Old Postcards Worth More Than A 1000 Words


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Microsoft Word file format Postcards News Release 12/27/07

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The most popular and classic railroad subject matter for vintage photo postcard photographers was that of “traintime” at the local depot. During the “Golden Age Railroading,” this daily ritual at so many communities across the Midwest, was a major social event. The train was the main portal to the outside world, and the town’s depot was the first thing an arriving traveler saw. The fine citizens of Ellston, Iowa gather for the impending arrival of a Chicago, Burlington & Quincy local. The small wooden depot was adequate for the small Iowa community. Postmarked 7/15/1908.


Fortunately for us, a postcard photographer documented little Basco, Wisconsin along the Illinois Central, 13.6 miles south of Madison. The depot here was a common standard design of the period for the IC, at least in the few communities it served in southern Wisconsin. The tiny steam locomotive was an original Chicago, Madison & Northern locomotive, built by Brooks in January 1887 and retired by IC in February 1916. Little, if anything, evidence remains of this scene today. Postcard postmarked 10/7/1910.


Maquoketa, Iowa was at the end of a 40-mile long branchline extending from the Chicago & North Western Railway’s mainline at Clinton, Iowa on the Mississippi River. The depot platform on this day is overflowing with outbound milkcans while the local Hotel Hurst’s carriage waits to load passengers who have just detrained. Local postcard manufacturer “Gundill” made this fine view—note the ID watermark. This scene was so typical and common in the Midwest one hundred years ago.


The Rock Island depot at Belmond, Iowa was a beehive of activity in 1913 as a passenger train departed from the station. Ladies in petticoats and gentlemen in white shirts and strawn hats meet their acquaintences, gather up their luggage, and soon will board a horse-drawn carriage. Meanwhile the railroad's station agent will process just-dropped-off express packages. Such was the scene at a Midwestern railroad depot one hundred years ago.