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Historic Fort Wayne, Detroit MI

Fort Wayne is a very old fort located downriver from the City of Detroit in an area that has a rich and colorful history related to the military forces of three countries, France, Great Britain, and the U.S., as well as great significance to the Native Americans who lived in the area prior to the Europeans arriving. In addition, the Fort might have been the last stop on the Underground Railroad that was so important to gaining freedom from slavery for so many.

Detroit has a somewhat unique geographic and political location in history and has, as a result, had three forts built on the Detroit River during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, with the final fort, Fort Wayne, located slightly further downriver from the previous forts. The Detroit (translated from French, “The Straight”) River connects Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie and is an international border between the United States and Canada. Prior to the arrival of the French, the river was used by the Iroquois for fur trade with the Dutch at New Amsterdam. Native American burial mounds and pottery have been found in the area and the remaining fort, Fort Wayne, is built atop one of the mounds. In 1701, immediately after Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac landed, the French founded Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, i.e., Fort Detroit, located where the city of Detroit is found today, in the area bounded by Larned Street, Griswold Street, and the Civic Center.

The fort was intended to protect against the advancement of the British west of New England and to protect the valuable fur trade. In its early years the fort saw a fair amount of action, primarily due to conflicts between Native American tribes and the interactions of the tribes with the French. According to Wikipedia (, “When Cadillac founded Fort Detroit, he also purportedly made arrangements with the local Potawatomi people to set up a small village at the site of Fort Wayne for purposes of trading, which was occupied and thriving by 1710.” This area was known as the “the sand hill at Springwells.” The French manned and operated Fort Detroit until 1760, at that time surrendering it to the British “Roger’s Rangers” during the French and Indian War. The fort itself, however, never saw any fighting during this war, being too far west. The British build Fort Lernoult after a few years and maintained the fort until 1796, at which time the recently created United States of America took over and renamed it Fort Shelby.

Interestingly, during the War of 1812, the British General Isaac Brock landed at the location where Fort Wayne would be built, then advanced to Detroit. American General William Hull surrendered without fighting in the belief that the Detroit fort was surrounded. "The British later abandoned the fort and American troops reoccupied it. Following the end of the war Fort Shelby fell into disrepair, and in 1826 it was sold to the City of Detroit and demolished. In 1815, the site of Fort Wayne was used for the signing of the Treaty of Springwells, which marked the official (though belated) end of hostilities between the American government and the local Native American tribes of the area who had allied with the British during the war. Among those present for the signing of the treaty were Lewis Cass and soon to be U.S. President, General William Henry Harrison. Despite Fort Wayne's long-touted slogan, "Never a shot fired in anger," it is also documented that its site, the "sand hill at Springwells" is where the opening shots of the War of 1812 took place, when Michigan militiamen bombarded the town of Sandwich, Canada (later annexed into Windsor) on July 4th, 1812, though this occurred before an official declaration of war had been made.” (Wikipedia)

Due to concerns about a potential British attack and a general lack of preparedness along the border of Canada, funds to build a series of forts from the east coast to what was then the Territory of Minnesota were allocated by the Congress. One of these forts was built at Detroit and named after General Anthony Wayne, also known as “Mad” Anthony Wayne. In 1851 Fort Wayne was completed.

The fort was star-patterned with the intention of having artillery atop earthen ramparts that enclosed brick tunnels that also had artillery locations built in, but the cannons might not have been installed. Over the years some changes have been made to the fort with the addition of buildings, reconstruction of the walls to replace cedar facing with concrete and brick, and other modifications. Fort Wayne saw various types of military use from the Civil War, including importance to the Underground Railroad, right up through the Vietnam War. By 1976 the entirety of the fort had been turned over to the City of Detroit.

Detroit Metro Mashup photojournalists have visited the Fort a few times, particularly to attend their fundraising flea market, and have roamed the grounds taking pictures that we are providing so that you can take a virtual tour of this historic place.

Much more detailed information about the development of Fort Wayne and the early history of Detroit itself can be found at the following links:

Note: Clicking these links will exit the Detroit Metro Mashup website.étroit,_sieur_de_Cadillac

The Historic Fort Wayne Coalition also has a calendar of events at the Fort, beginning with their Spring Flea Market and a Federal Battalion Drill on April 13-14 on their website at

Historic Fort Wayne
6325 Jefferson Ave
Detroit, MI 48209
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