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Robison Park 1896 – 1919
By Randy Harter
Fort Wayne Reader
Construction of the 486 mile-long Wabash & Erie Canal also gave rise to the construction of Robison Park. Due to breaks in the canal, evaporation, and other water loss reasons, the waterway at a number of points along its path had to have a controlled source of additional water. Therefore, feeder canals were integrated into the canal design. One of these was here in Fort Wayne, and ran from downtown (about two blocks behind Paula’s where the feeder joined with the main canal) off West Main to six miles north of the city on the St. Joseph River where a lock tender regulated the water sent to the main canal. It was at this river location that a large dam, approximately 230 foot long and 17-foot high, was built across the St. Joe causing it to back up creating a lake and lagoons behind it. The next closest feeder canals to Fort Wayne were to the east, near Antwerp, OH and to the west, near Lagro.
While the main canal (1843-1876) was closed by the time Robison Park was built, the deep backed up river behind the dam with the high bluffs along the river in that area made a natural location for an amusement park. The area the park occupied is the back-half of today’s North Pointe Woods housing addition (off North Clinton), which would have then also made the park directly across the river from today’s Riverbend Golf Course on St. Joe Road. In fact, most of today’s
Riverbend Golf Course, due to the dam, was at the time under 10 feet of water.
The park was developed by the Fort Wayne Consolidated Railway Company, which was also how it was accessed, via their trolley line from downtown.
They began laying the trolley tracks in early 1896 down Spy Run from Superior to Centlivre Brewery and then turning slightly right and adjacent to the old feeder canal down today’s Spy Run Extended and through Johnny Appleseed Park. They then crossed today’s Coliseum Blvd and followed the riverbank opposite Canterbury Green Apartments, behind Concordia Theological Seminary and on to a point just past where the dam stood.
On opening day, July 4, 1896, an
estimated 8,000 revelers road trolleys from downtown to the park and back for 20 cents, which included admission to the
park and all its amusements.
A book could be written about the comings, goings, events, parties, reunions, weddings, company picnics, entertainers, orators, amusements and other happenings that took place at Robison during its 24-year existence. But we’ll need to close with just listing some of the amusements that were located there: Miniature Railway Rides, a Carrousel (now in Logansport, IN), Bowling Alley, Circle Swing, Balloon ascensions, Dance Hall, Shoot the Chute Water Slide, Photography
Studio, 100 Rowboats for rent, Naphtha Powered Launches, a Steamboat, Ice Cream Stand, Roller Coaster (the Blue Streak), Bicycle Race Track, Band Stand, Ferris Wheel, Enclosed Children’s Playground, Souvenir Shop, Wishing Well, Movie Theater, Main Pavilion with Ballroom and German Orchestrion, Baseball Diamond with Bleachers, Restaurant, Zoological Garden, Hall of Mirrors, Shooting Gallery, Pony Track, Picnic Groves and Fireworks.
(Images courtesy Harter Postcard Collection@ACPL)
A special tip of the hat to historian Case Drudge for the liberal use of his research.
Randy Harter is a Fort Wayne historian, author and the architecture/history guide for FortWayneFoodTours.com