Reading old papers an exercise in what’s changed — and what hasn’t

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Real estate agent Michael Herbert of Mattituck with a 1940 copy of The Riverhead News found in a recently sold Aquebogue home.

It wasn’t the kind of stuff that would elicit a wide-eyed “Oh, wow! Are you kidding?” response on Antiques Roadshow, but when an Aquebogue family selling their 98-year-old mother’s bayfront house cleaned out the property they came across a bit of treasure of the historic, if not financially valuable, kind.

Lattie Downs’ family didn’t expect to find much in the house, which has been unoccupied since it suffered significant damage in a major nor’easter in the fall of 1992. But they did come across a small cache of newspapers — The Riverhead News, a precursor to today’s Riverhead News-Review — from mid-1940.

That was the time Ms. Downs was married, said Michael Herbert of Community Rentals in Mattituck, which brokered the sale.
“She isn’t a pack-rat, but she did hold on to things that meant something to her,” he said.

The papers are primer on how much the East End and local journalism have changed in close to three-quarters of a century.
The June 14, 1940, issue includes three separate front page stories from the county Surrogate’s Court on the amount of money recently deceased people left in their estates and how it was distributed.

“Mrs. Shaddock leaves $4,000, court is told,” is the headline above the report on a Calverton woman’s estate. Another reads, “C.F. Williamson, Cutchogue man, had $10,283.”

A later issue carried an account of a Patchogue woman whose estate topped $10,000. The headline reads, “Woman’s will scolds husband, but he’s dead.”

There’s also a column listing the names of new car owners. Stanley H. Wicks of Riverhead bought a Packard sedan and Rowena F. Schloss of Southold acquired a Pontiac sedan.

“Who’d have thought they’d take an accounting of that?” said Mr. Herbert, who was given the papers. “I guess that was considered noteworthy back then.”

The new cars column appears next to an advertisement for Vail Brothers Motor Company, a West Main Street, Riverhead, dealership, offering a new Buick business coupe powered by a “big, silky Dynaflash straight-eight with prices starting at $895*.” (“*State and local taxes, if any, optional equipment and accessories extra.”)

Back then, The Riverhead News coverage area included most of the East End, as evidenced by a news item in the June 28 issue.

“A turtle marked with the initials of George C.T. King of East Hampton, carved there by him in 1884, was found by Samuel Miller last week near the very spot where Mr. King left it, after cutting his initials in the shell, as was a custom of boys many years ago.”

In many ways, the papers show a thread of local coverage that remains unbroken. The June 14 edition carries a story about the 225th anniversary of Mattituck Presbyterian Church. There’s also a preview of an exhibit at Riverhead Free Library on the history of printing, citing as its highlight a piece of type on loan from the paper said to be only 1/18th of an inch in size and bearing all 66 words of The Lord’s Prayer.

Of course, the Riverhead Blue Waves baseball team winning the section championship by defeating Greenport. 1-0, made the cover. The account was less than objective.

“The game was played in Greenport and it was brilliant to a dazzling degree,” the paper said. “It truly was a game of champions. While the pitching was brilliant, the defense was sparkling. In quality baseball, the game will go down in history.”

“It’s really intriguing to read news from 70 years ago,” said Mr. Herbert. “It shows the age and history of this community.”

As a Mattituck resident, he was particularly taken aback to learn that the Presbyterian Church dates back 300 years.

“That really startled me,” he said.

As for the circa 1927 house where the papers were found, two investors took title this week, paying $575,000 for what Mr. Herbert called a “handyman’s special.”

Whether its history will continue, or the house will become history as a tear-down, “time will tell,” the agent said.

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