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Postcards of Kentucky

A postcard collection at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort, offers a sweeping yet intimate look at Kentucky from the 1880s to 1950s.

The collection comes from Ron Morgan, a retired state employee who became captivated by old postcards of his hometown. “He found himself in an antique shop one day and found a postcard of Lancaster, his hometown, that showed a view that he’d never seen before,” said Louise Jones, director of research experience at the Kentucky Historical Society.

Morgan then became curious about how many other pictures of Lancaster could be found. “And then he started thinking, well, there are 120 counties. I could go all over the place. And he did,” she said.

Morgan eventually amassed a sizable collection, and a few years ago he donated it to Frankfort’s Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. “He stopped just short of 11,000 postcards when he was all done,” Jones said. The collection fills 21 boxes at the history center’s library.

Jones said early postcards were used in business, when the postal service made pickups and deliveries twice a day. “The postcard was that text message. It was that quick ‘I have a question’ or ‘Your shoes are ready for pickup at the cobbler’s.’”

As technology changed, so did the postcards. From 1905 up until World War I, Jones said, photographs appeared more frequently, and those postcards were a way share photos with family members. “A lot of people have a World War I soldier who had one taken because that was a way to send that picture home,” Jones said.

In other cases, the postcards documented a dramatic community event, such as a train wreck at Flemingsburg on May 3, 1907. Among Jones’ favorites is a postcard of Augusta during an Ohio River flood in 1907.

People who view the postcards are often surprised by how much their communities have changed. “It’s always interesting when someone comes across a street scene that shows buildings that are no longer there, for whatever reason,” Jones said.

The postcards show how many towns simply evolved not according to a master plan, but according to the needs of the community. “My big example for that is Frankfort. You look at the pictures of Frankfort and, I mean, it’s a bustling metropolis. You can barely see the sidewalk for the people walking up and down the street. And I’m not familiar with that Frankfort because it’s a quieter, pedestrian town now. Because it’s grown so much, it’s not all concentrated right down here at St. Clair and Broadway,” she said.

The postcards can be viewed at the history center or online at

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2211, which originally aired on February 25, 2017. Watch the full episode.