The two postcards above see Collinwood very differently, even if they picture the same blocks. In both images, we look down Collamer Street at the town’s primary retail district. At theSigns of industrial and commercial development remain visible but are harmonized into a more picturesque, serene vision of small-town life. horizon, a rise in the road leads to a bridge over the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern railyards. In the black-and-white photograph, the grime and raggedness of industrial change stand out. Utility poles with banks of crossbars carry black cables silhouetted against the sky. A spider web of wires hangs over the street; scaffolding surrounds a cupola on the roof of Collinwood’s barn-like town hall. Though by no means dilapidated, Collamer Street shows no careful attention to the built environment. Everything is thrown together in a hurry and driven by commercial expediency.
The color image of Collamer Street invokes a different sort of town. The crossbars and wires have almost vanished, leaving poles that stand as branchless trees more than carriers of power and communications. Without cables, a streetlamp hovers over the road in defiance of gravity. Our vantage point has moved up the street slightly and to the right, cutting off the town hall and the buildings next to it. The right side of Collamer is solidly tree-lined, balancing the development on the left. Pedestrians stop and talk casually on the street, as if having run into friends. The sky shines overhead, a perfect pale blue, bathing the street in remarkably even light. One would never know that locomotives and foundries spewed plumes of black exhaust soLake Shore RR Shops, Collinwood, Ohio, c. 1910. Click image to compare with photograph. nearby. Signs of industrial and commercial development remain visible, of course, but are harmonized into a much more picturesque, serene vision of small-town life.
Like many color postcards, Collamer Street was printed in Germany by lithographers more sophisticated than those in the United States. The employee who created this card probably never set foot anywhere in the Americas, much less in Collinwood, Ohio. He more likely worked from a sketch or a photograph, perhaps the one seen above. But, even if this unknown print maker on the other side of the Atlantic had no first-hand experience of Collamer Street, he knew how lithographic postcards designed for the United States typically picturedAerograph of Collinwood Yards, c1910. Miami of Ohio Digital Collections. Click image to compare with color postcard. similar scenes. Sellers pushed thousands, perhaps millions, of images of small-town America in a gentle transition to a more industrialized era. The cards spoke to the ambivalent longings of people like Mabel Neal, the high school senior both pleased by the growth in her town and mortified by the grime and social dislocation that came with it. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, she and others who lived amidst the excitement of economic growth and distress over its consequences lived every day in the dirty black-and-white world but lalso yearned sometimes for the clean colors of a brighter fantasy.