Touring the Countryside: Postcards from Cornwall, Kent, and Warren

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.