Brothers Larry (8 years old) and Leonard Williams (5 years old) must have needed something to do. In his interview, Leonard does not recall why they started The Thornapple Street News, only that their mother “…wanted something for us to do that would be fun for us, besides being good experience”. For the next five years the newspaper chronicled the comings and goings of a community growing and changing in spite of the Great Depression and the cares of childhood which remain regardless of world events.
Under the care of the Williams brothers, Associate Editor Catherine (Dixie) Fowler (9 years old) and an ever growing staff, almost anything was fair game, from Gandhi’s travels in England to the most popular games being played in the streets of Chevy Chase. However controversial the topic may have been, the editors were determined to remain fair and honest.
"...We think you should vote for Mr. Hoover, because he has carried us through the hardest time of this year. And we think you should vote for Mr. Roosevelt because he has been the Governor of a state. If a man is good enough to be a Governor of a state, he should be fine enough to be the President." The Thornapple Street News, December 29, 1932. CCHS 1989.27.01
In addition to catching up on the news, subscribers were also presented with hand drawn advertisements from local businesses, letters to the editor, and even notes from "European correspondent" Graeme Smallwood.
The paper almost shut down for good in 1933 with the arrival of a new baby at the Williams home, whose sleep was disturbed by the noise of the mimeograph. The Washington Herald allowed the newspaper to be printed from their office for a time, before operations on Thornapple Street resumed later that year. In 1936, the last issue of The Thornapple Street News announced that the newspaper would be on a break until the fall. Why the project was not revived is unknown.
Little did the editors know that their hard work would inspire a new generation of young reporters forty years later…
Click here to view the first and last issues of The Thornapple Street News (1931-1936)
The Shepherd Street News was begun on July 29th, 1972 by brother and sister Jimmy (12 years old) and Julie (11 years old) Johnson and their friends Molly and Peter Fleming after they discovered an old copy of The Thornapple Street News in the back of Mr. Johnson's truck. Deciding that it looked like fun, the first issues featured neighborhood news and a few advertisements from local businesses.
By September 9th, 1972 the newspaper announced that it was expanding its delivery service to include surrounding streets (including Thornapple Street) and had added another member to its staff, reporter Karen Barr. Over the next two years, the paper grew and the staff grew with it. The Johnsons and Flemings remained as editors, the position of assistant editor was created in April of 1973. Other features of the newspaper were developed, including:
- An "Old News" segment
- An Article of the Week
- Chevy Chase History
- A Trivia Question
Other occasional features included an editorial and Hints for Kids.
When The Shepherd Street News ended, 900 copies were printed every week by a total staff of 34.
Click here to view the first and last issues of The Shepherd Street News (1972-1974)
Claudia Kolker, one of the original editors of the Leland Street Sunday News, remembers the moment she was walking down the street and she suddenly had the thought to start a newspaper with her friend Andrew Patch. Claudia was around 7 years old and Andrew was about 9 years old. Writing on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Leland Street Sunday News in 2004, she states:
"I don't even remember the rest of the conversation, [it] reflects how spontaneous and easy-going the whole project was from the beginning; it was an extension of playing, like any number of clubs, theatrical productions, or elaborate games of Ghost-in-the-Graveyard that constantly were sprouting in our imaginations." Recalling the Leland Street News. CCHS 2009.2093.22.
From the beginning, the spirit of fun could be seen in the "Saying and Riddle of the Week", the crossword puzzles, and word games that accompanied neighborhood news. Leland Street was an exciting place to live. In addition to stories of family vacations, pet updates, and house renovations, the newspaper was full of information about the food co-op, summer block parties, Halloween parades, and the annual back-to-school banana split party at the Patch's house.
The Leland Street Sunday News also brought neighbors together in times of sadness. Dorothy Leeney placed a note in the newspaper in order to express her gratitude for the neighborhood's support during a time of grief:
"To our neighbors: I would like you to know how much it means to live on a block like ours and to receive the kindness, thoughtfulness, and support that you have shown us in our sorrow, We love you all." The Leland Street Sunday News, December 15, 1973. CCHS 2010.1015.01
Both Claudia and Andrew chose to “retire” from the newspaper in 1976, leaving the existence of the Leland Street News in doubt. Knowing that it wouldn’t be Leland Street without its newspaper, neighbors volunteered to continue publishing the paper, each family taking turns editing monthly or bi-monthly editions. Eventually this was reduced to three times a year. The format of the Leland Street Sunday News has changed over the years, becoming a blog in 2007. It remains a source of community pride and a way for neighbors new and old to stay connected.
Click here to view the third issue of The Leland Street Sunday News and pictures from the Leland Street Blog (1973-ongoing)