Postcards from Frogtown: Exploring the Ken Levin Postcard Collection Online
Posted on July 8, 2019
Ken Levin, a resident of Toledo, amassed a massive collection of over 3,000 postcards that document nearly a century of Toledo history dating back to the 1890s, with a huge number of images documenting the 1900s and 1910s. Mr. Levin was generous enough to donate this treasure trove of history to the Local History and Genealogy department of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, and we have spent over two years digitizing and describing the materials to make them available for the public’s use. Mr. Levin’s collection was also published by the Toledo Blade in a book entitled “You Will Do Better in Toledo: From Frogtown to Glass City” edited by Sandy and John R. Husman. The librarians who worked on this project share their experiences and some favorite images in this blog post. The full collection of digitized postcards can be viewed online.
Laura Voelz: I most enjoyed the postcards that advertised Downtown Toledo as it looked at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. The Boody Hotel (1) was considered one of the country’s more modern hotels with fireplaces and bathrooms in every room. It was a stately and elegant place to stay. I love seeing this now demolished building and the early model cars and people dressed in early 20th century clothing around it.
Summit Street in Downtown Toledo today consists of modern buildings, paved streets and a lot of traffic. But back in the early 1900s (2) the street was lined with elegant brick buildings with a variety of businesses including hotels, shoe stores, mercantile stores and five and dime stores. The brick street had a trolley track running through the middle and the sidewalks were filled with pedestrians.
Gayle Hebert: Near the end of the first set of about three hundred postcards that I scanned and edited, I was delighted to learn about Augustus Roy Knabenshue and his wonderful flying dirigible(s). There are twelve postcards documenting Knabenshue’s successes, including a spectacular landing atop the Spitzer building in 1905 (a feat that was not duplicated for many years). In 1908, another postcard commemorates his accomplishment of becoming one of the first pilots to take passengers in a powered aircraft. The first postcard I chose as a favorite pictures Knabenshue’s flying machine after leaving the top of the Spitzer Building (3). The card’s greeting addressed “Aunt J.”, in Ravenna, Ohio. The greeting on the card reveals the excitement of the event, which describes how “the city was wild” for several hours after the event, and as a personal note, reflects that “Judd office is in this Spitzer Building.”
Several boxes of postcards later, I came across a tribute to Knabenshue in the form of an advertisement used by the F. Bissell Company of Toledo. The Toledo Frog No. 2 depicts The Frog as the “King of the Air” himself (featured image), making the proclamation to be “Flyin’ High.” There are eight Toledo Frog Postcards in the Levin Postcard Collection, some unused, and some used as a means of communication for confirming scheduled business appointments. Another card in the series, The Toledo Frog No. 3, seems to have been used with a more personal intent (4). The illustration depicts The Frog canoodling on the Maumee River, in a boat, with a young lady in the vicinity of the Toledo Yacht Club. The card is addressed to Irma Sussman of Toledo, and in small cursive writing on the front of the card is a note advising “cut it out Irma,” signed, Helen.
There are around thirty postcards featuring Camp Miakonda in Sylvania, Ohio, in the collection. Many offer beautiful scenic views of the area, and many show activities that the Boy Scouts engaged in while camping there (5). The postcards sold at the gift store were often used by campers to write home about their adventures, and at least one, sent from Herral Long to his mother in 1942, complained about the food. He wrote, “Dear Mom, Sondy nite we had stake that you couldn’t cut.” He further instructed her to bring some supplies on her upcoming visit. I wonder if she brought him some film too…
While the postcards offered amazing views of Toledo and its history, what I often enjoyed the most was the little glimpses that they gave into the lives of the residents who dwelled here.
John Dewees: This project was particularly exciting for me, as a newcomer to the city of Toledo, as it was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the rich history of the city and county, while processing and researching the postcard collection. Seeing all of these historical images of the area was a very engaging way to experience that history. In particular, I picked out some favorite images from the portion of the collection that I processed that dealt with elements of Toledo’s history that we are unable to experience now.
The first image shows fields of lily pads bordering the interurban railway line that used to transport Toledoans out of the heat and noise of the city to Toledo Beach (6). Toledo Beach was actually situated on the shores of Lake Erie in Monroe County, Michigan, however it was named after Toledo in a bid to attract vacation-goers from the Glass City. One can imagine sitting on the train and looking out at these massive fields of green lily pads while feeling the stress of the city fade away in anticipation of some fun and relaxation among the sand and surf.
Toledo’s rich architectural history is also highly evident from the postcard collection, with many photographs of buildings that have been demolished; collections like this offer our only opportunity to experience these segments of Toledo’s history. The second images shows us the Newbury School in South Toledo (7), which underwent a number of different versions, with one building being demolished and replaced by another throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The postcard here shows the second iteration of the building, and even the most modern version has been demolished and the site now sits as an empty lot. The third image shows one of the early hospitals in the region, called The Toledo Hospital (8) and opening in 1893. This castle-like structure once stood at the corner of Sherman and Cherry Streets and was in active use until it was eventually outgrown and the hospital moved to its current location near Ottawa Park, which opened in 1930.
It’s easy to imagine people going about their daily lives through images like these, hauling textbooks up the steps into Newbury, trudging to The Toledo Hospital with a cold that you can’t shake, or staring out the window while traveling and slipping into vacation mode.
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