“Institute Week” – Smethport, PA (1906)

Miss Selma Johnson lived in Ridgway, a borough of Elk County in northwest Pennsylvania.

In the early twentieth century, Ridgway was an important center of the lumber industry; the discovery of oil at nearby Titusville (in 1871) led to another economic boom that brought enormous wealth to the region.

Today, the population of the borough is less than it was in 1910.

Numerous beautiful homes and buildings survive, however.


In October of 1906, Selma received a postcard from Smethport, a borough in neighboring McKean County.

Smethport lies at a high altitude in the ”Wilds” region of the Allegheny Mountains and has set records for low temperatures in the Commonwealth..

The oil boom led to rapid growth; the population of the area rose from 8,000 to 40,000 within ten years


The Smethport Courthouse became the site for many ground-breaking legal disputes related to this new industry of oil extraction.

Many in the growing town wanted a new courthouse.

While some older farmers and lumberman in the county opposed the building of a new courthouse, the civic leaders of Smethport engineered the approval of the building pictured in the postcard.

This postcard photograph was published by J. R. Walkinshaw of Smethport.

Erected in the 1880’s this building was destroyed in a fire in 1940.


The sender of the postcard, E. S., was in Smethport for “Institute Week” which seems to be an educational training program.

I assume that the writer was a schoolteacher.

Because the address was all that could be written on the reverse, E. S. Wrote a few lines on the face: “we are having nice weather and a fine time”.

I picked up the postcard because I am woefully unfamiliar with this area of Pennsylvania which has suffered large declines in population.

The condition of the postcard was poor, and I made significant digital reconstruction of the face.


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