Riverfront improvements at Guldlin Park are only a hint of what could come later

This concrete boat ramp on the St. Marys River ear the Van Buren Street Bridge is Guldlin Park's only improvement right now. But that will soon change and the obscure park will become even more important in future phases of riverfront development. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Steve McDaniel

One the city’s least-known parks is slated for about $61,000 in improvements, but that could be only the beginning for the 6-acre site whose obscurity is matched only by its potential as a hub of future downtown riverfront activity.

The city’s Board of Parks Commissioners Thursday is expected to approve two projects at Guldlin Park on the south bank of the St. Marys River near the Van Buren Street Bridge. The first would add a concrete sidewalk leading to the park’s only feature: a concrete boat ramp installed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, along with the replacement of invasive riverfront vegetation with field stone or man-made rock.

The second project would see the addition of a 48-foot floating pier, providing an additional downtown launching spot for boats. Guldlin’s existing ramp currently is the only spot to launch boats unto the downtown rivers. The next nearest ramp is in Johnny Appleseed Park north of downtown.

Parks Director Steve McDaniel said the floating pier will be especially useful to people using the rivers alone because it will provide a place to “tie off” boats while a trailer and vehicle are being parked. “We’ve had a lot of requests” for this, McDaniel said of the floating pier that could accommodate as many as three boats at a time.

But Guldlin’s access to the rivers means it won’t remain underused and obscure for long. With the first phase of riverfront development expected to open this summer in the form of Promenade Park near Superior and Harrison streets, future phases will expand the area being redeveloped. Phase two will extend development east to the Martin Luther King Bridge on Clinton Street and phase three will looks west to Van Buren/Sherman Boulevard — and Guldlin Park.

McDaniel said it’s still unclear what role Guldlin Park will play in future riverfront development, but said it’s “very exciting” to consider how the once-prominent spot could someday regain that status. There will be no boat launch at Promenade Park.

The park is named for Addie Bleekman Guldlin, who moved to Fort Wayne in the 1890s with her parents and husband, Olaf Guldlin, who became wealthy investing in Indiana’s then-booming natural gas industry. She was a supporter of the city’s then-new Park Commission and believed that central-city children had no safe place to play. So she persuaded the city to build a large playground off Van Buren Street near the site of the French Fort Miami (erected in either 1722 or 1680) and a deadly skirmish between Indians and American soldiers in 1813.

Guldlin supervised construction of the playground, which featured separate sections for boys and girls, and helped pay for it. The playground drew a large crowd to its dedication on May 20, 1911 — just two years before most of it washed away in what remains the worst flood in Fort Wayne history.

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