Text on Monument:

“Let’s Go Swimming”

This Memorial Presented To The City, July 6, 1927. The Old Aqueduct Club (followed by the names of “swimmers”)

Rather than the usual heroic figure of the warrior on horseback or the proud city father, this civic statue depicts two barefoot boys who are friends, dressed in coveralls of the 1870s. The stone underneath says simply “Let’s Go Swimming.” This statue was erected in 1927 by the members of a unique Fort Wayne civic group called “The Old Aqueduct Club.” It was a group that celebrated the youthful activities and memories of the bygone era of canals and the covered aqueduct in Fort Wayne that carried the main channel of the Wabash and Erie Canal across the St. Mary’s River.

The Old Aqueduct Club was formed in 1912 by several men who as boys played and swam in the aqueduct. The rules stated simply that members had to have lived on the west side of Fort Wayne before the 1870s (the end of the canal era) and to have gone swimming in the canal. Each year a dinner meeting was held and by the 1930s there were as many as five hundred members who claimed to have met the requirements. By 1955 there were only eleven members left at the club’s 43rd annual dinner, and the Old Aqueduct Club soon passed out of existence soon after.

The aqueduct which the club celebrated was designed by canal engineer Jesse Lynch Williams and was built by henry Lotz (Lotz was the only mayor of Fort Wayne ever to have been deposed by City Council and this was done because he seldom appeared to act the part of mayor in 1843). The wooden flume was two hundred and forty feet long, seventeen feet wide and six feet deep. It was supported on three great stone pillars, remains of which may still be seen along the Rivergreenway on the west bank of the St. Mary’s River. The water of the canal was kept between four and five feet deep and moved about five miles per hour through the aqueduct. A roof was erected over the channel, giving it the appearance of a covered bridge. At the west end, just past the aqueduct, a large basin was created so that the canal boats could turn around and wait for another one to pass. It was here in the basin and in the aqueduct itself that the boys often played.

In 1881, the Nickel Plate Railroad purchased the canal right-of-way in Fort Wayne, including the aqueduct and erected the steel bridge for the trails that still stands today just north of the aqueduct location. The aqueduct soon collapsed into the river and was removed in 1883.

The little park in which the statue stands today is called Orff Park in recollection of the great water-powered mill operated in this location by the Orff family during the canal era and later.[1]  The City of Fort Wayne purchased Orff Park from John Orff in 1892. The park was once larger than it is today, but two-thirds of the original park area was allocated to the West Main Street Bridge. Orff Park is the smallest park in Fort Wayne.[2]

[1] The Bicentennial Heritage Trail Committee, On The Heritage Trail: A Walking Guidebook to the Fort Wayne Heritage Trail (Fort Wayne: ARCH, Inc., 1994), 121-123.

[2] “Orff Park,” City of Fort Wayne, Indiana Parks and Recreation, http://www.fortwayneparks.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=290%3Aorff-park&catid=38&Itemid=33 (accessed 3/19/2016).