Thursday, February 23, 2012

“Pioneer Press”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Reading about Geauga County history is always a compelling exercise. But in particular, uncovering the story of how newspaper publishing has evolved here yields special satisfaction for this writer.

In the ‘Pioneer and General History of Geauga County’ from 1880, much information about our region’s early development was chronicled for future generations. One thread examined in this durable collection comprised the story of journalistic endeavors undertaken by our forebears.

What follows is an excerpt from the book that provides a glimpse of where our traditions began:

by J. O. Converse

The first paper ever published within the present limits of Geauga County was the Chardon Spectator and Gazette, established, probably, early in the summer of 1833, Alfred Phelps, esq., editor and proprietor. Prior to that time, Chardon, though the county seat of the undivided county, had been entirely dependent on Painesville for newspaper facilities, the Telegraph being the leading, and, for several years, the only paper published in that place. Its venerable founder, Mr. Eber D. Howe, in his “Autobiography and Recollections of a Pioneer Printer,” recently published, states that local and personal dissensions, in which he had been editorially involved, led to the establishment, at Painesville, in September, 1828, of a rival newspaper, and that he soon discovered, as if often the case, that old and trusted friends were engaged in the plot. When the new paper first appeared, it was printed by two young men brought from Buffalo for the purpose, whose names he does not recall. Respecting this enterprise, and its results, he further says: “After spending all the time and money which they [the young men mentioned above] could afford, they disappeared. Several other printers who came along were put aboard the leaky ship to navigate it as best they could. This paper was called the Geauga Gazette, and put on a very respectable appearance. The next year our old friend, William L. Perkins, esq., who had recently come among us as a lawyer, and then in the prime of life, took charge of the editorial department for about a year, with what success I know not. He was succeeded by Mr. Henry Sexton, who kept the paper going one or two years longer, when it was sold and taken to Chardon, and printed by Alfred Phelps, esq., for a year or two longer, and finally disappeared from the county.” The Chardon Spectator and Geauga Gazette was a six-column folio of rather more than medium size. Its editor, Mr. Phelps, was a Whig in politics, of rare intelligence and conservative views, a true gentleman of the old school, whose editorials were well written, whose literary taste was apparent in his selections, and whose ideal of a model political newspaper was the old National Intelligencer, of which he was a careful and appreciate reader. But he was not, as every country editor should be, a practical printer, and, after publishing the paper nearly two years and a half, “at a constant pecuniary loss, besides the loss of his own services, by no means inconsiderable, however inefficient,” (as he modestly suggests in his valedictory, November 27, 1835), he was reluctantly compelled to abandon the enterprise. The establishment was sold to J. I. Browne, esq., editor of the Toledo Gazette, by whom it was removed to that city. After the Spectator, no paper was published in Chardon until the spring of 1840, when (May 23rd) appeared the first number of the Geauga Freeman, as the county organ of the Whig party, the late Joseph W. White, editor and proprietor. This was also a six-column folio, a little larger than its predecessor. The division of the county occurred the same year, since which event it has never been without a county paper. The year 1840 will always be remembered for the exciting and otherwise very remarkable and unprecedented campaign, which resulted in the election of General Harrison to the presidency. Of all the Whig counties in the state, Geauga, if not the banner county, was among the strongest and most enthusiastic for “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” Editorially, Mr. White, though styling himself as a Democratic-Republican, was accepted as, like Mr. Phelps, a Whig, but in other respects very unlike him, as the kind of paper demanded for the campaign of 1840, and which Mr. White provided, was unlike the dignified and conservative Spectator, which answered five years before. In him was presented that strange anomaly in politics, a Whig with Democratic antecedents and proclivities. His life had been a varied and stormy one, and his character, which had doubtless been greatly influenced thereby, was both strong and angular. Born in Fort Duquesne, July 3, 1788, his parents, with many others, having taken refuge in the fort, from the Indians, then very numerous and troublesome to the settlers, his boyhood was spent in that city, where he served an apprenticeship at the printing business… He was a man of honest motive, but great eccentricity and hard, Puritanic notions, and, as may be supposed, was an ardent and aggressive partisan, who was believed to possess just the qualifications required in a conductor of a political paper in 1840… For many years previous to his death, which occurred near Youngstown, November 17, 1869, in his eighty-second year, he considered himself the oldest resident ex-editor and printer in Ohio. The people of the county rallied to the support of the Freeman, making it a success from the outset; but Mr. White, in business as well as politics, was erratic, fond of change, and it was probably this disposition more than anything else that induced him to dispose of the paper, which he did after publishing it about two years and a half.

Converse mentioned a number of colorful, county newspapers in the balance of his article, including: The Geauga Polk-Eater; The Young Hickory and Spread Eagle; The Geauga Republican and Whig; and The Jeffersonian Democrat.

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