Book Offers Postcard View of City By Jennifer Huberdeau - 02/23/2007 North Adams Transcript
Long before e-mail became a popular form of communication, even before the telephone connected people across the country, the penny postcard was the cheapest and easiest ways to get a quick thought to faraway friends to relatives.
While technology has whittled the postcard’s popularity down to a novelty item – a message to folks back home while on vacation – the penny postcard is being viewed as a historical document spotlighting a particular time and place. A collection of these “mail-order” history lessons, documenting the heyday of North Adams, are the focus of the latest installment of Arcadia Publishing’s “Postcard History Series: North Adams.”
Author Robert Campanile, a member of the North Adams Historical Society, will sign copies of the book during the annual Chowder Cook-off from noon to 2 on Saturday at the Holiday Inn, part of the city’s Winterfest celebration.
“The images on the penny postcards are fascinating,” Campanile said. “While the last book [his Images of America: North Adams] told a story in old photographs, this book confines the view of the city to the images on the penny postcard.”
Having an ample amount of postcards to work with at the Historical Society, Campanile was able to piece together what he calls the city’s “golden period” – an era of prosperity and bustle lasting from the late 1800s to the 1940s.
“Needless to say, that golden era was captured on the penny postcard,” he said. “It was the high point of our history and I was lucky that part was represented fully in postcards. It made the book work.”
From images of Main Street with horse-drawn carriages, to the first photographs of the Mohawk Trail, to visions of long-gone buildings, Campanile filled the book with postcards that told a visual story – good and bad.
“I do think of the postcards as historical documents,” he said. “For whatever reason, the always beautiful Main Street, has always been put on the cover of a postcard. You can see 20, 30, even 50 years of changes, There are postcards with images of it with a dirt road, other with the trolley tracks, and then the paved road.”
Also heavily documented in postcards were the city’s hotels and historical buildings. Images of the two former YMCA buildings, the original Elks Lodge on Eagle Street and the former Richmond Hotel grace the book’s pages.
“The postcards have this ability to give you a good sense of the streets and buildings,” Campanile said. “Sometimes, I’d look at one of the buildings on a postcard and realize that I’d be standing in the plaza parking lot on Main Street instead of in front of the building. You really get to appreciate the city – what it has been and the transformation it continues to go through.”
Campanile’s book retails for $19.99 and is available at the North Adams Museum of History and Science located in Western Gateway Heritage State Park. His third book, “Postcard History Series: Mohawk Trail” is set for a spring release.
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