Picture Perfect Past

October 26, 2017

An interesting real photo black and white picture postcard came into the collection of the Marion Area Historical Museum recently. This is a slightly different view than most we see. It was taken along the Main Street of  Marion, Michigan in 1953. It is not a particularly unusual postcard, but I’ve found that it seems to come along far less frequently than the others taken at the same time. It is from a series of photographs taken on the same day by a photographer/company, which did so for towns all over Michigan and in some cases, all over the Midwest. Photographs were taken and the finished postcards delivered back to town and sold by the businesses up and down our Main Street who ordered them.

Julie Traynor Postcards from the Pine Columnist

Julie Traynor
Postcards from the Pine Columnist

These postcard photo views were updated every few years and the subject matter and viewpoint changed a bit. Preferences for these collections changed through the years. At one time relatively bucolic views of the Middle Branch as it runs south of Main Street were popular, as were views of the park and race track. We haven’t seen updates of those in years. Main Street still rules as the most photographed for postcards today, rare though they may be.

Marion businesses, since the days of rail travel, have been large purveyors of postcards. LaGoe’s Store, located next to the tracks, maintained three racks of cards in 1910. Sales to travelers must have been good or that much space would not have been given to postcards. This detail may be seen on a postcard photo taken of the interior of LaGoe’s, of course. Thanks to today’s technology, a scan and a zoom, and ta-da! The viewer can see just what postcards LaGoe carried.

This 1953 Main Street business shot features Neil and Novia VanDeWarker’s business, Van’s Drugs. This is the northeast corner of Main and Mill and the three businesses seen here are Border’s store, groceries, Van’s Drugs and the Marion Press. There are four vehicles and part of a fifth seen here. Two Buicks, one Chevrolet and two Studebakers. Yes Studebakers. One belonged to the Maynard Downing›s.  Before this year is out, the Press will move across the street to its new home, next to the river. And the Sible Hardware will take the Press space. This is what this busy corner and these three businesses looked like in that space and time. Two of the store fronts here look much as they did when they were constructed in 1905. Around 1950 Van’s Drugs saw some moderate store front remodeling, a large, heavy single door included. This was pretty much how Van’s would look into the 1960’s and ‘70’s when Main Street struggled again to rejuvenate itself.

That zoom in feature is a dandy thing. It allows me to see that Swift’s Premium Ice Cream was served up at the soda fountain at Van’s. I can also see that there is a sign above the door which says that Kodak film is available there. In the front window, on the right, there is a large cut out display of the latest Kodak cameras. Also prominently displayed is the then very familiar dark blue and white Michigan Bell Telephone sign by the door. This meant that there was a public telephone available here. And indeed there was. It was an enclosed, oak beauty, located toward the back of the store, across from the pharmacy counter when this photo was taken. This ‘Cadillac’ of phone booths had a seat and overhead lighting which came on when the door was closed.

I wish the zoom feature allowed us to see the phone booth as well as the popular soda fountain. For now, it remains but a memory, and face it, a memory kept by fewer people each year.

Popular postcard subjects seen early on were, after shots of Main Street; the train depot, the school, post office, the elevator and roller mills and then shots of the river, park and race track. These postcards are the more common; however there were hundreds of real photo, either from glass plate or negative, postcard images taken at Marion, Michigan, dating almost since it was born. Every old Marion family collection of photos contains a real photo postcard of some unidentified family member or house, both long gone and forgotten.

If you take a moment and think about it you’ll notice that several of these places do not exist any longer and others have changed beyond recognition or attraction. Things change and Marion has changed a lot since she was young. She’s seen a number of facelifts and cosmetic work. These days she looks pretty good for an old girl, and like many an old girl, she doesn’t resemble the young thing she used to be. Over all she’s aged slowly and rather gracefully. In spite of a few ‘fashion faux pas’ she has done quite well. And Marion has the photograph album to prove it.     

Van’s Drugs - Marion, Michigan - 1953

Van’s Drugs – Marion, Michigan – 1953

As the photo curator of the Museum’s collection, I have the occasion from time to time to show photos and answer questions for visitors. I am always delighted at the overwhelmingly positive reactions to the photo collection. Many, indeed most, people do not know, remember, or have even considered that Marion could have ever been a destination, a self-sufficient shopping center for this greater agricultural community. Many find it hard to believe that we once had a paint factory, more than one dairy, three grocery stores, more than seven gas stations and several bakeries, the last done in the early 1970’s. A lot of folks who now call Marion home cannot believe that she ever looked other than she does today, or had other ambitions.
We often hear things like “You don’t say…” or the every generous but unbelieving “Is that right…?”  Of course it is! Why would we say otherwise? It is not our mission to tell tall tales. Pay a visit to your local Museum or to the Marion Library and have a look at who we once were.

We all take pride in being from Marion, Michigan and we should all know about her history and past while we have the chance. We’ll be saying more about this in the near future. Visit your local museum and have a look at who we used to be and how we got to 2017.

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