Fort Wayne’s rivers, rails, and trails are set to become significant cultural and tourism assets. The city’s three rivers will meet within a future riverfront district. An ever-expanding trail network will link city suburbs with downtown. Two ribbons of rail are poised to connect area attractions, retail, entertainment, green spaces downtown.
Known as much for its canals and rivers as its railroad beginnings, Fort Wayne was a builder of railroads, locomotives, freight cars. One railroad terminal covered ten city blocks. Railroad yards and facilities hugged the city’s riverfront, embedded inside neighborhoods, and took over city streets.
A resident could reach any city in the country from Fort Wayne’s six railroads and interurbans. As a home to lightning fast passenger trains which topped 120 miles an hour and the largest railroad town between Chicago and Altoona, Pennsylvania, Fort Wayne was a city on the move.
In the 1960s, the city preserved one of the world’s most iconic railroad mascots: a vintage, 1944-built steam locomotive numbered 765. But what’s so special about a steam locomotive?
Saved for display in a city park to commemorate its incredible railroad origins, volunteers later restored the 765 in the 1970s. Local newspapers proclaimed that the 765 was “a symbol of the city’s progressive energy.” Accompanying the 765 today is a fleet of vintage railroad equipment, enough to start a small railroad. Something akin to a rolling Hollywood production, the 765 creates a happening in every town it travels through. The last of its kind, no. 765 is one part rocket ship, one part machine. What could this machine and its thousands of annual visitors make downtown a destination?
With its sell out trips, record breaking ticket sales, and an undeniable following, the train offers riverfront development efforts an incredible ally in creating an evocative, sensory experience in downtown Fort Wayne. Enter Headwaters Junction, a concept to combine the city’s rivers and trails with a steam powered ambassador and its own rail yard park.