Picture courtesy of Allen County Library.

Maumee-Wabash Portage: The Glorious Gate.

"That glorious gate through which all the good words of our chiefs had to pass from north to south, and from east to west."-Chief Little Turtle

The History and Importance of the Portage.

Long before any Indians tribes or fur traders claimed these lands as their own, large glaciers cut valleys through the surface of the earth. Many of these glaciers reaching a mile high pushed rock and debris from place to place as they advanced. As these glaciers of the last ice age started to recede, they left large lakes in their wake. Lake Maumee, one of the largest, spanded from present day Fort Wayne northeast to merge with Lake Erie. Eventually, Lake Maumee began emptying into Lake Erie. The rivers that were left would shape the area of northeast Indiana forever.

The glaciers had caused the St. Joseph and St. Mary rivers to sharply change course and flow together to form the Maumee river. What was left by the glaciers was to become one of the most traveled areas of the northwest wilderness. There was only a very short "land barrier" that separated the fur traders from Quebec from the fur merchants of New Orleans. The abundance of beaver fur in the three rivers area was the most of any in the territory.

The Portage, a french word meaning "carrying place" was the most important trading route in the northwest territory. The Miami considered it a sacred "gate" that was to be protected at all costs. From the earliest times, the Miami became very wealthy extracting a toll on those who used the portage. The French were the first europeans to use the route. As the fur trade grew, so did the French presence in the region. As early as the 1690's the French were creating a fur trading empire from Quebec to New Orleans.

A French explorer by the name of Robert Sieur de La Salle believed that a stronghold near the portage was essential to connecting French New Orleans with French Quebec and keeping the wealth of fur trading solely in French hands. The French and their Indian allies opened a fur trading post north of the portage on the St. Mary's river in what is today Guldin Park. It was only a few years later that the French considered a permanent military presence important. Captain Dubuisson, the commander at Detroit, built the first fort in the three rivers area called Fort Miamis.

What type of terrain did the early explorers have to cross?

Exploring Fox Island County Park just southeast of the Portage gives an insight into what the explorers had to endure crossing this historic land bridge.

More Pictures

What is left of the Maumee-Wabash Portage today?

Most of the Portage route has been destroyed by urban development. Only a few reminders of this great "path" remain if you know where to look.......

This map shows the future site of Fort Wayne. The "land bridge" or Portage extended the distance between the Little River and the St. Mary's River at Pirouge's Landing. This was the most direct route between Quebec and New Orleans and the most favored among explorers and fur trappers. Picture courtesy of Allen County Public Library.

The Little River was the western terminus of the Portage. Drainage projects have changed much of the landscape around the "river".

The 1802 portage route started at Little River near Ellison Rd in Aboite Township, and followed US 24 east to Main Street to Leesburg Road where it divided into a north and south route. The south route crossed the St.Mary's south of the Main Street bridge and continued into town and ended behind Don Hall's Gas House. (An American Flag marks the spot) The northern route went through Lawton Park and followed Spy Run Creek to the other side of Pirouge's landing. By 1830, the Portage followed the Canal tow path to Portage Blvd (Pictured Above) and on to the split at Main and Leesburg Road. Drainage reconstruction and home developement have erased all of the visible path.

Picture courtesy of the Minihaha Foundation.

This map from the early 1800's shows the original Portage route.

Picture courtesy of the Minihaha Foundation.

This map shows the various routes of the Portage over time. This is based on recent research conducted by the Minihaha Foundation.

The Portage marker on Lindenwood Road near Main Street illustrated the path of the Portage as it approached the St. Marys River. The portage route extented approximately 9 miles depending on the season, and rainfall amounts.

The east end of Swinney Park (just south of the Main Street Bridge) is where the Portage meets the St. Mary's river. A ford allowed easy access across the St. Mary's River. The fur traders would make camp in these areas. The construction of flood walls have changed the landscape of this location.

The eastern terminous of the Portage entered the St. Mary at Pirouges landing behind Don Hall's Gas House. The northern route entered the river across from this location.

Plain text version.

Fort Miamis: The First European Settlers

Historic Fort Wayne: The Great American Outpost
Wabash and Erie Canal:The Great Waterway.
Johnny Appleseed: The Pioneer Spirit
The American Civil War: Fort Wayne's Soldiers.
Arrival Of Locomotives:The Canal's Demise.
The Rise of Industry: Fort Wayne's Revolution.
The Management of Progress:The Prewar Years.
The War to End All Wars: Patriotism and Fervor.
The Promise of Hope: The Depression Years.
Great Strides in Industry: World War Two.
High School Proms & Cherry Sodas: The Fifties.
The Coming of Age: Fort Wayne in the Sixties.
The Rebirth of Fort Wayne History: The Seventies.
A new Sense of Direction & Growth: The Eighties.
The Bicentennial of Fort Wayne: 200 Years of Prosperity.
The Year 2000: Reflections and Great Expectations.
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Last updated 06/3/03

For more information on the Portage, click hereMinihaha Foundation
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