A seat to history: Great Barrington park bench dedicated to 1890s Newsboy Statue
GREAT BARRINGTON — They did what countless newspaper boys had to in the bygone days of walking a route in a deep freeze and flinging papers: they bundled up.
On Wednesday, the newspaper delivery boy was yet again celebrated with a park bench dedicated to the Newsboy Statue off Maple Ave. (Route 23) and Silver Street. The New England Association of Circulation Executives bought the bench to honor Barrie J. Hughes, a former news circulation executive from Connecticut, who was passionate about the statue, and organized and raised money for its first restoration in 1970.
Hughes' three children and the association, as well as local officials and historians, came to pay homage to the legacy of the newspaper boy and the passion that fueled the restoration of the monument, and its fountains.
"He cashed in a life insurance policy to recreate the fountain heads," said John Brennan, secretary of the association.
"This was one of the great passions of his life," said Hughes' son, Richard Hughes. "Not just this, but all newspaper carriers."
And Richard Hughes joked about just how hard a paper route can sometimes be for a young fellow.
"I had a route inside a hospital," he said, noting that when his father got him that route, everyone thought he had lucked out because it was all indoors. But there were patients using bedpans and other unpleasant things he had to contend with. "I'm not sure if I was punished with that route."
The elder Hughes is just one of a number of men who loved the oldest newsboy monument in the world — there are also newsboy statues in Detroit and Los Angeles — starting with its creator, Col. William Lee Brown, a part-owner of the New York Daily News. Brown commissioned the statute by sculptor David Richards, and had it placed near his Locustwood Estate on Silver Street. It was dedicated in 1895.
Local historian Gary Leveille, who wrote "The Mystery and History of the Great Barrington Newsboy Statue," explained before the event that back when Maple Avenue was a "little country lane," what is now Silver Street ran closer to the monument, which served as a drinking trough for horses.
While it is a mystery why Brown chose to place the statue here and not in New York City, as Brennan said, there is yet another mystery that might lie below.
"According to newspaper accounts, a 'treasure' chest containing coins and important papers was to be placed under the statue after the dedication ceremony," Leveille writes. "The box hasn't been seen since, but perhaps it is still sealed within the foundation or buried in the room. No one knows."
In 1970, Hughes set out to rehabilitate it from all its years of exposure and neglect.
"It was gradually forgotten by citizens caught up in the depression and two world wars," Brennan told around 30 people who gathered at the monument.
In 1992, the association raised $15,000 and worked with the town Historical Commission toward another restoration in 1993. It was repaired in 1995, the year of its centennial. In 2016, a Community Preservation Act grant went toward cleaning up corrosion and adding protection, as well as fixing the fountain.
Last spring, the fountain lines were replaced and a connection made to a town water main.
Paul Ivory, chairman of the Historical Commission, has vowed to have the statue inspected and maintained every year. The commission has an annual $1,500 earmark for this. The monument also now has a citation from the state Senate. Alfred Enchill Jr., aide to state Sen. Adam Hinds D-Pittsfield, presented it at the bench dedication that was organized by longtime newspaper industry executive Warren Dews Jr., formerly of New England Newspapers Inc, which owns The Eagle.
The whole point is making sure people can read the news, and that's why Brown built the monument in the first place, according to another local historian, Bernard Drew.
"His paper succeeded because of a loyal and hardworking crew of newsboys."
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.
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