By Rod Lee
Talking about the website oldewebster.com and its reincarnation as a Facebook page last week, Carla Manzi acknowledged that the power of social media was too strong for her to resist.
This is not to say she doesn’t have some regrets. The website, a veritable treasure trove of information about Ms. Manzi’s hometown, is an impressive piece of work—built “from bits and pieces of Webster’s past” by a team consisting of herself, her dad Jim Manzi and Chad Pepin.
Ms. Manzi is a real estate broker and owner of Webster Lake Gifts on Thompson Road. Her father, who passed away at the age of ninety-two in August of 2014, was the town’s “unofficial historian” with a vast collection of artifacts, documents, photographs and postcards. Mr. Pepin is described on the website as its “webmaster and all-around tech wizard.”
Though now static, oldewebster.com remains an interesting site which explains why it had drawn 382,489 “visitors” as of last week. That it got off to a roaring start with high hopes for continued impact is testament to its founders’ willingness to accept virtually any material up to about 1970; as they put it in a message to visitors “submissions of all sorts…especially…old stories written by YOU…by way of Microsoft Word, text or pen and napkin.”
There can be no discounting the role that Jim Manzi played in creation of the website. The youngest of sixteen children, Mr. Manzi was born in Webster and was a lifelong resident of the town. He was a U.S. Army AF veteran of World War II, stationed on the island of Tinian in the South Pacific. He was a former editor of the Webster Times. He co-authored the book “Images of America—Webster” in 2005 with John J. Mrazik and Carla Manzi. The book is still in circulation. Mr. Manzi worked for many years in the family store (Manzi’s Market, at the corner of Main and School streets, owned by Carla Manzi’s grandfather), then as a meat cutter at Park n’ Shop and Mostly Meat in Webster.
Nor can there be any doubt that the website is one of the best of the vintage kind, garnished as it is with “So I’ve Heard” columns by Ed Patenaude (courtesy of the Telegram & Gazette) and masterfully organized photo archives broken down by category: Ads; Business; Churches; Homes; Lake; Municipal; People; Schools; Soldiers; and Streets.
Typical of contributions that are riveting in their appeal to the eye is a black-and-white picture of a packed “Music Hall” taken at Christmas 1913 by D.F. Ober and sent to oldewebster.com by Jeff Stefanik. The caption under the photo reads “Music Hall. Burned down Feb. 2, 1922. It took a long time, maybe 30 years, but the lot for the one-time entertainment place fell into town hands, probably through a tax taking. Music Hall was a vaudeville venue and one of the town’s first movie houses. Located on High Street, just off Main, the parcel became a town parking lot. Its current use seems to be private.”
The website is truly a step back in time.
In explaining the reason for the move to Facebook, Ms. Manzi said “the original site got lots of traffic in the beginning but as time went on and Facebook came into existence I decided that starting an oldewebster Facebook page would be a more dynamic place for folks to be able to contribute.” Hence such Facebook postings as Polish American veterans marching in the Memorial Day Parade in the 1960s, a picture of an abandoned railroad and a stunning photo from 1959 of “serious members of the Webster Police Department with bloodhound.” But also announcement of the community’s fourth annual Summer Concert Series which is a departure from the website’s avoidance of current-events listings.
As to where oldewebster.com goes from here, Ms. Manzi, whose wealth of historical data includes bound copies of the Webster Times from 1859 to 1997, which residents drop by to peruse from time to time, said anything is possible. “People use these copies to look up obits, to check genealogy” and so on, she said. “We are hoping to digitize them someday.”
Meanwhile what started out as a website with occasional updating has morphed into “full-time sharing” on Facebook. The website, she said, with just a touch of remorse in her voice, “is kind of dormant but it’s still there as a resource.”
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.