Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

May 24, 2007

Local newspapers in the early days

By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent

(Editor’s note: Gremlins invaded the Iowegian newsroom last week and Bill Heusinkveld’s previous column was published a second time. We regret the error. Following is the correct May 17 column.)

The Appanoose Chieftain was the first venture in journalism to be launched in the county. Its hardy entrepreneurs were two young men by the name of Fairbrother. They established their paper upon receipt of a suitable bonus collected in the Centerville area and a further sum collected in advance payment for subscriptions. It was a six-column folio sheet, independent of politics. Several of these columns were devoted to advertising. The initial issue was published in May, 1856. It was printed on a hand press operated by man power or preferably by the cheaper “boy power”. The size of early papers was not flexible.

The founders of the Chieftain soon tired of the field in which they had cast their lot and went west within six months. They turned over the paper and its paraphernalia to Al and George Binckley, who continued the Chieftain for two years as a Democratic organ. W.P. Gill bought the outfit in 1858. Mr. Gill took in with him J.T. Place, who was assisted in the editorial department for a time by Livingston G. Parker. Finally Gill failed and sold his material to G.N. Udell who published the paper from January, 1863 until some time in 1864, having run about seven years, the only interruptions being when the stock of paper would run out. The plant equipment was still rudimentary, and an ordinary farm team and wagon could have hauled away the whole outfit in one load.

In those days, newspapers were devoted almost entirely to advertising and the sage observations of the editor, usually espousing a political cause. There were no reporter, and local news was almost non-existent. National news was always stale because it was dependent on the telegraph. There were no headlines. There were no pictures. There was never any mention of weddings, funerals, deaths or comings or goings of the residents. The language was stilted and formal. It was printed in extremely small print and was difficult to read. If one would turn the pages of a copy of the Chieftain seeking something in the form of news of Centerville and the county of that earlier day, one would wonder why the subscriber paid his newspaper bills at all and what he got for his money. Take one look at the microfilm of one of the old, old papers stored in the Drake Ave. Library and you will be completely turned off from trying to learn anything there.

While Appanoose County has been a veritable graveyard for newspapers, few obituaries have been written on their demise. Centerville, prior to 1860, was scarcely more than a wide place in the road, and the newspaper business was considered a joke. The subscriptions were generally paid in stove wood, little potatoes and spare ribs at hog killing time. Those who advertised in them sometimes did so just to keep the paper going.

These papers generally did not last and usually left those who had backed the enterprise to hold the bag.

Yet there was always someone who thought he had a message for the world and wanted a newspaper to convey that message. David L Strickler purchased all that was left of the Chieftain plant in 1864 to champion the cause of the Union and the republican party in the Civil War. He renamed the paper the Loyal Citizen.

Not being anxious for either immortality or wealth, Strickler sold the paper to Matthew M. Walden in 1865. Walden had just returned from his duties as Captain of Co. D of the 6th Infantry in the Civil War and came home early to get into business. The Union of the States, having been preserved by the war, the word “Loyal” was dropped. With the Citizen, M.M. Walden acquired a Washington hand press, job press, type and material to set up a four-page paper.

The paper was built up in revenue and became justly regarded as a leading Republican paper. George Merritt was general manager, a boy, Ike Payton, inked the forms and two girls, Salina Dye and Hattie McCreary, set the type. If they worked fast enough, they could run off two hundred papers an hour on the old press.

While connected with the Citizen, Walden was elected lieutenant governor of the state in 1869. A few years later, he was elected to Congress, where he served one term. Washington life was little to his taste, and he gladly retired to the editor’s desk. The Citizen was much improved and in new quarters. New machinery was added, run by steam power. A power press was added to the office in 1872 and an engine two years later. The Citizen had been turned into a first class plant, none better in that part of the state.

The first effort to establish a Democratic paper was by John Gharkey, who came to Centerville in the spring of 1865 with the material of the Fayette County Pioneer, a paper he had established there. His paper in Centerville was called the South Iowa Times, which lasted only a year before he moved to Memphis, Mo.

In 1870, the Centerville Clipper was established by the Hickman Brothers who continued his publication for about a year and then sold it to a Mr. Holcomb, in whose hands it was suspended toward the end of 1872. In 1874 H.S. Ehrman restored the paper to life and continued successfully until 1877, when he sold to S.L. Harvey who changed the name to The Journal, which continued with some longevity.

So between 1856 and the 1870’s, with countless papers and publishers, two papers emerged from the field, the Citizen and the Journal. I will continue next week with the progress of journalism in the Centerville.