As the Sag Harbor Express celebrates its 150th anniversary this week, it is arguably the longest running village publication. Since the late 18th century, though, the village has served as a hot bed for the printed press and despite the size of Sag Harbor, over 14 publications launched themselves on the streets of our village.
From the Frothingham’s Long Island Herald, first published in 1791, to the Harbor Pilot, which was introduced in 1922, the history of Sag Harbor’s newspapers illustrate both global and local histories, but also show a deeper shift in the purpose of the community newspaper.
Before the introduction of the radio, television and Internet, with its myriad news information sites, the village’s newspapers were equal parts literary magazine, international and national news source and local commerce bulletin board, serving as a catch basin of information for local residents.
“Sag Harbor’s earliest newspapers published little in the way of local news. Concentrating instead on a story, sermon, and both national and international events. It is likely that folks learned all the local gossip and goings on at the general store barber shop, or on the street corner,” wrote noted local historian Dorothy Zaykowski, in her book “Sag Harbor – The Story of an American Beauty.”
“Only by reading the shipping news and the classified advertisements could one identify the paper as being published in Sag Harbor without looking at the title of the sheet,” Zaykowski added.
On the front page of a December 6, 1792 edition of the village’s first newspaper, Frothingham’s Long Island Herald which is stored in the John Jermain Memorial Library’s archival room, a reader will find an essay penned by early American intellectual Thomas Paine and the old spelling of Sag Harbor and Long Island, written Sagg Harbour and Long Ifland. A March 22, 1792 edition features a poem titled “Colombian Mill,” a column on the history of war, and advertisements offering cash for “old rags and junk” and one ad placed by a Reverend Zachariah Green of Southold wanting to sell “a valuable Wench in her 19th year.”
With the first publication of Frothingham’s Long Island Herald, Sag Harbor’s place in the annals of newspapers was cemented because Forthinghams was the first newspaper on Long Island. In “Sag Harbor,” Zaykowski reported that subscriptions for the publication were gathered by a post rider traveling throughout the island.
Frothinghams folded after only seven years. Though several publications were launched in the years after the Long Island Herald, many of them fizzled after only a few years, and it wasn’t until The Corrector was first published in 1822 that Sag Harbor had a well-established community paper. According to Zaykowski, Henry Wentworth Hunt arrived to the village from Boston with his three sons, two of whom went on to helm Sag Harbor papers. The Corrector was published on a weekly basis until 1837, when it became a semi-weekly until Hunt passed away in 1859. After Hunt’s death, his son Alexander and Brinley Sleight took over, publishing the newspaper daily, though this business model proved unsuccessful and the paper reverted back to a weekly publication. The Corrector went on to become the Sag Harbor Corrector, and contrasting editions from the mid-1800s to the early 20th century show the shifts in the structure of the community newspaper.
On the front page of the February 7, 1851 issue, advertisements are boldly displayed on a left hand side bar and the rest of the page is dominated with obituary, community items and news pieces, yet there is a noticeable lack of illustrations. By 1918, in the final throes of World War I, The Corrector was a bonafide news bulletin with renderings of servicemen dotting the front page, along with foreign dispatches, news from Washington, D.C., and various sports stories.
The Sag Harbor Corrector was eventually purchased by Burton Corwin, owner of the Sag Harbor News, in 1919 and became the Sag Harbor News and Corrector. This amalgamated newspaper was subsequently purchased by the Gardner family, owners of the Sag Harbor Express, in the late 1920s to become the only Sag Harbor newspaper. Yet even before this media merger, the upstart village newspapers of the time displayed the shift away from international news to focus on the community. A July 5, 1922 issue of The Harbor Pilot, a short lived publication from 1922 through 1924, details an auto accident in the village, several holiday lawn parties taking place that weekend and the dedication of a new Masonic temple.
Much like today, the pages of the Express are filled with the stories of the village and surrounding East End community. Although several larger daily newspapers fold almost every month, journalism professor Karl Grossman believes the tried and true formula of the community newspaper will help it outlive a current shift in the media industry.
“Media has been undergoing great changes as we all know in recent years, [but the community weekly] is a vital source of connecting the community,” reported Grossman. “The community weekly newspapers all over the country are alive and well. They offer a nice collection of stories from news to features and people enjoy its classic format.”