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Has Menomonie’s central downtown skyline changed in 80 years?

A new book by a University of Wisconsin-Stout instructor provides an answer. In David Tank’s “Postcards from the Past: Then and Now Pictures of Menomonie, Wisconsin,” are two views of the downtown from across Lake Menomin.

One photo was taken in the 1930s and the other in 2014.

At first glance, it appears little has changed. UW-Stout’s Bowman Hall, the Clock Tower and adjacent Harvey Hall still rise above the trees and dominate the view, along with the pyramidal roof of the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts.

Upon closer inspection, however, it’s clear that the building to the west of the Clock Tower, the old Central School that was part of the city school district, has disappeared.

The pair of photos are an example of how Tank’s book is a good read, although it’s virtually all photos and captions. With 50 then-and-now pairs of photos, readers are invited to examine the visual evidence and see for themselves what has changed during the lapse of time.

The book includes a map of the photo locations, also inviting further inspection. “The pictures are organized in a manner that would make it possible for readers to take a walking tour and rediscover these scenes for themselves,” Tank said.

“I love imagining what a scene might have looked like in the past. I also recognized that pulling together these images would be valuable as a historic record,” Tank said. “This book not only shows us what things looked like in Menomonie 70 to 100 years ago, but it will show future generations what Menomonie looked like in 2015.”

Tank is a senior lecturer in the English and philosophy department at UW-Stout. The classes he teaches include document design, digital storytelling and mass communication.

He also is a photographer and is interested in local history. One of his recent books featured stereoscopic, or 3D viewable, images of native Wisconsin wildflowers.

Location, location

In “Postcards from the Past,” the old photos in each pair are from historic postcards Tank found on eBay and other places. The new photos were shot by Tank as closely as possible to the place where the originals were taken.

Sometimes the latter proved to be a challenge. “Most of the pictures I took were reshot two or three times until I found the precise location where the original photographer had stood long ago,” said Tank, who also tried to match the time of day and position of vehicles, be they horse-drawn wagons, Model Ts or SUVs.

“Some of the locations were easy to find. Others were more challenging and took some research,” he said.

One of the toughest photo re-creations was Lambs Creek Falls because it no longer is visible. The waterfall was next to what now is Jake’s Supper Club on Tainter Lake, but it’s underwater because a dam was built at Cedar Falls, creating Tainter Lake.

Tank opted to stay dry for that photo. “I didn’t stand in exactly the same spot as the original photographer,” he admitted.

Of the 50 photo pairs, 14 feature UW-Stout. Other photos include Main Street, the Mabel Tainter, Wilson Park, Riverside Park, Wakanda Park, the train depot, Devil’s Punchbowl, Hotel Marion, Broadway Street, the Lake Menomin dam and Wilson Place Museum.

The book, which began as a series of photos in The Dunn County News, took him about 2½ years to photograph and write.

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Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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