2001-04-26 / Other News

Canarsie Courier: 80 Years And Still Going Strong

By Charles Rogers
Canarsie Courier: 80 Years And Still Going Strong By Charles Rogers

Canarsie Courier: 80 Years And Still Going Strong By Charles Rogers

It was 1921. America was just reviving from World War I and things were looking up. The fighting "doughboys" who came home from the battles in Europe had nothing but a bright future ahead of them and the watchword was to build upon our successes and make the country stronger. The Roarin’ Twenties were making their entrance to the world not with a baby’s meek cry, but with a yell.

The population of New York City, already overburdened with immigrants coming here to seek their fortune, was reaching out to the suburbs, aiming for a quieter, more comfortable life.

Where better to go than Canarsie?

This, after all, was where the grasslands and the flatlands met and the Jamaica Bay shoreline was beckoning; where a settlement had begun with Native Americans 300 years before and where a man could situate his family and business and call it "home."

It was in this setting, during the month of April, some 80 years ago, that Walter S. Patrick and Lester J. Stillwell founded the Canarsie Courier and began to record the history of our community in a unique, grassroots style that has continued through these four-score years, bringing pages filled with joy, depression, war, more war and more joy.

The first issue, which entered the world from a real estate office on Rockaway Parkway and Glenwood Road, was a four-page, seven-column sheet that was published at a cost of $200 borrowed from a Brooklyn bank by Messrs. Patrick and Stillwell, and was handed out, door-to-door, by "newsboys." Six months later, the publishers got the courage to charge two cents a copy. They only made half of the cover price, because the newsboys bought it from them for a penny and sold it for two cents — a whopping 100 percent profit!

The "news" at the time was 50 percent local gossip and the other half "boilerplate," usually already-prepared, public relations press releases. But it was the gossip style that made the Canarsie Courier something special to the local community; the friendly, folksy, homespun style that has remained through the years.

Among the first issues were references to a few city, state, national and even international events, but what brought the attention of the reader at the time were some of the small items about "Mrs. Mary Jones just had a baby" and "the passing of John Smith," formally stated but colloquial in content. The population of this close-knit community at the time was small enough so everyone knew who Mrs. Jones was, as well as the late Mr. Smith. It wasn’t necessary to publish addresses.

The history of Canarsie, as recorded on these pages, dotes not necessarily on the overall events, but on the impact of those events on individuals. After all, the Canarsie Courier was — and continues to be — a real "hometown" paper.

Old-timers tell of the time the old Schenck Homestead, erected in 1650, was dismantled from its site in Canarsie Beach Park and transported to the Brooklyn Museum; of the famous Golden City Amusement Park on the shore, which brought thousands here to spend days and nights of enjoyment, arriving via the BMT subway and direct trolley lines.

These same modes of transportation would later bring them to the burial grounds of adversaries of the infamous Murder, Inc. You don’t have to look too closely, even now, to find remnants of the old trolley tracks to this day.

Canarsie Pier, for more than a century a landmark, showed the generating and regenerating transformation of Jamaica Bay, giving berth to fishing boats and sun worshippers alike, declining for awhile and then becoming a national park, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. It now sports a fine restaurant and other facilities. It is still sought out as a place where one can spend a relaxing day by the bay. The fishing boats and clam-diggers are gone but those singular fishermen still reap a comfortable harvest of porgies and snappers, not to mention a fluke here and there.

Eventually — during the ’20s — the flatlands became Flatlands, with a capital "F"; the Belt Parkway did away with Golden City Park (helped along by a spectacular fire in the ’30s); and what was once one of the best oyster and clam fisheries on the East Coast went by the wayside, thanks to landfills and pollution and incineration and, well, a supposed industrial revolution.

Although, as chronicled by the Courier, the community began to thrive during those early years, despite the Depression, the buildup of what we now know as our home town began after Quonset huts were erected on the site of what is now BayView Houses to temporarily billet returning soldiers from World War II and their families. Edward Herrschaft was publisher of the Canarsie Courier at the time, having taken over from Walter Patrick in 1935. We were indeed thriving then, selling at the modest price of 5 cents a copy, but continuing to be a neighborhood journal, catering to the community and giving residents here what they wanted — still in the same friendly style.

While Mr. Herrschaft was busy getting his publication out every Thursday, hardly noticed were two delivery newsboys who would eagerly grab their bundles of papers and make sure they would be among the first to bring the newspaper to consumers around the area. Brothers Joe and Bob Samitz both had special regard for the Canarsie Courier. They watched it as they grew along with it, and they often mused that this could be the business they would eventually pursue.

Their lifetime dream came true in 1959 when they bought the newspaper from Mr. Herrschaft.

The first objective of the Samitz brothers was to expand the Courier to keep pace with the meteoric growth of the community, from the sparsely-settled neighborhoods to vast areas of one- and two-family homes and housing developments. By this time the population burgeoned to nearly ten times the number of people who were around when the paper began.

Under the leadership of the Samitz brothers, the Courier started editorializing and launching campaigns for more schools, better bus transportation and an urgently-needed stationhouse for the 69th Precinct, among other necessities. In picture stories and editorials, the Canarsie Courier continued the tradition upon which it was founded, serving as a community voice in helping to establish a better Canarsie.

The results of their efforts were gratifying, as new schools were constructed and the city finally tore down the ramshackle, century-old police station on Glenwood Road near East 95th Street. With the establishment of community boards, we helped keep a watchful eye on how the city was treating our town.

When Joe Samitz died in 1982, the Courier came under the ownership of Bob and his wife Mary. The look of the paper changed considerably, as typeface became larger and clearer and the graphics that brought the word of the advertiser to the consumer became not only easier to read but profitable for all concerned.

When Bob Samitz passed away in 1989, the paper came under the guidance of Mary Samitz until her death three years ago, at which time it was bought by the current publishers Mrs. Sandra Greco and Mrs. Donna Marra.

The philosophies of the present publishers, of course, continue to mirror the watchwords of those of the past in putting the community — and its individuals — first; remember the traditions that saw us through these many years and, yes, where necessary and possible, improve upon them.

The history of the Canarsie Courier is, in essence, a history of latter-day Canarsie. True, we are celebrating our four-score years, but we’re also celebrating the existence of our "little city in the big city." This is the place on Jamaica Bay where one can look and find not only a diversified, modern, upbeat society, but a grassroots, traditional America.

And you can read all about it in the Canarsie Courier, your very own newspaper.

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