It’s five years since the Postcards column made its debut

This photo of the Ray County Courthouse is from one of the first postcards Linda Emley received from her grandmother Mildred Kell Schooler. (Photo courtesy of Linda Emley)

This photo of the Ray County Courthouse is from one of the first postcards Linda Emley received from her grandmother Mildred Kell Schooler. (Photo courtesy of Linda Emley)

By Linda Emley

On Thursday April 15, 2010, the Richmond News ran a story titled, “Postcards From Richmond’s Past.” It was the introducing to my column, “If Postcards Could Talk.” David Knopf met with me and my friend Milford Wyss and wrote a background story. The headline read, “Two Richmondites team up to give an oral and visual history of the town, beginning April 22 in the Richmond News. Linda Emley has collected around 80 postcards featuring Richmond landmarks – some still standing, others not. The Daily News will begin publishing a postcard story a week next Thursday along with Milford Wyss’s historical commentary.”

My original idea was to publish a postcard picture and a couple of paragraphs telling about the local building on each postcard. As with any project, things never work out like you plan because I couldn’t just tell a short story. My first story took up most of one page. And as I always say, “here is the rest of the story.”

The following article is my first “postcard” story that ran in the Richmond News April 22, 2010. Now, five years later, I’m working on 20 different stories at the same time, so there is no way that I will run out of stories anytime soon.

It’s safe to say, I’m never bored “on the hill.” For those that haven’t visited the Ray County Museum, please let me explain. I’m one of those people that have a “nickname” for everything  and everyone in my life. The Ray County Museum is “the hill” because it sits on a 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 them with anyone that stops by for a visit. Many people have helped me over the past years, so I must say “thanks for the memories” and may we all have many more years to create new memories.

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 shoebox 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 ones in a later story.

I have over 80 different postcards of Richmond and many people are amazed by this 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 some are from 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 who 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., 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 prefect 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 Years Day. Every decent family had a postcard album in their parlor.

If we are going to tell the story of Richmond with postcards, the best place to start is the courthouse. The 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 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 into what is now 11 different counties. Our courthouse has original documents that go back to 1821.

This postcard is the courthouse that served us from 1856 to 1914. It cost $50,000 and was build from brick and stone. Per the 1973 Ray County history book, page 16, “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 and all the people of Richmond that make this our town.

This postcard was mailed from Richmond on 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 on 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.

This courthouse 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, 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 serving 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, they 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 final location and didn’t even give it a second thought. Just think of all that happened in the 58 years this building served us.

Next week we will have a totally different postcard of this courthouse and hear more tales about the things that happened here. 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 who got stabbed and the sheriff who got shot. So stop back by next week for chapter two of, “If Postcards Couls Talk.”

Editor’s note: Milford Wyss, Richmond’s former postmaster, passed away at 92 in May 2014.

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