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Peoria Couple Recreate Peoria History Through Postcards

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If postal rates go up as expected next month, a postcard will cost 40 cents to mail.

But the price increase (up from 36 cents) isn’t like to jolt those on vacation this summer. Folks aren’t sending postcards like they used to. Family photos travel by computer these days.

But Peoria residents Charles and LaDonna Bobbitt still enjoy postcards, specifically postcards of Peoria. They have 1,600 of them at last count but they just moved to a smaller home down the block from their previous home so they might not know where they all are.

The Bobbitts arrived in Peoria in 1981 from Memphis where Charles headed the historical society there.

“I wanted to learn about Peoria history. The fastest way to learn is through postcards,” he said.

Bobbitt scoured garage sales and flea markets, always on the lookout for cards that reflected Peoria’s history.

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“When I was collecting vigorously, there was only one person who rivaled me,” said Bobbitt, noting that Peoria dentist/historian Peter Couri was also an ardent collector of Peoria memorabilia.

“We both went after a card that showed elephants on parade in Downtown Peoria,” said Bobbitt, referring to a postcard that reflected an early circus parade in the city.

“Looking back at the postcards, Peoria was a big parade town,” he said.

The Bobbitts’ vast collection of postcards led them to publish “Peoria: A Postcard History” in 1998, a book that used 200 cards to showcase Peoria history.

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The couple followed that edition with a second volume of postcards in 2000 with “Peoria, Ill. Revisited in Vintage Postcards.”

Bobbitt said collectors prize privately-made cards of the past when individuals might have had a photograph taken of a house under construction or depicted some other personal interest.

Cards of the Block & Kuhl department store in Downtown Peoria are drawing attention now that the building is being restored to serve as headquarters for OSF HealthCare, he said.

While the internet may stifle card-sending in general, it’s a handy tool for collectors, said Bobbitt.

“A Peoria card mailed to someone in Boston, for example, doesn’t mean as much there as it does here. Now you can find these cards on sites like Ebay. Gradually the postcards are finding their way home,” he said.

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Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.