CLINTON — The big green volumes were handed down — step by step, person to person — until they reached the chilly air outside, packed into pickup trucks for a short ride up the street to their new home at a local museum.
If you stepped inside the old newspaper office, as many of the 50 volunteers on that crisp early March morning, what you saw were treasured pieces of a small town’s history. My small town.
The Clinton Item has moved its old archives, 400 bound volumes, to the Holder Memorial. They contain precious nuggets of what makes this place so beloved for those of us lucky to have been raised in a close-knit community where everybody actually did know your name.
“Everything that happened in town was in this paper,’' Phil DeCisero, 73, who grew up here and now lives in nearby Sterling, told me as the move gained momentum. “It’s like going to the local bar or going to the local restaurant.
“All the gossip. You knew all the reporters. You’d be walking home from school and the local sports guy would be up in the window here yelling at us: ‘Hey, good game last night!’ It’s like every small town in the world, you know?’'
I grew up here so, yes, I do know.
And so do the readers of the Clinton Item who have counted on it their entire lives for the little details and big moments of life in the best town by a dam site. (Yes, the Wachusett Dam is here.)
Birth announcements. Little League scores. Stories about high school football heroics. Of massive fires and small-town mischief. Lunch menus and obituaries, and the latest decisions made up the street at Town Hall by the Board of Selectmen.
Selectmen like Sean Kerrigan, who is now that governing board’s chairman, and was kneeling upstairs at the newspaper office to examine a bound volume of Items dating from March 1, 1993, to July 16, 1993.
“The last one to leave the building,’' said Kerrigan, who worked here as an Item reporter from 1991 to 1995.
Kerrigan, reelected to a second term last year, has seen local journalism from both sides now. He’s carried the notebook and written the stories. He’s had stories and headlines written about him.
“It’s sad it takes something like this for people to understand how important a paper can be to a town,’' he told me on moving day. “I’m a little biased obviously, but I can’t imagine a Clinton without the Item. I give Jan and Ken a lot of credit for sticking with it.’'
Jan and Ken are Jan Gottesman and Ken Cleveland. Jan is the Item’s editor. Ken is an Item veteran, serving as a reporter and news editor, and now as a freelance correspondent.
They’ve operated out of their home since September 2019, when the Item office was closed, its archives still inside.
“The thing that had to be saved were these volumes,’' said Cleveland, standing next to bound archives ready for transport. “Because there’s no way to replicate that. There are bits of the paper here and there, but this is the only complete collection.’'
And what a collection it is.
There are bold front-page headlines about moon shots and world wars.
There are school lunch menus and large page-one photographs, including one that I, as a young editor, splashed across the front page, foolishly missing the common two-word vulgarity that someone had stamped into a snowy field behind the old high school.
If only I had looked closely enough, it was right there under my nose.
My old editor, Bill Coulter, who ran the place with his brother Jim, who presided over the business side of things, somehow found it in his heart not to summarily fire me.
That was a bad day.
But Clinton has had more than its share of good days, too. Few as memorable as President Jimmy Carter’s visit in March 1977, which drew international attention and electrified the streets of the town.
“It’s all the famous fires, the school system, the sports of the town,’' said Terry Ingano, a former Clinton schools superintendent who taught at the public schools here for 30 years and is now president of the Clinton Historical Society.
Few know the value of archives like this one more than Ingano, who has mined old Clinton Items for nuggets about this town’s rich and colorful history.
“Fires, disasters, floods. Those kinds of things,’' Ingano said. “They’re always well written up. Think about it. When you write a book, you’re picking off the major events and that’s the story. But this here is the real nitty-gritty stuff.’'
Ingano said he was surprised by the robust turnout to move the Item’s archives. His former students showed up. So did local officials. And old neighbors.
And so did Susan Notaro, 70, a member of the Clinton High School class of 1968. She was vice president of that class and later coached the CHS field hockey team for 16 years.
“This is such a friendly town,’' she said, telling me something whose accuracy I can vouch for. “Everybody knows your name. I sound like ‘Cheers.’ But that’s what it was. If you see somebody, you’d say: ‘Who’s your mother and father? Who are your grandparents?’ It’s just a great, close friendly town.’'
The town’s history is on display at the Item archives’ new home at the Holder Memorial. The newspapers take their place now along with vintage looms, and black-and-white photographs of a Clinton when horses tied up on High Street.
They are all museum pieces. And so now are all those Clinton Daily Items, chronicling births and deaths, Little League home runs, and Girl Scout cookie sales.
But Jan Gottesman wants Clintonians to know that their local newspaper is not fading into history. It’s still here. Ready at the end of the telephone line or a reporter’s notebook to keep chronicling life here along the Nashua River.
The paper, a weekly since 1996, comes out on Friday now. Sixteen pages of local news ready for 4,000 subscribers.
“Some of these volumes that people are carrying today had people’s wedding announcements on the front page,’' Gottesman told me. “We always say people deserve to be in the paper when they’re born, when they graduate, when they get married, and when they die.
“And that’s the cycle of a community newspaper. I’ve always believed in that.’'
She still does.
I believe in community newspapers, too.
It’s something I learned a long time ago at my desk here on Church Street, just inside the front door of the Clinton Daily Item, where the presses in the basement rolled early each weekday afternoon and there was a story on every corner.
Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.