Union Dime Club: a 19th century social club

Union Dime Club
Patchogue Advance, February 7, 1952

How to Pass Time Without TV:

Social Club Thrived in ’80s

BURNETT HOUSE on Beaver Dam road in Brookhaven was a frequent meeting place of the Union Dime club which was a center of social activity in the community in the 1880s. Built by George H. Burnett at about the time of his marriage in 1854, the house now is the summer residence of Mr. and Mrs. Roger V. Wellington.

—Advance Photo

By Helen M. Ewing

BROOKHAVEN— With the development of photography and the ever-increasing amount of printed matter, future historians will have little difficulty in reconstructing the present era. But 65 or 70 years ago is quite a different story. Although not long ago in time, measured by ways of living the distance is great between then and now.

This fact was brought home to us by a memento of the past, which came to us recently in the form of a book of minutes of an organization which existed in Brookhaven village during the years 1883 to 1888. It was among the papers of the late Jacob L. Valentine, which are now the property of his daughter, Mrs. Alfred Bruce.

The pages of the book have yellowed with the years and the ink has faded in some instances, as to be almost invisible. The handwriting varies from time to time as different secretaries took office, but the penmanship is invariably fine and flowing — qualities rarely seen in this generation. While the events recorded in the book shed a certain amount of light on the activities at that time, they supply only a part of the picture and the rest must be filled in by conjecture. It is like looking through a keyhole and seeing a few details in a room and having to imagine the rest.

From the list of names given, there were evidently 40 people who “concluded that it will be both agreeable and expedient to associate ourselves together under the name of the Union Dime Club, for the purpose of raising funds to build a public hall in the Village of Brook Haven, unless the I money obtained, is ordered by a unanimous vote of said club to, be used otherwise, and have consented to abide by the following rules and regulations:

‘1. The initiation fee will be 25c.
‘2. Ten cents will be required as dues from each member at each session. ‘
‘3. Every person of good moral standing in the community, male or female, can become a member and be entitled to a vote and be eligible to election to any office.
‘4. Officers’ will consist of a president, elected monthly, a secretary, who will also be vice president and, elected yearly, and a treasurer who will hold office for the same term as the secretary.
‘5. When .the funds in the hands of the treasurer reach the sum of $20 they must be invested in some safe place that pays interest, a vote of the majority of the members to determine where.
‘6. Any member who absents himself for 3 successive meetings and after being duly notified before the fourth to pay up back dues and. fails to do so without offering reasonable excuse, will be dropped, and will be ineligible to reelection until after payment of back dues.
‘7. No member will be allowed to drink any strong liquor at any of the meetings.
‘8. Twenty cents will be required as dues from each gentleman visitor.
‘9. Ten cents will be required as dues from each lady visitor.’

First Recorded Meeting

The first recorded meeting was held January 3, 1883, at the home of Henry Raynor and these bylaws, which had previously been drawn up, were read and adopted. Proceeds from that evening were $4. Besides the election of officers, the only action recorded was that the “sociable,” as the organization was called, should meet the following week at 7 p. m. and adjourn at midnight. (Quite a I long winter evening!)

Minutes of the. second. meeting recorded the place as the residence of G. H. Burnett, Esq. (where many subsequent meetings were held) and after disposing of the routine business, it was voted to spend the remainder of the evening in dancing. (This is one of the items that arouses our curiosity — what was the music? Who supplied it?)

Later on we read that E. B. Raynor, W. S. Swezey and G. H. Burnett; Jr., were appointed. a committee to make a program of the order of dances. As these gentlemen were all considered “old men” in our childhood, it is hard for us to picture them in their youth, and reminds us of a favorite saying of our grandmother, “As you are now, so once was. As I am now, you soon shall be.”

Other indications as to how the’ members of the Dime club disported themselves were given in the fact that a committee of three was chosen at each meeting to make a program of the amusements each, member to be assigned his part for the next meeting, and the secretary was appointed to take charge of the dialogue book. But the only account we have, is: that “the programme as fixed by the committee was carried out.” We can only gather that they were able to entertain themselves, and each other, until midnight without benefit of radio, television, or even, perhaps, a phonograph.

There is no. doubt that it was a success, for they soon decided to meet every week, instead of every second week, and to charge 5 cents instead of 10. Attendance must have been good, for the receipts for the first meeting in February were $7.10.

Shortly after this, the treasurer was instructed to deposit all funds in the River Head bank. That these funds were becoming a matter af increasing interest is evidenced by the fact that a week later the treasurer was asked to see J.. B. Ireland to ascertain if he could invest the funds where they would pay a larger percentage of interest than at the bank. The report at the following meeting was that Mr. Ireland would take the money, $20 at a time, or more, and. allow 5 per cent interest, and that it could be had at any time by giving 10 days notice. The treasurer was .thereupon instructed to invest the sum of $27 with Mr. Ireland.

Dues For Women

In May the meetings were discontinued far the summer, but the following December 33. men and women renewed their membership for the year 1883-’84, and meetings were again held every two weeks. In January a special meeting was called, when it was voted that “all lady members shall not be charged any dues.”

Could it be that there was a preponderance of males and it was necessary to offer an inducement to the ladies?

At a later date, it was required that each gentleman visitor bring a lady, and also that he would not be allowed admittance without a pass, with the name of the gentleman invited and the name of the member extending the invitation. Could there have been gate-crashers, we wonder?

There wall also a vote to the effect that anyone under the influence of liquor be expelled, and also a provision that if the night appointed far the meeting were stormy, the sociable would be held the next evening, if convenient to do so. We wonder how that was arranged, with no. telephones to provide communication.

In April, 1884, there is evidence of an entertainment given in the schoolhouse by a Miss May Francis, augmented by music selected by three members, Miss Lillie Hawkins, Miss Addie Raynor and Miss Nellie Seaman, for which 250 tickets were printed. Miss Francis received half of the gross receipts of $24.50 and, as the expenses were $6.25, there was a balance of only $6. However, it was “resolved that the program as carried out by Miss Francis at the first of the Union Dime club was a perfect success; that Miss Francis. ranks high in the profession she has adopted.” So great was the enthusiasm that Miss Francis was asked to return in June and was offered $15 and expenses.”

At this time a Professor Edwards was engaged to supply the music, and “100 large posters, 9×18 inches, and 100 small programmes” were printed. Great preparations, in the’ form of a committee to arrange the house for the entertainment, and another to. clean up afterwards, were made. N. C. Miller (who, in our childhood was affectionately known to everybody as “Clint”) was appointed to. introduce Miss Francis. However, something must have gone amiss for the next entry shows. that expenses amounted to. $23.50 and receipts were only $14.50. A foot-note explains that $9 was taken from the treasury, leaving a balance for that year af $19.

Building Plans

The possibilities of achieving the goal of building a public hall must have seemed. remote at that time, but nevertheless, meetings were resumed the following winter and a committee was chosen to. obtain an estimate far lumber for small building, and another to look far a location.

An offer by N. G. Miller to. lease a piece af land far a. number of years, far the sum of 25 cents a year with the privilege of removing the hall from the land at the pleasure of the club, was accepted. A building committee was formed, subscriptions were to be solicited, and back dues were to be collected by the president.

[Unreadable text …] year that it was voted that Jacob L. Valentine might become a member paying the entrance fee of 25 cents and 10 cents for each meeting of the club to date. As this was the third year, this seems to us to be a little grasping.

The fourth, and last, roll of members lists only 10 names and there is a lapse in the minutes from June ’86 until November ’87. There is considerable discussion about the money, one suggestion being that if a hall were not built in five years, the money should be divided among the members; another that a reasonable amount be used for expenses and the remainder left in the River Head bank; and last, that the money should remain in Mr. Ireland’s hands.

This is the last entry in the book. The remaining pages are blank and apparently the dream of building a public hall was never realized. And, as far as we know, the money is still “in Mr. Ireland’s hands.”

One of the factors that may have lessoned interest in a community building was the developing availability of the old Congregational Church “Lecture Hall”. By 1875, this congregation was nearly extinct. Sometime between about 1885 and 1899, their small meeting hall on South Country Road was deeded to the South Haven Presbyterian parish. By 1899. it had received substantial repairs and enlarged so that, in addition to its use as a parish hall, by 1900 it was regularly used for dances, theatrical presentations, and other community entertainments. The Presbyterians sold it in 1945.


Charter Members

The list of charter members is as follows: Addie J. Raynor, G. H. Burnett, Jr., G. M. Hawkins, E. B. Raynor, N. C. Miller, W. S. Swezey, E. M. Barteau, R. E. Albin, G. H. Nesbit, C. Burnett, E. W. Nesbit, Cecil R. Garland, Lillie Breckenridge, Carrie A. Raynor, Tillie E. Hawkins, Jennie A. Carpenter, Henry Raynor, Mrs. H. Raynor, Ines I. Burnett, C. Albin, S. W. Newey, Edgar Seaman, E. B. Clark, Annie B. Gordon, W. E. T. Smith, J. S. Seaman, J. W. Reeve, Mrs. J. W. Reeve, T. G. Platt, Charles Breckenridge, George Smith, Edwin Ross, Ira Gordon, George B. Barteau, Edgar F. Smith, W. B. Albin, Nellie Seaman, Daniel Carter, Oscar Robinson.

As nearly as we have been able to ascertain, there is only one member of the Union Dime club now living, and that is Eugene Albin, who makes his home in Daytona, Fla. However, his son, Everett V. Albin, lives in Center Moriches, and the families of many other members still live here in Brookhaven. A notable member was William E. T. Smith of St. George Manor, whose sister, Miss Eugenie Tangier Smith, still resides there.

As for the. houses where the meetings were held the George H. Burnett house on Beaver Dam road’ was mentioned most frequently and this is understandable, as it is quite large and has unusually high ceilings for that period.

Mr. Burnett was “a forty-niner” and is said to have built that house soon after his return from the West Coast — probably about 1854, which was the year he was married.

Burnett was “a forty-niner” and is said to have built that house soon after his return from the West Coast — probably about 1854, which was the year he was married.

It remained in the family until just a few years ago, and a granddaughter; Miss Frances Hand, now lives on Fireplace Neck road and is clerk. in the post office. The house is now the summer home of Mr. and Mrs. Roger V. Wellington and was recently repainted
and redecorated throughout..

The George M. Hawkins house, also on Beaver Dam. road, is now the property of Mr. and Mrs. George B. De Forest, but it has changed hands many times. It was originally on the north side of the road, across from Mott’s lane, and was moved directly opposite, to the south side of the road. Later it was moved again, east, and back from the road to its present location. It was remodeled at that time and was the home of the artist, Frederick W. Post [sic, Kost], for many years.

Robert S. Albin’s house, which was also a grocery store for a number of years, is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Nelson. The Samuel Newey house, on Newey court was owned by the family until recently when it was sold to William Engelhardt. John Seaman’s house has been the home of Mrs. Florence Gwynne for many years and Henry Raynor’s house is now owned and occupied by Mr. and Mrs. John Sives.

One of the meeting places was in South Haven, in what was then the home of Charles Hallock. It was Mrs. Fulton Husband’s home for several years and is now divided into apartments and owned by Mr. and Mrs. Myron Paris.

As we look back over the minutes of the Union Dime club with its brief glimpse of past activities and simple pleasures, we wonder how much better off we are [with] are our multiple, modern amusements. Given a choice, however, [I’m] sure we’d choose the present.