As someone drawn towards working in collections, it should come as no surprise that I am an avid collector in my personal life of many different things. However, something that has always fascinated me are postcards. I think I’m drawn towards them because their quaint or artistic designs and their ability to transport us back in time with their images and their concise but sometimes nonsensical, shorthand messages. With prints and images often on the front of postcards, they can show us how buildings and landscapes have changed over the years or not, if they look similar. Many examples of postcards featuring buildings or landscapes can be found in Special Collections’ Historic Postcard Collection, which is browsable online. Most of these postcards depict West Chester, Chester County, West Chester University, and other nearby locations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Having recently moved to this area, I have not had the chance to explore Philadelphia or the greater Philadelphia area, including West Chester, as much as I have wanted, especially with COVID-19 safety measures such as closures in effect. During this time, however, I have sought out history that can be found just a short drive away – and let me tell you, there is plenty of it!
The postcards and my interest in seeing the great Philadelphia area gave me an idea. What if I compared past depictions of sites to present day ones? So I decided to embark on an adventure, seeking out history to highlight through our Special Collections’ Instagram handle: (@WCUSpecColl), and Twitter handle: (@WCUSpecColl), through posts on Thursdays called “Then vs. Now."
Credit: “Soldiers’ Monument”, Postcard Collection, Special Collections, Francis Harvey Green
Library, West Chester University, West Chester, PA.
In our collection, we have several postcards which depict Valley Forge National Historic Park sites. However, I decided to focus on the Soldiers’ Monument postcard, made in the early 1900s.
The Soldiers’ Monument is dedicated to the soldiers of Washington’s Army that perished during the battle of injury, disease, malnutrition, and more. The Soldiers’ Monument was erected in 1901 and was presented by the National Society Daughters of the Revolution of 1776 and the Pennsylvania Society Daughters of the Revolution of 1776.
Credit: “Soldiers’ Monument, Valley Forge National Historic Park, 2020”, personal
photos by author, Jenna Bossert, WCU Special Collections Technician.
As evidenced by the postcard in our collection from the early 1900s vs. my photo of it this year, not much has changed about the monument, except that it previously was enclosed by a fence and now it features a brick enclosure that has cannons within it. The landscape otherwise looks quite similar and this is probably because this monument is located within a park of the National Park Service, which has preservation protections in place for what can be done to its buildings and land.
While this 100+ year comparison is not that surprising, minimal changes of buildings and landscapes are often not the case. Also, sometimes the changes themselves are shrouded in mystery, like my post about West Chester’s Mansion House Hotel, which was demolished after 130 years of operation. If you’re interested in learning more local history, make sure to follow us at the handles and links above. So far, we have visited Valley Forge, Marshall Square Park, and sites in downtown West Chester. Look out for this type of posts on Thursdays!
Post by Jenna Bossert, WCU Special Collections Technician