Historical society discusses St. Paul newspaper

St. Paul librarian Covington Rodgers discusses the St. Paul Republican newspaper.

The St. Paul Republican was full of politics, opinions and community news in the late 1880s, according to St. Paul Librarian Covington Rodgers.

Rodgers spoke at the June gathering of the South Madison County Historical Society. The group met at the St. Paul Community Center.

The Republican was published from 1887 to 1890, and was started by David Daniel Burgess and Augustus Lowe, the grandson of Isaac Murphy, reconstruction governor of Arkansas and a former Huntsville resident.

Burgess didn’t last long with the paper, so Lowe served as sole editor for most of its run, Rodgers told the group.

Burgess, who was born in Ohio, died in 1929 in Tacoma, Wash. Lowe died in 1927 in Huntsville, where he is buried.

It cost $1 for a yearly subscription to the Republican, Rodgers said. Pages 1 and 4 were the news pages, with inside pages devoted to humor, recipes, features and such. Rodgers said pages 1 and 4 “make up the meat of the paper.” He handed out copies of a page 1, which featured small quips on a multitude of subjects, advertisements and political news.

He called the front “a free association of ideas.”

Advertisements ran the length of page 1 on the far left and far right sides. Businesses then in St. Paul included mercantile stores that bought and sold county produce, a buyer of railroad ties, lawyers, real estate agents, doctors, shoemakers, hotels, barbers, dry goods, sewing machines and more.

“It gives you a pretty good indication that St. Paul had a pretty good economy going here right now,” Rodgers said.

Businesses also were found in Combs and what was then Powell Station, known today as Patrick.

St. Paul had a population of around 400 in November 1888. It sat at the headwaters of the White River and on a branch of the St. Louis and San Francisco railroads.

Page 1 of the paper also gave local prices for everything from animal hides to eggs and butter. Ginseng, like today, was a lucrative, sought-after root in 1888.

The Republican often was not the highest of quality, Rodgers said.

“These people were not using the best of equipment. They weren’t using the best paper and their type had seen better days,” he said.

Newspapers in the 1880s used mechanical lead to create pages of type.

Rodgers added that Lowe didn’t hesitate to offer his opinions as part of news stories.

“He’s kind of a civic booster. He’s proud of being here in the growing town and happy for it,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers also said Lowe had another reason to publish his paper. Lowe, perhaps, saw St. Paul as “a potential base for the Republican Party in this part of the world and he’s a little bit leery of the Democratic presence in Huntsville,” Rodgers said.

Lowe also predicted a new county would be established, with St. Paul as the county seat.

Rodgers also discussed another hot topic in the late 1880s: a feud between post offices. When the railroads came to present-day St. Paul, citizens thought the post office should be placed there. However, there was already a St. Paul post office in what was called Scully, operated by a Mr. Brashears. For a while, the new St. Paul was called Louisa. Longtime Huntsville resident and historian Sumner Brashears said he believes the postmaster would have been Harvey G. Brashears.

After the post office in Old St. Paul closed, the current town changed its name back to St. Paul in 1888 and got its post office.

Mr. Brashears refused to forward mail to residents in the new St. Paul in 1888 and, instead, returned mail to sender, Rodgers said. Lowe in a stinging note on page 1 wrote, “St. Paul needs a post master who can read.”

Lowe also backed the presidential candidacy of Republican Benjamin Harrison, who in 1888 beat incumbent Grover Cleveland. Four years later, Cleveland won in a rematch.

By October 1888, Lowe’s writing took on issues such as the paper’s lack of paid subscribers to the influence of whiskey in St. Paul.

“We need more energetic, respectable businessmen and less disreputable, idle, drunken crooks,” he wrote. “Isn’t it about time our citizens took some very energetic steps to rid St. Paul of whiskey and gamblers? The whiskey and gambling dens rob all honest tradesmen and keep men’s families in want.”

Rodgers said Lowe challenged more citizens to buy his paper and urged more businesses to place advertisements.

In 1890, Lowe closed the paper and left St. Paul, Rodgers said.

St. Paul Mayor Nina Selz said the July meeting of the historical society will focus on “foods we ate,” with samples. In August, the group will hear about moonshine in the area.

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