River front development in Fort Wayne, for the most part, is a phantom dream, and we should accept this fact.  Our City – and anyone who knows me understands that I love this City and where I live – sits at the end of the Great Black Swamp – a swamp that originally stretched from Sandusky, Ohio, to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The swamp’s dimensions were about 120 miles by 40 miles – an area as large as the Everglades.  The Great Black Swamp was the creation of retreating Wisconsinan glaciers some 20,000 years ago, leaving ridges called moraines which acted as a catch basin for water storage. At the bottom of the catch basin lay a layer of clay. 

Water, often up to the belly of a horse, stood on the surface until it evaporated in the hot summer months.  When it rained, or thawed in the winter, it was water and muck. Much of the swamp was covered with an almost impenetrable forest of giant oak, sycamore, hickory, walnut, ash, elm, maple and cottonwood trees, except in a few prairie areas where limestone just under the surface would not support timber growth.

Photo Credit:  Wikipedia


The swamp was a veritable hotbed of disease and maladies born by insects.  The soils of the area were – and still are –  heavy clay and retain water.  This swamp, drained long ago by efforts of human ingenuity, hard work, and determination, has had a dramatic impact on our City and its three rivers.  Our rivers are unique.

Most rivers in Indiana flow southwest to eventually join the Ohio River, but our three rivers take a different course. The St. Marys River arises near St. Marys, Ohio, and flows northwest until it enters Fort Wayne.   By the time it flows by my home in West Central it has changed direction and is beginning to turn northeast to join the St. Joseph and the Maumee at the confluence.  The St. Joe River originates in Michigan and journeys southwest to join its two cohorts – again at the confluence in the heart of Fort Wayne.  The St. Joe and the St. Marys lose their identity at the confluence and merge into the larger Maumee River.  All three rivers then flow northeast to finally empty into Lake Erie.

The combination of  deeply deposited clay soils, the low-lying nature of the land upon which Fort Wayne was built, and the joining of three rivers virtually covering all corners of Fort Wayne, make development of our river banks a difficult if not impossible task.  The best option for our levee, berm, and flood wall hidden river banks is to clean them up as much as possible and to improve small areas amenable to such improvement.

The Great Black Swamp is long gone, but its legacy lives on in the underlying history of our soils and river environment.  As human beings, the tendency is to believe that we can control all things, but with our rivers, the best option is to understand them and to work to make them more beautiful by grooming them to highlight their natural state – unhidden by continued construction of barriers.

Photo Credit:



About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
This entry was posted in Environment, Floods, Indiana, Rivers, St. Marys River and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Iceironman says:

    Where did the glaciers go? Can you imagine the people of earth trying back then to stop the retreating glaciers and blaming thier disappearance on human activity? Maybe if the govt of the time would have just put a cap and trade or more taxes on the people the glaciers would have stayed? Sorry, but when I see the word glacier, it makes me want to pull my hair out!

  2. Andy says:

    Iceironman –

    “Can you imagine the people of earth trying back then to stop the retreating glaciers and blaming their disappearance on human activity?”

    If you are implying that the Global Warming we are experiencing today is occurring in a similar fashion to the disappearance of the Ice Age that took place over thousands of years, you are overlooking a couple of enormous facts.

    The Neanderthals that lived during the Ice Age didn’t have 600 million cars motoring around spewing out millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere every year:

    They also did not have hundreds of coal burning power plants emitting millions more tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air. China alone is set to open five hundred coal-fired plants within the coming decade.

    If you also throw in the rapid disappearance of Earth’s forests (due to human activity), the amount of CO2 that would have been absorbed by these absent trees only continues to add to the problem.

  3. Mike says:

    Charlotte –

    A very nice post regarding ‘the Great Black Swamp’. Having been raised on the ‘high ground’ between the St. Marys and Wabash rivers I remember digging Glacial rocks out of our fields for many years.
    Sorry for the next part; but I can’t resist.

    Iceironman –

    Glacier, Glacier, Glacier, Glacier, Glacier

  4. Iceironman says:

    Andy, thank you for proving my point, the cavemen had no motors, yet there was and ice age (or three) which each ice age needed warming to end them This represents no less than 3 fluctuations in global temperature. Your right Andy, there were no motors and the Ice ages ended. DO YOU GET IT? Did you see the equipment that measured the artic ice was wrong. Oh thats right, science it great, but only as great as the equipment studying it. Cut the funding to the scientist who must prove global warming and see what happens. Thay have to claim these “facts” or they dont get anymore grants. PS CO2 isnt the number one green house gas. The tempeture rises, then CO2 levels rise. Blaming CO2 is like saying cancer causes smoking.

    I would assume with your attitude, you will be selling your car, turning your electric off and other things so you dont hurt the earth.

  5. Iceironman says:

    Mike, thanks, I have no hair left. However, I have been given the oppertunity to talk about the hoax called human induced global warming.

    Does anyone care that the past couple of years have been cooler?

  6. Ice:

    Equipment failures are bound to occur in areas of measurement. The notion that because the equipment was faulty the whole global warming issue is moot is ridiculous.

    Those who dispute global warming conveniently overlook the following:

    1. Global warming is called “global” because it impacts the earth as a whole. Just because we have a cold winter or two has nothing to do with the overall global picture. It isn’t called regional warming for a reason.

    2. Speaking of which, the gardening zones are changing and new maps will be coming out soon. During the Bush years, anything that even looked like it supported warming was squashed, and the garden zone maps were one of those items. The soil has been warming and is now at least two degrees warmer moving much of Indiana into Zone 6 instead of Zone 5.

    3. Water vapor is the most common greenhouse gas, but carbon dioxide is second. Your scenario of the temperature rising and then carbon dioxide increasing is backwards. Very simply – the earth is surrounded by the atmosphere. As more carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, the temperature begins to increase. Here is a statement from the EIA:

    “Levels of several important greenhouse gases have increased by about 25 percent since large-scale industrialization began around 150 years ago (Figure 1). During the past 20 years, about three-quarters of anthropogenic (human-caused) emissions came from the burning of fossil fuels. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are naturally regulated by numerous processes collectively known as the “carbon cycle.”

    You honestly can’t believe that human activity in the form of industrialization etc. has not had an impact on our environment. We are spewing crap into our air, dumping toxins into our rivers, and saturating our soil with hazardous materials on a daily basis. It can’t go on forever.

    But maybe the doubters just don’t care and truly believe the biblical imperative that humankind is to have dominion over everything and that our resources have only been provided for human exploitation.

  7. john b. kalb says:

    Mike, who grew up on the high plain between the St.Mary’s and the Wabash:

    Were you aware that another swamp existed between the high ground you cited and the Wabash? The Little River, who’s source is just east of Fort Wayne International Airport, meanders toward the Wabash and joins it on the east edge of the city of Huntington. Back in early 1820’s the most expensive Civil Engineering project funded by the US Government was done just east of Huntington. This project blasted out glacial rock that blocked the drainage of the Little River basin, allowing the swamp to drain into the Wabash River. Another feeder into the Little River in Allen County is Aboite Creek which goes under US 24 next to Hamilton Road’s intersection with US 24 to the north and goes south toward the village of Aboite. This is also where one of the aqueducts that furnished water for the Wabash & Erie Canal crossed over Aboite Creek. The canal ran just south of this intersection.

  8. Mike says:

    John B –

    I knew the of the civil engineering project; but, not of the swamp. I was closer to another swamp which was dammed up to make a canal reservoir. It’s called Grand Lake or Lake St Marys (depends which side of the lake you’re on). That lake feeds into both the St. Marys and Wabash rivers; but was built for the Miami & Erie canal. High ground is really stretching it too. It’s not that much higher.

  9. Connie says:

    Hi Charlotte, I cam across your article while looking for mation on the Black Swamp and effects on the lithosphere, atmosphere, etc. I found it fascinating, helpful and interesting. The posted responses also interesting and somewhat comical. I did not think it warranted a global climate change discussion. I would be interested in further comments from you that I might be able to use in a course I am taking in geosciences.

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