Once upon a time, you could send a postcard for a penny. Many of us still refer to postcards as penny postcards.
It was a different era. Photography was relatively new, and people were traveling more than they had in years gone by. But in those days, if Aunt Sarah took the bus to Hartford, she would send all of her friends a penny postcard … pictures of the Travelers Building, or the state Capitol, or even the bus terminal. It would simply be addressed on the front and Aunt Sarah would sign the card on the back. It cost a penny to mail it.
But, believe it or not, in Norwich, where the main post office was, there was a mail delivery twice a day. One in the morning; one in the afternoon. People were writing back and forth to each other. It was not unusual to give your mailman a letter for a friend on the other side of town in the morning, and that letter would be delivered in the afternoon. That doesn’t work any more.
I have a letter that is mailed to me from New London once per week. It is mailed on Friday, and I either get it on that Saturday morning, or it comes a week from Saturday. It is the same letter every week, and one week it takes a day; the next week it takes eight days.
But, let’s get back to the postcards. Those penny postcards have turned out to be classics. They had pictures of Norwich — every part of it. The Falls, Mohegan Park, Franklin Square, the harbor, City Hall and Norwich Free Academy. In time, those black and white postcards became collectors’ items.
I think George Strouse may have the most complete collection of penny postcards in town. But Bill Shannon and Dave Oat have wonderful collections.
There is a brand new book out that I think is simply marvelous. It is my kind of book, and if you like my column, it may well be your kind of book. It is published by Bill Shannon, Dave Oat, Eric Beit, Leslie Furrey and Dale Plummer. It features some of the most wonderful views of Norwich, many of them historic.
For example, on Page 10 there is a picture of the old City Hall that used to be on Court Street, just above Church Street on Jail Hill. It burned, and so they replaced it with this magnificent City Hall we have today on Union Square.
There are pictures of Norwich’s old mills, the cemeteries, Indian Leap (The Falls), and The William W. Backus Hospital when it was so beautiful. They even have Benedict Arnold’s home where he was born and raised. Those cards are rare as the house was torn down in 1853.
There are cards of the First Congregational Church and Samuel Huntington’s home, the Colonial Cemetery in Norwichtown and Lowthrope Meadows. Oh, the pictures go on and on, one more reminiscent of the past than the last. There are pictures of the old Shannon Building before the fire, pictures of the fire, and the new Shannon Building that was rebuilt.
The book shows the troops marching off to war during World War I and the advent of the trolley in Franklin Square. There are pictures of the 1938 flood and our wonderful railroad station that was such a vital part of Norwich years ago, and photos of the white horses that pulled the fire equipment to the fires.
A Gift For City
What a proud city we were with the Broadway Theatre and national stars that entertained there. All of these are in this wonderful book. They are all picture postcards from the past. It is something that I think everyone in Norwich would enjoy.
It shows skating on the Thames River in 1904, and The Falls covered with ice from many of those cold winters we used to have. There are some beautiful pictures, though a bit romantic, of Mohegan Park, NFA and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Broadway and Broad Street schools are part of the book.
I just thought this morning I would write about something most people have forgotten about or never knew about in the first place — old postcards.
I remember my mother had shoe boxes filled with postcards, and when I was sick home from school, I would love to look through those shoe boxes and see penny postcards from Hartford or New Haven. Even Providence was an event worth recording.
Messages on penny postcards came much later. First the card was about the image on the front, and they were beautiful. It was a worthwhile effort. Many of those postcards today remind us of what we once were, and Norwich was such a beautiful town. There were so many events that lent themselves to postcards — band concerts and parades — so much. Not anymore
Today in the news we are always reading about the State Hospital, and this wonderful, little book titled “Norwich” has the first pictures of the State Hospital. What a facility it was. It was the finest in the state, and we were all so proud of it.
I must confess, I think the book is a bit pricey. It sells for $22, but I would be willing to pay much more than that because I think it is that valuable. I think it is a classic book — one that will give joy to every generation. It will remind old people, like me, what it was like when we were young, and it will illustrate to younger people what Norwich was like before they were born.
Now, let me tell you where you can get this wonderful book that does such credit to Norwich: Ace Home Center, Backus Hospital Gift Shop, Uncas Pharmacy, Greeneville Pharmacy, Walgreens Drug Store (Main Street location), Bank Square Books, Borders, Waldenbooks and Barnes and Noble.
Bill Stanley’s prize-winning, latest book, “The 9-Mile Square,” is available at Lawrence & Memorial and Backus Hospital gift shops, all branches of Dime Bank, Chelsea Groton, Eastern Federal, People’s Bank, Johnson’s Flowers & Gift Shop in Norwich, Wonderland Books in Putnam or credit card by calling 1-800-950-0331