Walworth County’s history preserved in postcards

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By Sandy Bond

The soft black and ivory photographic images are frozen in time. The artistic swirl of cursive writing, penning a heartfelt, “wish you were here,” from ink flowing from the nib of a fountain pen. The crisp visage of our first U.S. President on a stamp. There are innumerable things about “penny postcards” that endear them to many of us. There is even a name for the hobby of collecting them, deltiology, one of the largest hobbies of collecting in the world.
One of the earliest souvenir postcards was believed to have included images of the Eiffel Tower in the golden age of the late 20th century.
Nostalgia and an interest in his genealogy and Germans from Russia heritage are the reason Duane Stabler began his hobby of collecting postcards of Walworth County. The 200 images in his book, “Walworth County: Postcard History Series,” published by Arcadia Press, were selected from a larger private collection of postcards of Walworth County belonging to Stabler.
The son of Erwin and Helen Stabler, presently living in Minneapolis, Minn., Stabler grew up in McPherson County. The family often visited his aunt and uncle, Edwin and Christine Wacker and their daughters, Myrna and Doris, at their home in Mobridge. Edwin was employed with the Milwaukee railroad.
The book is dedicated to his parents who took him to the rodeo, parades and other sites that were the most entertaining to him as a young boy. He credits his uncle Edwin for “spurring his interest in railroading and what it meant to the area.”
“Looking at pictures is like taking a step back in time,” Diane Kindt, curator of the Klein Museum, writes in the book’s forward. “The establishment of the communities could not have happened without the immigrants who came from Germany, Norway, and other countries, looking for land to farm or towns in which to raise families. Their faces show the determination necessary to succeed in whatever profession they chose.
“As you look at the photographs, imagine yourself walking down the street and greeting your neighbors as they sit on their porches, walk into the schools and churches, milk their cows or tend to their newly planted flowers or gardens.”
The book is divided into sections: Selby, Java, Glenham, Bangor and LeBeau, Mobridge, Native American Sioux and the Sitting Bull Stampede and Mobridge Depot, Rail Yards and Bridges. Stabler credits information to accompany some of the images from centennial history books of various local cities and towns.
Many of the images are easily identifiable today with some modifications, while others are simply a memory.
The cornerstone for the A.H. Brown Public Library was laid in September 1929, and except for the recent building and renovation, the early photo of the A.H. Brown Public Library looks very much the same. The first Mobridge library was established in July 1922, located in a room in the Mascot Theatre.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was built in the English Gothic style in 1949, and has also received some building and renovations. The Missouri River bottoms were an excellent place to grow crops with rich and fertile soil and the availability of water, and a photo of an old truck with the Mobridge Fruit Company logo is dated 1933.
The former Mobridge depot pictured was cut in two. The passenger section is still located on the east side of Mobridge and once was The Depot restaurant. The freight section sits about a mile north of Selby in a pasture.
Built in 1901, the Java Railroad Depot was no longer needed after service was discontinued. Although it was one of the few wood depots still located at its original location, hopes to restore it were dashed and it was torn down several years ago.
The courthouse in Selby was “built in what is known as the Sanborn and Potter County style,” Stabler writes.  The proud owner of a team of handsome horses and buggy poses them in front of the courthouse, writing that the four-year-old had the potential for making a great roadster. The American Legion Frederick Schauer Post No. 100 was erected in 1923, but looks very much as it does to this day, as does the DeLuxe Café built in the early 1940’s, which is now The Cloverleaf.  As a result of consolidation with the Hiddenwood and Bangor school districts, the need for a larger high school arose; it was built in 1923, and is being demolished to make way for a new high school.
The Walworth County seat at Bangor was already in decline when the picture was taken of the Walworth County Band in 1907. When Selby became the county seat, buildings were moved to adjoining towns including Selby and Glenham.
An undated photo of an unidentified family posed with their favorite steed in front of their house made out of sod bricks, bricks made from a combination of mud, horse or cow manures and straw. The floors were typically dirt but the homes were warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
“It was a different time in our country, but one that should be cherished forever,” Kindt writes, “It will be, thanks to this amazing collection.”

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