In 1840, the United States Army started to survey local farms along the Detroit River near British Canada to find a place for a new artillery post. The fort was to be built in the shape of a five-point star, and was to contain the most up-to-date cannon in order to fire upon enemy ships as well as at the Canadian shore. This fort was named after General Anthony Wayne, who defeated the British in 1796 at Fallen Timbers, a defeat that resulted in the Northwest Territories being occupied by the United States.
Fort Wayne was the third fort for Detroit, however, it was the first to be built by the Americans. The first city fortress was Fort Pontchartran du Detroit, which was built by the French in 1701 near what is today Hart Plaza, not too long after the landing of Antoine Cadillac. This fort was surrendered in 1760 to the British during the French and Indian War. The British built another fort several years later, named Fort Lernoult. Built further inland, this second fort was located on the intersection of today's Shelby Street and Fort Street. The fort was under British occupation until 1796, when the Americans gained control of Detroit and changed the fort's name to Fort Shelby.
Fort Shelby deteriorated during the decades after the British troops were ejected following the War of 1812. During this time, there was still a threat of a territorial war with British Canada, and American defensive positions were fortified as tensions grew along the border to the north, including new forts built from the Minnesota Territory to the east coast. Fort Wayne was to be a crucial part of those defenses.
Before any cannons could be obtained for Fort Wayne, however, diplomacy intervened. Britain and the United States signed a treaty that resulted in diplomatic solutions to the territorial disputes. The fort was then re-commissioned as an infantry garrison, even though it didn't hold any troops until the start of the Civil War. Due the peace with Britain and then Canada, Fort Wayne never saw any shots fired upon it in anger. The site instead became an induction center for troops from Michigan entering into battle in every conflict the United States was involved in between the Civil War and the war in Vietnam.
Over the fort's 125 years, it has acted as a station for infantry training, as a temporary location of the Chaplin School, and as a place for procuring weapons and vehicles made in Detroit during both world wars. Fort Wayne was also used to house prisoners of war from Italy during World War II. It became a home to several families as well after the 1967 riots, when many houses were burned down.
Visitors can now visit the original limestone barracks building from 1848, thanks to a major restoration, as well as the commanding officers house, an ancient Native American burial mound, the renovated 1845 star fort, and the Tuskegee Airmen Museum. Guided walking tours are available for those wanting more information about Fort Wayne. These tours last around 1 to 1.5 hours and are offered during the weekends regularly and by appointment on weekdays.
6325 West Jefferson Avenue, Detroit, MI 48209, Phone: 313-628-0796
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