Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Postcards, Pennsylvania and the things that inspire us

Wissahickon Creek

Today is my first day back in the office after six weeks off, so I thought I'd kick this season off with a new series. You've probably figured this out by now, but I am fascinated by history, particularly the smaller, intimate stories that we aren't necessarily taught in school. The rabbit hole you can fall down when picking up an old photo or random artifact is one I will readily plunge into almost every.single.time.

I was with friends this weekend at an antique mall in Hagerstown when I came upon a booth with a wall of postcards handily organized by category. By the time my friends made it to the booth, I was grasping a stack of a hundred or so postcards, flipping through them with a manic gleam in my eye. It was an entire category dedicated to dams! Let's put aside the fact that I love the fragments of personal history captured on a postcard, there is potential value in a photo or rendering of a site at a particular point in history.

The card above is postmarked January 3, 1907 and was sent to a Virginia Peale at the Abington Friends School, which, at the time, was a Quaker boarding school for K-12. As you can see from the text on the front (above), they are essentially coordinating a ride. Think of having to communicate in this way today! I can't decide if the amount of planning required appeals to me or if I mourn the difficulty in spontaneity.

After looking up Fairmount Park, I realized that I've been in the Pennypack section of it before. I actually planned a press event there several years ago. The park itself was founded in 1867 and encompasses roughly 4,000 acres in the Schuylkill River watershed. Wissahickon Creek is one of Schulkill tribs. If you look up modern day photos of this site, you will find (thanks to the protection of this parkland) that the photo looks very much the same. However, around the time this postcard was mailed, the area and industry around the stone bridge would be quite different. At this point in our history, grist, saw and paper mills peppered the river, mills that were once owned by the likes of Richard Townsend (immigrated from England with his friend William Penn and founded the Philadephia area) and William Rittenhouse (among others). Other, more modern industry (we're talking late 1800s here) were print and dye works, as well as several ice companies.

Maybe I'm a bit mad, but this simple postcard inspires me so much--from art project (who added the glitter?) to the jumping off point for a future story to research into the Quaker's settling of the Philadelphia area.

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