Have you ever wondered, whether you’re visiting or residing in a particular town, “What brought settlers here?” I’m sure many bewildered southerners, who freeze their butts off during mid- winter visits, emphatically ask that question while in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The truth is, before its gridiron glories, heck, even before its manufacturing days, the city’s genesis was spawned by a military installation. This pioneer fort, set on the Fox River, was known as Fort Howard.
Fort Howard was not the first military settlement in the area. As a matter of fact, the complex was built upon the grounds of a French outpost known as La Baye. Fort Howard remained in service, in all realistic uses of the word, from 1816 until 1841, minus two years when the men were moved because of a disease outbreak. It was officially decommissioned in the 1850’s.
The main purpose of the fort was to protect the Fox-Wisconsin waterways. This passage was an important trading route for the pioneers of America’s Midwest. And Fort Howard played a vital role in the western expansion of the United States.
So my question, to satisfy those history buffs who decide to visit Green Bay, is “What remains of Green Bay’s original catalyst for growth?”
First and foremost, I wondered about this installation’s location. Where exactly was Fort Howard? I discovered an internet photo, clearly depicting its position along the banks of the Fox River. However, I had no Idea where on the Fox River the emplacement would have been. A short trip to the Neville Public Museum cleared that up, well, sort of. In actuality, through the course of time, the location has faded from Green Bay’s memory. But wait, there are strong indications that the fort resided where Leight Park and the old train depot reside today. Artifacts, I’m not sure what these were, suggest the garrison’s original niche was there.
As a memorial, a statue of Zachary Taylor, commander of the fort’s five hundred soldiers, stands in the corner of this very ordinary city park. Zach Taylor started leadership of the stronghold in 1817, and would later become the 12th president of the United States. So, if your looking for some serious history, that’s a start.
However, it does get a little better. After the fort was decommissioned, and many of the buildings began to decay, a few structures were salvaged. They were moved to another spot, one on higher ground, known as Camp Smith. Today, the Camp Smith grounds comprise a state historical park known as Heritage Hill. In an area, set reminiscent of a village square, Fort Howard buildings can not only be seen, one can actually walk into these Historical Registry buildings. Of the authentic buildings, there is an officer’s quarters and hospital.
Despite Fort Howard being a very distant memory, there are parks and businesses that carry that name today. As a matter of fact, until it’s annexation with Green Bay in 1895, the west side of Green Bay was known as Fort Howard. Coincidentally, as Green Bay is known for its football, the annexation occurred the same year as Green Bay’s first recorded game of pigskin. The Green Bay team wasn’t known as the Packers, but considering the evolution in the city, it’s a significant event.
Today, there is no military base in or near Green Bay. Logistics have changed, so the absolute need for such a presence is non-existent. Yet, many in Green Bay still hail the significance of the armed forces. As proof of this fact, there’s a pretty cool military memorial just beyond Lambeau Field’s east parking lot.
Granted, all this history occurred before the Packers’ inception. A fort, not a team, breathed life into this area. The westward expansion, and the flood of immigrants came with many motivations. Much of that was for the American dream. It’s cool to realize that Fort Howard, the reason why settlers started coming to Green Bay, was built to protect that newly found Idea.