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Flushing distinguished by journalists’ early efforts

The year 1840 witnessed the advent of journalism in Flushing. The very first newspaper printed there was called The Repository, a royal octavo edited by the students of St. Thomas’ Hall, a school for boys founded in 1839 that had room for 120 pupils and a staff of 14 instructors.

The students began publication in the winter of 1840 and continued until 1842. A contemporary publication was an Episcopal paper, handsomely printed and issued with a cover and called The Church Record. It was edited by Dr. Francis Hawks and was published and printed by Charles R. Lincoln. Lincoln had come to Flushing in 1840 to print both publications and is credited with being the father of journalism in this area. Eventually he became the editor and proprietor of the Flushing Journal.

The first periodical published in Flushing was the monthly journal of Flushing Institute, which was issued during Dr. William Muhlenberg’s tenure there. The Flushing Institute’s Arena, a copy of which we were privileged to read, was a remarkable periodical and reflected the high standards required of the students who attended the school.

The issue we reviewed was published in May 1852, a year remarkable for the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a year when a great American symbol was born when Uncle Sam first appeared in a weekly comic magazine published in New York, and the year when President Fillmore approved the plan to send Commodore Matthew C. Perry to Japan.

The 32−page periodical was published in Flushing and printed by John A. Gray of New York City. Gray also acted as agent for its distribution. The publication was priced at eight cents and several leading newspapers of the day received complimentary copies. One of these was the New Orleans Picayune, which lauded this small pamphlet−shaped journal “for its interest, variety, and talent.”

There are many articles of interest which demonstrate charm, wit and scholarly content. However, I chose to excerpt here “ View from the Observatory” for it gives an interesting description of one of our local areas at that time. It is signed “W.S.” and was probably written by Wessel Schartf of Newark, who is listed as a student for the year 1852.

“Almost every inmate of the Flushing Institute has visited, and some very often, the Observatory. It is situated about two miles northeast of Flushing, on the road to Whitestone, on a slight elevation, commanding a wide sweep of country on every hand and is a favorite resort for those who are fond of natural scenery. Groups of students who have been engaged in the schoolroom during the week, having now laid aside their books, on a fine Saturday afternoon take a refreshing walk thither where they regale themselves with a delightful view of the surrounding country. The Observatory is a wooden structure, perhaps 70 feet in height, covered only with lattice work. It is open at the sides, so that in ascending one can gradually see the scenery increase in beauty and expanse. As we look now from the highest point westward, We see the steeples of New York City and of Williamsburg, among which the steeple of Trinity Church is the most conspicuous. Toward the north are seen in the distance the “Highlands” of the Hudson, bounding the view in that direction, with a blue level ridge, the whole length of Flushing Bay lies stretched out before us, as it juts out from the East River and extends four or five miles inland to the village of Flushing. It is not the least among the pleasing sights to see the steamer “Island City” gliding along up, and at times struggling in its shallow waters.”

The year 1826 was a milestone for what has been called “the new Flushing,” and it was important as well for Flushing’s educational purposes, for it was at that time that the Rev. William Muhlenberg had become the rector of St. George’s Church. When he heard that a group of men were discussing the possibility of building a boys’ school, he joined them and said he was prepared to undertake managing the school. However, he would do so only if they would erect a suitable building. Flushing Institute was incorporated and held its first session in 1828, succeeding its goal right from the start.

Later on Reverend Muhlenberg envisioned a college located on 75 acres in Strattonport. However, the financial panic of 1837 deprived him of the original plan and an alternate type of structure was built and St. Paul’s College was opened with a full corps of professors in 1838. The Flushing Institute was now moved to what was then to be called College Point.

Joan Brown Wettingfeld is a historian and freelance writer.

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