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History of the Seneca County New York Press

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The history of printing is a chronicle of the progress of modern civilization; the world fails to realize the wonders and power of the art. Most especially is this true of the American press. Nearly every hamlet has its newspaper, wherein every change is noted, every worthy enterprise encouraged, every event set forth. The principal historical remains are embodied in the files of old papers, and there is equal difficulty to collect authentic documents respecting American social life of to-day and French or English history in the Middle Ages. Were our country to be overrun by barbarians, the industry of other lands would be the recourse of the historian. A paper of 1812 and prior has intelligence a month old at reception concerning events occurring far away, while matters of the local settlement are neglected till most have perished, and the strong man has grown old and feeble-minded. To estimate our present literature by the number and variety of publications would give us high rank. Many papers, looking only to selfish ends, seem to forget that their province is a general diffusion of useful knowledge. The press of Seneca County has attempted to hold a neutral ground, and, with few exceptions, drifted rapidly into the maelstrom of political controversy. National welfare has been made subservient to party. Numerous short lived efforts attest the failures of enthusiastic attempted journalists. Reform measures requiring an organ have given a press an origin, and Bascom is recalled as a positive and useful editor of the Memorial. Mrs. Amelia Bloomer is recognized as a leader of her sex in the conduct of the Lily. And the Water Bucket gave expression to the Washingtonians.

Ovid Bee Advertisement
Advertisement for the Ovid Bee which appeared in Hamilton Child’s Gazetteer and Business Directory of Seneca County, N.Y., for 1867-8, p. 220.

These papers ceased with the discontinuance of the agitation of the questions which called them into being. Those journals which supply popular demand, denounce wrong, applaud worthy projects, and give a prompt epitome of the world’s daily history, are a power for good and remunerative to their proprietors. The changes in execution and delivery seem magical. The small, coarse paper, the hand-press, and the post-rider delivery of the Patriot of 1816 “contrasted” with the handsome sheets of the Courier, Reveille, Observer, and Independent of 1876, – the former two turning out Couriers and Reveilles from cylinder presses moved by water-power, each number replete with items from the far East, and delivered to subscribers abroad upon the Lightning White Train. Note here the westward progress of the art from its inception. In 1725 William Bradford began to publish the New York Gazette, – the first paper published in the colony of New York, the fifth in the American provinces. John Peter Zenger, the pioneer champion of “the right to canvass public measures and the acts of public men,” began the next paper in 1733, under the title of the New York Weekly Journal. Zenger boldly and severely criticized the administration of Governor Crosby and his council, was incarcerated for months, and refused a vindication upon trial. He was defended by Andrew Hamilton, an able barrister from Philadelphia, upheld by the populace, and acquitted by the jury. The later enunciation of the Constitutional edict of a “Free Press for a Free People” has proved a safeguard to liberty and a check upon public dishonesty. But twelve papers were commenced in New York prior to the close of the Revolution; now they are numbered by hundreds. The first settlers in Seneca County had little time for reading papers, and they had very few to read. At Geneva was published in 1797 the Ontario Gazette and Genesee Advertiser, by Lucius Carey; in 1800 the Impartial American, or Seneca Museum, by Ebenezer Eaton; and in 1806 The Expositor, later, Geneva Gazette, by James Bogart. Other of those primal presses were located at various points, but the difficulties of distribution made their circulation local. The pioneer printer of Seneca County was George Lewis, who, in the year 1815, started in the village of Ovid a small sheet entitled the Seneca Patriot. The office of publication was located on Seneca Street, in the upper story of a building on whose site the engine-house now stands. No copies of this first paper of Seneca are known to be in existence, and there are few living that can tell what kind of man was its publisher or his after-career.1 At the close of a single volume, Mr. Lewis changed the name of his paper to The Ovid Gazette, and when Elisha Williams secured the removal of the County seat to Waterloo, Lewis removed hither with his press in May, 1817, and continued the issue of his paper as The Waterloo Gazette, which thus became known also as the first paper published in that village. A partial file of these papers is preserved in the rooms of the Historical Society at Waterloo. The oldest copy is Vol. I., No. 6. It is printed upon coarse paper, and is simply plain in execution. Its terms were: Delivered, S2.00 a year; at office, $1.75; club rates, S1.50, and deductions made to post-riders. Herein John Goodwin informs the public that he has added another boat to his ferry, which will enable him to keep one on each side of the Lake Seneca. William Thompson, Esq., gives an order of sale at vendue of a part of the real estate of Thomas W. Roosevelt, of Junius. Lewis Birdsall, then sheriff, offers for sale his tavern-stand near the turnpike gate in Junius. John Watkins gives notice for debtors to settle under penalty of a positive prosecution, and a lover of beer enters his protest against adulterating his favorite beverage with Indian cockle. Postmasters Jesse Clark, of Waterloo, and Abijah Mann, Jr., of Seneca Falls, advertise lists of letters, and President James Monroe is announced as upon a visit in Connecticut to the gun-factory of Eli Whitney, Esq.

Lewis soon disposed of the Gazette to Hiram Leavenworth, by whom its publication was continued until in 1818, when John McLean, Jr., who had been appointed Judge of this County by the Governor and Council, associated with Mr. Leavenworth in editing and publishing the sheet. In 1821 McLean retired, and the former proprietor continued once more the publication as its sole owner. Leavenworth kept his small sheet well filled with decided expressions of political views of the old Federal stamp under the first alias – Clintonian. The office was situated in a small building just west of the old Eagle Tavern. A front room was occupied as the law-office of Elisha D. Whittlesey. The back room, in size about fourteen by eighteen feet, was press-room, type-room, and editor’s sanctum. Party spirit ran high, and one night the press was rifled of its bed-plate, and, with a form of type, thrown into the river. The issues were delayed for a few weeks, but that was a small matter at that date.

In 1822, the Waterloo Republican, under the management of B. B. Drake, made its entry upon public life, and the Gazette was discontinued. In June, 1823, the Seneca Farmer was started in Waterloo, under the control of William Child, in a building opposite the court-house. From 1826 to 1829, the editor chronicles many events of a local character, gives the public the latest developments upon and against Masonry, and announces a celebration of July 4, 1829, at which an oration was delivered by Ansel Bascom, Esq. The doors of hospitality were thrown open to the old Revolutionary soldiers, for the most important service ever rendered to a free people, and every desirable refreshment through the day bestowed without money and without price.” The Seneca Farmer was published in Waterloo till August 10, 1831, and then its place of publication was changed by Childs to Seneca Falls. Proposals were issued by O. B. Clark, in the summer of 1829, for publishing a paper at Seneca Falls, under the name of the Seneca Falls Truth, to be Anti-Masonic in sentiment, and Anti-Jacksonian in politics. Mr. Clark found ready support in that village, which was just emerging upon a prosperous career, and, in the fall of 1829, issued the first number of the Seneca Falls Journal, the pioneer publication of the village. Two years’ experience as an editor was sufficient for Mr. Clark, who sold out his paper, and was later heard from as a resident of Cold Water, Michigan, and a legislator in the capacity of State Senator. Wilson N. Brown, of Aurelius, Cayuga County, came to Seneca Falls in 1820; by him the “journal” was purchased of Clark, and published for a year. In 1832, Mr. Brown entered into partnership with Mr. Childs, and their respective publications were merged in one, and published under the title of The Seneca Farmer and Seneca Falls Advertiser. Mr. Childs soon bought out the interest of his associate, and continued the paper till 1835. Joseph K. Brown then began to publish a paper called the Seneca Falls Register. Two years went by, and its career terminated.

The Waterloo Observer has passed the semi-centennial of its existence; it has been well edited, and has exerted a leading influence. From a sheet of twenty small columns, it has expanded to a paper of sixty-four. It first made its appearance in 1824, published and edited by Charles Sentell, and has been regularly issued, without a continued change of name, under different proprietors and editors, until the present time. It has adhered to the same principles advocated in its very first number, and, through all changes in ownership, has never swerved from the advocacy of Democratic principles. After a number of years’ experience in the conduct of the Observer, Mr. Sentell transferred it to Smith & Co. Subsequently the paper reverted to Mr. Sentell, who leased it to Pew & Marsh for one year. Then it was sold to M. C. Hough, who published it one year, when Hough sold to Sentell & Pew, who published it down to 1853. Mr. Pew was succeeded by Mr. Vreeland. The partnership of Sentell & Vreeland was of brief duration, and Charles Sentell again became sole publisher, and so continued until 1866, when Edward W. Sentell, his son, assumed its charge. O. C. Cooper was taken into partnership, and the Observer was carried on in an able manner as an exponent of politics and a medium of news. N. Hyatt finally assumed the responsibility of conducting the paper, and remained at its head till its purchase by William H. Burton, in 1872, when Messrs. Wm. H., Wm. A., and John A. Burton became proprietors, and William H. and John A. Burton editors. Wm. H. Burton is the present proprietor, and Mr. James Joyes its editor, the office being located in rooms of the Yeast Factory buildings. In 1846, when telegraphic communication was established with Waterloo Village, the Observer published a daily, but it was short-lived. Various ephemeral publications have been absorbed from time to time, and the paper is now in good repute, with a large circulation, and bids fair for many years to come.

The Seneca Republican was started at Ovid, in 1827. James Bogart, already mentioned as a pioneer newspaper publisher in Geneva, was the proprietor, and Michael Hayes the superintendent and editor. The press was entitled the Ovid Gazette, and was changed to the name Seneca Republican upon Mr. Hayes becoming owner of the paper, which change transpired within a brief time after its publication began. Though removed from the immediate line of the canal, the Republican was known as a Clintonian advocate. In 1830, it was changed to the Ovid Gazette and Seneca County Register, and published for a brief period under the charge of John Duffy.

The Western Times was a Waterloo publication, by Ebenezer P. Mason, in 1830.

The Wreath and Ladies’ Literary Repository was issued by Edwin Wheeler, in 1831, from the Observer office. It saw but few numbers, and added yet another to the list of unappreciated efforts.

The Ovid Emporium was a publication, in 1832, by Bishop Orensluer.

The Seneca County Courier was established in 1836, by Isaac Fuller & Co.; O. H. Platt, then a leading lawyer, became its first editor. Platt was succeeded by Dexter C. Bloomer, then a young man of great promise. Bloomer removed from Seneca Falls to Mt. Vernon, Ohio, thence to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he at present resides. During the first ten years of its existence, the Courier had various publishers, among whom were Mills & Bloomer, Flavins J. Mills, and Mr. Bloomer, of whom we have spoken. Then came the firm of Davis & Mills, F. J. Mills and John L. Davis. The paper then passed to N. J. Milliken; then he took in a partner, and the publishers were known as Milliken & Mumford. The latter disposed of his interest to the old publisher, Isaac Fuller, and the Courier was published by Fuller & Milliken. In 1848, Milliken withdrew, and established the Free Soil Union, and Isaac Fuller continued to edit and publish the Courier. In 1849, Mr. Fuller gave up the publication to Messrs. Foster & Judd, and became the landlord of the “Seneca House,” then standing on the corner of Ovid and Bayard Streets, and the principal public house of the village. Foster gave way to Fuller, who returned to the newspaper business in 1850, and united, with Judd, under the firm name of Fuller & Judd. In 1851, Fuller once more assumed sole proprietorship, and, as editor and owner, conducted the Courier up to 1865. For four years previous to this last date, Sylvester Pew was connected with him in the job printing department. In 1865, the entire establishment was purchased by Pew & Holton, S. Pew and S. Holton, with Mr. Holton as editor. The office was totally destroyed by fire in 1867, but the loss was quickly repaired by the purchase of new material. In 1871, Mr. Pew became the sole proprietor, employing A. S. Baker as editor. In 1875, the establishment was purchased by Horace W. Knight, and the paper is now published by Knight & Baker. The Courier has always been a pronounced political journal, first as the organ of the Whig party, and subsequently of the Republicans, and has always maintained its position as a paper of commanding influence and ability.

The Ovid Bee was started at Ovid, in 1838, by David Fairchild, as a neutral paper. Mr. Fairchild was from Otsego County, this State; he had been publishing at Trumansburg, a paper termed the Trumansburg Advocate, and, moving to Ovid early in 1838, issued the first number of the Ovid Bee, on February 21 of that year. In an inaugural poetical address it is stated that

“The Bee will mingle in no party strife
For banks, nor anti-banks, nor local broils,
But lead a social, peaceful, busy life -
unpledged to sects, unbribed by promised spoils.”

Ovid Bee Newspaper
Masthead from an early edition of the Ovid Bee

The paper was published under the firm name of David Fairchild & Son. The father soon sold to his son Corydon, and in November, 1838, began at Hammondsport, Yates County, the publication of another paper. Corydon Fairchild continued the publication of the Ovid Bee until February, 1872,- a period of thirty-six years, as its editor and proprietor. Finding the need of rest, Mr. Fairchild sold the paper to Oliver C. Cooper, and went to California, where he is at present. Mr. Cooper changed the name to Ovid Independent, and hoisted the motto, “Independent in everything- neutral in nothing.” Cooper associated with him, as a publisher. Nelson Hyatt, and the paper was conducted by Hyatt & Cooper until the great fire of October 12, 1874, burned out the entire establishment. Mr. Hyatt then retired, and the junior member of the firm, Oliver C. Cooper, re-established the paper, and still carries it on, with reputation and profit.

The Seneca Falls Democrat was established in October, 1839, by an “association of gentlemen.” Josiah T. Miller, then a minor, became the editor; Stephen S. Viele, Ebenezer Ingalls, and John L. Bigelow, were the Committee to carry on the business. Dennison Card was the foreman, and Fred Morley, since appointed United States Minister to China, Sylvester Pew, and Nicholas Suydam were among the employees. Within a few months, the “association” leased the office to Mortimer J. Smith and S. Pew, who then constituted the firm of Smith and Pew. At the expiration of six months Mr. Miller purchased Smith‘s interest, and the firm became S. Pew & Co., which continued about a year. The office then passed into the hands of F. J. Mills, under lease, who continued it until 1850, when Mr. Pew, who meanwhile had become one of the proprietors of the Observer, bought the office, and sold the material to Mr. Mills. This party then removed West, to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and established there a new paper. During the time Mr. Miller was connected with the Democrat, there was issued during a few months of the year 1844 a Democratic campaign sheet, under the title of “The Polk- Wright,” Miller being editor.

The Seneca Democrat, a semi-weekly, was published for a short time from the Demnemt office.

The Memorial, a legal reform journal, was commenced at Seneca Falls in 1838, by Ansel Bascom. It vigorously advocated reform in the codification of laws, and urged important amendments to the State Constitution. It was printed at the Democrat office, and published monthly, until the calling of the Constitutional Convention in 1846, of which body Mr. Bascom was chosen a member. The Memorial is regarded as having been the main agent in bringing about that legal reform in the code of legal procedure that has superseded the old common law system of pleading and practice, not alone in New York, but in other States and in Great Britain.

Masthead of the Lily in Seneca Falls
Masthead of the Lily in Seneca Falls

The Lily, a monthly sheet, was originated in 1851 by Mrs. Amelia Bloomer, as a temperance, dress reform, and woman’s rights advocate. It was printed at the office of the Courier. It obtained a considerable circulation throughout the United States, and received contributions from Mrs. Stanton, Mrs. Gage, Miss Anthony, and others, who have since become widely known. In 1854, the Lily was removed to Mount Vernon, Ohio, and soon after discontinued.2 This sheet gave the name “Bloomer” to a costume introduced by Mrs. Stanton, as a dress for ladies. The dress was sharply criticized by papers, local and general; and the Lily as earnestly advocated the reform, and so fastened upon the dress the name of the lady editor.

The Water Bucket was published at Seneca Falls, in the interest of temperance, during the flood tide of the Washingtonian movement, by a society organized in the village.

The Free Soil Union was established by N. J. Milliken in 1848, immediately after disposal of his interest in the Courier; and published as a Free Soil paper. At the same time the Waterloo Observer was inclining towards Free Soilism; and in 1840 Sentell & Pew, of the latter paper, purchased the good will and subscription list of the Union, and Mr. Milliken removed to Canandaigua, where he established the Times.

The Seneca Falls Reveille was started January 7, 1855, as the American Reveille, by Gilbert Wilcoxen, George A. Sherman, and A. S. Baker, as the firm of Wilcoxen, Sherman, & Baker. The paper was issued in the interests of the American or “Know Nothing” party. Mr. Wilcoxen was the first editor, and, in 1856, purchased the entire establishment and issued a paper as editor and proprietor until 1859, when it passed into the hands of Holly & Stowell. Gilbert Wilcoxen is now County Judge. George A. Sherman and Arthur S. Baker entered the United States service, where the former died; the latter was on the staff of General Martindale, in the service, was connected with the Saratoga Post, and in 1874 became editor of the Courier. Holly and Stowell published the Reveille until January 7, 1860, when Holly sold out to Stowell, who had been the editor meanwhile, and who now became both proprietor and editor. Alanson P. Holly had been foreman in the works of Downs & Company, and on severing his connection with the Reveille removed to Lockport, thence to Barry County, Michigan. Henry Stowell had been a machinist in the employ of the Silsby Manufacturing Company, and, entering the business of journalist at Seneca Falls in 1859, has continued therein till date. In June, 1860, Mark W. Heath purchased a half-interest in the paper, but re-sold within the year. Mr. Stowell changed the name of his paper in I860 to its present title, the Seneca Falls Reveille, and brought it out as a Douglas Democratic sheet, with the laudable motto, “Our country, her institutions, and her interests.” The paper is regarded as the exponent of Democratic ideas, and the leading journal of the party in Seneca. The office employs seven hands, of whom George McConnelly is foreman. It contains four presses, power paper-cutter, and Globe and Liberty job presses. The Cottrell & Babcock cylinder press is a model of mechanism, and by it excellent work is executed.

The Seneca County Sentinel was commenced at Ovid, January 19, 1860, by A. S. Williams, under Republican colors. Mr. Williams sold to T. R. Lounsbury, a native of Ovid, and present Professor of English Literature in Yale College. During the same year, 1860, the paper was bought by S. M. Thompson, and by him conducted till 1861, when it passed into the control of D. G. Caywood. Sale was made to Riley and Baldwin ; the latter disposed of his interest to his partner, John Riley, who removed the office of publication to Farmer Village. Here it was owned by Oscar M. Wilson, and published by the firm of O. M. Wilson & Son. It was removed to Trumansburg, where it is now published as the Tompkins County Sentinel.

The Seneca Sachem, a monthly historical and local journal, was published Seneca Falls for a few months, commencing January 1, 1863 by Francis M. Baker.

The Seneca Evening Journal was commenced in February, 1867 at Farmer Village; it was published as a monthly by J. Bergen. As observed, the history of journalism in Seneca County has been little less than a struggle for existence. The first power newspaper press, an Adams, was placed in the Waterloo Observer office about the year 1849, but being too cumbersome was soon removed, and a small Gordon job press put in. Mr. Fuller introduced a Lawyer job press in 1857, and in the year following a power newspaper press was put in by Fuller & Pew. In 1872 S. Pew purchased for the Courier two first-class cylinder presses, and placed the office upon a good basis. For years, newspaper men were paid for advertising and subscriptions in “trade,” “orders,” and farm produce, and received but little money. In 1865 the cash system was introduced in paying office expenses, and the workings of that plan have been mutually advantageous.

Job printing long enjoyed little patronage, and this was secured mainly by the Observer office, at Waterloo. With the growth of the County and the large manufactories, however, this business is greatly augmented, and where twelve years ago there was but one power press in the County, there are now some sixteen. The jobbing establishments of Seneca’s press are complete in appointment and unsurpassed in ability of execution. The character of the publishers stands well, and few counties can boast of more energetic workers.

Source: Morrison, W. E. History of Seneca Co., New York: with illustrations descriptive of its scenery, palatial residences, public buildings, find blocks and important manufactories, from original sketches by artists of the highest ability, pp. 53-56. Ovid, New York: W. E. Morrison & Co. Publishers. 1876

Footnotes

  1. Mr. Morrison’s belief that no copies of the first paper of Seneca County is known to exist has been proven wrong. See: A History of Ovid New York Newspapers for more information. 

  2. The Lily actually survived until July 1859, as the American Antiquarian has a copy bearing that date. 


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