Allen County was formed in 1823, and the first officers were elected in May
Famous early settlers such as William Rockhill, Sam Hanna and Allen
Hamilton made up the first county officers. One of their jobs was collecting
taxes, which some county residents paid in wolf scalps.
The county was named after John Allen, a hero in the War of 1812.
''Prosperity for Fort Wayne merchants and speculators in the 1820s was
severely hampered" by transportation difficulties, explains historian Michael
''The canoe and pirogue traffic on the rivers and pack trains on the
cross-country trails were entirely insufficient for economic growth."
Sam Hanna promoted the contruction of plank roads. These were made of huge,
rough planks laid crossways on a log and dirt base. Massive forests around the
settlement provided the raw material. But the transportation they provided
still wasn't enough.
By 1826, interest in building a canal was running very high.
A canal commission was appointed late that year to begin organizing the
Only $500 was appropriated to start the project, however. Sam Hanna rode
on horseback to Detroit and then took a boat to New York to buy the necessary
As plans for the canal grew, so did the city.
Hanna and James Barnett erected the city's first gristmill in 1827.
Absalom Holcomb and Isaac Marquis opened a tannery a year later at the west
end of Columbia Street.
Madore Truckery opened his cooper shop that year. Holloway Cushman started
a blacksmith shop on the south side of Berry Street east of Calhoun Street.
Zenas Henderson opened a general store at the northeast corner of Calhoun
and Columbia streets.
George and William Ewing ran their fur trading business at the corner of
Calhoun and Columbia streets. Alexander Ewing ran his Washington Hall tavern
at the southwest corner of Barr and Columbia. It was the first tavern in town.
In September of 1829, the town voted to incorporate as a village.
The founding settlers wanted to incorporate to stabilize the area and
attract more settlers.
Making their living trading with the Indians, the first settlers had
neglected agriculture, which would become so important to the area years
later. But they had to look for other ventures. Fur trading declined because
fewer Indians were trapping, depending on their government subsidies instead.
And in 1828, the Indian agency was moved from Fort Wayne to the Logansport
Indian Agent John Tipton estimated that in 1828, seven out of 10 families
in Allen County depended on the Indian trade for their livelihood.
Move to commerce
Charles Poinsatte explains in his "Fort Wayne During the Canal Era": "The years between 1829 and 1832 mark the beginning of Fort Wayne's transition from a small village situated about the fort and depending entirely on the fur and
Indian trade to a town which was to become an important center of commerce and
The old fort, meanwhile, continued to deteriorate. The property was platted
and sold in the spring of 1830. The final blockhouse of the fort wasn't
demolished until 1852.
The winter of 1830-31 was one of the coldest in the settlement's history.
A heavy snowfall in November remained on the ground until spring. Travel was
all but abandoned for five months.
William Brice's "1868 of Fort Wayne" explains:
''The animals of the forest were brought to the greatest hunger, and the
wolves, of which there were still vast numbers throughout the northwest . . .
were brought to such a state of hunger that their fierce howlings were nightly
heard by the citizens of the place."
Brice said it wasn't safe for settlers to venture beyond the limits of
town. ''The Indians also suffered greatly this winter for food," Brice
wrote, "and several of them were killed and eaten by the wolves."
In 1831, the town board passed an ordinance requiring all persons afflicted
by smallpox to remain at least one-quarter mile outside the town limits.
On Feb. 22, 1832, construction began in Fort Wayne on the Wabash and Erie
Canal. The population of the town at that time was estimated at 300.
Construction of the canal brought hundreds of men to the bustling town.
Many were Irish immigrants. Disputes between rival factions of Irish laborers
''Murders were not uncommon, and arson was a nightly occurrence," wrote
As work on the canal continued, the town kept growing. Its first newspaper,
the Sentinel, began on July 6, 1833. It was a predecessor of The
News-Sentinel. The paper was four small pages filled mostly with news from
Washington, D.C., and foreign cities.
In 1835, the city's first bank, a branch of the State Bank of Indiana,
opened on the southwest corner of Main and Clinton streets.
A section of the canal from Fort Wayne to Huntington, then called Flint
Springs, was opened in 1835.
On the Fourth of July that year there was a huge celebration over the canal
section opening. It included a parade with 33 young women, one representing
each of the states of the union. (There were only 33 states in 1835.)
When other sections of the canal were opened for navigation in 1837,
thousands of settlers poured into the Wabash valley. Many were attracted to
the town of Fort Wayne. The booming canal business sparked the construction of
nine hotels downtown.
In 1838, newspaper editor John W. Dawson described the downtown area as
"buildings of an inferior sort, unpainted, generally one-story high." The
streets were bad, he said, with many "destroyed by standing water."
The town needed more structure to continue growing. In February of 1840, the state legislature approved Fort Wayne's city charter. George W. Wood, a newspaperman, was elected the city's first mayor, and the first city council
meeting was held on March 7, 1840.
The population of the town had grown from 300 in 1830 to nearly seven times
that number. The official census placed the town's 1840 population at 2,080.
The city's first police force was formed in 1841. It was created because
there was a growing "prevalence of criminals, especially horse thieves,
incendiaries and counterfeiters," Griswold's history reports.
In the summer of 1843, newspapers throughout the country announced the
completion of "one of the great commercial and engineering feats of the age."
The Wabash and Erie Canal was opened from Toledo, Ohio, to Lafayette, with
Fort Wayne the central port. Fort Wayne was called the Summit City because it
was the highest point on the canal route.
The canal improved the city's connection with the outside world. It was
improved further in 1848 with the completion of a telegraph line between Fort
Wayne and Toledo.
In 1849, the cholera epidemic that hit the East moved into Fort Wayne. Some
600 people died of the disease before the end of 1854.
Fort Wayne was well on its way to becoming a major manufacturing center.
And its prosperity survived the decline of the canal.
By 1874, the canal was practically abandoned. Trains were the new thing. In
1881, the canal right-of-way was sold to the railroad, and the last boat was
seen on the waterway a year later.
But with or without the canal, the city of Fort Wayne was on its way.
A former resident, viewing the city in 1868 after being away for three
decades, said Fort Wayne was "destined to become one of the most extensive and
important manufacturing cities of the country."
Capitalization - The total invested in a business.
Cholera - Intestinal disease.
Cooper shop - A place where barrels are made and repaired.
Counterfeit - An imitation of something real. Counterfeit money isn't real.
Making it and using it is against the law.
Gristmill - A place where grain is ground.
Headwaters - The beginning of a large stream of water; the place where a
Incendiary - Having to do with the willful destruction of property by fire.
Ordinance - A governmental law or regulation.
Pirogue - A canoe-shaped boat.
Platted land - Land that has been divided into building lots.
Right of way - The right to pass over a piece of land, or a piece of land
acquired for a transportation route, such as a canal or railroad track.
Smallpox - A highly contagious disease caused by a virus.
Tannery - A place where animal hides are made into leather.
Telegraph - A device that converts a coded message of dots and dashes into
electric impulses and sends them to a distant receiver. Morse code signals
were sent by telegraph.
Thoroughfare - A public street, usually a main road.
--Oct. 19, 1993