Penny Postcards – Old Capitol & Iowa Avenue.

As the old expression goes – a picture is worth a thousand words. And by 1900, penny postcards had become the primary way for everyday folks to quickly communicate both their important messages and their simply greetings.

(P-0270-e) From 1909 – this rare penny postcard features a view of Old Capitol as seen from Iowa Avenue – looking west. On the left is the Hall of Liberal Arts – Schaeffer Hall – and on the right, the Hall of Natural Science – MacBride Hall.

The cornerstone of the Old Capitol Building was laid in Iowa City on July 4, 1840. Iowa City served as the third and last territorial capital of Iowa, and the last four territorial legislatures met at the Old Capitol Building until December 28,1846, when Iowa was admitted into the United States as the 29th state of the union. 59 days after being admitted into the union, the state of Iowa passed legislation in the Old Capitol Building authorizing the formation of the state’s first public university. When the state government moved to Des Moines in 1857, the Old Stone Capitol Building became the first permanent building owned by the University of Iowa. Click here to read more.

Over the next few posts, I’d like to share with you a unique look at Iowa City as our community appeared on countless penny postcards postmarked during the first twenty years of the 20th century. Without a doubt, the most photographed subject that graced these picture postcards was the Old Stone Capitol – so that’s where we’ll start. Enjoy the view!

(P-0010) Postmarked in 1904 – here’s one of the earliest penny postcards featuring Old Capitol.
(P-0011) Postmarked in 1906 – After March 1, 1907, the back of a penny postcard – the stamped side – was divided in half, with the left side reserved for messages while the right side carried the tamp & the address. Prior to this time you were not allowed to write on the backside – which is why so many cards postmarked earlier were crammed – like this one – with the writer’s message!
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Read more about the origins of the penny postcard and the Wieneke family of Iowa City who became ‘Iowa City’s Penny Postcard Family.”

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Above (P-0013, P-0014, P-0017)

(P-0012) A special treat happened to penny postcards when “colorized” versions were released – moving Old Capitol from black-and-white to color!
Above – (P-0018) Below – (P-0348, P-0349) (P-0350)
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(P-0019) Circa 1907 – Here’s a picture postcard a person “wrote” to themselves describing Old Capitol.
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(P-0236) As you can see Old Capitol was a major workhorse for SUI – serving as the Administration Building for many years before being converted to a museum in 1976.
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At the turn-of-the-century, Iowa Avenue was the home to the SUI Hospital – growing in leaps and bounds until heading to the west side of the Iowa River in the 1920’s.

(P-0270-c) A rare view of Iowa Avenue looking east – on the left is University Hospital.
In 1897 Mechanics Academy was razed, making way for the first phase of the new University Hospital – the southwest wing on Iowa Avenue – which was completed in 1898. Additions came in several installments; the southeast wing being completed in 1906, the northwest wing in 1912, and the northeast wing and an addition to the central portion being built in 1914. Read more here.
(P-0041) Ornate Hexagonal Watering Trough (1905-1910)  Located on Iowa Avenue & Dubuque Street. Made for horses and five ornate drinking fountains for people! Provided by the Women’s Improvement League, fraternities used it regularly for hazing and tarnished its reputation. A 1909 offer from the new Iowa City Electric Trolley company moved the fountain to the upper level of City Park – making way for center-of-the-street tracks in its former location. Below -The Fountain and Close Hall in the background.

(P-0245) Circa 1909 – Iowa Avenue looking east from “The Fountain”another C.L. Wieneke postcard! “Just see what the good old summer time can do for Iowa City.”

(P-0042) Circa 1900 – Looking west on Iowa Avenue Close Hall on the right, Unity Hall, and Old Capitol.
(P-0308) Notice how on some of these Iowa Avenue postcards – Old Capitol appears much larger than it actually is – here is a good example of turn-of-the-century photo-shopping!
(P-0043) Circa 1910 Looking west down Iowa Avenue from Linn Street, you can see The Fountain and Old Capitol on the horizon.
Circa 1910 – Iowa Avenue looking westward from Dodge Street. Below – 1914 Elk’s Parade down Iowa Avenue.
Iowa Avenue as it appears today.

Now, it’s time to move off Iowa Avenue and explore the surrounding Central Downtown of Iowa City.


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Iowa City 1900 Map 2, Atlas of Johnson County, Huebinger Survey and Map Publishing Co., 1900, historicmapworks.com

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