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Postcards provide visits to the past
By Cheryl Caswell   - 06/09/2006

Charleston Dail Mail

Charleston man compiles book
of images chronicling
his hometown's history

Postcards are more than a way to dash off a few lines to friends back home. They can be a snapshot of history, and Stan Bumgardner's book is proof.

Simply titled "Charleston," the paperback book is 123 pages of postcards that depict city buildings and other sights. Many of them no longer exist.

"My father has the coin shop on Fife Street (Doug Bumgardner) and he has collected literally more than a hundred thousand postcards," said the author. "He's been trying to nudge me for 10 years to do a book on the postcards, and when a publisher came along who was interested, it all clicked."

Bumgardner has worked for the state Division of Culture and History as director of collections and the museum, historian and now consultant. He also wrote several articles for the new West Virginia Encyclopedia.

"I've always loved Charleston history," he said. "And this gave me a chance to learn more about it. This was an excuse for two months to do what I love to do for fun."

While his father had pulled some of the Charleston postcards out of his massive collection -- he bought a truckload of 75,000 postcards at one time -- the son still had much to do.

"I put on some dirty clothes and sifted through thousands of them," he said. "There were some I knew I'd seen over the years and wanted."

The book features postcard photographs of old retail stores, like McCrory's, O.J. Morrison's and Coyle and Richardson on Capitol Street, but he couldn't locate one of Stone & Thomas.

There are plenty of schools pictured, including Charleston High, Bigley School and Kanawha School, which were torn down. But there were none of his own alma mater, George Washington High.

"That shows how the trend changed," Bumgardner said. "Postcards were used a lot before the mid-60s for marketing. Places like stores and banks handed them out with pictures of their buildings."

Another trend was for camera shops to use postcard paper to print photographs and sell them.

"That was the case with the postcard of the Capitol fire," said Bumgardner of a picture in the book of the original state Capitol building in flames. "The shops just cranked those out."

Other interesting pictures in the book include an unpaved Loudon Heights Road just above the Kanawha River in 1905; evangelist Billy Sunday posing with the Charleston Police Department in 1922; the entrance and the roller coaster of Luna Park on the West Side (the park burned down in 1923); a crowd of people watching firefighters at the old Ruffner Grocery store in 1907; and Blaine Island in 1915 prior to development and later in the 1950s when it was part of the Carbide and Carbon Chemical Co.

Bumgardner did research to identify many of the landmarks and sites pictured on the cards he chose for the book. One card in particular mystified him.

"There is an African American gentleman on page 95, and I wanted to know who he was and what kind of car he is sitting on," said Bumgardner. "I was able to pick the address off the house and went through city directories to identify him, but I couldn't find out what kind of car it was."

Bumgardner said his book isn't a definitive history of the city, and for that he suggests well-known books by Stan Cohen and Richard Andre.

"I didn't want to duplicate what they've done," he said. "I see this as a supplement to what they've done."

"Charleston," published by Arcadia Publishing goes on sale Monday and will be available at area bookstores, on-line retailers and at www.arcadiapublishing.com.

Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at cherylc@dailymail.com or 348-4832.

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