By Richard G. Biever
For a county as renowned for its genealogy research center as Allen County, it’s no surprise it traces its own cultural and economic impact back long before the county’s 1824 founding.
The confluence of the St. Joseph and St. Mary rivers, where the Maumee River begins, created a natural crossroads that attracted Native Americans for thousands of years, and, later, European explorers and traders. By the time U.S. Gen. Anthony Wayne built a fort at the confluence in 1794, the nearby Miami village of Kekionga was the tribe’s largest settlement and capital.
American pioneers began settling around the fort in 1815 after the Miamis surrendered their land. The settlement became the city of Fort Wayne whose growth was aided by the ease of transportation from the three rivers and the short-lived Wabash and Erie Canal. Today, Fort Wayne is Indiana’s second most populous city.
Among the early travelers passing through was John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. Chapman was living in Fort Wayne when he died of pneumonia at age 70 in March 1845. Though the whereabouts of his actual grave is debated, a memorial marker is at Johnny Appleseed Park, site of an annual festival to his memory (see below).
Fort Wayne’s Class A professional baseball team, the TinCaps, is also a tip of the cap to Appleseed who was known to wear his cooking pot on his head as he traveled. The TinCaps wrap up their regular season on Labor Day at Parkview Field.
Parkview Field was part of the Fort Wayne’s downtown turnaround that began in the 1990s with redevelopment and investment, and continues today with new restaurants and entertainment opportunities.
As noted, the Allen County Public Library is internationally known among genealogists and maintains the largest public genealogy department in the United States. The library’s reputation helped the library and the Indiana State Museum jointly secure the world’s largest private collection of Abraham Lincoln artifacts and documents when the Lincoln Financial Foundation sought a new home for its collection in 2008.
Other notable attractions in Allen County include:
• The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo which opened two new exhibits in its Central Zoo environment: Monkey Island and a new home for its otters. The zoo continuously ranks among the top zoos in the country.
• The Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory which encompasses some 100,000 square feet of gardens and displays with over 1,200 plants of 502 different species.
Fort Wayne’s newest attraction, which opened just last month, is Promenade Park. The park features new river access points, dining, a Tree Canopy Trail, amphitheater, playgrounds, and many public spaces along the three rivers.
RICHARD G. BIEVER is senior editor of Indiana Connection.
Named for: Col. John Allen, an attorney and Kentucky state senator killed in the War of 1812
Population: 377,872 (2017)
County seat: Fort Wayne
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Area Event: Johnny Appleseed Festival
Johnny Appleseed Park/Archer Park, Fort Wayne