Since the late 19th century, Connecticut’s northwest corner has drawn visitors to its natural beauty, rural charm and recreations. Picture postcards sent to family and friends by travelers—part of the late 19th century’s revolution in communications—spread the news of the area’s attractions. Postcards from the Cornwall, Kent and Warren historical societies tell a local story, delightfully inflected with enthusiastic commentary on the back. Like today’s selfies, picture postcards helped to pin memories to notable spots; imagery publicized places worth visiting, and messages highlighted good times, travel information and connections between city origins and country sojourns. Vacations, camps, hiking, swimming, boating, fresh milk and eggs, and the scent of towering pine forests refreshed weary city dwellers, fueling what we know today as a thriving tourism industry.

Tourism in America grew from the second half of the 19th century, expanding as transportation networks linked rural destinations with cities via boat, train, cycle and, later, the car. Passenger trains of the Housatonic Railroad Company (sometimes operated as the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company) connected Litchfield County with New York City through Bridgeport. Brochures advertised excursions, and visitors might have been driven to local inns by carriages that met trains at depots at New Preston, Kent, Kent Falls, Cornwall Bridge, and West Cornwall. Early League of American Wheelmen cycling maps noted what roads the bicycles of the day could manage and advocated for road improvements. The rise of spare-time travel was spurred by the advent of paid vacations around 1910. As roads improved, car travel made even remote areas reachable in the Model T, which sold for only $300 in 1924.

Picture postcards became wildly popular at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. German companies and, later, US printers produced quantities. Until 1917, a penny stamp sufficed, and postage remained at two cents until the late 1950s. Touring the Countryside: Postcards from Cornwall, Kent, and Warren tells the story of rural pleasures and celebrates the merry flow of these affordable missives sent from Litchfield County.

This exhibition is a collaboration between the Cornwall Historical Society, the Kent Historical Society, and the Warren Historical Society and is made possible by an operating support grant from the Connecticut Humanities.


In scattered locations in the Taconic and Litchfield hills of Connecticut and the adjacent areas of New York and Massachusetts the landscape holds hints of an enterprise that has largely been forgotten. Revealed by piles of firebrick and glassy slag, soil darkened by the remnants of charcoal, and the occasional rusty scrap of iron, these sites speak of the first great era of resource extraction following European colonization. The Understory, a project by artist Richard Klein, is a contemporary response to this history, realized through the materials that comprised the early American iron industry.

Iron was first discovered in Litchfield County in 1731 by surveyors Ezekiel Ashley and John Pell in Salisbury, and the first iron furnace was put into blast in Lime Rock in 1735. The middle of the nineteenth century was the peak of iron production and the apogee of deforestation in northwestern Connecticut. On average, 600  acres of trees needed to be cut annually to create charcoal to fuel a single furnace. Seventy percent of the forest in northwestern Connecticut was harvested for charcoal by the 1870s, resulting in much of the fertile topsoil washing into the region’s rivers and streams. The Cornwall Bridge furnace, which was active from 1833 to 1897, owed its location to abundant waterpower, readily available firewood for charcoal production, and its position on main transportation routes.

Klein, who recently retired from his role as Exhibitions Director of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, will offer an artist talk and site visit to the still intact ruins of the stone furnace on Furnace Brook in Cornwall Bridge. The program will include a broad overview of the eighteenth and nineteenth century iron industry as well as specifics about iron production in Cornwall. See our Events page for more information.

PHOTOS: (Top) The Understory (Falls Village), 2021. Rusted, cast iron Cracked Cap Polypore fungi, burnt nineteenth century wood architectural column. 15 x 25 x 72 ½ inches; (Bottom) Furnace Brook, Cornwall, Connecticut. The towering walls of the Cornwall Bridge Iron Company are hidden in plain sight, tucked just off the road on the forested brook (Photo by Paper Buck).