Saturday, June 3, 2017

Fort Wayne

As any student of American history knows, the United States and Great Britain have had an interesting relationship.  We hated each otherWe continued to hate each otherWe liked each other.  Now they hate us again.   

After the second "we hate each other" phase, cooler heads prevailed and peace existed...for a short time, anyhow.  During the late 1830's, internal conflict within Canada swelled into a little known brouhaha known as the Patriot War. 

While United States troops were involved (sort of), it brought to the forefront a grand gaff of strategic military planning relating to the protection of our newly acquired soils. Federal documentation attributed to an unknown author (or perhaps just an interpretation of a suspected conversation by the writer of this blog) states:  "Holy s***.  If we find ourselves hating them again, we are so screwed because they have a fort on the Detroit River and we don't....."

Enter Fort Wayne.  Named after the western movie star, John  General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, funds were secured and the fort was built in what is now Del Ray in Detroit.  Shortly after the fort's completion in 1851, but before the installment of the first cannon, peace prevailed yet again.

While one might think the fort immediately slipped into disrepair, it did not.  (That comes later.)  The Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam all saw Fort Wayne playing a role.  During the Arsenal of Democracy, the grounds were functionally the world's most impressive motor pool.  The tanks and jeeps rolling off assembly lines of Metro Detroit passed through Fort Wayne before heading to Europe.  The Vietnam era saw the grounds used for swearing in new soldiers before closing before finally closing.

After a short stint as the Fort Wayne Military Museum under the auspices of the Detroit Historical Museum, it has been operated, as of 2006, by the Detroit Recreation Department, assisted by the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition, the Friends of Fort Wayne, and the Detroit Historical Society.

With my newfound freedoms following graduation and a free day in my schedule, I headed to the Fort's grounds for photography.  Like many photographers, I find black-and-white conversions to be very appealing for images of the built environment. 

This is the original 1848 limestone barracks.  Note the addition on the back elevation of the building. Fossils were found in some of the front blocks as limestone is functionally old sea creatures. 


Sadly, funding is lacking.  Some buildings have been restored. Others have not.  The rowed buildings below are the quarters for the Non-commissioned Officers.  They are duplexes. 


While some buildings were literally converting to trellises for various botanicals, some could use some simple attention. The door below, while shoddy looking, really just needed some paint. Sure, the side lights needed replacement, but that is largely cosmetic.  While ugly and beautiful at the same time, this door is not as decrepit as it looks. 


Any fort needs defensive works.  Otherwise.......it's a really bad fort, or not a fort at all.  This board is held in place to minimize bird entry.  Back in the day, as the saying goes, a soldier could discharge their weapon from this gun port at an attacker.  The slot is only perhaps 5 inches wide, but that is enough room to do the deed. Note the lintel over the port.  


Brick courses are much more involved than people realize.  Almost any building today is laid out in "Common Bond."  If you look closely at historic buildings, however, you'll note that bricks are assembled in various patterns.  In the hands of skilled craftsmen, these patterns can become impressive.  Others, like the "English Bond" below, are marginally flashy, but easily overlooked.  The long face of a brick is the stretcher  while the short face is the header.  Note that every other course of bricks is entirely headers while the other courses are stretchers.  The exterior walls at Fort Wayne were not originally brick at all. These were added later. 
  

Storage of munitions is an issue with any military installation, even to this day.  Many historic forts have powder houses. In the event of an accidental explosion of potentially hundreds or even thousands of pounds of gun powder, damage could be extensive.  The standard design of the time called for an arched roof and stout stone walls. In the event of an accidental discharge, the force of the explosion would be driven up, not out.  

In the case of the Fort Wayne Powder House, protection goes beyond roof design.  The building (slightly larger than a one-car garage) is recessed into a hill.  Around the building, an open space reinforced with limestone beams can be found.  In the image below, the space is perhaps four feet wide while the beams are near chest high.  Note that the construction techniques are not identical on the two walls.  The left wall is the exterior wall of the powder house while the right wall is an interior wall of the hill in which the building is recessed.


Sadly, so much of the fort is in disrepair. Sure the property still gets used.  Civil War reenactments, flea markets, and soccer games now replace marching soldiers, motor pools, and poker.  In any case, if you appreciate history, architecture or the military, it is worth your time. 

Check it out.  It doesn't matter who currently hates whom.

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