Until April 2017, Randy Harter, author of two Fort Wayne history books and founder of Fort Wayne Food Tours, had never met photographer Daniel Baker. He had, however, viewed some of Baker's award-winning works on display in the offices of the Downtown Improvement District.
“I already had a signed contract from Arcadia Publishing for a book featuring side-by-side, then-and-now photos and was looking for a photographer to partner with,” Harter said. “A history buff himself, Dan was quick to get on board. Our objective was to give readers a clear perspective of how things have changed in the city over the years. The plan was to take photos of familiar scenes from as close to the same angle as the historic originals.”
The two pored through thousands of old photos and postcards from sources that included Allen County Public Library's Community Album, ARCH and the Allen County Fort Wayne Historical Society. In addition, they rifled through several private collections, including Harter's, in search of interesting images to replicate.
The result of their efforts is a 96-page book titled “Fort Wayne Through Time” that contains 172 images, along with the history behind each one. It was published Nov. 1 and can be found locally at The History Center, Fort Wayne Visitors Center and the Coney Island Gift Shop, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
“Readers will easily be able to make the then-and-now connection since the photos of the same location are side-by-side. The explanatory text is on the same page,” Harter added.
More than 200 old photos were singled out as good possibilities. Baker then took the photos to the sites to determine whether anything there fit the then-and-now format of the project. From those visits, the two men whittled the prospects down to 115. Eighty-six made the final cut.
“That was the easy part,” said Harter with a smile. “Getting the 'now' photos took us to some precarious locations that included Dan standing on a small circular platform with a not-quite-waist-high railing under Miss Liberty on top of the Allen County Courthouse dome.
“Dan with his camera bag and I with an envelope of old photos carefully negotiated several catwalks in the courthouse attic to a dimly lit, narrow spiral staircase leading to a short ladder and the hatch on top the dome.
“To shoot photos from atop the Indiana Michigan Power Center, we had to sign a liability release in case we were attacked by the disgruntled parents of the nesting peregrine falcon chicks. We were also on top of Anthony Wayne building, Lincoln Tower, Rousseau Centre, Three Rivers Apartments, St. Joseph Hospital and Lincoln Financial.
“Some of the building managers only allowed us five minutes on their roof because of safety concerns. So while Dan furiously snapped away, I chatted up the manager and we were usually able to squeeze in a few extra minutes.”
The book includes such historic photos as the Fort Wayne Daisies at Memorial Park in 1953; Barr Street Market in 1910, which actually included a brick market building that spanned nearly two blocks; Wolf & Dessauer; the Municipal Beach in the 1940s; and an overhead view of the Citizens Square block.
“My favorite view was from on top of Three Rivers Apartments,” Baker said. “To the east we could see the entire Lakeside neighborhood, Parkview Hospital and the VA Hospital. In the other direction, downtown spread out perfectly in front of us.”
Since some of the original photos had been taken from airplanes or on top of buildings that no longer exist, Harter and Baker worked with drone photographers John McGauley and Justin Coleman.
“It was interesting to watch them work and view their targeted scene on their monitor,” Baker said.
A long-time history buff and founder of the Fort Wayne History Roundtable, Harter was in his element in the research phase of the project.
Born in Alaska, Harter moved to Indiana at age 11 and graduated from North Side High School. He has said in previous interviews that his fascination with history began in the 1970s when he purchased an early 1900s postcard for 25 cents. That began a hobby in which he collected more than 3,000 cards that he later donated to the Allen County Public Library.
Baker has been doing freelance photography for the past 15 years. The Fort Wayne native, who has a bachelor's degree in history from IPFW, also was involved in searching through reference materials for information on the sites chosen for the then-and-now photos.
Looking back, the two agreed it was an enjoyable project that stimulated their creative juices and brought out their penchant for organization, which allowed everything to move along smoothly. They said that if the right project surfaced in the future, they might partner again.
“Dan's a good sport,” said Harter, “for putting up with me for the 17 months it took to complete the project and for letting himself be talked into standing on top of an 8-foot-tall ladder in the back of a pickup truck illegally parked on Calhoun Street.”