Randy Harter went into the Every Other Book used book store looking for old Fort Wayne history books. He came out with the suggestion to write one of his own.
A collector of Fort Wayne postcards for 37 years, Harter pulled cards from his collection and those of a few fellow collectors to create “Fort Wayne” (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99), a history of the Summit City told through postcard images from about 1900 to 1950.
The book goes on sale today at Barnes & Noble bookstores, The History Center, Amazon.com, www.arcadiapublishing.com and other retailers.
The book contains 227 images from “real photo” postcards — those which feature a real photograph on the front rather than a drawing or other image.
With the images, Harter tried to present a well-rounded view of the city in the first half of the 20th century, from its parks, hotels and government buildings to disasters, local landmarks and street scenes.
“Sadly, tons of stuff had to be left out,” said Harter, 62, who began collecting vintage Fort Wayne postcards in 1976 and now owns about 3,000 of them.
For the book, he also had access to another 500 cards in the collections of five other area postcard collectors, who are known as deltiologists.
“The beauty of it is, it really shows how Fort Wayne wanted to be depicted,” said John Beatty, a reference librarian at the Allen County Public Library's Genealogy Center.
Along with preserving images of a broad cross-section of the community, Harter's postcards also show what people thought was important at the time, added Beatty, who helped Harter with occasional research questions and also reviewed the book's postcard photo captions for accuracy.
People can see many more of Harter's postcards beginning Nov. 1 via a link on the Allen County Public Library's Allen County Community Album Web page, www.acpl.lib.in.us/database/index/acpl_digital_library.html.
He and his wife, Pat, donated 2,200 of his postcards to the library in 2007, where the cards will be an asset to genealogists and others researching Fort Wayne history. Harter, who is retired from a career in sales and marketing of consumer goods, recently completed digitizing and cataloging 775 of the donated cards to make them ready for online viewing.
Harter has been a Fort Wayne history buff since his early 20s.
“I am one of those people who always liked to look back,” he said. “Looking back helps you understand the present.”
Since donating his collection to the library, Harter already has picked up another 800 Fort Wayne postcards, buying them at collector postcard sales and auctions, from dealers, and through the Internet.
“It's a fun hobby to have, and I feel I am giving something back to the community by pulling them all together and making them available,” he said. “And, it's a hobby that doesn't take much space,” he added, grinning.
He hadn't thought of sharing his postcards in book form until his conversation in early summer 2012 with Joel Hyde, owner of Every Other Book, 3208 Crescent Ave.
Along with asking about Fort Wayne history books, he asked if Hyde ever received any old postcards. A puzzled Hyde said no, so Harter explained he had been collecting vintage Fort Wayne postcards for more than 35 years and had nearly 3,000 different postcards.
“That's a book,” Hyde said.
After some thought, Harter contacted Arcadia Publishing to see if they would be interested. He knew the publisher had a history book series featuring vintage postcards. He also owns a couple of Fort Wayne history books other local authors have published through the company.
After getting the OK from Arcadia, Harter started work on his book in summer 2012 and completed it by May 1 of this year.
Much of the work involved research to provide brief captions about the buildings or scenes depicted in the postcards used in the book. He had help from staff at the library, History Center and area historic preservation consultant Craig Leonard of Bluffton.
Along with providing facts in the captions, Harter tried to include interesting nuggets of information whenever possible.
“The other thing that was fun about writing it is I knew there would be 'Aha!' moments for people who took the time to read it,” he said.