If it wasn't written down, it didn't happen ...

A Treasure Trove

by Patricia and Edward Shillingburg ©2005

This is a photograph of Bridge Street taken from Chase’s Creek in about 1907. The construction of the buildings that make it what it is today was done by Nathan P. Dickerson in the 1920s.

    When Kathy and Peter Dinkel purchased their house on Spring Garden Avenue in the late 1990’s from Celeste Underhill they became the owners of a few boxes of old papers of Mrs. Underhill’s first husband Marvin Shiebler who died in 1944. Some of Mrs. Underhill’s papers were also included but only a smattering. These boxes they thankfully contributed to the Shelter Island Historical Society.
    Marvin Shiebler inherited his house from his father Andrew who was one of the first to buy land from the Shelter Island Grove and Camp Meeting Association in the early 1870’s. Trained as an engineer, Marvin settled on the Island and was dealing in insurance and real estate by the 1920’s. Working with Artemas Ward, Jr., he accepted the assignment from the Town to develop the original tax maps in the early 1930’s and in the process collected title information for all land transactions from 1652 until his death. That’s in two boxes.
    The third box contained mostly his correspondence pertaining to the Heights and that community’s financial records from the turn of the century until his death. Included were nearly every annual report of the Shelter Island Heights Association from 1920 to 1952. They are not all numbers. The narratives tell the highlights of the year in the words of the President of the Association.
    These papers are by no means a complete record, but they offer another window into nearly a half century of Shelter Island history.
    There is a lawyer’s prospectus, probably written by William B. Hill, for many years the attorney for the Heights Association, when the estate of Frederick A. Schroeder put his majority interest in the Heights up for sale. It describes the Heights assets and liabilities in about 1904.
    The papers give great insight into the background of the contest from 1913 to 1919 to wrest control of the Heights Association from the majority stockholder George R. Branson who purchased his majority interest from the Schroeder estate in March 1905. and the fruits of that success. They include the brief of Shiebler vs. Branson and the report of the accountant hired to review Mt. Branson’s financial records for the Heights. There is definitely enough here to form a structure for a story about that conflict.
    The papers tell us that Mr. Shiebler had strong opinions, and he was often a thorn in the side of management, whether it was Mr. Branson or later Marvin’s earlier allies Howard E. Raymond and Charles A. Angell and later. When the Heights Board didn’t do what he wanted, on many occasions he would attempt a “palace coup,” fortunately, for those working to keep the small community afloat, usually without success.
    The papers even tell us why his friends all called him “Cub.” Here is the explanation in his own words:

    When I was ten years of age, one of my older brothers took me out on the baseball field and his friends called us “big She-bear” and “little She-bear” until one of them nicknamed me “Cub” and my brother went back to his Christian name “Andy.” Since that time I have always been known to my closest friends as “Cub” although my business associates use my given name.

    One thing we find truly fascinating about these old papers is the similarity of issues confronting the present generation of Heights management: finding capital to upgrade an antiquated ferry fleet, maintaining a viable Beach Club, responding to property owners’ satisfaction or dissatisfaction with management, updating utilities, etc. Major issues, it seems, do not change from generation to generation. History does instruct. If a solution worked in the past, it might work again.
    This summer’s series of eight articles is based on the idea that “if it wasn’t written down, it didn’t happen.” With our hopefully entertaining stories, we want to remind our readers that they will be forgotten if they do not write down their own stories. And, they will become a part of the fabric of history if they do. 
    We will tell you stories long forgotten and about people who were important to the Island but whose presence has long disappeared from memory. We can only resurrect them because of papers in the archives of the Heights Association and papers people have found in their attics and given to the Historical Society.
    We are going to tell you about Howard Raymond and his role in getting double ended ferry service from Shelter Island to Greenport year-round in 1921. We will tell a story about a terrible train crash that killed the only daughter of a Heights couple and her two children in 1926, and how that tragedy did not destroy them. We are going to tell you about the first woman president of the Heights Association. There are even love letters that will tell of an endearing romance.
    Only one story comes directly from old newspapers. The rest come from long forgotten records.
    We promise to try to entertain, but we also want to remind our readers that only they can make sure they will be remembered... by writing it down... printing it out... And putting it in a box marked, “For the Historical Society.”
    The source for this story are papers in the archives of the Shelter Island Historical Society.
    Other Island historical research can be viewed at www.shelter-island.org. Click on the Island History Revisited button.