LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Stephanie Chang (D–Detroit) and Detroit City Council Member Raquel Castañeda-López are on a mission to restore history and preserve a treasured jewel in Detroit that has long been neglected. The pair is urging the City of Detroit to deed Historic Fort Wayne to the federal government so it can be designated as a national park, and they’re enlisting the community’s help to do it.
To date, their Change.org petition has gathered nearly 3,000 signatures in support of this initiative.
Ravaged by time and neglect, Historic Fort Wayne is located on the banks of the Detroit River at the foot of Livernois Ave. in the Delray neighborhood. Dating back to 1000 AD, the fort is the Midwest’s only star-patterned fort, rich with indigenous, military, and neighborhood history. Its location makes it the first thing people will see when driving into Michigan from Canada over the new Gordie Howe International Bridge (GHIB), which is currently under construction and expected to be completed by the end of 2024.
“Many residents, in and outside of my district, have shared their fond personal memories of Historic Fort Wayne with me. Fort Wayne is an amazing site with historical significance for indigenous communities, veterans and many more,” Sen. Chang said. “We launched this petition to show how much community support there is for making Fort Wayne a national park with dedicated funding and resources to preserve its history. The time is now to restore the site and end years of deterioration, all while generating jobs and tourism dollars for Detroit.”
Detroit is one of the few major U.S. cities that lacks a national park. If redeveloped, Historic Fort Wayne would showcase a dynamic and vibrant Detroit immediately upon travelers’ arrival from Canada, giving them a positive first impression of the city. The fort would also become part of an enhanced network of pedestrian trails and bike paths currently under development, and complement the non-motorized access points for the GHIB.
“Fort Wayne holds so many memories for me and many Detroiters, and beyond its recreational value and riverfront access, its historical significance to our Native communities and country warrant national investment and protection,” Council Member Castañeda-López said. “I urge the City and federal government to act quickly to protect and restore this forgotten gem in Detroit.”
Constructed between 1842 and 1851, Historic Fort Wayne was used by American forces during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. It was also the site where the first shots were fired during the War of 1812.
Today, the site hosts historic war reenactments, spring and fall flea markets, concerts, and youth soccer league matches, and is home to the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum. The fort also used to house the Woodland Indian Museum honoring Native American burial grounds; it closed in 1991 due to lack of funding.
In 2009, former U.S. Senator Carl Levin sponsored a House Resolution that would require the National Park Service to fund improvements and maintenance of Historic Fort Wayne because of its relevance to the War of 1812 and the Battles of the River Raisin.
“We have an incredible opportunity to improve a neglected part of Detroit’s Riverfront and preserve our history,” Sen. Chang said. “We should restore Fort Wayne to its former glory and make it shine like the Detroit jewel that it is, and judging by the thousands of residents who are making their voices heard through the online petition, it’s clear that they want to see this happen too.”
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