Postcards now GL history book

AUTHOR DIANE EGBERT moved postcards she had collected for more than a dozen years from their binders into a new coffee-table book. Tim Lyke photo

by Tim Lyke

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, Diane Egbert’s new history of Green Lake has almost 180,000 words of value.

About 180 of 500 images she has collected are featured in “Dartford Days: A Postcard History of Green Lake, Wisconsin.”

For the past dozen years, Egbert has amassed the Green Lake-area postcards.

“I’d clean out all my family and friends,” she said. She also had attended estate sales, flea markets and scoured eBay for images dating from 1907 to 1930.

“I ask almost anywhere I go,” Egbert said. “Nearly everybody has a few postcards in a drawer.”

After sorting her postcards into binders by theme such as “hotels” and “downtown,” she considered sharing them with the public.

But not until friend and former Princeton-based underground cartoonist Denis Kitchen stopped by last summer and suggested she publish her postcard collection did she decide to package them together.

“He loves postcards,” Egbert said of Kitchen. “He was looking at my collection and he looked at me and said, ‘Diane, this is a book.’”

Egbert chose the narrow time period in her oblong, 200-page book to chronicle the community’s history due to postcards’ rise in popularity mirroring Green Lake’s ascendency as a resort community.

Postcards had become more plentiful after photography became easier and the U.S. Postal Service began rural delivery, Egbert explained.

“If you were living in a rural area you didn’t have a telephone. You may not have had electricity. You didn’t have mail,” she said. “Some people got to town once a week but some once a month. You had no communication.”

Postcards made communication affordable and popular, she said.

Some were produced using “real photos” — actual photos produced on postcard stock. “When I buy those, I’m buying the photo that was made and printed 100 years ago,” Egbert said.

She also treasures a couple that have been hand-colored.

Before 1907, postcards featured addresses on one side and the sender’s written message on the other.

But beginning that year, the U.S. Postal Service allowed for a “divided-back” postcard —  half address, half message — that permitted a picture on the front.

“You wouldn’t see a Green Lake postcard from 1898,” she said. “It didn’t exist.”

The period Egbert’s postcards covers features Green Lake in its heyday of resort hotels.

“It’s a concise era,” Egbert said of 1907 to 1930. “There were all these hotels happening during this period of time but you don’t see them afterwards. Really, the depression ended it.”

Before the stock market crash, people visited the resorts, many coming by railroad, to escape diseases prevalent in the south such as yellow fever, malaria, typhoid fever and cholera.

“Also, the cities in the summer were kind of a fetid mess,” Egbert said. “There were cattle roaming. There was horse manure. There was not necessarily clean water.

“And that was worse in the summer — just like blue-green algae — it grows. If you were in the South and you had money and you could get your family out of there during the summer, you did.”

That era probably built Green Lake’s tourist trade, which exists to this day, Egbert said, noting the old Oakwood Hotel was reputed to be the first resort built west of Niagara Falls.

So popular was Green Lake back then, she said, that trains had sleeper cars enabling men from Chicago to visit their families, who stayed in the area all summer. “Sunday night they could get on that sleeper car, sleep all the way to Chicago, get up and go to work in the morning.”

A reminder of the importance of rail back then, Egbert said, is the fact that Highway 23 between Ripon and Green Lake wasn’t paved until 1923.

And there was no Inlet Road (a segment of County Road A) until it was built in 1925-26. “Dartford Days” sports postcard images showing the inlet before and just after the road was built.

“Inlet Road” is one of 31 chapters of the “Dartford Days.”

“I was trying to set the book up thematically so, without a lot of reading, if you go through this book from beginning to end, you’re going to have a real good sense of what Green Lake was like in that time period, visually and in context,” she said. “You can kind of see that the downtown grew as the resort hotels grew. And then there was the depot and Lone Tree Farm — that was huge.”

THIS VIEW LOOKING north on Mill Street, likely taken in the 1920s judging by the cars, shows the Wisconsin Power & Light office, Eaton’s Meats and R.A. Brooks Dry Goods.

A 1965 Green Lake High School graduate, Egbert knows the community well. Her mother’s family came to Green Lake only a year or two after Anson Dart, Green Lake’s first settler.

Egbert’s heritage motivates her to want to share Green Lake’s past with others.

“It will keep over the generations,” she said of “Dartford Days.”

“The pictures are timeless. [The book] tells such a story of history. When I started collecting these it didn’t seem like that long ago but now it seems like a really different era. The world is changing so fast.”

While “Dartford Days” is comprised largely of enlarged postcard images, it includes an introductory narrative; concise captions to provide context; and five essays that Egbert said “add a little something different” to previous Green Lake histories.

They include information on prominent people of Green Lake such as boatman Capt. Ebenezer Pierce, Victor and Hattie Sherwood Kutchin, Victor and Jesse Lawson and Hattie Mills.

“She left us Deacon Mills Park,” Egbert said of the latter, “that treasure that we have on the water.”

She hopes Green Lake High School students might peruse her book in a history lesson  “to merge what was going on in the country with these innovative things that were going on in Green Lake.”

Egbert emphasized that she had 500 copies printed of her hardcover, full-color, “limited-edition keepsake” book.

It is available for $34 at Crossroads, Town Square, North Bay Sport & Liquor, Green Lake Mercantile, Indigo B’lu and Art of Daycholah in Green Lake; and at Pastimes Books & Antiques in Princeton.