History of the Press

See also Marion County Newspapers

Excerpted from History of Marion County, Iowa Volume I, pp. 267-274, by Wright and Young (1915)

The Press

As an educational factor the newspaper plays a conspicuous part in the daily life of the American people. Through the publication of special articles relating to the occupations many a man or woman has gained new ideas that have proved to be of practical utility and lasting benefit. The current history of the nation is found in the columns of the modern newspaper, and not infrequently choice bits of literature of a high order reach the people through this medium. It is therefore considered appropriate to include in this chapter some account of the journals and journalists of Marion County.

The first newspaper in the county was the Pella Gazette, which made its bow to the public on February 1, 1855, and was at that time the most western paper in Iowa before reaching the Missouri River, the Des Moines Star having suspended but a short time before. Edwin H. Grant, the editor of the Gazette and a practical printer, came to Pella in the fall of 1854 and formed a partnership with Rev. H. P. Scholte for the publication of a weekly paper. A press and type were purchased and the Gazette was the result. About 1857 or 1858 Mr. Grant severed his connection with the paper, the publication of which was then suspended for a time, but in the summer or fall of 1859 it was revived by S. M. Hammond and edited by Mr. Scholte. From November of that year it was published by Hammond & Honnold until March, 1860, when it was discontinued, the subscription list being transferred to the Knoxville Journal.

In the fall of 1855 William M. Stone, a Knoxville lawyer, purchased the press that had formerly been used in the publication of the Valley Whig at Keokuk and brought it to Knoxville in an ox wagon. About the 8th or 9th of October he issued the first number of the Knoxville Journal, the second newspaper in the county and the first to be published at the county seat. The exact date of the first edition cannot be given for the reason that the office of the Journal, a frame building on the west side of the public square, was destroyed by fire on March 4, 1856, and no copy of the first number can be found. A little later George W. Edwards, afterward managing editor of the Des Moines Republican, came to Knoxville with a view of establishing a paper. He owned a printing outfit and formed a partnership with Mr. Stone, and this firm revived the Journal, which has since had an unbroken existence, though under different names.

After a short time Stone sold his interest to his partner, who in a little while sold it to John M. Bailey. In the winter of 1857-58 Bailey sold the paper to E. G. Stanfield, who employed L. D. Ingersoll as editor. It was next published by Bigelow & Baird and in 1860 passed into the hands of Horner and Honnold, who changed the name to the Marion County Republican. According to Donnel, the Republican was purchased by B. F. Williams in October, 1861, and published by him until August, 1866, when he sold out to W. G. Cambridge. In March, 1867, Cambridge sold the outfit and good will to Sperry & Barker, who changed the name to the Iowa Voter. In this trade Mr. Cambridge took over the Guthrie County Vidette, formerly published by Sperry & Barker.

In August, 1872, Mr. Sperry retired and Mr. Barker continued as sole proprietor until June 4, 1876, when he took as a partner T. C. Masteller, and with the formation of the new firm the name of Journal was restored. Various changes in ownership occurred during the remainder of the nineteenth century and in October, 1901, M. L. Curtis bought the paper from J. W. Johnson. On February 1, 1903, Mr. Curtis took T. G. Gilson into partnership and since that time the Journal has been published by the firm of Curtis & Gilson. It is now in its sixtieth year and is therefore one of the oldest papers in the state. When first established by Mr. Stone, it espoused the cause of the whig party and later became a republican organ, but has never been virulent in its political utterances.

Shortly after the Journal made its appearance the democrats felt the need of a newspaper and in June, 1856, Claiborne Hall began the publication of the Democratic Standard. Unfortunately Mr. Hall was neither an experienced journalist nor a practical printer and he soon discovered that the work of conducting a newspaper required something more than theory. After a few issues of the paper he sold the outfit to a company. In 1858 S. M. Hammond and a man named Remington became the owners, but about a year later they were succeeded by M. V. B. Bennett and C. A. Barr. Late in the year 1860 the latter was succeeded by T. J. Anderson. When the war broke out Mr. Anderson enlisted and a little later the Standard was suspended.

Henry Hospers issued the first number of the Pella Weekblad on September 18, 1861, having purchased the press and material of the old Pella Gazette. It was printed in the Dutch language and was the first Holland paper west of the Mississippi River. In June, 1870, Mr. Hospers was appointed immigration agent and sold the paper to H. Neyenesch, who enlarged it and made it one of the leading Holland-American papers. According to the Iowa Official Register for 1914, the Weekblad is now published every Thursday as a democratic weekly by H. F. Johnson & Company.

Some time in the winter of 1864-65 C. S. Wilson purchased the press and type of the old Democratic Standard and moved them to Pella, where on February 3, 1865, he issued the first number of the Pella Blade. Mr. Wilson was a "breezy" writer and in his first issue outlined the policy of the Blade, which he announced would advocate the principles of the republican party, but "at the same time its columns will not fail to condemn whatever it judges to be incompatible with the public interest or the national honor."

After publishing the Blade for about a year, Wilson sold out to a man named Melick, who removed the office to Waterloo and began the publication of the Waterloo Courier. The Blade was revived soon afterward, however, by R. Crosby and a little later James H. Betzer became associated with him in its publication. In December, 1867, Crosby sold his interest to H. G. Curtis, who sold to A. T. Betzer about two years later. The Betzers subsequently sold the Blade to Mr. Neyenesch of the Weekblad.

The next newspaper in Marion County was the Marion County Democrat, the first number of which was issued by J. L. McCormack on September 19, 1865. The press and type used in printing this paper had formerly been used by the old Alexandria Delta at Alexandria, Missouri, but had been purchased by Captain McCormack and removed to Knoxville. In his salutatory he said:

It is the intention to make this sheet a welcome visitor to the fireside of every household; to give instruction, to afford pleasure and enjoyment in the perusal of its columns, and, if possible, to bring about a little better understanding in the minds of the people as to their true duties of neighborly citizenship. * * * In politics this paper will support the principles and stand by the organization of the democratic party. It acknowledges allegiance to none other and will pay fealty to the behests of its regular organization alone.

John L. McCormack, the founder of the Democrat, was a native of Madison County, Ohio, where he was born in 1836. He learned the printer's trade in the office of the Ohio State Journal at Columbus, then studied law and in 1855 was admitted to the bar. In the spring of 1858 he came to Knoxville and practiced law until the breaking out of the Civil war, when he entered the volunteer army as captain of Company E, Eighth Iowa Infantry. Later he served as captain of Company A, Forty-seventh Iowa Infantry, until the close of the war. After entering the journalistic field he became prominent in politics; served one term in the lower house of the State Legislature and eight years in the Senate; was once offered the nomination for Congress by his party, but declined, and was identified with the Masons and Odd Fellows. He died at Knoxville on December 29, 1904.

Along in the latter '70s the greenback party became quite strong in Marion County and desired a party organ. Drewry Overton, a wealthy farmer, purchased the Democrat, with the building in which it was published, Captain McCormack entering into an agreement not to publish a newspaper in the county while Mr. Overton was the owner of the Democrat. The new proprietor issued but one number of the paper, when he came to the conclusion that he knew more about farming than he did about editorial work, and leased the office to Minos Miller and J. D. Gamble, who continued the paper for about a year. It then passed into the hands of Mr. Overton, Simon van der Meulen and F. C. Flory and the name was changed to the Marion County Express, the new firm taking charge of the office on January 1, 1880. During the next two years several changes in the management occurred and on January 26, 1882, Mr. Overton sold the Express to Minos Miller and M. S. McGrew, who agreed to pay a certain sum out of the net profits. Mr. Overton received only about sixty dollars and he took back the paper, which was then leased to W. J. Casey and Frank Steunenberg, who changed the name to the Knoxville Express, under which name it is still published, Mr. Casey still being at its head.

In March, 1867, a paper called the Pella Gazette--the second of that name--was started under the editorial management of G. van Ginkle. It was republican in its political opinions, was printed in the Holland language, and continued for about eighteen months. The outfit was then purchased by Snow & Huber, a Pella mercantile firm, who issued a monthly journal for some time to advertise their business.

The next newspaper started in the county was published in Pella and created something of a sensation on account of its name. It was called the Copperhead, and the first number was dated January 8, 1868. M. V. B. Bennett, James D. Gamble and H. M. McCully were the publishers. Donnel says: "The name was evidently chosen to offset the stigma intended to be fixed upon the democratic party by the republicans, when they gave it the name of a most poisonous reptile." Only eleven numbers of the Copperhead were published in Pella, the office being then removed to Ottumwa.

On February 7, 1871, the Marysville Miner made its appearance with the name of J. W. Ragsdale at the head of the editorial columns. It was published by a stock company, which purchased the press and other material at Albia. The second number was issued by D.C. Ely, who succeeded Mr. Ragsdale. After a few years the company was succeeded by C. W. McConnell as sole editor and proprietor. He continued the publication of the Miner until the summer of 1887, when he removed the office to Kansas. Along in the '90s a paper called the Marysville Independent was published for a time, but for want of adequate support it was finally compelled to give up the ghost.

In the summer of 1877 John Y. Harper came to Pleasantville and announced his intention of starting a weekly newspaper, which soon appeared under the name of the Pleasantville Enquirer. It is said that Mr. Harper was addicted to sharp practices, was not a strict observer of business morals, and had started some forty odd papers before coming to Pleasantville. After a few weeks he sold the office to Charles McCormack and William Duncan, two of his printers, who continued to publish the Enquirer until the death of Mr. McCormack in October, 1877, when it was suspended.

Later in the same year R. T. Elson began the publication of the Pleasantville News. In 1880 George W. Bell became associated with Mr. Elson, a new pressed was purchased and the News started on a boom, which proved to be rather short-lived. Subsequently the paper was edited by H. J. Budd until the material was sold to Clinton Price, who removed it to Milo, Warren County.

Early in the year 1880 Capt. J. L. McCormack opened a job printing office in Knoxville. It will be remembered that when he sold the Democrat to Drewry Overton he entered into an agreement not to start another newspaper in the county while Mr. Overton continued to publish the Democrat. When the latter leased his newspaper to other parties, Captain McCormack felt that he was at liberty again to enter the field, and in January, 1881, he began the publication of the Marion County Reporter, a democratic sheet. Some time later he leased the office to Capt. George W. Bell (who had been connected with the Pleasantville News) and W. L. Turney. Bell & Turney were succeeded by Little & McHenry, and still later C. H. Robinson became the lessee. On January 1, 1887, Captain McCormack resumed control and published the Reporter for a few years, after which FM. Frush and John D. Bates each took turns in its management. In 1903 the outfit was sold and taken to Chariton, Iowa.

The Pleasantville Telegraph began its career in August, 1885, with Rev. L. F. Chamberlin as editor and proprietor. It was at first a five-column folio, but was subsequently enlarged to seven columns. The Telegraph is said to have been a good local newspaper, with "nary politick."

The Pella Chronicle is the successor of the Pella Blade, which was established in the winter of 1864-65, as above stated. In 1901 the Blade and other English newspapers of Pella were united under the name of "The Chronicle," which continued the volume numbers of the Blade, the volume beginning in January, 1915, being numbered fifty-one. The present publishers, Sadler Brothers & Company, purchased the Chronicle in 1903, and since then an entirely new outfit, including presses, a Mergenthaler linotype and other machinery, has been installed. The publishers also issue the Baptist Record, a denominational weekly, which has a wide circulation in Iowa and Nebraska, of which Rev. R.R. Sadler is the editor. The Central Ray, a bi-weekly college paper, is also printed on the Chronicle presses. In September, 1912, William A. Young assumed the editorial work of the Chronicle, and still holds that position at the beginning of the year 1915. Editorially the Chronicle is democratic on national political questions, but it has been outspoken in favor of prohibition, equal suffrage, free trade, the single tax, etc.

The Central Ray mentioned in the preceding paragraph was established by the students of Central University at Pella in the fall of 1876, with S. F. Sprout and Mattie E. Budd of the class of 1877 as editors. It has been published continuously since that time, with the exception of part of the college year of 1879-80, and is a typical college paper.

A paper called the Bussey Banner was started in that town some years ago by S. S. Sherman, who at least accounts was living on a homestead in the State of Minnesota. The Banner was succeeded by the Tri-County Press, published by McDonald Brothers for circulation in the counties of Marion, Mahaska and Monroe, and this paper was in turn succeeded by the Bussey Record, which in 1914 was published by W. H. Moon & Company.

Miscellaneous Publications

In addition to the papers above enumerated there is the Pella Booster, the successor of a paper called the Advertiser, which is one of the live weeklies of the Des Moines Valley. It is an independent democratic paper and is issued every Wednesday by G. A. Stour. The Pleasantville newspaper is called the Marion County News; it is independent in politics, and is issued every Thursday by Thomas E. Caverly. In 1914 the Melcher Union was established and at the close of the year was ably edited by Claude Gates. There is also a monthly religious periodical published at Pella under the name of De Christelyka Uitdeeler, edited by K. Van Stigt; and the Backlog, a magazine published in the interests of the Homesteaders' Insurance Association, is issued monthly from the office of the Knoxville Journal.

Extinct Newspapers

Rev. A. Robbins, while pastor of the Baptist Church at Knoxville, began the publication of a denominational weekly in the fall of 1874, which was called the Baptist Beacon. It was issued from the office of the Journal. Soon afterward Mr. Robbins became pastor of the Pella Baptist Church and removed the office of the Beacon to that city. It finally perished for want of adequate support.

In 1878 Perry Martin issued several numbers of a temperance paper called the Echo of Reform from the office of the Democrat at Knoxville, but it was short-lived.

The Pella Visitor, a weekly republican paper, was started at Pella in 1880 by Shessley & Betzer. After a short but eventful career the outfit was removed to David City, Nebraska, where the proprietors launched the Tribune with better success.

Jasper Nye, in the early '80s, issued a few numbers of a small weekly called the Swan Venture, which was printed in Des Moines. The "Venture" proved to be an unprofitable one for Mr. Nye, who soon discontinued its publication. In May, 1887, J. Y. Stier started another paper in that town called the Swan News, a six-column sheet, but a few weeks later sold out to Jasper Nye, who allowed the News to go the way of his former newspaper in Swan.

In May, 1887, W. P. Gibson and H. J. Budd issued an edition of 5,000 copies of a paper called the Quivive. The expenses were defrayed by the business men of Knoxville; the object of the paper was to present the advantages of Marion County to those seeking a location in the West, and the greater part of the edition was distributed through the Eastern States.

In the early '90s, when the Farmers' Alliance became so strong throughout the West and South, J. R. Norman started a paper called the Knoxville Educator, to advance the principles advocated by the Alliance. As the interest in the Alliance movement waned the patronage of the Educator decreased, and it finally was suspended. At last accounts Norman was running a barber shop in Albia.