The Wabash and Erie Canal through Huntington, Indiana

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Opening Day!

Cannon can be seen in the Allen County Museum, Fort WayneAn old cannon confiscated from the British in the War of 1812, sounded the arrival of Senator Cass at 6.00 a.m. Cass, principal orator for the day, arrived in a gaily decorated canal boat from Toledo. Former Governor of Michigan and a seeker of the Democratic Party's nomination for United States President, Cass arose to acknowledge the generous applause given him by the crowd. Stepping on the gangplank to disembark from the craft, he tripped and fell in the canal. Exhuming himself from the waterway, Cass retired to the home of Allen Hamilton for dry attire befitting the occasion.
The Miami, Wabash, and Erie Canal Country. Harry G. Black 1991

On the 2nd three boats left this place (Fort Wayne) for Huntington for the purpose of bringing up such citizens of the lower end of the line as might wish to attend the celebration. The arrival of these boats in Huntington was hailed with the liveliest demonstrations of joy.

The next day the boats returned to Fort Wayne, and were met and saluted by a detachment of militia, under the command of Capt. Rudisil; the salutes were returned by Capt. Fate's artillery, who came from Huntington with the boats. On the morning of the 4th a procession was formed in front of the Washington Hall and proceeded to the canal, where they embarked on the boats prepared for the occasion, and took a trip to the feeder dam, seven miles distant. No less than 500 individuals, including a large portion of the fair sex, were present on the occasion.
Indianapolis Indiana Journal. July 31, 1835
Riding a Packet
The work was completed, and water let into the canal to the upper lock at Huntington, then known as Burk's lock (its ruins may yet be seen opposite the residence of John Mishler in the Second ward) on July 3d, 1835. The event was the occasion of an enthusiastic meeting of the citizens. Tha canal boat "Indiana" had come down from Fort Wayne with the waters, having on board a large number of the citizens of Fort Wayne, who were greetd on their arrival, by the people, with loud cheers and salutes from a cannon which Dr. George Fate had brough across the country from Dayton, Ohio, wxpressly for the occasion. The Fort Wayne guests were given the hospitality of the citizens of Huntington, and early in the morning, the fourth, returned to Fort Wayne, accompanied by a large number of Huntingtonians and Doctor Fate's cannon, and celebrated the completion of the canal between the two places and the glorious fourth in a manner long remembered by participants.
History of Huntington County, 1887. Page 406

Captain Asa FairfieldMy father (Asa Fairfield) had the first boat built - the passenger and freight boat that ran on the canal - and it ws called the "Indiana." I remember they went to Huntington to celebrate the fourth of July. Among the crowd were Hugh McCulloch, my father's brother, my father, who was captain of the boat for that occasion, Allen Hamilton, Judge Hanna, Major Lewis and a dozen or so of the early settlers.
Reminiscences of Old Fort Wayne, 1906 - Cyrus Fairfield remembers.

Asa Fairfield came to Fort Wayne a wealthy man, having gained his fortune during his travels as a sea captain. He became known as one of Fort Wayne's founding fathers through his early investments in a number of local businesses.

In a 1916 interview, his son Cyrus Fairfield said: "My father brought more money to Fort Wayne than any man who preceded him. He was an old sea captain and had with him $30,000. Mrs Thompson (formerly Ann R. Scott), the wife of Dr. L. G. Thompson, told him several times he ought to be careful about the money, so he gave it to her for safekeeping. She sewed the money in one of her mattresses, where she kept it until my father could look around to see where he could best invest it."

Asa Fairfield's houseAsa established a large farm south of Fort Wayne with the purchase of 240 acres at $12 an acre. He raised hogs, sheep, and garden crops and invested in a number of local enterprises including a soap and candle factory. He also bought the first grist mill (established in 1827 by Samuel Hanna and James Barnett), and served as one of the first directors of the Fort Wayne Branch of the State Bank of Indiana.....

....In 1868, Asa Fairfield died at his two-story house located near the section of the city called South Wayne. He represented an 18th-century man who experienced life as a sea captain, war hero, frontier settler and businessman and founding, father of Fort Wayne.
Allen County Fort Wayne Historical Society newsletter - Summer 1998

Yes, I went up to Fort Wayne and back on the first packet. It was on the 3rd of July, 1835, and we returned next day on the 4th. There were about 25 of us in the party, and that took pretty near the whole town, for it was very small in those days. Some of the passengers were MR. and Mrs. Murray, Dr. Merrill and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Burk, Mr. Barker, Dr. Geo Fate and others. They have all been gone many years. Some of them died fifty years ago.

The only sights along the way were the wilderness woods, prairies covered with water, and in places there were wolves, deer and Indians. I remember we stopped at the Vermilyea hotel for dinner. They changed horses there.
At Fort Wayne a public dinner was given next day and a grand time was had by all. We had no music on board. Music was scarce in those times but there was a great deal of fun kept up, going and coming. Dr. Fate shot a cannon off every few miles. He owned a cannon and took it along. One time he slipped it into a house where there was a wedding and fired it off just as the wedding ceremony was over. He was a strange man and kept a store down towards Lafontaine street."
Huntington Herald, Jan. 3, 1896 "Grandmother Hawley rode in it 60 years ago."

Dr. George Fate, Huntington's second retail merchant with a store on West Market street.
Historical Pictures of Huntington County. Huntington Alert Inc. 1988

Population and resources had greatly increased, having jumped from about seventy-five thousand in 1820 and then more than doubled during the twenties to reach about three hundred forty-three thousand in 1830. By 1840, the population totaled over six hundred eighty-three thousand.
The Hoosier State - Readings in Indiana History. Ralph Gray. 1980

The canal in building was from 1832 to 1853, a period of 21 years; and in operation from 1833 to 1874, a period of 41 years. From the date of the first grant of land until the close of the canal, the population grew from a quarter of a million of people, to one and three quarters."
History of the Wabash and Valley. Stuart. 1924. p 56

The result was that the first sections (of the W&E) completed were a valuable aid to westbound immigrants. When the canal was begun in 1832 Indiana had probably a little more than 350,000 inhabitants. By 1840 she had 684,000 and in 1850, 988,000. The Indiana counties bordering on the section of the canal opened in 1835 had at that time 12,000 inhabitants; in 1850 they had 150,000. In the three years following of the first section from Fort Wayne to Huntington, five new counties were created along the route. Many people in Southern Indiana moved up to the northern part of the state, attracted by the boom created by the canal.
Old Towpaths. Alvin F, Harlow 1926 D. Appleton Co.

As soon as the canal was put in operation, many took passage at Cincinnati or Toledo for some point along the canal. Many of these people were a progressive and liberty loving people, and educated and Christian people, and came here, and established homes, and developed the country, thus the whole Wabash country was changed from one of heavy forests and jungles, with great numbers of wild animals, and bands of roving Indians, to a well-improved and prosperous country/ They built homes, schools, churches, towns, and were engaged in all kinds of manufacturing, and have built various kinds of lines of transportation.

The Wabash and Erie laid the basis for our present standard of citizenship, not only on the Wabash, but for the whole state of Indiana. Before the canal, much of the business was done by barter, and the people lived within themselves, but it brought about a revolution in business and business methods. Business methods were changed from one of barter to a money basis. It brought a reverse of trade for forty miles or more, on both sides of the canal. Along the canal towns, all kinds of manufacturing plants were built up; large stores and warehouses were erected, and printed on them were "Cash for Wheat;" "Cash for Wool and Hides;" "Cash for Produce, Dry goods, Boots and Shoes, Hats and Caps." Some people were loath to believe that the time had arrived for them to receive cash for the produce of their farm.

During the operation of the canal, many made fortunes, and on its closing many of them were lost.
History of the Wabash and Valley. Stuart. 1924. p 56

The canal boat stage did not last long in Indiana; but while it flourished, the foundations of our present splendid prosperity were laid. The new State Constitution, the school law, and the building of a system of railroads all came during that period.
Stories of Indiana. Thompson. p217

Census data by County, 1840 - 1880


This page last updated 12/02/07 09:35 AM