Take a stroll back in time

Published 2:55 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Well, what did Santa bring you for Christmas?

Whatever you “scored” from the Jolly Old Elf or what surprises you unwrapped from family and friends, I hope it was best Christmas ever!!

For me, seeing the smiles on the faces of my loved ones serves as the best gift. At the age of 70, there’s not many material things I don’t already have. Therefore, I don’t ask for any special gifts at Christmas.

However, I did receive one great item just before Dec. 25. It’s one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever received.

For full disclosure, it wasn’t actually a gift personalized only for me. As a matter of fact it’s a gift that keeps on giving year-round for anyone.

Since September of 2023, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald has been working with Newspapers.com (part of Ancestry.com) to digitalize our old microfilm. That’s a fairly large undertaking due to the simple fact that our microfilm dates back to 1914. What’s been digitalized thus far involves over 109,000 newspaper pages….and there’s more to come!

If you are a local history buff like myself, diving into the website is fun (and habit forming!!). It’s like reading a great mystery novel as you don’t know what the next page – or the next edition – holds.

And what’s so great about it is that you don’t have to load an old microfilm reel and squint your eyes to focus on the type. You can sit at home – dressed however you like (or not dressed at all…just don’t forgot that when you get up to leave your residence) and take a stroll back in time.

You can use the search tools to look up names or access the archives by month and year.

Here’s just a small sampling of what I’ve discovered through this archive.

The oldest file in the archive is dated Oct. 30, 1914. By that time, what was known back then as the Hertford County Herald was five years old. I’m unaware of the existence of any microfilm prior to Oct. 30, 1914. That is the earliest reel stored in our microfilm cabinet here in the office.

The front page of that edition contained a story about Chowan College’s Homecoming on Oct. 20 (noting that former students began arriving on the 17th by “carriages and automobiles”). There was also a headline: Aulander News. It contained information about the District convention of the Woodmen. There was a large gathering under the direction of Mrs. Mattie Pittman.

I noted that the front pages of that point in time contained more advertisements than news stories. A couple of those ads caught my attention. One was for J.D. Sessoms that said he “can sell any size farm that a man is looking for in hollering distance of Ahoskie.” There was another for Dr. Shafer who came to Ahoskie’s Manhattan Hotel every third Wednesday for eye examinations and to fit glasses.

I learned that W.G. Smith was the Editor of the Hertford County Herald in 1914. The paper was printed weekly and if you paid in advance it only cost $1 a year to subscribe.

I randomly chose to look at the June 6, 1929 edition of the Hertford County Herald. In the top right corner of page 1 was a story hailing the first senior class at the “new” Ahoskie High School to graduate. The story noted that the graduation festivities took place over several days, to include the senior play where each of the 850 “opera chairs” in the school’s auditorium were filled while an “overflow audience occupied whatever vantage point it could secure.”

There were 16 graduates in that first class: Mamie Callis, Iris Bellamy, Doris Jenkins, Mildred Powell, Velva Howard, Ruth Baker, Eligabeth Forbes, Rose Hoggard, Hazel Parker, Viola Dilday, Evelyn Holloman, Ernestine Hayes, John Whedbee, Taft Owen, N. Wright Jr., and Billy Slaughter.

By 1929, the Parker brothers (J. Roy and Mayon) were the owners and publishers of the Hertford County Herald. You could subscribe for $1.50 a year. Copeland Drug Company of Ahoskie advertised All Wool Hercules bathing suits priced at $3 to $10. Standard Chevrolet Company of Ahoskie ran a half-page ad featuring deals on their used car inventory. One was a Chevrolet Coupe – with “good as new tires” – priced at $175.

The Richard Theatre in Ahoskie featured the silent movie “True Heaven” during the week of June 6, 1929. Two ladies could get in on one ticket.

As a big fan of sports, especially local sports, I searched “State Champions” in the archives and landed on a story from the Monday, November 30, 1970 with the headline: Fighting Cougars 2A State Champions. The story was written by Lee Copeland.

The game was held in Ahoskie on Friday, Nov. 27, 1970 where the Cougars hosted Allen Jay High School of High Point. Ahoskie won, 28-12, thanks to two short touchdown runs in the first half by Rency Eley, a 46-yard scoring gallop by Jerome Newsome in the third quarter, and Eley delivering the final TD in grand fashion as he dashed 94 yards to the endzone.

The “state champion” search produced a much different story, but one worth noting. According to an Oct. 5, 1970 story in The Herald, Sammy Howell of Hertford County was chosen as a state winner and will represent North Carolina at the National 4-H Congress in Chicago.

I could go on and on about my searches, but the space here limits what I can publish. I may from time to time publish more about what I discovered.

Meanwhile, the effort will continue to have all our newspaper pages transformed into digital files and offered online. The next phase will involve the years 2000 through 2004, followed by 2005 to present.

I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think you can access our files if you subscribe to Ancestry.com. If not, you can subscribe through Newspapers.com. If that doesn’t work, call me or email me (as shown below) and I’ll try my best to help steer you in the right direction.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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