A History of Hancock County in the Twentieth Century
Dorothy June Williams and Thomas E.Q. Williams, ę 1995

 

NEWSPAPERS IN HANCOCK COUNTY IN THE TWENTIETH

CENTURY

A HISTORY OF GREENFIELD'S NEWSPAPERS AND ITS PROMINENT JOURNALISTS AND WRITERS

 

At century close, we have one primary daily newspaper in the county, the Greenfield Daily  Reporter, which publishes in connection with its Monday edition, the Hancock  Advertiser, and one general publication weekly newspaper, the Ad News. In addition, New Palestine continues to have a local weekly newspaper.

Robert Brown, Managing Partner of Home News Enterprises of Columbus, stated upon acquiring the Greenfield Daily Reporter the goals of that newspaper to be "reflecting the total image of a community in news coverage, to serve community betterment, and to provide counsel in its editorials as public conscience." (as quoted in the Greenfield Republican, May 3, 1973.) It has done that.

Let us review how the newspaper business has progressed in the Twentieth Century,

As the Twentieth Century started, the only newspaper around which would last well into the century would have been the Hancock Democrat, the Mitchell family newspaper. This newspaper, The Hancock County Democrat, was founded in 1858 with David S. Gooding and William Mitchell, editors. John Mitchell and then John F. Mitchell Jr. would keep it going.

The Hancock Jeffersonian was published at the century opening as for a long time previously in Greenfield, a Saturday morning newspaper, owned by Richard Strickland, later joined by his two sons. Harry Strickland kept the newspaper active until its purchase and did printing in the community. Harry's brother Ben Strickland published the Greenfield Globe and Daily Star. Another account I find has both Newton Spencer and Ben Strickland publishing The Greenfield Evening Star  commencing in 1905.

The Greenfield Republican, a Wednesday morning newspaper, was also published. Continuous editions of the Greenfield Republican from March 22, 1989 to the demise of this newspaper in 1973 may be reviewed at the Greenfield Public Library.

At the century's turn the Democrat, the Jeffersonian, and the Republican offered subscription for $1 per year.

The most noteworthy newspaperman of the century would have to Newton Spencer who we encounter at the century beginning. We shall come to see his hand most prominently in the publication by his family of the Greenfield Daily  Reporter, the most prominent newspaper of Greenfield and Hancock County in this century. Newton Spencer taught school, became a lawyer, then got into newspaper business, serving as editor of The Republican, was appointed Postmaster, bought the Greenfield Globe, then joined the company that published the Daily  Star. He was active in the Indiana Republican State Editorial Association and served as its president. He was also Republic Hancock County chairman and a strong party man, 'positive in conviction," and one in whom every person had strict confidence.

While early issues of many newspapers have disappeared over the years, we find that the Hancock  Democrat and the Evening Star are still available for perusal at the Greenfield Public Library. The editions of The Democrat go back to its founding in 1859 while the editions of the Evening Star are available there from April 1, 1905 to Dec. 31, 1906.

1908 is the year of founding of the Greenfield Daily Reporter by Newton Spencer. The newspaper was started in the east room of the Ramsey Bldg, formerly Bradley Hall, now the James Whitcomb Riley Emporium on West Main Street. Circulation was quickly built up to 300.

This same year saw the William Mitchell Printing Co. purchase a new type of Linotype machine that cast a complete line of type at a time. They trained Sam Onstott in it and he eventually set more than 180,000 galleys of type and handled 900,000 tons of metal in his years of work there. He had attended Linotype Machinists' school in New York City. Sam Onstott would end up working for the Mitchells for fifty years.

The next year, 1909, Newton Spencer began his acquisition of other newspapers when he purchased the subscription list of the Evening Star. At the same time the Greenfield Herald and the Greenfield Globe ceased

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The next year, on Feb. 21, 1910, Newton Spencer bought the Evening Tribune and Weekly  Republican. Spencer continued to publish the Republican each Thursday. The Tribune had been the successor publication to the Hancock Jeffersonian through purchase.

There were several early locations for the Greenfield Daily Reporter after it was initially established. One, on March 24, 1911, occurred when the Reporter suffered a fire in the composing room while occupying rented space in the building they rented at the northeast corner of Northeast St. and Main. The Reporter initially occupied temporary quarters in the Acme Bldg at S. Pennsylvania St. and Depot, but the next year, 1913, acquired a lot at 212 E. Main upon which to build a more permanent home for the newspaper. The Spencers moved the Reporter into the new office in July 1, 1914.

After settling the newspaper on sound footing. Newton Spencer died of cancer in 1917 leaving his wife, Viola, and son, Dale, then aged 17 to run the paper.

Before continuing the story of Greenfield's newspapers, we pause to remember two important figures in the journalistic life of the community and veteran editors during this period of Greenfield's -shine,- Marshall Winslow and Frank Johnson. Marshall Winslow served with the Tribune about seven years and then the Reporter for about the same. He resigned the Reporter to go to France with the American Red Cross and then, after the war. went with the Democrat. He would eventually become Postmaster and Mayor. Frank E. Johnson was a long-time assistant to Newton Spencer who helped bring about the consolidation of the various newspapers into the Greenfield Daily_Reporter. He also represented Hancock County for the Associated Press. Cincinnati Enquirer and other news agencies. He had been a former editor of the Daily Tribune before teaming up with Newton Spencer and the Reporter. The history of the Spencers tells much about the drift and flow of the Greenfield newspaper lives. In Sept.. Dale Spencer married Dorothea Spencer who had joined the business staff. The next year Dale Spencer would join the Reporter in its editorial department, after graduating from Indiana University.

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Dale and Dorothea Spencer would have three children, Richard, Phyllis and Dorothy Dale who will later figure into the story.

Another publication that should be mentioned is the Home and School Visitor, published by D.H. Goble. His great grandson, Richard Goble told me this magazine commenced publication in Jan. 1881 who also, after 1928, brought his sons James N., Issac A. and daughter Mrs. Mary Irwin Hancock into the business. This paper had a long lineage back into the history of the county with Lee 0. Harris having been associated with it the latter part of the prior century.

Greenfield had what was considered a remarkable distinction in the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's. Its daily newspaper management was by a woman. Viola Spencer. She managed the newspaper for twenty years following her husband's death.

While continuing to publish the Democrat, the William Mitchell Printing Company also printed many of the country's best sellers in the 1920's. It was in the Mitchell newspaper, the Democrat, that many of James Whitcomb Riley's first poems had been published.

In May 1946, Viola Spencer died of cancer. Her son, Dale, continued the publication and this same year Richard Bruner Spencer, Dale's son, joined the staff.

As John Mitchell, Jr. became older he began turning over more responsibility of the Hancock Democrat to Darold Fleming and eventually the Mitchell Fleming Printing Co. was formed.

The last edition of the Hancock Democrat, called that, is dated Nov. 1, 1956. Thereafter, the newspaper is referred to as the Hancock Journal with the added logo and The Hancock Democrat in lower letters beneath. The first of the combined editions, that of Nov. 8, 1956. indicates that John P. Foster would become the editor of this newspaper. The publisher of the Hancock Democrat following the demise of John Mitchell was Darold T. Fleming.

The first edition of the Hancock Journal available at the library is dated Jan. 2, 1958 and the record of this newspaper is shown as continuous until 1973 by editions available at that source. In 1968, following

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the death of Darold Fleming, Walter Worland purchased the Journal and published it until he sold it to the Greenfield Daily  News in 1973.

I digress to mention that the Spencers did not just publish a newspaper, they also were very active in community affairs and caused their newspaper, the Greenfield Daily Reporter to exercise a "power of the press- from time to time.

Perhaps one instance was in the sizing down of Mayor Barry Hurley during the latter Spencer's years of operation of the Greenfield Daily Reporter. As reported in the Indianapolis Times under the byline of Evan Crowley. of April 12, 1964, Mayor Barry Hurley "might have escaped scathing at the city and county level had it not been for one man. This is Richard B. Spencer, Managing Editor the Greenfield Reporter and a community leader so self-assured that he can print his own specifications for a new sewer system under his own byline and not hide behind a mouthpiece or an editorial -we.- He is a conservative Republican. So is Hurley. There the resemblance ends. Spencer, almost gleefully, has chronicled what he feels are Hurley's shortcomings, both in the mayor's administration of city functions and his performance as party leader. Spencer, whose father. Dale D., still is publisher of the Reporter, without question has helped widen the breach between Hurley and the rest of the party and he is glad to admit it. "Mayor Hurley's unorthodox and irresponsible political activities as well as his stand on certain issues definitely is damaging the position of the GOP even above the county level,' Spencer said. 'He is also becoming the laughing stock of the party among top politicians in the state as well as at the national level." Spencer went on, 'Why, I've even been asked by persons living more than 100 miles away: 'What kind of a nut do you have down there?' I can't truthfully make excuses. This is a dirty shame and old-time Republicans in the city and county are becoming extremely resentful.'

The elder Spencer, who filed for precinct committeeman against the Hurley slate after he became disenchanted with the mayor, backs his son's strong words. It was the newsman who revealed the Williams

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affair and published a supposedly secret copy of Hurley's "Interdict" on page one. He discovered the incompetency of the new city engineer and was the instigator of the city council protest against the scrapping of the sewer plan begun in the administration of Democratic Mayor Clifford Fields." The article goes on to assert that both Spencer and Hurley had allegedly bugged each other's offices. The Williams referred to was the contractor, J. Robert Williams, who opposed Hurley for County Chairman and called him -a fool who is wrecking the Republican Party in Hancock County" publicly.

The newspaper became "disengaged" from the Republican Hurley city administration almost from the start of Hurley's administration.

Dale Spencer died in an auto wreck on a country road in 1970 and his son, Richard Spencer, died of cancer a year later.

The next year, 1972, is also notable for two deaths of newspaper persons. Both John Mitchell, Jr., and Dorothea Spencer died. Dorothea Spencer was Dale Spencer's wife and heir. Dorothea Spencer's will was probated by the Indiana National Bank which also served as the Executor of the will. This bank liquidated the Daily Reporter newspaper as part of the estate administration.

1972 saw the rise of the Hancock  Daily News which began publication July 31, 1972 and ended as a daily newspaper August 28, 1972, less than a month later. It technically considered itself an outgrowth of the  Hancock Journal which the newspaper bought out and combined with its operation. Its editions are in the Greenfield Public Library. Tom Ketcham is listed as head of the business, editorial, advertising, and circulation departments. Harry Smith, was advertising manager. This newspaper sold for 15 cents a copy. Circulation appeared to have been a major problem in its demise.

The Hancock Journal continued to be published, and following the demise of the Hancock Daily News, that newspaper's advertising manager, Harry Smith, continued with the Journal and its Hancock Advertiser which had started up with the Hancock Daily News. Eventually, in 1976, Harry Smith bought the Journal and the Advertiser

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from Frances Fleming, its succeeding owner. The Journal was discontinued in 1978 although the last edition of the Hancock Journal which is retained by the Greenfield Public Library is dated August 27. 191L3.

1973 was a critical year in the life of Hancock County newspapers because it was in this year that Home News Enterprises purchased the Greenfield  Daily Reporter. At the time of its purchase, the newspaper was being run by Spencer Publishing Co., Inc. with Mrs. Dale Miner. Pres., and Mrs. Phyllis Berndt, Secy., Treas., both children of Dale Spencer. At the time of its sale the Reporter had a circulation of 6,000 and 23 employees.

Shortly after its purchase of the Spencer newspapers, Home News ceased publishing the Greenfield Republican. The last publication date of this newspaper is June 7, 1973. This newspaper ceased after at least 84 years of publication.

Harry Smith began publishing the Indy  East from Greenfield in 1974, building a circulation in the Eastern Indianapolis Metropolitan area.

The Greenfield Daily Reporter purchased the Hancock Advertiser from Harry Smith in 1978.

In 1978, Jim Thomas started the Hancock County Ad News. Formerly he had been in charge of the circulation for the Hancock Advertiser. When this newspaper was sold to the Daily Reporter, the Reporter permitted him to continue in circulation but then severed his tie when they combined the Advertiser into their parent newspaper the Reporter. Jim Thomas thereupon started the Ad News.

In 1988, Harry Smith and Jim Thomas merged their interests in the Indy East and the Ad News, Jim Thomas eventually buying out the interest of Harry Smith and thereafter running both.

Other newspapers in the county may be mentioned by footnote. The last newspaper in Shirley, IN, the Shirley  Record, edited by Delbert Reason, and owned by Walter Worland, ceased publication in 1974. The last newspaper in Fortville, the Fortville Tribune was owned by Herb Curry, who sold it to a Kokomo firm who closed it in the 1970's. The New Palestine Press continues to be run to this day as a weekly.

1993 finds the Greenfield Daily Reporter the major

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active newspaper in Greenfield and Hancock County.

A word about the newspaper's ownership. Home News Enterprises, the parent company of the Greenfield Daily  Reporter. is a partnership with roots in the Brown family of Columbus, Indiana which began in the newspaper business in 1872. Its chairman is Robert Brown and its current managing partner is Ned Bradley. This partnership owns several newspapers of which the Greenfield Daily  Reporter is one. The main newspaper is the Columbus  Republic which has a circulation of approximately 22.000. The Franklin Daily_Journal has 17,000 circulation. Our newspaper is the third biggest newspaper in the chain in circulation with approximately 8,000 subscribers. Others are the Angola Herald Republican with 7,000 and the Monticello Herald Journal, with 6,000. The Greenwood News  lags with 700 circulation. And back in Columbus, the chain has a weekly Columbus Herald weekly with 800 circulation. Income of the chain is said to be in the neighborhood of $23 million a year.

As I look at this day's edition of the Greenfield Daily Reporter, that of Nov. 2, 1993, I find coverage of a Shirley Town Council meeting by Jim Bowie, Staff Writer, front page photography of a small fire at the Sugar Creek Convalescent Center at 5430 W. U.S.40 by Dave Scott, with an accompanying story by Jeff Stanton, Staff Writer, an arrest of a man for driving while suspended while transporting 12 bags of marijuana by Eric North, Staff Writer, and news of a county upgrade of the 911 telephone number to call for emergencies by Thomacine Haywood, staff writer. In a sports section of several articles I find an article on a trade of a professional basketball player for the Indianapolis Pacers by Steve Brooks, sports editor. Paul Fedorchak is the Editor of the Reporter and Larry Brown is the publisher.

As is obvious from the subject matter indicated, the Greenfield Daily Reporter has wide ranging coverage of local news events.

I would be remiss without mentioning the dean of the newspaper writers of Hancock County, Vivian Pierson Ramsey, whose column -Such is Life," a column devoted to comment on life in these times, is regularly carried in

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the Hancock County Ad News. Her voice has been one of sensitivity and concern through many years in communications media including several newspapers and WSMJ radio, and also in the community in general.

A HISTORY OF NEINGPAPERS OF HANCOCK COUNTY OUTSIDE GREENFIELD

How many know that Charlottesville once had a newspaper? One called The News was Charlottesville's newspaper in the late 1880's, published by Otto Bennett, but lasted for only about a year. I have never seen a copy of it. but perhaps there is one in the Newspaper Project materials of the Indiana State Library.

Wilkinson has had two newspapers, the Gazette, which started August 29. 1907, with A. L. Good, editor and publisher, lasting only a couple of months, and the Herald, established in the 1890's which eventually was run by Frank Martindale who sold it to J.E. McClain who moved it to Shirley where it became the ShirleyŚWilkinson News.

Fortville has been well served in print. As the Twentieth Century began, Fortville had a newspaper called the Reporter, begun by Gus E. Stuart in 1901. but it ran only a few issues. The Tribune is the one which lasted almost century long. It actually was begun in October 1893 by Robert Maranville. He ran it until a sale to Ora Pogue in the early 1900's who in turn sold it to George Simmons in 1902. Then the paper was conducted by long time owner Gus Stuart who purchased it in April 1909 and ran it until his death on Nov. 25. 1939. for the next five years Vincent C. Selin published it, buying if from the Stuart estate but sold it to Ernest M. Lawson in Nov. 1944. Lawson ran it until 1950 when the Tribune was purchased by Richard H. Martin and Charles E. Foreman. Martin sold out his interest to Foreman in Sept 1955 and the paper became edited by William F. Bennett. Herbert R. Curry bought it in Dec. 1958 and sold it to James Bannon in 1970. Among the editors for Bannon were noted journalists Thomas Douglas, Mike Davis. Debi Wheat. Janice Rickert, and Cindy Staley.

Another Fortville paper, run out of the Tribune's

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office, was called the Community Record. It was first issued in February 1949 by Mrs. Ralph Kaufman. Approximately six months later it was purchased by Walter Worland and edited by Mr. and Mrs. Delbert Reason who continued the paper until April 2S, 1974.

Actually the Record served the Shirley community, even though published out of Fortville. and Shirley has even had earlier newspapers, and a brief later one. The earlier was the Enterprise which consolidated with the Wilkinson news I previously mentioned to become the Shirley-Wilkinson News, published from the summer of 1903 until wartime shortages during World War II forced its then owner, Frank Harris to abandon the paper on April 9, 1943. Its owners and publishers had been J.E. McClain until June 1904, then Benjamin F. Martindale for a year. then Carl Shafer until 1907, then Charles B. Shields and FNU Bierly until 1910, then E.J. Hammer until 1912, then Roy Ensminger until 1913, then Ruby McMahan and C.A. Clawson who formed it into the Shirley Printing Co., before sale to Frank D. Harris in 1941. its final owner.

The more recent Shirley newspaper was The Corner Post first issued in 1976 by Stephen M. Combs, with Robert Dixon as editor. The paper lasted about one year and was Shirley's last.

New Palestine is the only surrounding town with a county newspaper which is still operating outside Greenfield. Its Press began on April 22, 1954 with Everett German as editor and publisher. Suffering poor health, he sold the paper to Victor L. Tucker in July 1969.

An earlier New Palestine newspaper. the News was published in New Palestine for half a century. Actually there were three News. The first News was begun in September. 1897 by Julius C. Melton and continued with interruptions by George a Metzer in 1898, and then Paul Bell published it for a few months until it ceased in 1903. A second News ran twice monthly in the 1940's and was a Ryon Publication. The third News was also twice-monthly in the 1950's started by Leland Wood with a brief existence.

HANCOCK COUNTY JOURNALISTS IN OTHER THAN COUNTY MEDIA

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Hancock County has also been the home of many prominent journalists whose writing has been done in other than Hancock County media. I name only a few. Diana Williams Hansen wrote a nationally syndicated microwave food column syndicated through the Los Angeles Times News Syndicate during much of the 1900's. John Foster was the Editor of the Louisville Journal, deemed by many to have been the finest newspaper in the country. Walter Worland was the long time editor of the Indiana Freemason published out of an office in Franklin IN at the Masonic Home there. Owen Oliver Kuhn. son a Christian minister in Greenfield, educated here, was a journalist and foreign correspondent for the Washington D.C. Post in the 1930's. Lamb Hackleman had once been a U.N.

correspondent for the New York Times. Clarence Hough was, before his death, one of the best known feature writers and journalists in Chicago. in the 1920's. Rosemary Williams Lewis Steiner has the author of a noted series, "At Us House." published in the Indiana Farm Bureau Magazine in the 1950's.

     Among noted county writers have been novelist Leroy Scott who wrote novels of reform with titles that might seem at home on today's bookshelves: "The Walking Delegate," "The Counsel for the Defense" and "To Him That Hath." Mr. Scott lived in Philadelphia from the age of ten years then graduated from Greenfield High School in 1892. His last years were spent in Stamford, Connecticut.