site because the other one was dillapidated.

Settlements, such as they were, were outside the fort in an area known as Frenchtown. There were few people, really because Indiana was populated up from the southern border along the Ohio River. According to literature available at the Fort, Frenchtown consisted of some French traders, Native Americans and a few women, down from the several thousand who populated the town in the 1790s.

"In 1816, this area was unsurveyed," Gable said. "It was Indian territory. It was a pretty wild and woolly area." General Anthony Wayne was long gone and serving in his stead, overseeing the new fort's construction, was Major John Whistler and yes, he was related to the man who painted "Whistler's mother."

Gable, a North Manchester farmer who often works as a blacksmith at the Fort events, was taking a break under a tree, a good place to be on a summer's day with heavy burlap and cotton on, not to mention long stockings and heavy shoes.

Ruby, meanwhile listened in modern summer gear, but seemed as though she might don a long, calico cotton dress and kerchief in a second.

"I really like the re-enactors," Ruby said when asked what her favorite Fort event was. "I just like how knowledgeable they are."

"We've seen you blacksmith before," Kyle Haller told Gable. "We try to make it (here) as often as we can."

North Side High School junior Samantha Hayden, 16, decided to become a Fort volunteer a year and a half ago after being introduced to the Fort by her parents. She was wearing a soft, flowery cotton dress, white kerchief and white cap. She'll be making her own costume when she learns how to sew, she said.

Sunday, she was helping other volunteers with whatever they needed. "Whatever they need, wherever they need me," she said, holding a tankard of drinking water. "I like to volunteer."

November, there will be a Christmas Open House. Bob Jones, the board vice president, is planning it and is leaning toward giving it a Frenchtown twist. "Beyond the Palisades Fort Wayne, " he said. "Joyeux Noel."