FRANKFORT — About 25 years ago, a friend gave Ronald Morgan an old picture postcard showing Morgan's hometown of Lancaster as it looked back around the turn of the 20th century.
Morgan liked that postcard so much that he started looking for more old cards picturing Kentucky scenes. A self-described "pack rat" at heart, he was soon crisscrossing the eastern United States in his spare time, visiting shows for postcard collectors in search of interesting cards about Kentucky. He bought some cards. And then he bought some more. And then he bought a whole lot more.
Morgan, now 70, recently donated his collection — more than 11,000 postcards — to the Kentucky Historical Society as a part of its permanent collection. Members of the society's special-collections and library staff, who have been busy completing an inventory of the items, say the postcards constitute one of the largest card collections in existence devoted solely to the state of Kentucky.
Archivists at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History where the collection is housed say Morgan's cards already are a hit with visitors, who enjoy looking through the cards for examples featuring their hometowns or counties. Center staffers also are placing digital images of many of the cards on the historical society's Web site.
Morgan, a retired state employee who lives in Frankfort, said he's pleased."I'm getting along in years," he said. "I have no children or grandchildren, nobody to leave the postcards to. So, I decided I would put them someplace where other people could enjoy them as much as I have."
The collection fills 20 storage boxes at the history center's library and is made up mainly of picture postcards produced from shortly before 1900 to about 1940. They cover just about every Kentucky subject imaginable. There are cards about Kentucky cities and towns; cards about Kentucky log cabins; cards about Kentucky rivers and streams and cards about horse racing. Many show scenes from the early history of coal mining and railroading in Kentucky, while others recall the days when timber cut from the state's mountain forests was floated down the Kentucky River to market.
One of the more unusual cards shows the battleship USS Kentucky, part of the Navy's Great White Fleet, which President Theodore Roosevelt sent on a round-the-world cruise in 1906-1909 to showcase America's growing military might. It's signed by the ship's captain. Another card carries a photograph of William Jennings Bryan, the Populist politician and Scopes Monkey Trial participant, that was snapped when Bryan visited Frankfort.
Morgan's favorite card, however, shows tobacco growing alongside hemp in a Kentucky field. The scene dates to around World War I, when hemp grown for rope-making was still a leading — and legal — Kentucky cash crop.
Louise Jones, the historical society's special-collections director, says the postcard collection amounts to 11,000 snapshots of Kentucky history covering roughly 50 years, offering dynamic images of how the state changed over that time. It's valuable for casual viewing, or for historical research, she said.
"Mr. Morgan went out of his way to collect postcards that really document Kentucky," Jones said. "In many instances, there are multiple cards of each city and town, so the collection shows changes in the urban or suburban landscape over the years.
"We can actually use it to show multiple kinds of change. For example, you see changes in transportation from horse-drawn wagons to the automobile, and the effects of the automobile on travel, tourism, and development throughout Kentucky."
Morgan says his collecting really was just for fun.
"I didn't know much about postcards at all when I started, so I just bought cards that looked good to me," he said. "I stuck mostly with scenery cards because they had historical value for me. I guess I just got hooked."
Morgan says he collected miniature bottles, tools and similar items before taking up postcard collecting. And he hasn't stopped yet.
"Now that the card collection is gone, I'm going in a new direction," he said. "I'm collecting black Americana."
Morgan's most prized item so far: a photograph of a grave in Concord, Mass., thought to be that of the first African slave brought to America.
The Kentucky Historical Society history campus, which includes the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, the Old State Capitol and the Kentucky Military History Museum at the Old State Arsenal, will close from Dec. 12 through March 11, 2011.
Budget cuts brought about by the state's economic crisis and the critical need for an up-to-date inventory of the society's 500,000 museum and special collections prompted the change in schedule, according to a press release from the KHS.
The revised schedule will allow the collections staff to focus on this responsibility during the off-peak season when visitation is low, ensuring significant headway in cataloging these collections and in making them available online.
The new schedule is expected to be in effect through 2013. However, the following public services will continue year-round:
■ KHS will be available to schedule visits for groups of 10 or more people with at least seven days notice of the visit from Dec. 12-March 11, 2011.
■ KHS will be open for second-Saturday programming on Jan. 8 and Feb. 12, 2011. On these dates, KHS will offer genealogy workshops in partnership with the Kentucky Genealogical Society, as well as scout programs and teacher-training workshops. The Martin F. Schmidt Research Library at the Center for Kentucky History, KHS exhibitions and the 1792 Store will also be open, along with tours of the Old State Capitol and the Old State Arsenal.
■ Outreach programming including the KHS HistoryMobile, Kentucky Junior Historical Society/National History Day program, KHS Museum Theatre, oral-history technical services, KHS Museums-To-Go exhibits, Kentucky Folklife Program traveling exhibits and field research, historical markers and work with the Civil War and War of 1812 related sites and museums will also be ongoing.
■ Reference services will continue to be available through the library by mail, email and by telephone.
■ Rental services will continue to be available at KHS year-round.
Beginning March 12, 2011, KHS will resume regular public hours, which are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.