WILLMAR — The letter that unexpectedly arrived on the desk of the Kandiyohi County administrator last week contained a piece of Kandiyohi County's past.

Tucked into the envelope was an old postcard with a color photograph of the 19th-century county courthouse in downtown Willmar. The postcard was accompanied by a letter from the man who discovered it in an antique store in California and bought it for $6.

"I hope it brightens up your day," wrote Lowell Joerg, 91, of Stockton, Calif.

Joerg's letter and postcard were shared this week with the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, to the delight of board members.

"That's something you would never expect," mused Rollie Nissen, chairman of the board.

The Victorian-style courthouse depicted on the postcard is long gone. It was torn down in the mid-1960s and replaced by the granite edifice of the current courthouse, which opened in 1966. Numerous photographs survive, though, and many older Kandiyohi County residents retain personal memories of the building.

The old courthouse was built in 1890 for $30,000. Its distinctive red and white facade, constructed of brick and stone, featured arched windows and a clock tower. Photographs of the era show that it was surrounded by an expanse of trees, lawn and iron fencing.

Joerg has a hobby of collecting vintage postcards of courthouses, schools and other landmark buildings and sending them back to their hometowns, a practice he calls "a redistribution of happiness."

"Our heritage is important to us all and should be preserved," he wrote.

It's unknown how a postcard from Kandiyohi County ended up in a West Coast antique shop, but the reverse side contains a penciled message and a September 1936 postmark.

Larry Kleindl, Kandiyohi County administrator, said he plans to donate it to the Kandiyohi County Historical Society.

"It's amazing what a little postcard can do to help make your day," he said.