Here in November 1679, on the Miami River, as the St. Joseph was then called, La Salle, the French explorer built a fort as a base for his western explorations. Here he awaited the Griffin, the upper lakes' first ship. When the ill-fated vessel did not come he made his way on foot to Canada through lower Michigan's uncharted wilderness. He returned in 1681 to prepare his great push down the Mississippi. A decade later the French built Fort St. Joseph
, some 20 miles upriver near Niles.