Anchoring the southern edge of the Headwaters Park "Thumb" until circa 1874, the Wabash & Erie Canal's importance to transportation to the western part of the United States and to the growth of Fort Wayne was substantial. Headwaters Park is on the "Summit" or highest elevation of the canal project and dependent upon the waters of the St. Joseph River to function. Ground breaking for the canal was held on February 22, 1832. The grand opening was celebrated here, connecting Lake Erie with Lafayette, Indiana, on July 4, 1843. By 1853, the line connected with Evansville, Indiana, on the Ohio River. Its 468 miles established it as the longest canal in the western hemisphere and second longest in the world, behind the Grand Canal of China. By bridging the land portage between the Maumee River east of the park with the Wabash River at the Forks of the Wabash in Huntington, Indiana, to the west, the Wabash & Erie Canal made possible continuous water traffic between the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Gulf of Mexico. Because of improved transportation, markets developed encouraging both commerce and agriculture - and people followed in droves. Later, railroad competition reduced the effectiveness of the canal, and the old waterway route was filled in to be replaced with railroad tracks. Today, standing on what was once a four-feet deep canal under the railroad elevation, one can view the expanse of Headwaters Park.