Kelly Lippie, Collections Assistant / Program Coordinator, for the Tippecanoe County Historical Association, shares this blog.
The original Fort Ouiatenon was founded by French fur traders around 1717 along the banks of the Wabash River (just south of the Current city of Lafayette, IN) and holds the distinction of being the first permanent European settlement founded in Indiana. It was established as a trading post with the local Native Americans, who brought animal furs to the Europeans to trade for goods made of cloth, metal, glass and more. The fort changed hands several times before being abandoned around 1780. The exact location of the Fort was lost to memory until the early 1900’s when Indiana’s centennial celebration renewed interest in local history.
Dr. Richard B. Wetherill, a local physician, world traveler and amateur historian (and first president of the Tippecanoe County Historical Association!) led the charge to find the location of Fort Ouiatenon. In 1928, Dr. Wetherill purchased approximately nine acres of land that was believed to be the location of the historic fort and Native American villages. The land was presented to the Tippecanoe County Historical Association in the hopes of using it to commemorate the historic events that took place there.
In 1930, Wetherill financed the building of a replica fort structure to commemorate the site. A great deal of research into historic records on Fort Ouiatenon and fort construction was undertaken in preparation for the structure. This building, simply known as “the Blockhouse,” was dedicated in 1930 and would come to be a local icon and a cherished historic structure in its own right. For many years, it was used for programs and annual meetings of the Historical Association, but it wasn’t until 1938 that the Blockhouse was opened to visitors on a regular basis.
The first, informal, Feast of the Hunters’ Moon festival was held at Fort Ouiatenon in 1957 as a special meal for members of the Association intended to re-create the 1930s membership meetings held in the Blockhouse by Wetherill. The program was repeated again over the years, growing in popularity each time. The land around the Blockhouse was transferred to the care of the Tippecanoe County Park Department and today the area is a true community partnership when it comes to care and maintenance.
Opening Ceremonies at the Feast!
In the 1960s, the actual location of the historic Fort Ouiatenon was discovered nearly one mile down river from the Blockhouse. New research into historic French fort construction also revealed that the Blockhouse was inaccurately laid out. The poles of a French building would have been placed vertical rather than horizontal as seen at the Blockhouse. Historians and archaeologists continue to research Fort Ouiatenon and the story told at the Blockhouse museum only continues to grow.
Today, the 85-year old Blockhouse stands as a mini- museum that still serves Dr. Wetherill’s original mission to educate and celebrate the early settlers and community at Fort Ouiatenon. Through the care of dedicated volunteer educators, the Blockhouse museum is open free to visitors during the summer months on Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00 to 5:00. Every fall, the historic structure sits at the heart of the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon, just as it has been for nearly half a century, welcoming visitors from all over the world.