Along the Heritage Trail

A Charles W. Miner photograph of the north rotunda of the Allen County Court House (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ALLEN COUNTY-FORT WAYNE HISTORICAL SOCIETY)

Picture perfect

Photographer Charles Miner known for attention to detail

By Tom Castaldi
Charles Miner, an early 1900s Fort Wayne photographer, was known as a diligent, successful professional held in high esteem by his contemporaries. His extensive work is found in the collections of the Allen County Fort Wayne Historical Society as well as the Indiana Historical Society. Inside the University of Saint Francis’ Brookside, a 4-by-3 foot photo mural of John Bass at his desk graces a second-floor hallway.

A 1906 “The Beautiful City of Fort Wayne” booklet with 30 full-page photos begins with one of the Allen County Courthouse with the imprimatur of “C.W. Miner.” In the stacks of the Allen County Public Library, copies of the 1911 “Fort Wayne with Might and Main” feature more than 200 of Miner’s photos.

Miner became known for excellence in fine portraits, enlargements and color work. His quality exterior and interior views were attractive to businesses for their catalogs and other commercial purposes. Miner specialized in cameras and lenses for assignments large or small, with the reputation for careful attention to detail and skillful execution.

Today, anyone with a cell phone is likely equipped with a digital camera. Professional photography is a mixed discipline of artist, technician, problem solver and people handler. In the late 1800s, the art of photo making, with its bulky box cameras, glass plates and explosive powders for lighting, took both dedication and physical endurance. Now we click away, delete the undesirable, revise the reality of the shot with digital editing and post the flattering ones online in hopes that friends will take notice.

Charles Winslow Miner was born Jan. 26, 1866, to Simon P. and Melissa Miner, Ohio natives who had moved to Columbia City in the mid-1800s. At an early age, Charles became interested in photography. He served an apprenticeship under Levi Monroe “Roe” Jones, whose studio was in the 200 block of East Van Buren Street in Columbia City. Jones was known for his large-size portraits. Here Charles learned how clients were handled from waiting room to dressing room, and he was schooled in the toning, developing, enlarging, printing and framing processes.

By 1887, Miner moved to Fort Wayne, where he secured a position with the photography studio of Felix Schanz at 112 Calhoun St. Miner is listed as a photographer for F. Schanz in the 1891-1892 Fort Wayne City Directory. Around 1902, when the “Cartesian” street building address numbering system was made sensible, the number was changed to 922. Schanz had moved from New York to Fort Wayne in 1881 and by 1886 had opened the studio on Calhoun Street. Just as Roe Jones had done, he served as an important mentor to Miner.

Charles Miner lived in a boarding house at 62 Douglas Avenue from 1891 to 1896. In 1897, he opened his own studio in the 700 block of Calhoun Street over the Rurode Dry Goods store. In 1898, as his business increased, he moved to 23 West Wayne, now 121 West Wayne. The studio name was listed as Miner & Law Photography Studio in city directories of the day. Miner was a member of the Fort Wayne Elks Lodge 155 as well as the local lodge of the Knights of Pythias.

It took him a while, until about age 39, before he met and married Fort Wayne resident Mary S. Criswell on Nov. 28, 1905. The couple had a daughter, Sarah M. Miner, who was born about 1908, followed by a second daughter Mildred born around 1912. The 1910 and 1911 city directories show Miner’s Studio, Charles W. Miner proprietor, at 121 West Wayne, which was the same location, but the address changed when the city’s street number system was adjusted.

Miner suffered a severe attack of asthma in November, 1911, and for six months his health gradually declined. According to the Journal Gazette, Miner was 46 years old when he died at 9 a.m. May 22, 1912, at his home at 1030 E. Wayne St. A year later Mary Miner, suffering from tuberculosis, died May 3, 1913.

Tom Castaldi

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi, a retired Essex vice president, hosts "On the Heritage Trail," which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m. and 8:35 a.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM, and "Historia Nostra" heard on WLYV-1450 AM.

Posted: Fri, 04/27/2012 - 7:32 am
Last updated: Mon, 10/29/2012 - 1:45 pm