Fort Wayne: Indiana’s Second City

Last weekend, I packed up my bicycle and drove to Fort Wayne, the city where I was born and spent my high school years.  I was able to explore a bit of their urban trail network, most of which follows along the rivers.  I had ridden along the Rivergreenway as a teen, but while the ride from IPFW to downtown was relatively familiar, there were plenty of sites along the way that were new to me.  Included in the latter category is a cool pedestrian bridge next to IPFW’s campus:

Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner

The ride downtown was relatively flat and mostly devoid of on-street crossings.

Here’s a shot of a nice old limestone building and bridge just south of Coliseum Boulevard:

Image Credit: Kevin Kastner

I crossed the muddy St. Mary’s River on a footbridge near the Old Fort which affords a decent view of the downtown:

downtown shot
Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner

While downtown I had to get a photo of 2 of my favorite buildings in the state, the Allen County Courthouse and the Lincoln Tower:

Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner

I ate lunch at a place I’d never been before, but it is locally famous: Powers Hamburgers. Fort Wayne has no White Castles, and in fact, I did a Google search for “Fort Wayne White Castle“, and was sent to Powers. I’ve never actually had White Castle, so I can’t really compare, but Powers serves up some delicious sliders.

Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner

Just south of Powers is the historic Baker Street Train Station. I was lucky to get in to take a couple of photos before a wedding was hosted there:

Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner
baker street
Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner

Downtown now hosts a Single A Baseball Team, the Tin Caps. Their new stadium has an attractive entrance on the south side and a mixed-use building along the north side:

Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner
Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner

It was time to head back north, and I had to check out the Wells Street Bridge. Dating from 1884, it’s another one of those gems that I never really knew about until after I left town:

wells street
Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner

On the other side of the river, a major discovery was at hand. Fort Wayne had turned an old train depot into a bike shop and outfitters store. Geeking out was in store:

Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner
Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner
Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner

Given that it is known as the 3 Rivers City (sorry Pittsburgh), this town has a lot of bridges. Another one to feature are the MLK bridge downtown:

Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner

I decided to ride past my late grandma’s house, which is on a tree-lined boulevard of mostly American Foursquare homes. Her house was the one past the great climbing tree (which is sadly missing a limb or two):

Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner

Finally I headed up past the remarkably stable State Boulevard commercial district towards IPFW. Most of the small businesses along here have been around for at least 50 years:

Photo Credit: Kevin Kastner

There’s plenty more to see in Indiana’s second city. I hope this was a good primer for those who are less familiar with the city.

Comments 44

  • I visit the Fort every year but was not aware of the Baker Street Train Station. That’s a beautiful building and nice re-use. Parkview Field and the surrounding development is a jewel. Some of those apartments (or is it condos?) have a view of the field so tenants can stand/sit on their balconies to watch the games.

  • Indiana’s second-largest metro area is Northwest Indiana. It’s over a third more populated than metro Fort Wayne, but with far more available to it, just across the state line.

    • I’m missing the point here about NW Indiana’s metro area-ness. Being part of a metro area is not the same as being a city. Is the intent of this comment to discredit Ft. Wayne, or to inflate NW Indiana? Or something else that I’m completely misinterpreting (very possible, it’s the internet, after all….)? Don’t flame me–I’m asking in all seriousness as someone who recently relocated back to Ft. Wayne after many years living in Chicago.

      • “Being part of a metro area is not the same as being a city.”

        A metro area is exactly the same as a city.

        • Hoosier, I think you need to look up the differences in definition between a metropolitan area (a central city and its suburbs and exurbs) and a city proper, which is a single municipality.

          Fort Wayne is the second largest city in Indiana, meaning single municipality (i.e. single local government). A metropolitan area is a distinct population measurement that includes a central city (or central cities in some cases) and the surrounding geographic area of economic influence.

          There is nothing inaccurate in what was written in this article–you are confusing two separate words with two distinct meanings.

          • Chris, in the real world, we use operational definitions, not cheap accounting tricks.

            Boston city limits has 600K, while Fort Wayne city limits has 255K. Are you going to argue to the real world that Fort Wayne is about half the size of Boston?

          • Don’t feed the trolls…

    • Gary is no longer a contender in the city business. It’s just a suburb of chicago and that don’t count. We said cities in Indiana!

  • it also accounts for more counties and gets the leaks of chicago metro. so in theory it is….but isn’t. great highlight of the city kevin, especially on the day of SWA Group announcing it’s lead in the study of riverfront development for ft wayne.

    • One more county, because…IT’S A BIGGER METRO AREA! Bigger metro areas get more counties included in their population count.

      • This BIG METRO AREA is just a siphoning of Chicago so in my view it isn’t a valid discussion of Fort Wayne as a city.

        • Podunk Kankakee County, IL is also included in some of the statistical data for the Chicago Metropolitan area. So are spots in the road in Indiana such as Lowell. That whole NW corridor is part of the Chicago Metropolitan area. That makes the argument that somehow, NW Indiana is bigger and badder than Fort Wayne by itself a straw man argument. We are discussing a city proper, not a metro area.

      • A metropolitan area is not a city–it is a geographic area that may include several different municipalities (i.e. multiple cities and towns). You are confusing this word with the meaning of city.

  • Hoosier and Pat may have a point, but with Fort Wayne’s Aunt Millie’s Bakery, our town smells like freshly basked cinnamon raisin bread, while factory-laden northwest Indiana smells like farts. Hammond and Gary are right up in the armpits of Indiana.

  • It’s sad that the best part of living in Northwest IN as you say is all there is to do in Chicago! Fort Wayne has tons! The Embassy and The Coliseum bring in big time shows. Not to mention our local theatre, art, dance offerings. We have lots of great local restaurants, breweries and wineries. All right here without having to go out of state! It’s all right here in one city!

    • What’s so special or burdensome about a state line? As for food, Northwest Indiana has Portillo’s. Game over.

      • Well, for that matter, what’s the big deal about a 3 hour drive to Chicago? Or less to Indy? (Except, I acknowledge, for those who don’t have cars; NW Indiana does have public transit to Chicago–something Ft. Wayne rightfully deserves criticism for lacking.)

  • This is a beautiful article. It is nice to see people write positively about our cities. Fort Wayne is a nice town with good people and worthy of frequent visits.

  • Thanks for highlighting our beautiful city. It’s great to tour it by bike, and with over 70 miles of trails (and more in the works), there’s so much to enjoy!

  • Did your grandma live on Lawton Place? That was my old stomping ground…

  • The limestone building and bridge on North Anthony Blvd. is not a bridge. Its a flood control dam, and the limestone building next to it contains the dam’s controls and mechanism for opening and closing the dam’s gates.

  • Why all the fuss? As Hoosiers we should be proud that Indiana has more to offer than Indianapolis. I’m sure people in states with many populated cities such as Texas, California and Ohio (to name a few) don’t see Indiana as being about more than Indy. I am proud of our independent metro areas such as Ft. Wayne, Evansville and South Bend. I don’t really give much credit to Lawrenceburg and Gary because you are basically talking about Cincy and Chicago. And cities such as Anderson, Bloomington, Terre Haute and Muncie are too small for this conversation while still nice size. I would like for entertainers and sports figures to consider Ft. Wayne as a place to stay as an option while visiting or participating in events in Indiy. This would be good.

  • Enjoyed the post, Kevin. I can’t say there’s much I miss about Fort Wayne outside of being so close to my family, but on a list of such things Powers would be item number 1.

    Downtown has started to make a nice comeback in recent years with the new stadium, the library, the Anthony Wayne center, as well as some new residential and mixed-use construction. That said, it’s been disheartening to see what’s transpired to many of the 20’s-50’s neighborhoods around downtown. I grew up near South Wayne and Rudisill and, while my childhood street probably looks better than it did the day my parents moved out in 1997, the neighborhoods immediately north and east have gone to hell in a handbasket and the criminal element seems to be making its push towards Foster Park. Hopefully the interest in being closer to the heart of the city will halt the slide and keep the Soutwood Park/Oakdale neighborhoods from going downhill.

    • Perhaps if they took some of that stimulus money and started providing jobs that pay well, then those criminal elements won’t be there. When a city ignores a people based on race, creed and color, they provide those ugly elements that they don’t want to see. The dope is provided by those in power, as well as the guns. How can a people whom have no jobs, no money afford to even bring the guns and dope in if not for those in power!? So as you can see, start talking to those whom wear those $1500+ suits and live in those $500k+ homes, and tell them to stop supporting by importing!

  • Small rust belt cities like Fort Wayne, Dayton, Toledo, etc., will never come back. They’re now too far behind larger cities starting to rebound, the local momentum isn’t there, and they simply aren’t viewed as cool. There are too many other options to choose to want to live in these places.

    • Eric is correct. His thesis is on display and proven all over the Midwest.

    • I wasn’t really talking about the city as a whole, but that’s probably accurate.

      I am pleasantly surprised by what I’ve seen downtown the last 8-10 years, though. Fort Wayne has a tough road ahead, but I think they have the right idea.

    • Fort Wayne doesn’t need to make a comeback. It is not nearly as bad as Dayton, Youngstown, Toledo, Flint, etc. Fort Wayne has grown through annexation. Which has brought in much needed tax money. Also, GM came here in the early 90s and provided thousands of jobs. The healthcare industry is very strong in Fort Wayne too. Fort Wayne has made great strides where other rust belt cities have not.

  • These cities can make a comeback if they make the right choices in how to give their residents the best possible lifestyle in an urban environment possible. Things like proper commercial zoning, increasing residential density, adding bike lanes and more methods of transport, and creating an urban identity that is unique to the area can all have a profound impact on economic and cultural vitality.

    @Hoosier: brush up on your vocabulary before you decide to post anything; also, get out of NWI & Chicago, there’s so much more out there in Indiana that’s great (Turkey Run, Madison, Nashville & Bloomington, Columbus, Harmony, Indianapolis, Lafayette..Fort Wayne!).

    Thanks for posting this article. One great thing about Indy is that it’s not only our state capital but a lot of time cultural capital as well. Hoosier brings up a great point in that Chicago has a magnetic cultural effect on smaller regional areas outside of its core (ie suburban Illinois & Wisconsin as well, an in some ways Iowa, too). Cities like Louisville and Cincinnati are similar in that their border relations with Indiana draw a lot of attention from residents and sometimes bring their activity and support along with it. Even areas like South Bend have strong connections with those residents across the border.

    In the future it will be interesting to see how relevant the Indiana border is in regards to city standing. Maybe Urban Indy could do some follow-up posts on other urban Indiana cities to compare/contrast how different and similar Indiana cities are to one another and what problems and successes the cities have in common!

    Cheers from Australia

    • “Things like proper commercial zoning, increasing residential density, adding bike lanes and more methods of transport, and creating an urban identity that is unique to the area can all have a profound impact on economic and cultural vitality.”

      Chris, the last thing people want in their lives is meddling by those who majored in meddling in college with risible “degrees,” are unintelligent, and are guided by motivations most people find repulsive.

      Houston is kicking ass, and it eschews almost all of your intrusions into voluntary interactions. Density is fine, but Indianapolis is about the highest level of density at which you can still have a nice place to live.

    • Urbanism and pics look good. Just seems to be a people problem.

  • Agree with both Eric and Quinn.
    Fort Wayne should use its probable lower cost environment and central manufacturing location to attract smaller companies and build up the cool assets that will help attract somewhat larger companies. They in turn may help build some city convention center type assets to build an industry cluster. Build the brand from there and paralell add cultural assets, such as local museums, parks and trails, maybe river festivals. Etc. Also,smaller midsize cities don’t have the congestion and pollution of larger cities. And hopefully not the political dys-function. All these things will help sell the city’s brand.
    Further, would 2 million plus population cities in the midwest want to be as large and as dys-functional as Chicago? I think an ideal size is about 1 1/2 million population; if you have the economic wealth to provide the cultural and civic amenities you desire. Example; Cincy with 2.2 million population has nearly everything Chicago has to offer with 1/5th the population and I believe a much better functioning city. Cincy is a great example of a city in very recent years that has focused on its many legacy assets and strengths to make many dramatic improvements in just the last say 6 years. The on going restoration of the “over the Rhine” historic district (almost the largest in the nation)was thought impossible ten years ago. Amazing things are taking place. It is all about city leadership. so,does Fort Wayne have an old district that is worth show casing and bringing all kinds of local businesses to life? Fort Wayne can be a really good city of 400k population and grow from there.
    All the best to Fort Wayne.(We in western Ohio own a lot to the Mad Anthony Wayne). CIVIC LEADERSHIP is the key.

    • You should look at the report Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities, which talks about OTR and other assets Midwestern cities have. Chicago is often overrated when it comes to livability/affordability compared to a good small or medium sized town. Cincinnati proper is only a 100K, and the metro region is only around 1 million. It’s smaller than Cleveland, Columbus and Indy but has better urbanism, a more diversified economy, and people that just want to live in the cities numerous thriving neighborhoods outside of the downtown/OTR area.

  • Two other Fort Wayne assets: Forest Park Boulevard, and Coney Island.

  • Eric,Cincinnati is nearly 300k proper and almost 2.2 million metro. Thus it is actually larger than the three fine cities you named on a metro wide basis. This is important in that the population supports a great host of legacy and contemporary assets; great museums, smyphony/opera/theaters professional and college sports,large hospitals, universities, hotels and restaurants, and many festivals all year round. This takes a large and prosperous population to support all this. The city metro has 10 fortune 500 Hdqrts and as you said a well diversified economy. A lot of old money also helps fill special financial needs occasionally. This wonderful city is a great study for so many aspect of urbanism. I would love for the other Midwest cities in the larger region to cross pollinate some of the ideas and do very well themselves. Indy and Columbus have; yet it should be understood that as state capitals they have enormous advantages that Cleveland and Cincy don’t have and yet possess great assets. Atlanta has developed phenominally by not overly relying on its status as the state capital. Thus, these great State Cap cities of the Midwest should develop well beyond that status. Certainly Columbus has via OSU and innovative start up companies. Indy has too.

  • Dan, Cincy is a great city, but I’m not sure the others have anything they necessarily need to emulate, though. Cincy IS, in fact, a larger MSA than either Columbus or Indianapolis but both of those areas are growing much faster than Cincy – the Indy MSA grew at 14% between 2000 and 2009 (Cincy lagged well behind at 8.1% growth). Columbus also grew at nearly 12%. Clearly, these cities are doing something right to attract such growth.

  • I’ve lived here for 3 years. Having been a lifelong northern Michigan resident up until then, I am amazed at the very muddy 3 rivers in Fort Wayne. Does anyone know why they are like that? I can’t recall any Michigan rivers being that brown.

    • The simple answer to that is farming. There are not many industrial-sized farms in northern Michigan. The St. Joe and St. Mary’s both abut large farms, and of course that sediment gets carried into the Maumee which picks up even more soil.

    • They also have a muck bottom. Farming practices upstream doesn’t help, either. I read in the newspaper that even if there was no farm runoff, the rivers never were nor never would be crystal-clear due to the clay particulate that is constantly being stirred up from the bottom. We will always have “chocolate milk” rivers.

  • Holy crap, thanks so much for posting this! It is gonna help when I am thinking about going to Northwood Cinema Grill in Fort Wayne! I am from Buffalo, NY so I am not familiar with Fort Wayne. Next time I see my family will be so much better! Very Incredible!

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