By Shelley Grieshop
The neighbors along Stillwater Lane in Montezuma have a curiosity for local history, especially when it comes to Grand Lake.
So when Tom Vanderhorst began collecting antique post cards depicting the lake and its surroundings, the interest spread like wildfire.
"Now I'm helping find some for everybody," laughs the 37-year-old Beavercreek resident who owns a rustic-looking cottage along one of the lake's many channels.
Vanderhorst, a finance manager for the city of Springfield, was a stranger to the lake up until four years ago, even though his father grew up in Minster. When it came time to decorate the summer cottage, he wanted something special.
"I was looking for something pertinent to the area to hang on my walls," he says. A co-worker collected post cards and soon Vanderhorst caught the fever, he adds. Like many collectors, he uses eBay to find the lake cards. Most retail for less than $5 each.
"They've gotten a lot more expensive since I started three years ago," Vanderhorst says, adding he has a few dozen in his collection.
The antique post cards still in circulation today show oil derricks, former spillways, bathing beaches and lodges where people spent summers boating and fishing in the 17,500-acre reservoir. Many of Vanderhorst's cards call Mercer County's prized body of water "Celina Lake," "Grand Reservoir" or "Lake Mercer."
Vanderhorst and his lake neighbors spend hours on their decks sorting through the cards and speculating about some of the more popular shore locations like Edgewater, where amusement rides and big bands gathered crowds. One of Vanderhorst's cards titled "Bing Island" stumped many local folks until Celina historian Don Gehle did a little research.
"It's gone, like many of the islands that used to be on the south side of the lake," says Gehle, after consulting an Ohio Canal Commission Survey map from the 1800s.
The island, officially called Bing Club Island and once located north of It's It Road, was one of many that eroded away, he adds.
Gehle says the interest in Grand Lake post cards is natural.
"The pictures drum up a lot of history and get people talking. Stories about this lake are never ending," he says.
Post card collectors will celebrate National Postcard Week beginning Tuesday. Most hard-nosed collectors gather their wares from the Internet or at flea markets, auctions and garage sales.
Some cards fetch thousands of dollars and age doesn't always have anything to do with value, according to the International Federation of Postcard Dealers based in Virginia. A painting by a famous artist or a photograph of a landmark no longer standing can greatly increase a post card's worth, the IFPD says.
The 3-by-5-inch cards were created to document historic places, as greeting cards, to commemorate wars, parades and other events, for art and to show off photography.
Each antique card is a picture of the past, a slice of history to relish. Those that were postmarked and mailed with a message can tell a brief story of a life lived decades ago, says Celina resident Sharon Poor.
"It's fun to read the backs on the way home from a flea market or garage sale," says Poor, who together with her husband, "Burl," has collected more than 600 Mercer County-themed post cards during the last 30 years.
Poor says she's read a variety of personal post card messages. Some convey notes about ill relatives; others talk of life on the farm. No matter what, she's always fascinated, she says.
"You're reading about someone's life," she explains.
Stumbling onto a card they've never seen before is exciting -- and rare -- now that their collection is so large, she says.
Those with real photos are the best because painted ones can be embellished, she explains. The couple love seeking out post cards that give a glimpse of Celina and its residents nearly a century ago. Two of their favorites show the city's former fire station and train depot.
"By looking at these old cards you can sort of piece together what the city was like and get a feel for how the people lived," Poor says.