AN INDUSTRIOUS IDENTITY
The railroads once connected Fort Wayne to every city in the country, building it up from a small canal town to a robust center of Midwest manufacturing. Thousands of lives were impacted by the railroads at every corner of the city, with stations, yards, shops, and hundreds of miles of track from the interurban to the mainline throughout the area with trains traveling upwards of 120MPH. Fort Wayne was known as the one of the largest railroad towns between Chicago and Altoona, Pennsylvania, but how is this history relevant now?
FORT WAYNE’S FAMOUS TRAIN
In 1974, a group known as the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society began restoration of a 1944-built steam locomotive that had been installed in Lawton Park as a commemorative display to the city’s role “in a great period of development in our country.” Since being restored, that steam locomotive, known as Nickel Plate Road no. 765 has become a remarkable tourist attraction with a proven 30-year track record, existing as living history through its operation, atmosphere, and the experiences it offers, representing a time of shared purpose, common destinations, and a sense of community and connectivity.
As recently as 2014, 900-3,000 people a day experienced the locomotive and train as it operated in excursion and public exhibition service and the railroad society has collected, restored, and operates a number of other vintage locomotives, rolling stock, and equipment ideal for tourist train service.
Dinner in the diner? Nothing is finer – and its possible in downtown Fort Wayne.The great irony is that the 765 and its stablemates are largely unknown in the Fort Wayne area, despite having 40,000 visitors in four days from all 50 states and 7 countries in 2011. As industrial heritage tourism and transit oriented development grows in popularity and the 765’s draw increases, Headwaters Junction will provide a meaningful, high profile home to the famous train, becoming an asset to tourism, economic development, and quality of life.
Importantly, these trains will not serve as static objects, but functional, operational, mobile attractions that serve multiple purposes – as connectors, educators, entertainers, and dramatic backdrops to mixed use at North River. Headwaters Junction will employ a vintage passenger train, recreated streetcars, steam and diesel locomotives, period freight trains, and more.