FORT WAYNE, Indiana (Indiana's NewsCenter) - Fort Wayne Indiana was an industrial powerhouse in the early 20th century; foundries, brewery's, woolen mills, piano, truck and gas pump factories. It was a self-contained city that knew where it was headed…right up to 1929 when the American economy went over a cliff and dragged Fort Wayne with it. It was during those dark years that Harold W. Baals was first elected mayor.
“The city was in dire straits financially,” says History Center curator Walter Font. “That's when real leadership shows itself or doesn't, is in the tough times.”
And the new mayor showed real leadership. He consolidated city departments, lowered city tax rates. He launched construction of Fort Wayne’s massive underground sewage system and built the city sewage treatment plant, still critical to us today. The entire country, still steeped in the Great Depression, took notice.
“In 1939 the Saturday Evening Post had an editorial about mid size cities,” Font says, “and Fort Wayne they said is a blue ribbon city because it's been able to maintain its services and keep its taxes low. They recognized Harry Baals as one of the prime movers in that direction.”
During World War Two the mayor directed war materials drives, upgraded city equipment and services, broke ground for Baer Field, now our International Airport. And he built the elevated railroad tracks on the town’s north side, opening up north Fort Wayne for development. It’s a fact that much of what this town is today we owe to this man.
“People today all stand on the shoulders of those that came before us, we always forget that,” Font says, “because they sustain our society. They kept the city vital and vibrant and we actually owe a debt to those people.”
So while the rest of the country giggles like twelve year olds at his name, we should remember the debt we owe this man, and be proud to mane our new government building in his honor or anything else in this town that he, more than most, helped to build. Eric Olson reporting, out in ‘Your Country’.
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