Situated along the historic Maumee River, 105-acre Mary Jane Thurston State Park offers a variety of day-use and overnight activities. The Maumee is not only scenic, but also provides some of the best stream fishing in Ohio. Boaters have access to the river while history buffs may explore the remnants of the old canal.
This area was the rich hunting grounds of many Indian tribes. As settlers moved west, hostilities arose. President Washington appointed General Anthony Wayne to lead forces into the area. After building Fort Defiance in 1794, at the junction of the Maumee and Auglaize rivers, Wayne advanced down the Maumee Valley. At the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Wayne's troops defeated the Indian warriors commanded by Blue Jacket. This battle put an end to twenty years of conflict between Indian and settler.
In later years, the canal building era had a great influence on the region. The Miami and Erie Canal, which traveled north from Cincinnati, merged with the Wabash and Erie Canal south of Defiance in 1845, linking Cincinnati to Lake Erie. The canal stimulated development and trade along its route.
In order to better use the slackwater at the head of the Maumee River near the community of Gilead, a second dam was built by the state in 1845. Previously, a smaller dam had been built across part of the river to power a mill. The citizens were outraged about the new dam which limited water power to the mill and one night destroyed the dam. As a compromise, the Gilead Side Cut Canal was built, connecting Gilead with the Miami and Erie Canal, and a replacement dam was constructed. In 1855, the canal port of Gilead was incorporated as Grand Rapids.
In 1928, Mary Jane Thurston, a Grand Rapids schoolteacher bequeathed fourteen acres of land to be used as a park. After several transfers and leases, Mary Jane Thurston State Park was dedicated in 1968.