Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

Evidently subscribing to the classic cliché about a picture being worth a thousand words — or, perhaps, believing Altoona’s Lakemont Park to be a landmark
known to one and all — a Mrs. C. T. Hartnell chose not to add her own remarks to a postcard depicting the park’s Grand Promenade Walk. Postmarked July 3, 1906, at Hollidaysburg, the Blair County seat located six miles south of Altoona, the card bears Mrs. Hartnell’s distinctive handwriting with wildly embellished letters.

The Altoona and Logan Valley Electric Railway Company created Lakemont Park — the eighth oldest amusement park in the United States — as a trolley park in 1894. Street-car companies erected such parks as recreational destinations to attract weekend passengers, many of whom picnicked at the proverbial “end of the line.” Altoona business leaders organized the railway company in 1892 to construct a line connecting Altoona, founded in 1849 by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company whose enormous shop complex employed thousands of workers, with Hollidaysburg.

Although many trolley parks offered only pavilions, picnic areas, and meandering walkways, Lakemont Park bustled with amusement rides, skating rink, dance hall, two theaters, several restaurants, picnic facilities, and boating on its 13-acre lake. Opened in 1892, the Lakemont Park Playhouse, billed as “The Theater in the Woods,” was one of the country’s first summer stock theaters. The Altoona and Logan Valley Electric Railway donated the 113-acre park to Blair County in 1937.

Today, Lakemont Park beckons aficionados of historic roller coasters with Leap-the-Dips, the world’s oldest wooden roller coaster and North America’s last known example of a side-friction figure eight roller coaster, patented in 1894 by Philadelphian Edward Joy Morris (1860–1929) and manufactured by his company for the park in 1902. Leap-the-Dips was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991 and designated a National Historic landmark five years later.

And what of the recipient?

Inez Stahl apparently resided in Mahaffey, Clearfield County, founded in the early 1840s by Robert Mahaffey, a lumberman, farmer, and merchant. In 1906, Altoona, with forty thousand residents, dwarfed tiny Mahaffey to the north, which counted a population of five hundred. A directory published nearly ten years before Mrs. Hartnell sent the postcard, in 1897, lists a William Stahl living in Mahaffey. His occupation is noted as confectioner.