New book takes readers on historic tour through postcards

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A postcard can provide a glimpse into the past. Take the postcard of the Lakewood section of Warwick depicting a trolley running down the center of Warwick Avenue. The picture was taken at least 100 years ago.

Now those postcards of yesteryear are making a comeback to provide a unique view of villages throughout the Ocean State.

Joseph Coduri’s Rhode Island Towns & Villages: Post Card Views at the Turn of the 20th Century, sends hundreds of these illustrative postcards to the reader’s “mailbox,” providing images and descriptions of many villages in the state’s 39 towns and cities.

The postcards, according to Coduri, are all from the postcard craze that took place between 1900 and 1915, after post offices were established and before World War I and postcard companies lost access to German orthography.

Coduri’s intense fascination with postcards started at a young age, growing up in Westerly and seeing them published in the Westerly Sun in a series called “Then and Now” that compared scenes. Throughout his life and career working for the state, his passion for postcards and the history they represent grew, culminating in a vast collection of them. He has been a member of the Rhode Island Post Card Club since 1988.

“The rest is history,” he says about first seeing all these early 20th century images of Rhode Island at a club meeting in the 1980s. “I would see postcards from places I never knew existed in Rhode Island, from Adamsville to Little Compton to Diamond Hill in Cumberland.”

Now, Coduri knows just about every village in the state because of his research for this book and the post-card collecting he has done for years.

That research has been time consuming – he said the book took over 100 hours to create over the course of the year – and was all done from his home office, where it has an extensive library of Rhode Island history. In that library, he had every postcard seen in his 260-plus-page book as well as an array of secondary sources he used to provide the background information for the images.

“After I got going, I just fed on it. I was driven,” he said. “It was important for me to get the book out so that the book is out there and people can enjoy the history in it.”

The book is divided by chapters for each town and city. Historical information is provided on the town along with a diverse selection of post cards from 1900s.

The history that can be learned from looking at the images and reading the information in this easy-to-read book is abundant. Warwick, for example, has a total of 24 “villages and locales” throughout, from Gaspee to Buttonwoods.

The chapter on Warwick has 20 different post cards, all with explanations of the pictures, as well as maps for eight of Warwick’s sections, including Apponaug and Oakland Beach. One of the post cards shows the old Oakland Beach Hotel that burned in the early 1900s.

Cranston’s chapter provides images from well-known historical hubs like Pawtuxet Village, where one image shows a trolley traveling next to stores and homes. An old boy’s school located on Chapel View looks almost identical to the restaurant there now in another postcard in the Cranston chapter.

Coduri, who brims with historical knowledge about Rhode Island, said that the book illustrates the evolution of Rhode Island from a period when the state was changing rapidly. The “original four,” he said, which are the cities of Newport, Providence, Portsmouth and Warwick, were considered the main points in Rhode Island when many of these post cards were created. Then, in 1913, West Warwick was added to that group and since then more towns, cities and villages have evolved into what we have now.

He also said that one challenge in completing the book is that five cities in Rhode Island don’t have villages in them. Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Woonsocket and Newport, according to the author, don’t really have sections that are considered villages. He did, however, include chapters for them and showcased with a few post card images from those cities’ pasts.

In choosing which villages to include, he tried to do all of the ones he had images for and that he could research. Some were included because of how little known they are.

“I had to put Rice City in because of its unusual name,” Coduri said.

Although it was tough and the Westerly resident doesn’t care much about making a profit from the book, he says the benefits of creating this collection of post- cards go beyond the money. He said he wasn’t even sure if his only previous book, a collection of more than 290 images of rail stations, locations and maps, made any money. But the historical value of his paper creations is what truly matters to him.

“This has definitely been a labor of love, but it’s been a lot of fun.”

Thirty years of historical research and collecting is Coduri’s version of fun, and a book to encapsulate this hard work is now complete and ready for purchase at the price of $39.95 for hardcover and $29.95 for soft. Copies are available at Beacon Communications, 1944 Warwick Ave., Warwick.

Coduri’s hard work gives curious Rhode Island readers a chance to view hundred-year-old images from villages that they spend time in every day, which give a nice perspective to how Rhode Island has changed over the past 120 or so years.

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