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Nicole Font
September 12, 2023

A roadside food stand selling picked eels, little neck clams, and other seafood
Ruth Johnson, [Long Island Roadside Eating Stand], 1938. Brooklyn Historical Society Institutional Records, ARC 288. Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.

Clams, anyone? In celebration of the 75th anniversary of its founding, the Long Island Historical Society (LIHS) sponsored a photo contest geared toward Long Island’s students. Dozens of private and public high schools from all four counties in Long Island (Kings, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk) were invited to participate. LIHS specifically requested student involvement because the board wanted to “[help the] youth to look around them and recognize the important landmarks of Long Island.” The Society offered six prizes, from twenty-five to five dollars, to winners in each of the four counties. Additionally, the schools from which the successful contestants attended were promised books published by LIHS as a reward.

The theme of this contest was “Long Island in 1938.” The Society asked for pictures of buildings, streets, or “other views significant historically or typical of the locality.” In addition to wanting to help interest students in the history of their communities, LIHS also used the contest as an opportunity to acquire photographic records of these communities as they appeared in 1938. Edna Huntington, the then-newly appointed Head Librarian of LIHS, likely influenced the choice of subject matter. She had a well-known passion for photography and spent her free time photographing various locations in Brooklyn.

A flyer announcing the Long Island in 1938 photo contest
[Photo Contest Flyer], 1938. Brooklyn Historical Society Institutional Records, ARC 288. Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.

This week's photo of the week comes from the first prize winner of Suffolk County, Ruth Johnson, who was a student at Patchogue High School. The judges felt that her entry of six photos illustrating the development of roadside eating stands was well thought out and executed. Here are a few other photos from Johnson’s prize-winning series:

A wooden shack with signs for 5 cent hot dogs and coffee
Ruth Johnson, [Long Island Roadside Eating Stand], 1938. Brooklyn Historical Society Institutional Records, ARC 288. Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.
 
A man standing at a roadside food stand called "Nick's Clam Bar"
Ruth Johnson, [Long Island Roadside Eating Stand], 1938. Brooklyn Historical Society Institutional Records, ARC 288. Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.

Other first-place winners included Bill Van Nostrand (Great Neck High School, Nassau County) for a photo of the Old Mill on Little Neck Bay; Fred O’Bremski (Queens County) for a photo of King Manor in Jamaica, Queens; and John Atherton (Poly Prep Country Day School, Kings County) for his photo of the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate these photographs.

Overall, the contest was a success. Throughout its existence, LIHS made several efforts to attract new people, typically in the hopes of acquiring members. The Society’s membership had always fluctuated, which can be partially attributed to the board, staff, and members' recurrent debates regarding access. While some people wanted to open the pocket doors to a larger audience, others pushed back in an effort to keep LIHS the exclusive institution it was designed to be. Contests such as the one highlighted here served as a way for LIHS to engage new audiences, and the response from Long Island’s youth demonstrated that it was possible to garner their interest in historical matters. Although, the cash prize probably helped.


The Brooklyn Historical Society Institutional Archive Project is generously funded by the Leon Levy Foundation. 

Interested in seeing more photos from CBH’s collections? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images, or the digital collections portal at Brooklyn Public Library. We look forward to inviting you to CBH in the future to research our entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections. In the meantime, please visit our resources page to search our collections. Questions? Our reference staff is available to help with your research! You can reach us at [email protected].

 



This blog post reflects the opinions of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of Brooklyn Public Library.

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