This is a cautionary tale about (mis)trusting source materials when conducting research. For as long as I have been studying the history of Wellington, Ohio, one question I have come back to repeatedly is: when was the town newspaper, The Wellington Enterprise, first published? I have seen so many different dates asserted, and so many detailed and conflicting stories about its origins, that I almost gave up hope that the question was answerable. Recently I thought of a solution simple enough that I am inclined to believe someone else must have thought of it before, ergo it must be incorrect. I decided to lay out my evidence and let you, dear reader, be the judge.
I have pondered how to present this material so it is not hopelessly confusing. The approach I have settled on is to organize the sources for each of the five years that were allegedly the “first” year of publication.
I have an undated photocopy of an Enterprise article (printed after 1939) that reads as follows: “On Jan. 6, 1908, Publisher H. O. Fifield wrote: ‘The Enterprise enters its 45th year of public service today…’ If Fifield was correct in this statement the first issue of the paper would have been dated 1863.” I went looking for the original Fifield piece and discovered two things. First, the issue in which it was printed was actually dated January 6, 1909; the typesetter forgot to change the year dates in each of the paper’s mastheads and the entire issue is misdated. Second, in looking at the papers around this issue I determined that in September 1908, another typographical error was made. The year 1908 had been listed as volume 43, but between the September 2 and September 9 issues, it was erroneously typeset as volume 44 and the error was perpetuated for the rest of the year. If the newspaper was actually entering its forty-fourth year of service as 1909 began, that would put its initial publication date in 1866.
This is the date that is most widely accepted in Wellington. In fact, this year the Enterprise is officially celebrating its 150th birthday. Proudly bearing a special anniversary masthead, the paper is each week reprinting articles and photographs from years past to commemorate being “Lorain County’s oldest published newspaper.”
I believe the 1864 date originated with Ernst Henes, editor and publisher of the periodical for nearly five decades. I do not know his source for it. Henes loved local history and under his management, the Enterprise produced commemorative issues in 1939 (75th anniversary of the paper), 1964 (100th anniversary of the paper) and 1968 (150th anniversary of the settlement of the village). Henes also claimed 1864 as the paper’s start date in his own 1983 book, Historic Wellington Then and Now.
Published in 1879, History of Lorain County, Ohio confidently asserted, “In the summer of 1865, James A. Guthrie of Delaware, Ohio, removed to Wellington and commenced the publication of The Wellington Enterprise. The first issue was dated September 25, 1865…On March 1, 1866, Mr. Guthrie sold the paper to John C. Artz” (pg. 67). The facts are so specific and direct that they seem to defy the reader to question them. G. Frederick Wright was obviously convinced; when he published his own two-volume A Standard History of Lorain County, Ohio in 1916, he copied the entire passage nearly verbatim (pg. 526). And when the Ohio Historical Society crafted a description of the newspaper for its collection records, a narrative later used by the Library of Congress for its digital newspaper repository, it also employed the 1865 date. I am guessing that its sources included these two reference works.
Mrs. W. B. Vischer delivered a paper entitled, “History of Wellington,” to a ladies’ literary society in the village in 1922. Walter Cole was editor of the Enterprise at the time and he was so impressed (“It is a very comprehensive outline…worthy of preservation.”) that he offered it as a special supplement to the June 6th edition. Mrs. Vischer claimed, “James A. Guthrie from Delaware came in 1865 and started the Enterprise. He gave the paper its name ‘Enterprise.’ In 1866 Mr. Guthrie sold the Enterprise to Mr. J. C. Artz, who remained editor until Oct. 1876…” (pg. 10). She did not identify her sources.
In 1892, the Enterprise itself reported, “October 1, 1866, this paper was started, and had two or three owners the first year, after which John C. Artz purchased it and placed it on a good foundation” (10-12-1892, pg. 5). Less than three months later, in January 1893, it proclaimed among the local news items, “Vol. XXVII. of the ENTERPRISE,” which would, in fact, place its birthdate in 1867.
In the undated article I referenced above, the author noted, “In reply to the publisher’s query the Western Reserve Historical Society fixed the beginning year as 1867 which we are positive is wrong since we have on file an issue of 1866.” A few sentences later, the reporter wrote that James A. Guthrie published the paper for only a few months, selling to John C. Artz on March 1, 1866. No source was provided for this statement.
Let me start off with my “weaker” evidence for this year. In 1869, George P. Rowell and Company’s American Newspaper Directory described the Enterprise as “established 1867” (pg. 91).
In 1899, the Enterprise touted the start of its “thirty-third year of existence” and recalled how “in October, 1867, Mr. James M. Guthrie of Delaware, O., came to this place and succeeded in securing from the business men a loan of some $600 to be paid back in advertising. Mr. Guthrie then moved a part of his newspaper plant from Delaware to Wellington, and began the work of establishing the first newspaper here. But lack of capital compelled Mr. Guthrie to sell out to Mr. J. C. Artz, who at the time was foreman of the paper, and who afterwards owned and published the paper until…1877” (1-4-1899, pg. 4).
When J. C. Artz died in 1926, his Enterprise obituary recalled that “after working in Philadelphia and Pittsburg he came to Wellington in the fall of 1867 when publication of The Enterprise was commenced by J. M. Guthrie” (12-2-1926, pg. 1).
And now, the “stronger” evidence:
In August and September of 1867, I have found four separate mentions in The Lorain County News of James Guthrie coming to Wellington from Delaware, Ohio “prospecting with a view of starting a newspaper” (8-7-1867, pg. 3). On September 4, it was announced that he would “issue within a few days the initial number of a weekly newspaper” (pg. 3). On the 10th, a description of his printing facilities “over Brainard’s Grocery” was offered (pg. 3). Finally, on September 25th, this: “The ‘Wellington Enterprise’ has made its appearance, and we are all well pleased with so fine a sheet…Mr. Guthrie is a talented young man and will spare no labor to make the ‘Enterprise’ an entertaining sheet for an enterprising town and community” (pg. 3).
I commented at the beginning of the post that a very simple solution presented itself to me recently. In all the months I have been poring over copies of the paper and wondering when it began, it never once occurred to me to check the volume number on the very first extant issue, namely September 19, 1867. It says, “Vol. 1 No. 1.” A two-column introductory essay from “JAS. M. GUTHRIE, Editor.” takes up the entire left side of the issue. In my defense, the newspaper was so darkened and tattered from age and use by the time it was microfilmed that some text adjacent to the left margin is illegible. But I recently transcribed it in its entirety and it reads in part, “Having fully decided to establish a journal in this place, a decision involving a relinquishing of another, we debated for a time the expediency of transferring our paper to this place, continuing here its publication. There were several objections to this plan, and after thinking over the matter, we concluded it best to begin an entirely new one…after due consideration we decided to christen our publication in this place THE WELLINGTON ENTERPRISE” (9-19-1867, pg. 1).
I found one final report in The Lorain County News that seems relevant: “Newspaper swindle. The ‘Home Journal’ recently published here by J. M. Guthrie was suddenly discontinued last week owing to the disappearance of the office and of the proprietor–who had left three or four hundred dollars worth of debts behind him, and many disappointed creditors, who are making uncomplimentary remarks concerning him to the effect that he is a swindler, a rascal, and unworthy the confidence of any community. His present whereabouts are unknown, but it is generally supposed that he is at Granville, O., where he had made arrangements to start another wild cat sheet” (7-15-1868, pg. 3). I say ‘seems’ relevant because two things trouble me about it: it was published on the page featuring news from around the county, but sits directly above the section for Wellington. Also, the fact that it calls the newspaper in question ‘Home Journal’ makes me wonder if that is an oblique reference written by a Wellington correspondent to the Enterprise, or the actual name of another county paper. If it does refer to the Enterprise, it would appear to shed light on the transfer of ownership from Guthrie to his foreman Artz so soon after launch.
Regardless of how Guthrie’s role in the business ended, I now believe The Wellington Enterprise began September 19, 1867. I do not believe that 2014 is its 150th anniversary year.
I am troubled by only one sentence: “In reply to the publisher’s query the Western Reserve Historical Society fixed the beginning year as 1867 which we are positive is wrong since we have on file an issue of 1866.” I cannot account for this statement. Had the reporter actually seen this object, or simply been told that it existed? I have seen many misdated issues of the Enterprise; could the issue in question have been an example of that? Was there an earlier paper with the same name? I find that scenario unlikely given the coverage in the Lorain County News and the introductory essay in the September 19, 1867 issue. But I would dearly love to be proved wrong by someone placing an 1866 issue of the Enterprise in my hands.
UPDATE: For a comprehensive history of The Wellington Enterprise in the nineteenth-century, begin here.