The First French Fort

It was a dream of the French, and especially the renowned seventeenth-century explorer, Robert Sieur de La Salle, to create a wilderness empire that arced through the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River valley from Quebec to New Orleans. This empire would be firmly anchored on military and trading strongholds and Indian alliances. Because the Maumee-Wabash portage was the most direct link between New France in the upper Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, the three Rivers region was particularly important. An outpost at the confluence of the rivers would become a key stronghold in a string of forts cutting through the heart of the wilderness from the ara of Detroit to St. Louis. Other key French strongholds in Indiana were located in Lafayette (Fort Ouiatenon) and Vincennes.

The French lived among the Miami at the Three Rivers as early as 1697 when Jean Baptiste Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes, and Francois Marie Bissot De Vincennes, the son of Jean Baptiste, served as royal agents to the Miami. The elder Vincennes may have built a trading post at the Three Rivers as early as 1706, but the first fort was built in 1722 on this site by Captain Dubuisson upon the orders of the French governor in Quebec. The fortification was called Fort St. Philippe or Fort Miamis, was garrisoned by as many as thirty men, and commanded the portage between the St. Mary’s and Wabash Rivers.

In the 1740s, tensions between France and England increased greatly over competing trading rights in the Midwestern frontier. In response to English expansion into the wilderness north of the Ohio River, the French sent several military expeditions to push the English out. Although some English traders were expelled, superior trade goods and other promises offered by the British merchant adventurers lured the region’s Native peoples to new English trading centers. In 1747, the Wyandot chief Sanosket, encouraged by the British, attacked and burned Fort St. Philippe, partially destroying it. He and his people, along with many of the area Miamis, moved to the new British trading post at Picawillany, near modern Piqua, Ohio. Chief Cold Foot, a firm supporter of the French, remained at the Three Rivers, and the area around the first French fort came to be known as “Cold Foot’s Village.” A smallpox epidemic struck in 1751 and killed many of the Miamis, including Cold Foot and his son.

A new French commandant, Captain Charles DeRaimond, repaired he fort in 1747 and used it for three years. When a senior French officer, Pierre Joseph Celoron, Sieur de Bienville, led his strong expedition through the region in 1749 to counter the British influence, he stopped at the dilapidated old Fort St. Philippe. Accompanying him was the priest and scientist, Pierre Joseph de Bonnecamps, who described he place at the same time as being “in very bad condition” with “eight miserable huts, which only the desire of making money could render endurable.” There were twenty-two French present, and everyone “had the fever,” including the commandant. The palisades were in ruins. A new fort was built the next year several miles away on the St. Joseph River.

An Ambush during the War of 1812

Many years later, in 1813, when the young United States was at war for the second time with Great Britain and the second American fort had withstood a siege by a large force of Indians, the supply expedition led by Major Joseph Jenkinson (who was coming to relieve the present commander, Captain Hugh Moore) was attacked along the St. Mary’s near present-day Guldlin Park. After a difficult effort to haul flat boats up the St. Mary’s from the supply depots in Ohio, the last boat became stuck on a sand bar off what is now called the Guldlin peninsula. While the boatmen were trying to get free of the bar, Indian warriors opened fire from ambush along the riverbank and killed two men outright. A third man drowned trying to escape. When soldiers from the fort reached he scene, the Indians fired again and escaped into the woods.

The First Playground in Fort Wayne

The six-acre site of the first fort was developed as the city’s first playground through the efforts of Addie Guldlin, after who the present day park is named. Addie Guldlin, “a little woman but a dynamo of energy,” was active in the turn of the century “woman’s club movement,” which sought to improve communities through the “science of home economics for the masses on an urban scale.” Addie herself became nationally recognized in what was then called “domestic science” and led in such local efforts as the “clean yards movement,” the “window screens movement,” and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. She also was prominent in the movement to extend the vote to women and served as the state Director of Indiana’s Woman’s Franchise League.

Concerned that children had no safe places to play in Fort Wayne, Addie Guldlin and several other “progressive” women used their club associations to raise the funds to create a large, safe place for hundreds of children to play, complete with elaborate playground equipment. The playground was located on the site of an abandoned city water pumping station and the very peninsula where nearly two centuries earlier the French had built their first fort. For Weeks, Addie personally supervised the grading of the park and installation of the playground equipment. The playground was divided into a girls’ section and a boys’ section, with each having numerous swings, see-saws, wading pools, and sandboxes. The park was dedicated on May 20, 1911, and named in honor of the woman who had done so much to make it a reality. All this was swept away in the great flood of 1913.[1]

[1] The Bicentennial Heritage Trail Committee, On the Heritage Trail: A Walking Guidebook to the Fort Wayne Heritage Trail (Fort Wayne: ARCH, Inc., 1994), 108-112.