Postcards of DeKalb give residents a snapshot look at the county's past

Published: Sunday, July 24, 2016 11:44 p.m. CDT
(Aimee Barrows for Shaw Media)
Peter Espe, organizer of Postcards of DeKalb, gives his presentation on each of the postcards Sunday at Glidden Homestead.
(Aimee Barrows for Shaw Media)
Peter Espe, organizer of Postcards of DeKalb, gives his presentation Sunday at the Glidden Homestead.
(Aimee Barrows for Shaw Media)
Mary Ann Blindt of Sycamore looks through an album postcards as part of the Postcards of DeKalb presentation Sunday at the Glidden Homestead in DeKalb. Presenter Peter Espe, a DeKalb native, has collected 165 postcards depicting DeKalb through the ages.
(Aimee Barrows for Shaw Media)
Elsa Espe of DeKalb County looks through an album of postcards Sunday as part of Postcards of DeKalb presentation at the Glidden Homestead in DeKalb.. Her cousin, Peter Espe, organized and presented Postcards of DeKalb, which featured depictions of towns in the area through the ages.

DeKalb County residents took a step back in time and saw how much the area has changed, thanks to an impressive collection of postcards dating back to about 1900. On Sunday, DeKalb County native Peter Espe gave his presentation, Postcards of DeKalb, which is made up of about 165 postcards, at the Glidden Homestead.

“It’s important to look at the images and see how the cities and buildings have changed,” Espe said. “As of 1910, there were 600 million postcards mailed. They were what today email or text messages are. They were just quick messages that people sent.”

Espe, a retired interior design professional who now lives in San Francisco, grew up on a farm between Lee and Steward. His interest in collecting postcards began in 2004, when he was visiting Rochelle and found some old postcards in an antique shop.

This sparked an intense interest, and Espe began to scour eBay for postcards. He’s collected both posted and blank postcards from Lee, Oregon, Dixon, Steward, Waterman, Malta, Amboy, Sycamore and Paw Paw, among other communities in DeKalb County. He also collects postcards from San Francisco, and his total collection numbers about 7,000. His oldest DeKalb County postcard is from the 1950s.

“I hope people take away a different idea of what the city looked like at one time. Some of the changes haven’t always been good, like what happened with the Glidden Hotel, which was a three-story building that burned down in 1962,” Espe said. “I hope someone sees something in the architecture that I see. I look more at the details. There’s a lot more that people don’t focus on. The details tell another story.”

Rob Glover, executive director of the Glidden Homestead, said a lot of community members are interested in the structural history of DeKalb and enjoy seeing the old buildings and landscapes.

“You can see how much things have changed. [DeKalb] looked a lot different then, like Lincoln Highway, NIU and the library, as well as buildings that don’t exist anymore,” Glover explained. “We have two barbed wire factories that exist, as well as the Glidden Homestead and the Ellwood House. We’re lucky to have this history here.”

Ginny Kettleson, 90, said Espe’s presentation brings back memories from her childhood when she would visit her grandparents who lived in DeKalb.

“I really enjoy [the presentation],” the Esmond resident said. “A lot has changed. I remember the houses that used to be along Lincoln Highway that are now gone. It’s sad because some of them were really nice looking houses.”

Mary Ann Blindt recently moved to Sycamore, and she wanted to come to the presentation because she hoped to learn more about DeKalb County’s history.

“I’m trying to learn things about the area, and I like postcards,” she said. “I thought the presentation was great. [Peter] was very organized and he had a lot of interesting things to say. I was surprised that there were so many postcards from such small towns.”

Elsa Espe, Peter’s cousin and a DeKalb County native, said there are so many things she didn’t know about DeKalb and thought the presentation was very interesting.

“There are just so many changes. I remember coming to DeKalb to shop, and a lot is different. I hate to see the old buildings torn down,” she said.

Peter Espe said he thought that everyone in the audience enjoyed the presentation and hopes they can better appreciate what they have around them.

“Every city loses important buildings. Too many people see significant buildings as being disposable due to progress,” he said. “Back in the ’60s, they thought new is better and old is something we don’t need anymore. In doing that, they lost a lot of history.”

Linda Fulton, who is on the Glidden Homestead board of directors, said she thought it was very interesting how Espe was able to evaluate the date of the postcards based on landscaping and landmarks in the photos.

“This is the history of the community and the public is more interested in ancestry and history,” she said. “It’s important to learn about the history of this community. We don’t recognize how really important the invention of barbed wire was.”

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