PLATTSBURGH — Dr. Anastasia L. Pratt’s new release, “Postcard History Series: Clinton County” offers armchair time travel at its finest.
Printed by Arcadia Publishing, the 128-page book features black-and-white photographs spanning a century and the county.
“One of the things that I was very fortunate about with this is that Tim Clukey, who is a friend of mine and a professor at Plattsburgh State, actually scanned the entire postcard collection at the Historian’s Office,” said Pratt, who is a mentor at SUNY Empire State College and Clinton County historian.
Pratt discussed her new book at a signing held at the Alice T. Miner Museum in Chazy Thursday evening.
Though she searched through the collections of local institutions to fill in the holes, the ones she liked best, with a few exceptions, she already had.
Inheriting the travel bug from her father, Pratt conceptualized the book as a driving tour.
“There wasn’t an easy way to do it,” she said. “I couldn’t really start at any one spot in the county and move continuously and catch all the places that I had. So I compromised. The first chapter starts at Rouses Point at the border and travels down through the county to the southernmost part. And then each of the chapters that follow focuses on a little area of the county. So, you kind of twirl around. And the final chapter goes back up Route 9 to the border. It’s still a bit of a driving tour but just not as easy to explain.”
The book’s six chapters are: “Route 9,” “Around Town,” “A Trip to the City,” “At the Base,” “Where to Stay” and “On the Waterfront.”
The Clinton County Historian’s Office has more than 400 postcards, pristine and never mailed, and postcards, in English and French, used for correspondence. The postcards also offer insight into borderlands culture.
“Two of the postcards Bob (Cheeseman) sent down were of these two, little hotel cabins that are identified as being in Champlain, N.Y., but are actually set right across the border,” Pratt said. “They’re actually in Canada but for generations were considered hotels in Champlain because what does that border mean anyway. That’s sort of the sense that I got from it, yeah there’s a border. Yeah, we understand it’s a different country but really it’s just Champlain. What’s the big deal, which is in some ways how I feel about this border. The people are very similar on both sides, share a common ancestry, share a common history, and share a common geography and regional attributes.”
Pratt had to restrain herself from putting in too many Rouses Point postcards.
“Every single one is fascinating but I had to make myself not put more postcards of Rouses Point than any other place even though I think it’s a remarkable, smart village because there’s a Pratt Street,” she said.
In Plattsburgh, Margaret Street was caught from every which way showcasing storefronts, blocks and the street in general and the various modes of transportation.
“So, you can follow it from the horse-and-carriage postcards, through the horse and carriage and trolley line, through the times where there is the horse, trolley lines and cars on the streets, to then the trolley and cars, and then cars,” Pratt said. “The cars change from very early cars into the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Every one is different. Even though I don’t know that much about cars, I can see the difference.”
This book features new Plattsburgh Barracks images including one of the Hostess House, a postcard donated to the Historian’s Office by Mary Starke, who purchased it on eBay.
“Doing that research, I was pretty shocked to find that of all the buildings on the base, as it stood at that time in the early days leading up to World War I, that was the busiest place on the base,” Pratt said. “There were house mothers and girls who were hired to be there to help ease the homesickness of the boys who went to the camp, to help them sew buttons on their shirts, to help them write letters home, all of the things that they could have had at home with their families. That’s where they went to do it.”
The Hostess House offered lovely concerts, game nights and dances.
“I don’t even know exactly where it was located because none of the accounts in the newspapers nor none of the accounts of memories in books say where it was,” Pratt said. “They just assumed that everyone would know where the Hostess House was because it was so important.”
One of Pratt’s bizarre discoveries was that more than half of the postcards were printed in Germany.
“What I’m really left with more than anything is the questions,” she said. “Who was it that came here? And, I really don’t know.”
The book’s cover features the Nov. 13, 1930, dedication of the new stone-arch bridge on Bridge Street in Plattsburgh.
“To put things in perspective in a way that totally shocked me so much that I had to try to find several sources to confirm what I read, when this bridge opened more than 4,000 people came to see it open,” Pratt said. “Four-thousand people came to go see Bridge Street open in Plattsburgh. Some of the hand-drawn postcards show the people on the bridge. I’m thinking, I don’t know what would have to happen in Clinton County today to get 4,000 people to show up.”
Email Robin Caudell:firstname.lastname@example.org
WHAT: "Postcard History Series: Clinton County" by Anastasia L. Pratt.