The chance to escape
summertime heat drew
visitors to water parks at
Wauconda and Antioch.
10 / OutdoorIllinois January 2006
Hobbyists collecting these potent visual
and literal messages get glimpses of the
past, from wonderful vignettes, tragic
messages, and if organized into a col-lection,
a visual time line of our world.
William Smith, a remarkable man and
passionate postcard collector from
Savoy, is an associate professor of
Recreation Administration at Eastern Illi-nois
University. He has amassed a col-lection
of more than 10,000 postcards,
William Smith’s love of parks and recreation blossomed into
a collection of historical postcards, then a pictorial book.
Unbeknownst to a large segment of
the population, there is an inex-pensive
and quick communication
style that does not involve a com-puter
or cell phone. A delivery
system that was once popular, despite
the fact anybody could intercept and
read the message.
Postcards—a colorful picture on the
front that drew each viewer into an exot-ic,
interesting place visited by a friend or
loved one, and a brief message on the
reverse side—remain hypnotic today.
and shares his favorites in a book,
“Greetings from Illinois Parks: A Postcard
History of Parks and Forest Preserves.”
Smith’s love of parks and recreation
started when he was a newspaper carri-er
and won a trip to Indiana’s Turkey
Run State Park. Like most 10-year-old
boys, Smith had never been out of Illi-nois.
A new world opened to him as he
hiked the trails and walked across the
“Swinging Bridge” over Sugar Creek.
As you browse through the 100
pages of postcards, the past seems to
Story By Rich Wagoner
Postcards Courtesy of William Smith
Water seems to be a central theme in
many postcards. Great efforts were made
in creating forest preserves and parks to
enhance the effects of rippling streams
and glassy lakes to drift on with a friend,
or to sit beside and enjoy the best nature
come alive, and you may discover a had to offer.
park you frequent. Consider how much
things have changed over the past cen-tury.
Gone are hot summer-day diver-sions—
water slides, high-diving plat-forms,
boat houses, mineral springs and
wading pools—and sheep grazing in
public meadows. But they
remain on the brightly col-ored
postcards, mementos of days
when the pace of life was slower.
When you have a little time on your
hands, take the book and visit one of
the parks to compare the postcard
image with the present-day facility. I
was surprised when I looked at the
postcard depicting the annual fish
fry in Beardstown (circa 1909).
The park looks much the same today,
with many of the sycamore trees still
standing and pagodas, boathouses,
cupolas and band shells recounting
quainter days. But too often, structures in
the postcards are gone, like the
water toboggan on Bangs Lake at
Village Park in Wauconda that
featured a 30-foot drop into
January 2006 OutdoorIllinois / 11
William Smith’s passion for
parks and recreation has
resulted in a collection of
postcards that chronicle the
history of Illinois’ parks.
(Photo by Adele Hodde.)
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