Future excavation plans at original Fort Ouiatenon site

News 18 is taking a trip back to the 1700's when the French built the first of three forts in America. Who knew that where the first of those was built would later become Indiana?

Posted: Jul 15, 2019 1:36 PM
Updated: Jul 15, 2019 1:42 PM

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI)- The Tippecanoe County Historical Association is just now starting to launch new information about the Fort Ouiatenon Preserve to the public. TCHA officials are inviting the public to stop by the preserve's overlook and enjoy the view. The preserve is located just west of Fort Ouiatenon along South River Road. From the overlook, you can see the site of the original fort in the distance. 

You might be thinking... isn't the block house at Fort Ouiatenon the original fort?

No, it's not. 

The block house was built in 1930 by a local physician, who later helped to create the Tippecanoe County Historical Association. 

The original site is just a minute more of a drive up South River Road. 

There's a lot to be discovered underneath it. 

Through remote sensing surveys and ground penetrating radar, TCHA found several unknown structures underground beneath the fort site.

Colby Bartlett with TCHA told News 18 the goal is to preserve these archaeological sites, but also allow the opportunity to excavate and study.

The site of the original fort will eventually have small, strategic excavations done likely in the next year. TCHA officials said Purdue University and the University of Southern Indiana are collaborating to make it happen. The two schools are working to put together a field school for students to perform limited excavations. That is expected to happen in summer of 2020. 

Additional plans for the fort include developing an ADA-compliant walking trail from the overlook to the site of the original fort, which would be about a mile long. Along that trail there will be signs that tell the history of the site. News 18 is told that trail should be complete within a year or two. 

TCHA said long-term plans include developing a digital platform. That digital platform could possibly include an app or a digital museum. Short-term plans include restoration on the site. 

Guillaume Lacroix visited the Fort Ouiatenon Preserve with members of TCHA last week. Lacroix is the French Consul General to the Midwest. He works with the preservation of areas that were previously French territories in the Midwest. 

Lacroix told News 18 he is hopeful to create a collaboration between France and Purdue University. During his visit to Tippecanoe County last week, he met with Purdue President Mitch Daniels and toured the Indiana Veterans' Home.

Lacroix said while France and Indiana have a shared history together, we also have a shared future together.

“It’s important to recognize this shared history and to see how we can better connect together. It tells a lot about the relations between France and America," Lacroix said.

Lacroix said Fort Ouiatenon is considered one of the best preserved examples of a site of that type in the entire country.

"The fort that used to be here is very unique compared to other French forts in the region because the site has been searched and explored and it probably has the most archaeological treasures because there is no city, as you can see, behind us," Lacroix said. 

The other forts that the French built were in Vincennes and Fort Wayne. Ouiatenon is uniqe because no city grew around it. Lafayette and West Lafayette city developments are miles away from the site, which is why its considered to be so well-preserved.

A Tippecanoe County Historical Association official sent the provided images above to News 18. The first image shows what is below ground of the original fort site, which officials believe the lines in that image are the original walls of the fort.

The second image is what officials believed the site of the original fort looked like when it was built.

Bartlett told News 18 Lacroix was the first French Citizen to stand on Fort Ouiatenon in 250 years during his visit.

TCHA said at this time, there is no public access allowed to the site of the original fort. 

For more history on the Fort Ouiatenon Preserve, click here. 

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