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1000 TO 1900

Map of route from Great Lakes coast

Path to the past

By Nate Meyer for the News-Sentinel

Fort Wayne is called the Summit City because it sits on a rise of land that separates the rivers flowing northeast to Lake Erie and the St. Lawrence River, and those flowing southwest to the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

For centuries leading up to the 1800s, traders who wanted to get from Lake Erie to the Gulf of Mexico were able to float most of the way, except for about six miles through present-day Fort Wayne, where they had to carry their canoes across an overland portage.

Since I learned of the Maumee-Wabash portage that connected Lake Erie with the great rivers flowing through the heart of the young nation, I had intended to hike it. Although signs of the actual path were disappearing by the time of the Civil War, I knew that one end lay at the headwaters of the Little Wabash River near present-day Fox Island County Park. I knew the other end lay near the confluence of the St. Marys, St. Joseph and Maumee rivers in what is now the heart of Fort Wayne.

For me, the ancient canoe trail provided a means of placing the history of my hometown in a vivid physical context. I wanted to see the landscape from nearly the same vantage point as the voyageurs who had lugged furs and trading goods over the portage 200 years ago.

In late August, a friend, Tony Acosta, phoned me. He wanted to know if my girlfriend, Becky Crosbie, and I would join him and News-Sentinel photographer Chip Somodevilla to retrace the portage. I agreed immediately.

Take the portage journey