Old Rochester postcards: Then and Now

Filed under: Mailbox Memories, Stop Defacing Rochester!, ephemera, photography — olivander March 20, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a decent number of old postcards depicting Rochester, MN. It’s a fun and (usually) inexpensive way to open a window into the city’s past. They’re also a good way to educate folks on the history of our city. To that end, I have a separate Web site that display’s most of them and give a little history of each scene.

I had originally planned a local history book centered around the postcard images, most likely as part of Arcadia’s Postcard History series. However, someone beat me to it–and did a much better job than I ever could have. So now I have a bunch of postcards hanging out in a binder.

Something I’ve been doing with them is attempting to recreate the shots as they look today, standing as near as possible to the same spot as the original photographer. It’s not always possible, but I do my best. Originally, I intended to exclusively use Conley cameras for the modern images, the Conley factory having been located here.  But that was rather hit-and-miss. I’ve taken to using the digital camera to take test shots, and eventually I’ll go back and re-take them with my Conley postcard-format field camera when time and expense allow.

Here are some I took this weekend. The full set can be seen on Flickr.

The Rochester Hotel began as the Pierce House in 1877. Over the years it underwent several major remodels. The top photo must have been taken after 1907; it’s postmarked 1914. In 1928, it was moved (by horse, in three sections) two blocks down and one block over, becoming the largest building ever moved in Minnesota at the time. Today, part of the Minnesota Biobusiness Center stands on the site.

The Rommel Hotel is long gone, destroyed by fire in 1953. This is more or less an educated guess as to where the lobby was.

The postcard is postmarked April, 1909, just three months after the YMCA opened. The little bank building alongside it was moved there from where it originally stood near City Hall about a block and a half away; the Martin Hotel was built in its place in 1916. The Y was torn down in 1938. The West half of the 1949 201 Building now occupies the site.

The top photo was taken in the late 1930s. Silver Lake was a WPA project, completed in 1936. Olmsted is the only county in the Land of 10,000 Lakes without a single natural lake. At 34 acres, Silver Lake is the largest man-made lake in the county, and is a year-round home to thousands of giant Canada geese. As you can see, the most significant change has been to the buildings in the background and to the bridge deck.

On July 23, 1908, the Zumbro River overflowed in one of the worst floods in the city’s history; at the time, it was certainly the largest disaster to hit the city since the 1883 tornado. Shown at top is the Chicago & Great Western rail bridge, with a  CGW locomotive stopped in front of Cole’s Mill. In the background in the College St bridge (now 4th St South) which in those days began at Broadway and crossed both the Zumbro river and the mill race. Due to dramatic changes to the river channel and geography of 2nd St as part of the 1990s flood control project instigated by the equally destructive 1978 flood, the original shot is almost impossible to recreate today. As it is, the pedestrian bridge in the foreground (immediately beneath the skyway) virtually completely blocks the view of the rail bridge.

The CGW bridge seen from the opposite side, looking North. Note the men standing on the bridge watching the flood waters. The angle of my photo isn’t quite right, since the modern street is much wider than the 2-lane bridge the 1908 photo was shot from. I would have had to stand in the middle of 4th St to accurately recreate the shot.

Another shot of the South end of the CGW bridge. At this point, the water is well on its way to completely washing out the ground from under the tracks.

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