Ray courthouses and the postcards that picture them great historic resource

Postcards_richmond courthouseBy Linda Emley

The following article is my first Postcard story that ran in the Richmond News April 22, 2010. My original idea was to do six months of postcards with a few paragraphs telling about each picture.

That soon changed. Anyone that knows me, will tell you that I don’t do anything the easy way. Now here I am 300 stories later, starting my fourth year. I’m currently working on 15 stories at the same time with many others still rolling around in the back of my mind.

It’s safe to say, I’m never bored “on the hill.” For those of you who haven’t visited the Ray County Museum, let me explain. I’m one of those people that have a “nickname” for eveything and everyone in my life.

Ray County Museum is “the hill” because it sits on the hill at the fairgrounds. My motto is “We always have fun on the hill.” I love history and our museum, so I’m happy to share both of those with anyone who stops by for a visit.

Many people have helped me over the past three years, so I must say “thanks for the memories” and may we all have many more years to create “new” memories on fairgrounds hill.

When was the last time you opened your mailbox and found a picture postcard from an old friend that said “Wish you were here?”

When I was young, we traveled a lot and I always mailed my grandmother a postcard. One trip she was with us and I mailed her one anyway. I told her it was a good way to keep track of where we had been. I started mailing a postcard to myself and now I have a shoe box full of travel memories.

My grandmother, Mildred Kell Schooler, gave me my first two Richmond postcards, which started my hunt for any and all Richmond postcards. One of those first cards is this one of the courthouse. We will hear about the other one in a later story.

I have over 80 different postcards of Richmond and many people are amazed by the number. There are around 15 different series, most of which are from 1906 to the mid 1950s. I’m sure I don’t have them all.

Several people asked where I got my postcards. I’m sad to say it was on eBay. Most of them came from an estate sale in a different state. They were mailed from Richmond many years ago and now they have come home to stay.

It costs a lot more to bring them home than it did to send them on their first journey. Postage has gone up, but the major cost is battling it out with my eBay buddies. There are a couple of local people that hate seeing my name on eBay. Sometimes you can get a common Richmond postcard for a couple of bucks. Then there are times that you have to draw the line when the price goes past $50. We do have a mutual respect for each other because we all have the same goal, preserving our Richmond history.

Before we get started, I would like to share a brief history of postcards because I think it helps us understand why postcards are a big piece of our history.

If you go back a hundred years, collecting postcards was one of the largest hobby in America. In 1908, 677,777,798 postcards were mailed in the U.S., at a time when the U.S. population was only 88,700,000. People in Richmond mailed postcards to friends and family in Hardin to tell them to come visit. And then that person in Hardin would mail a postcard back to reply.

Some people only collect postcards that are perfect and have never been postmarked. I collect the ones that have a story and a postmark. Postcards were sent for holidays and some the most interesting ones are from Halloween and New Year’s Day. Every decent family had a postcard album in the parlor.

If we are going to tell the story of Richmond with postcards, the best place to start is the courthouse. Ray County Courthouse is where all major events start. We all remember walking out of that building with the feeling of freedom when we passed our driver’s test. Many of us got our marriage license there, vote there, pay taxes there and the list goes on and on.

Our courthouse is special because it is one of the few that didn’t burn during the Civil War. When Ray County was formed in 1821, it went all the way to the Iowa border and was almost the whole top half of the state. It was divided over the years in to what is now 11 different counties. Our courthouse has original documents that go back to 1821.

This first postcard is the courthouse that served us from 1856 to 1914. It cost $50,000 and was built from brick and stone. According to page 16 in the the 1973 Ray County history book, “The courthouse completed in 1856 was the third to grace the square and faced south.” We have little information about the first two and no pictures at all. What we do know is found in the 1881 Ray County History book.

We can find many facts and details about our courthouse, but it is the personal stories that make the real story. That is where we need my friend Milford Wyss and all the people of Richmond whomake this our town.

This postcard was mailed from Richmond Aug. 1, 1907 to Mrs. Fred T. Parks in Kansas City, Mo. The back reads, “July 21, 1907. I got here all right. Just got in in time for my dinner. Dad is coming in after me today. Kate.”

Then there is another entry. “I went to the camp meeting last night and I am going this morning if it don’t rain. Kate” Since Kate wrote this July 21 and it was not postmarked until Aug. 1, it looks like dad did not make it to town to pick Kate up for a few days. Maybe she had to mail him a postcard telling him to come to town and pick her up.

The courthouse you see here was moved one block to make room for the new building. They started the move in 1914 and it took over two years . Could you imagine seeing this building sitting in the middle of the road when you went to work each morning?

Milford tells a story about how his wife’s uncle, Henry Lee Elliott, kept working in the courthouse while it was being moved. I checked page 20 of the 1973 Ray County History Book, and once again Milford was right. I found Henry Lee as the assessor from 1909 to 1917.

After this courthouse moved, it had a few more lives, one of which was as the coal miner’s union hall and later as apartments. They tore it down in the 1960s and anyone could back their truck up and get some bricks.

There are bricks from this courthouse all over Ray County. We had a pile on our farm, one of which sits on my desk. There are also pieces of the columns in several locations. The Ray County Museum has one in its yard. So if you want to touch a piece of history, we will be glad to give you a hands- on tour at the museum.

Many of us walked by this grand old building while it was sitting at its last location and didn’t even give it a second thought. Just think of all that happened in the 58 years that building served us.

Next week we will have a totally different postcard of the same courthouse and hear more tales about the things that happened there. The cyclone of 1878 wiped out most of Richmond, but it spared our courthouse. It did, however, make a few modifications.

We also have more stories of the judge that got stabbed there and the sheriff that was shot. So stop back by next week for chapter two of “If Postcards Could Talk.”

Have a good courthouse story for Linda? Email it to her at or take a visit to “the hill” during business hours Wednesday through Saturday and see her in person.


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