A Community House: A Dream

By Patricia and Edward Shillingburg © 2006

Part of the Cover of the Community Cook Book. In 1923, the Community Club created a cookbook to sell to raise money to build a Community House. We knew about the book from the Suffolk Times; however, we went to the Historical Society full of trepidation that it would not have a copy. Wonderfully, it has four, all well loved and in varying levels of condition. During this summer’s season, we will share pages from the 44 page book with the recipes contributed by the members.

This series of ten articles will focus on the efforts of a small band of women on Shelter Island during the 1920s to raise funds to build a Community House. The end of the story is that they did indeed succeed. The building still stands, but it is no longer called the Community House. It was built primarily with funds raised by these women a few dollars at a time, baking cakes, pies and cookies, creating a cookbook, making hand-crafts, putting on card parties, entertainments followed by dances, and local productions of plays and minstrels. It is an amazing story of focus, energy and perseverance.

    On July 11, 1930, a small band of women of Shelter Island were well satisfied. On that day, the entire Island celebrated the dedication of the Community House, which had been designed by the young architect William La Fon of Southampton and built by local contractor Francis A. Myers. It was a neo-classical building, designed perhaps to compliment the Presbyterian Church just up the street. Across the front it had a columned front portico with three French doors leading into the vestibule. Above the portico was a Palladian window. The main floor was a large hall for community events. At the south end was a stage with dressing rooms on either side. Along each side of the hall were large windows.
    It might be useful to review the state of affairs on Shelter Island during the 1920s before we begin our long journey. Summer people had been coming to the Island for about 50 years. There was no double-ended ferry service nine months of the year, until October 1921 when the Poggaticut started coming into the new town slip on Bridge Street. A second ferry, the Shelter Island, was commissioned in 1923. At that time, the only businesses on Bridge Street were David Harries Young’s general store, Dickerson’s Garage, and Clarence Wilcox’s coal and lumber dock. During the 1920s Nathan P. Dickerson would develop Bridge Street to what it is today. There were few places for the public to gather other than the churches, except in the summer when the hotels and boarding houses were open.  The first electric cable was laid from Greenport to the Heights in May 1922. From that point forward there was unrelenting progress toward electrification of the Island, but by 1931 not everyone had electricity. Women had received the right to vote in 1920, and the women of Shelter Island had never been better educated. Many young women after high school had left the Island to be trained as teachers, nurses, and secretaries. Those who had returned often employed their time and energies to good works. Development plans on both Ram Island and Silver Beach were well under way in the late 1920s. Most families still made their living in maritime activities and on their farms. Economically the country was expanding rapidly and there is good reason the period is called the “Roaring Twenties.” The bubble burst in October 1929, but the country was only beginning to descend in an unrelenting depression in 1931. That year everyone was anticipating bridges to both forks. The Bond Issue had been approved, and only some awkward lawsuits needed attending to.

1922 – 1923
Unless otherwise noted, the source for this material is the Suffolk Times.
    The dream began in March 1922, when the ladies of the Blue Triangle Club disbanded and reorganized as the Community Club. Their goal was to raise funds to do good deeds in the community. Although not stated in the press that month, their primary goal was, it becomes clear soon enough, to build a Community House. Their president was Mrs. Francis A. Myers, vice president, Miss Lillian Loper, secretary, Mrs. Albert Dickerson, and treasurer, Mrs. Graham Reevs. Jr. They were to meet every Thursday afternoon in the chapel, which we believe was the Presbyterian Church nave.
    That May they presented the play, Miss Fearless and Company, in the Firemen’s Hall (the firehouse in the Heights) and raised $76. That May, Miss Watkins of the Home Bureau presented its activities at one of the weekly meetings.
On Decoration Day the Club sold 50 artificial poppies to aid disabled soldiers and placed large poppy decorations on the graves of Civil War and Great War veterans. On July 3, they held a cake and candy sale on the triangle near the drug store raising nearly $30. On September 1, they held another sale of homemade cakes, candy, and breadstuffs on the lawn of Mrs. Myer’s house on Winthrop Road. In November they held a Pinochle party, with about 40 guests, at the home of Mrs. J. Graham Reevs, bringing in an additional $27.
    The Community Club’s year of activities ended on December 27 with a Christmas play and dance with music by Can Houten. Tickets were 75¢ for adults and 50¢ for children.
    During the 1920s, not only was the Community Club raising funds to build a Community House, there were other clubs actively raising funds: the Hospital Club, the Dorcas Club of the Presbyterian Church, and the Daughters of America. The Community Club was perhaps the most active and creative in developing new strategies, but the women of Shelter Island were often involved in more than one club, and they all supported each other’s activities. Because our focus is on the goal of the Community Club to build a Community House, we review their activities alone.
    On February 12, 1923, about 150 people enjoyed a Valentine Party at the Firemen’s Hall sponsored by the Community Club. They charged 50¢ a person on March 9 for a clam chowder supper held at the Presbyterian Chapel. That month they elected new officers and Mrs. Thomas Young became president, Mrs. Filmore Griffing, vice president, Mrs. A. J. Dickerson, secretary, and Mrs. J. Graham Reevs, Sr. treasurer. In April, the Community Club donated books to the Library, and divided into two teams, the Daffodils and the Lemons, to compete in raising funds for the House Fund.  Their total proceeds were $247.50. Two members of the Club attended the first Home Bureau lecture on “clothing” at East Hampton. An enterprising member raised money for the House Fund by making and selling jars of horseradish. But, the big events that month were the Silver Tea parties at Mrs. Cambell’s house that raised $18.50 and Mrs. A.J. Dickerson Jr.’s home, which raised about $12. (A Silver Tea could only be held at the home of a member who actually had a silver tea service or had a friend who had one. A Silver Tea was a fancy occasion with tea sandwiches and cookies served to compliment the tea.) Mrs. Myers gave a brief talk on “Ways to Set Colors in Dress Materials,” as part of the Home Bureau lecture series on clothing projects.   
     In May, the Community Club held a party for children with a Queen of the May, Belle Clark, chosen by popular vote.  The Lemons entertained the Daffodils at a Stunt Party. On Decoration Day, they held their yearly tea and cake sale on Mrs. Bowditch’s lawn (on North Ferry Road, two doors south of Winthrop Road), which raised $34 for the Fund, and they sold artificial poppies to raise funds for disabled veterans and placed flowers on veterans’ graves.
    Not an opportunity was lost in the summer of 1923 to raise funds for the House Fund. On July 4, they held a tag sale at the North Ferry and raised $60. Throughout the early summer, the Community Club met on Monday evenings and Thursday afternoons to complete items to sell at the Community Club Fair, which they held on July 20. They decorated the Triangle in front of the Chequit Inn and sold cakes, candy, ice cream, and hot dogs. They had a country store and a novelty table, chances for useful and ornamental articles, and a fancy table. They charged 15¢ for adults and 10¢ for children.
    In late August they held a picnic supper instead of a weekly meeting, and held a card party at Mrs. Donald Clark’s home; over 30 ladies attended.
    In early October the Community Club met at Mrs. Cambell’s house and Mrs. Whitmore, the public nurse, addressed the group on home care of the sick and prevention of colds.
    What really occupied the Club during this entire period, however, was the cookbook. It was 45 pages and full of practical tested recipes and household hints. It went on sale in early November.

1923 Community Cookbook