Indiana’s second-largest city is custom-made for family reunions
Centrally located in the Great Lakes region, Fort Wayne is the ideal destination for a family gathering. Many towns in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana are less than a tank of gas away.
First and foremost, Fort Wayne abounds with kid-friendly attractions that easily will fill several days. Its world-renowned genealogy research center, moreover, offers a rare chance to peel away the mysteries surrounding your ancestors and where they came from.
Here are some Fort Wayne crowdpleasers for reunion planners to put on their radar:
Fort Wayne TinCaps
Minor league baseball stadiums brim with family appeal, and Parkview Field in downtown Fort Wayne is no exception. The TinCaps are the High-A team of Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres.
During a season stretching from mid-April to early September, Parkview Field welcomes more than 7,000 fans to many weekend games. Entertainment includes giveaways tossed out to the crowd, on-field games between innings, and a play area with a bouncy slide, climbing wall and other amusements. Tickets are no more than $14, with lawn seating only $7.
The TinCaps are named for the tin pot that folk hero John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, used as headgear while trekking around the Midwest planting apple seeds. He died near Fort Wayne in 1845, is buried in the city’s Johnny Appleseed Park and is honored every year in a festival the third full weekend in September. Johnny, who carried the seeds in his tin cap, appears on the field as the team mascot. The apple theme carries over to ballpark refreshments, which include apple dumplings, apple crisp and apple pie slices sold at the Apple Cart.
Family frolics also take place at a different kind of downtown park. A spiffy new addition to the Fort Wayne riverfront, Promenade Park is just a block from The Landing, a historic warehouse area that has been transformed into a hot dining and entertainment district.
The expansive green space has a treetop canopy trail, bike paths, a playground, public art, a cafe, food trucks, an amphitheater, and a bandshell for music events. The Kids’ Canal is a great place to splash and cool off. Games include cornhole, foosball and ping pong.
Fort Wayne Outfitters rents kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards for exploring the St. Marys, St. Joseph and Maumee rivers. Bike rentals are available, too. The Sweet Breeze, an 1840s canal boat replica, offers relaxing 45- and 90-minute tours from mid-May to mid-October.
Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
Despite its name, this is much more than a petting zoo. The full-fledged zoo, nationally acclaimed, covers 40 acres and is home to 1,500 animals from around the world. Low barriers, built with children in mind, allow easy viewing for kids, whether they are standing or seated in a stroller or wagon.
Feeding giraffes and petting stingrays are among the hands-on animal experiences. In the Indonesian Rainforest, guests meet Sumatran tigers, watch the antics of Javan gibbons and encounter snakes, including an 18-foot reticulated python. They come nose-to-nose with endangered Sumatran orangutans in the indoor Jungle Dome, a tropical paradise complete with colorful birds, turtles, frogs, and a waterfall. The Crocodile Creek dugout canoe ride through the Australian Adventure section showcases the largest mob of eastern grey kangaroos in North America. Other rides include a train, the Endangered Species Carousel and Sky Safari chairlift, which provides a bird’s-eye view of lions, zebras, wildebeest and ostrich in the African Journey exhibit.
Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory
It’s unusual to have such a horticultural showplace in a downtown area, but this one is just a block from Parkview Field. Enjoy the flora in the seasonal, desert and tropical indoor gardens, and from April to June, mingle with exotic butterflies in the butterfly enclosure. There are four outdoor gardens, too.
Kids (and adults) can spend hours combining fun with learning in this museum housing some 200 hands-on science exhibits in a former electrical power plant built in 1929. You’ll notice the building’s colorfully painted smokestacks.
Visitors can study live animals, learn about mastodons and watch demonstrations on the weather, the human body and other science topics. They can build a race car and test it on a track. Kids Central offers children ages 2 to 7 the chance to use a bubble-creating machine, get wet at a water table, climb on a multilevel play structure and play a giant piano by running and jumping on its keys.
Science on a Sphere, a six-foot-diameter sphere of the Earth that seems to be floating in mid-air, shows the planet’s atmospheric changes in a 3-D format, depicting oceans and continents in their actual colors, just as they appear in outer space. At the flip of a button, the sphere shows the currents of the oceans in motion or captures all of the Earth’s current storm systems in real-time. Another press of the button and the sphere looks like the moon, Jupiter or Mars. The technology was invented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a research tool to understand Earth and space systems.
LC Nature Park
Open since May 2021, this private, non-profit park encompasses 200 acres of native Indiana landscape in Roanoke, 15 minutes from Fort Wayne. Groups that schedule a visit in advance will see elk and bison grazing on restored grasslands and wildflowers bursting in bloom. A guided 1.3-mile hike lasts 90 minutes to two hours. Tours in a 12-person safari vehicle are 60-90 minutes.
The Allen County Public Library’s spacious Genealogy Center, covering 42,000 square feet, is happy to help trace your family roots and certainly has the resources to do it.
In addition to the nation’s second-largest largest physical collection of genealogical materials, the center provides free access to the top seven licensed genealogical databases, plus several databases available only to libraries. You can view hundreds of thousands of files on microfilm and access holdings from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
Researchers, both visitors and the library’s professional genealogists, have access to 200 million newspaper pages, a growing audio collection, and some 1.1 million books, including 70,000 compiled family histories and one of the largest collections of city directories. There are census records, extensive passenger lists and military records from the Revolutionary War to the present.
The center has 28 PCs for public use and four scanner/copiers. Scans and photocopies are free, and the scanners have software that can clean up or lighten or darken family photos brought in.
The main focus is North America, but the center is also strong on the British Isles, Ireland and South Africa. In fact, it has the largest South African collection outside of South Africa (not to mention the largest Canadian collection outside of Canada).
Prior to the pandemic, 60,000 to 70,000 people from outside of Fort Wayne sought help with their ancestry searches. The genealogy specialists will never turn anyone away, but for the best results, it’s wise to do some homework before your visit to the library, which is in the heart of downtown. Those with the attitude “I’ll figure it out when I get there” are not as successful as those who come in with at least some preliminary information on their forebears.
For more ideas on connecting with family in Fort Wayne, check out the Visit Fort Wayne website.
By Randy Mink, Senior Editor