Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
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Change bears down on historic battlefield


Dr. G. Michael Pratt holds a boyonet found in a 1995 survey of the Fallen Timbers battlefield. The survey helped to locate the site of the fight between the U.S. Army and area tribes.


The Fallen Timbers battlefield has seen its share of skirmishes, over land and profits, glory and expansion. Over attempts to balance the old with the new.

Now, with a National Historic Site on the battlefield entering its final stage of planning, and construction on an adjacent mall slated to begin this fall, those who have warred over the area for the past decade continue to debate whether the area will be a tribute to history - or 21st century commerce.

Civic leaders, business and community groups all claim they are doing what is best to bring honor to the memories of those who died, but disagree on topics ranging from exposure versus preservation and progress versus respect.

"We're hoping for a quiet, memorial area; everybody understands that people died there, and you need a space to reflect," said Marianne Duvendack, president of the Fallen Timbers Battlefield Preservation Commission.

"We believe our commercial development will enhance the park's visibility and serve as an amenity to visitors," said Zac Isaac, president of the Isaac Group.

Others just want to get the ball rolling. "I think everybody now is just ready to see something," said Maumee Mayor Tim Wagener.

But some are drawing parallels between the battlefield's present and past: How in 1794, a victory over American Indians there opened the frontier to westward expansion, appropriating the land from those who saw it as sacred.

"It's kind of exploitative to put the mall right next to the national park," said Joyce Mahaney, president of the local American Indian Intertribal Association. "But our people learned in the past: You can't fight when everybody's seeing dollar signs."

The battle itself is a seldom-told story; one whose glory, many lament, has yet to be realized.

"I still can't understand why the importance of this event is so unappreciated. It totally changed the course of American history," said Dr. John Dann, director of the prestigious William Clements Library in Ann Arbor.

Just over a decade had passed since the Revolutionary War, and the newly formed United States of America was struggling with self-governance. To gain respect and pay off war debts, the young nation needed to claim lands ceded by Britain during the post-war peace negotiations - most importantly the Northwest Territory: the original Wild West that included Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and parts of Minnesota.

In that area, Native Americans were still battling frontiersmen to save their land. Cut out of the peace negotiations, they considered the area their own, certainly not the property of white settlers itching to cultivate the fertile land.

"It was a very, very vicious war - a war of no quarter, with torture and hostages on both sides," said Dr. G. Michael Pratt, an archaeologist at Heidelberg College who is credited with discovering the true location of the Fallen Timbers battlefield.

And so the Congress created a small standing army - 886 men, at first - to quell Native American resistance on the frontier.

In no time, Congress wondered whether it had made a mistake. After two disastrous defeats at the hands of the Native Americans, their tiny army was seen as a collection of incompetents, outclassed and outsmarted at every turn.

The second crushing defeat - only 400 of 1,100 soldiers escaped unhurt - was an utter disaster: "It was a Pearl Harbor type of event for people living on the frontier," said Brian Dunnigan, a historian and curator at the Clements Library. "Everyone was completely terrified."

Few expected the next expedition, under Gen. "Mad" Anthony Wayne, to fare any better. But after two years of training, Wayne marched upon the frontier, and advanced down the Maumee River to match his army against a union of seven separate Native American tribes.

Though losses in the battle were small - less than 100 men on both sides, most sources claim - General Wayne emerged the victor, driving the Native American alliance back to Fort Miamis, just east of present-day downtown Maumee. There, the tribal warriors pleaded for assistance from their British allies still garrisoned there, but were turned away.

"It was the beginning of the end for natives in this area," said Ms. Mahaney. "That was it. The natives no longer felt that this was their homeland."

The following summer, several northwestern tribes signed the Treaty of Greenville, which ceded large portions of the Midwest to the United States. As Congress had hoped, the West was open for development.

The battlefield lay largely forgotten for more than a century, until, in 1929, a monument was dedicated on the banks of the Maumee where most thought the battle was fought.

But in 1995, after researching firsthand accounts of the battle, Dr. Pratt discovered the true location during an archaeological dig a quarter-mile north of the river. There, he uncovered hundreds of battle-worn artifacts, including dozens of bullet fragments. The find renewed the drive to bring recognition and respect to the site.

In 1999, with the help of state and federal legislators, the site was given National Historic Site status, and $5.5 million in local, state, and federal funds was raised to purchase the 187-acre plot by 2001.

Plans for a new memorial began, one made up of three separate sites, including the battlefield, the monument site, and Fort Miamis. They will be connected by miles of bike paths and a bridge over the Anthony Wayne trail. The battlefield will include a visitor center and outdoor sites offering Native American, American, and British perspectives of the battle. A circular boardwalk around the battlefield will offer visitors more walking room than the original plan intended - a compromise called for after public input.

Mr. Pratt said he believes the battlefield artifacts, now housed at Heidelberg in Tiffin, will be transferred to the Metroparks once the plan is complete.

In all, the cost to implement the battlefield plan comes in at around $3.5 million - money yet to be raised. James Speck, director of planning for the Metroparks, said once the final plan is ratified, most likely next month, he hopes to target those that helped with the original land purchase, which would include the Maumee city council, the state of Ohio, the federal government, and private donors.

Mr. Speck said the project - named the Fallen Timbers Battlefield and Fort Miamis National Historic Site - involved a planning process much more complex than anything the Toledo Area Metroparks has ever dealt with. Because it is an "affiliated unit" of the National Park Service, the Metroparks were required to contact any group that has a stake in the site's outcome.

"Getting everybody together was a real issue for this site," said Sandra Washington, the National Park Service's chief of planning for the Midwest region.

Each site has a separate owner: the city of Maumee owns Fort Miamis, the Ohio Historical Society owns the monument site, and the Metroparks own the battlefield. Add to that a hodgepodge of historical and community groups, and top it off with two Native American tribes, the Delaware and the Seneca-Cayuga.

Ms. Washington said the whole process went easier than expected. "There didn't seem to be a lot of second-guessing. Few other projects we've done moved this smoothly," she said.

Ms. Duvendack said the reason for that was simple: "It was us or the mall. We had something to bind us together."

In 1994, preservationists got a jolt: Toledo was considering the sale of hundreds of acres in Monclova Township for, among other things, a mall. Although not proven at the time, many suspected the real Fallen Timbers battlefield was on that land.

The next year, while Dr. Pratt's dig was taking place, The Isaac Group - a Bryan-based developer - received options to purchase the 187-acre battlefield land, as well as a 430-acre property adjacent to the battlefield. While they purchased the 430 acres in 1998, developers decided not to pursue an even larger commercial area and let the option on the battlefield lapse, Mr. Isaac said.

"Mr. Isaac is an astute businessman. Some battles just aren't worth fighting," said then-Mayor of Maumee Steve Pauken.

As for the 430 acres, the Isaac Group sold 137 of them to General Growth Properties, Inc., a Chicago-based developer that intends to build the mall next to the battlefield.

Over the years, that decision has angered many preservationists and longtime community members.

"I knew absolutely nobody in Maumee that wanted this thing," said Dave Westrick, a 16-year Maumee resident and co-chair of Stop the Mall, a group formed to oppose the project. "Here we had what was going to be a new national park, and you'd have to drive around Burger King to get to it."

But some of the area's newer residents disagree. "I'm all for it. It will bring convenience, jobs, and tax money," said John Young, who moved to Maumee three years ago.

As the mall entered its planning stages, conflict arose as to the boundaries of the battlefield, and whether the mall might actually be part of the historic site.

Dr. Pratt, who conducted a 1998 survey of the mall site prior to its purchase, said yes, technically it could have been; two companies of militia were busy rallying upon the site of the mall; elements of General Wayne's forces that were not quick enough to engage the enemy.

But, he adds, the entire area is "part" of the battlefield, and much more significant portions of the battlefield have already been lost to development - including the area to the northwest, where he believes fighting took place. His survey on the mall site turned up a comparatively small number of artifacts - "less than 100" - similar to what he'd found to the east and south of the battlefield property.

Others suggested Dr. Pratt, hired to do the survey by the mall's developers, was hopelessly conflicted. Mr. Westrick pointed out that the original results of Dr. Pratt's survey were kept secret. When they were finally released four years later, they included buckshot, Mr. Westrick said, which has a notoriously short range.

Still, Mr. Westrick acknowledged that "the heaviest fighting was most likely on the current property [of the battlefield]."

Residents of Jerome Road, who own the jigsaw pieces of private property to the west of the battlefield site, were mostly positive about the site plan for the battlefield, sparing it a few kind words before going on to complain about the mall going up across the street.

"None of us are happy, but [the developers] bought that land, spent a lot of money," acknowledged Jerome resident Nacy Birr. "I just want something I can live with."

At around one million square feet, The Shops at Fallen Timbers has already signed up several large vendors, including Dillard's, Parisian, Barnes & Noble, and a gourmet grocer. It is slated to open in spring, 2006.

Maumee officials say they approved the mall in May because it conformed with zoning changes designed to protect the site. For instance, only half of The Isaac Group's original 430 acres may be used for retail purposes.

Maumee city administrator John Jezak maintains that traffic brought by the mall will actually be good for the battlefield. "The mall promotes and democratizes the appeal of Fallen Timbers. More people will notice that it's there, and learn about it," Mr. Jezak said.

Ms. Duvendack said passing a bunch of shops to get to a "sacred site" wasn't what site planners had in mind. And then there's the mall's name: The Shops at Fallen Timbers.

"We said repeatedly we were against the use of the name 'Fallen Timbers,'● " she said. "It's like saying 'come to the mall at Gettysburg; come shop and look at dead people's bodies.' It's way low on the respect and dignity scale."

General Growth spokesman Julie Jacoby offered little in response to the criticism, other than that General Growth "worked very closely to incorporate the best interests of the area." Mr. Isaac said further development on The Isaac Group's remaining acreage may include a mix of office, retail, and light industrial uses.

"In our opinion as elected officials, this is the best deal for the city and the developer. It protects us traffic-wise, and protects us financially," said Tom Shook, president of the Maumee city council.

In essence, Mr. Jezak said: "If the mall doesn't go in, what will?"

As far as the popularity of council's decision, "We all got re-elected, so that speaks for itself," Mr. Shook said.

Dr. Pratt believes any debate on the mall is a moot point. "The developers have met their environmental obligation, so they have the right to develop out there regardless," he said.

Ms. Duvendack offers some historical perspective on the matter, harkening back to when shots were first fired over the battlefield. "They've got the money to do it, so they can.

"That's how the West was won."

Contact Tad Vezner at: or 419-724-6050.

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