Horse-drawn buggies, turn-of-the-century automobiles and electric streetcars bustle along Congress Avenue on a black-and-white postcard postmarked 1903.
It is a scene that existed for only a few years, captured on a postcard as a window into Austin’s past.
This postcard is just one of about 220 in the latest installment of the Postcard History Series from Arcadia Publishing, titled “Austin.”
Westbank resident Don Martin is the author of “Austin.”
The scenes in “Austin” are only a sample of Martin’s 1,500-postcard collection, which mostly features Central Texas and Galveston, Texas.
Although the collection began as a casual hobby about 10 years ago, the postcards accumulated as time passed.
Postcards are fascinating to Martin because they capture a moment in time.
One of his favorite postcards that illustrates this idea is a card that features a photo of the Littlefield Memorial Fountain on the University of Texas campus with the original Old Main building in the background.
The Old Main building was demolished in 1935 to make way for current administration building and the landmark UT Tower, according to the caption under the postcard.
Most people today wouldn’t recognize that scene from the campus, Martin said.
“There were only two years when that image existed,” he said. “I think that’s really pretty cool.”
Martin already had the postcards when he wrote a proposal to Arcadia Publishing for the book. The work came when he had to research the history behind each card by diving into books and online resources.
Through this process, Martin learned the many interesting stories of Austin’s past.
“The research process was by far the most interesting part of the project,” he said. “There is a lot I wouldn’t know about Austin if I didn’t have the opportunity to sit down and research this book.”
One interesting story was the battle between the Scarbrough Building and the Littlefield Building for tallest building in Austin.
The Scarbrough Building was built in 1910 and was the first skyscraper in Austin at eight stories tall, according to “Austin.”
The Littlefield Building quickly followed across the street at the same height,
In 1915, however, George Washington Littlefield added one more floor, securing the bragging rights for tallest building in Austin.
Martin also recalls talking to a woman about when she would go to Dacy’s Shoe Store on Congress Avenue, where customers could look at their feet in an X-ray machine.
He later found a postcard of the shoe store, which he included in the book, with the slogan “We fit by X-ray” on the backside of the card.
“Austin” is filled with the background stories of these historic buildings and destinations.
“It’s nice to know the story behind many of these iconic Austin structures,” Martin said. “And I can bore my friends with a little history occasionally.”
Martin’s history is limited, however, because the postcards usually feature mainly buildings or tourist attractions, and the postcards only date back to about 1890.
“I just wish postcards went further back,” he said.
Martin limited the dates of the published postcards to between 1890 and 1950, what he calls “the golden age of postcards.”
Martin said he enjoyed piecing the book together from his collection, and he hopes readers will have fun thumbing through the images from Austin’s past.
“It’s just been a delightful process,” he said.
“Austin” is available at Barnes and Noble, Walgreens and other local bookstores.