The October 5, 1876 issue of The Wellington Enterprise contained the first masthead to bear the name “Houghton.” In my personal opinion, the nine years that followed represented a kind of golden age for the newspaper, a period of attractive design, engaging written content, and–luckily for John and Mary Hayes Houghton–exciting events in the history of the town. Those elements combined to produce a periodical that is a joy to read.
Initially, Dr. John Houghton purchased the paper with a partner, D. A. Smith. Smith had worked for the Enterprise, under John Clippinger Artz’s management, several years prior to buying it. He was a “practical printer” responsible for the mechanical department of the paper, i.e. the compositors (typesetters) and press operators. Houghton had editorial duties while also continuing to run his drug and stationary shop. The first major change effected by the two men was to relocate the Enterprise office from the Rininger building on Mechanics Street (now East Herrick Avenue) to the second floor of Houghton’s building on South Main Street, allowing him daily oversight of both his businesses.
Houghton and Smith’s partnership was fairly short-lived. In January 1878, Houghton wrote an editorial explaining that due to “impaired health,” Smith had been advised by his doctor to “seek some more congenial clime.” He had therefore sold his interest in the Enterprise to Houghton, who changed the editorial masthead to reflect his status as sole publisher of the paper. He also took the opportunity to add a co-editor to the banner: M. H. Houghton, his wife. “This will make no change in the editorial department of the paper,” his announcement stated, suggesting that Mary had been involved from the moment of purchase. Mary was a respected journalist in her own right, who had a biographical sketch included in the 1897 encyclopedia, American Women: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of the Lives and Achievements of American Women During the Nineteenth Century. Though she was characterized in that volume as an “editorial assistant” to her husband, he later wrote in a family history that she was his “assistant editor” and “contributed the larger share of copy” (Houghton Genealogy, pg. 187).
One of the delights of reading the Enterprise in this period is that there are numerous glimpses into the day-to-day mechanics of running the operation. For example, the community news columns often included notices about the young men and women working as compositors for the paper. We know that C. W. Votaw, son of a Congregational pastor from Berea, set type in 1880. James F. Stephenson stayed at the paper for only four months in 1881 before returning to his hometown of Leesville, Ohio. E. Alberta Ladd lasted longer than her co-worker James; she had been at the Enterprise for a year before leaving to be married on Christmas Eve of 1881. Andy Thompson spent ten months composing pages before departing for Iowa in the fall of 1883.
Another unexpected window into the workings of the Enterprise office occurred on the night of January 30, 1881, when fire broke out in the block of buildings lining the west side of South Main Street. Several were destroyed or heavily damaged and Houghton’s building was in ongoing danger of burning. In their haste to empty the threatened structures of their contents, local residents did unintentional damage to type already set and paper carried out into the cold and wet of a winter night. “[E]verything but presses and boiler were scattered and in the street, it did not look as though there would be any ENTERPRISE this week. Not a line of copy was ready for Monday…Our printers made every step and every moment count in making it possible to publish a paper this week, and, with one pencil free to begin scribbling, by afternoon of Monday a beginning was made…” (2-3-1881, pg. 3). The newspaper was available on its normal day, Thursday.
Like virtually all proprietors of small-town newspapers, the Houghtons struggled with subscribers who did not pay and local business people who sent job printing work out of town. But their responses to such challenges were often couched in gentle humor. Compare the following notices. The first was written by John Houghton: “Will some of our subscribers who expect to pay their subscriptions in wood bring us some 18inch [sic], seasoned, finely split stove wood and oblige the impecunious editor who hasn’t a solitary stick left” (9-21-1881, pg. 3). The second was written by Enterprise editor E. L. French in 1897: “Pay up your subscription, we can’t run a newspaper on wind and promises. You have had the paper and we want the money” (9-22-1897, pg. 5). Houghton appears to have followed the old adage about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar.
The Houghtons made substantial financial investments in the Enterprise, including the purchase of a Campbell Country Press in 1883 (see illustration above). This higher-capacity machine, powered by steam, enabled the transition of the paper from a “folio”–one large piece of paper printed with four pages of text and folded in the center to produce a four-page newssheet–to an eight-page weekly. Given that the paper probably had fewer than three hundred subscribers in the 1880s, the new press was as much an investment in the job printing and advertising side of the business as in the production of the newspaper itself.
John Houghton’s health was always precarious. In 1885, he and Mary made the decision to sell the Enterprise. They ran the same advertisement in every issue of the paper through the months of April and May that year. It offers a wonderfully detailed inventory of the office equipment at the time of transition. “For Sale. The Wellington ENTERPRISE office, with all its machinery, type, fixtures, stock, circulation, good will, etc., etc. The presses are nearly new and capable of doing first class work. The office is well stocked with job type; has a good outfit of wood and metal type for poster work; new Paragon paper cutter; plow paper cutter, card cutter and many things necessary to a well equipped newspaper and job office…The office is heated by steam and run by steam power; is conveniently fitted and located…” (pg. 4).
By his own recollection, John Britton Smith assumed control of the Enterprise on June 8, 1885. He continued to print the newspaper from the second story offices of John Houghton’s building. To my mind, Smith has less of a personal presence within the text of the newspaper; there are also fewer notices that reveal a behind-the-scenes view of the operation. In 1893, Britton wrote that he had no reason to find fault with any of his subscribers so far as payment was concerned, but that Penfield readers were especially prompt in paying; if true, that would make Britton unusually lucky among rural editors of the period. It was also during Britton’s ownership that Charles Horr died, resulting in the sale of an apparently impressive three hundred copies of his obituary issue.
On January 20, 1897, Britton published his “Valedictory” editorial, in the same issue in which the French Printing Company first appeared on the masthead as proprietors of the newspaper. Britton indicated that his reason for leaving was a desire to locate elsewhere, though he added, “Having spent the time in Wellington very pleasantly, it is with extreme regret that I sever my connection with this place” (1-20-1897, pg. 4). Just below, a separate notice announced that subscribers to the Courier would now be receiving The Wellington Enterprise instead, because the new owners were consolidating both papers into one. The adjacent community notice page featured a reprint of a piece from the Norwalk Chronicle; it also announced the consolidation but added, “Editor French while a novice in the business, seems to know how to get up a good readable paper” (pg. 5). Like Enterprise founder James Guthrie, E. L. French’s ultimate problem would not be starting up with a paper, but sustaining it long-term.
The French Printing Company, comprised of two brothers, began in 1894. Two years later, E. L. and A. E. French bought a Wellington paper called the Courier. (I suspect this is The Cheese-City Courier.) In 1897, they purchased the Enterprise and merged the two publications, while also expanding the advertising and job printing capabilities of the operation. They seem to have expended a great deal of money very quickly, relocating the offices of the paper to the ground floor of the Sheldon building at 201 North Main Street (currently home to the local historical society) four months after acquiring the Enterprise. “We now have three large, well-ventilated and well lighted rooms, conveniently arranged and easily accessible from the street…we have four presses and a three horse power gas engine. Two of the presses are cylinders on one of which we print the newspaper and the other is used for book and large poster printing. The other two presses are used for small commercial work. To the rear of these rooms is the large composing room…We have in this room one of the largest and best assortments of book and job type and material in this part of the state…” (5-26-1897, pg. 4).
But the company quickly ran into serious financial trouble. By this point, the subscription price of the paper had fallen to just $1.00 per year, though few people seem to have paid even that. Angry editorial comments pepper the columns during the French ownership period, including the one I quoted above. The new owners must have know they were in difficulties from the start; they even tried a short-lived plan that first summer to print the paper twice each week, as a folio edition once again. The experiment failed and the Enterprise passed into receivership–that is to say, corporate bankruptcy–by September, just nine months after the French brothers took over. Wellington mayor George Couch was appointed receiver, and his name appeared in that capacity in the paper until the end of the century.
The struggling publishers placed the blame squarely on their reading public. “[W]e have become thoroughly convinced that a newspaper cannot be operated without money. It is no wonder that the paper was obliged to pass into the hands of a receiver, with such a large number of delinquent subscribers, many of whom are from one to three years in arrears…” (12-22-1897, pg. 4). They offered special discounts for those who brought their accounts up to date, as well as so-called “clubbing” rates for those who took the Enterprise and another paper of their choosing from virtually anywhere in the country. And they heavily promoted their job printing capabilities: “[A] large quantity of new and modern type and fixtures were added with a new engine, power wire stitcher, perforator, paper cutters, etc., so at this time, the Enterprise plant is one of the most thoroughly equipped of any country newspaper in the state, and is well prepared to do job and catalogue work in a workman-like manner…” (1-4-1899, pg. 4). It was all to no avail. By the start of the twentieth century, a small stock company was formed to purchase the Enterprise from the failing French brothers; a young attorney by the name of Robert Walden was briefly employed as the paper’s interim editor.
In a back corner of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society–the very rooms once occupied by the French Printing Company and Enterprise offices–is a small Chandler & Price press and some miscellaneous printing plates. The manufacturing company was founded in Cleveland in 1881, but the press appears to be a “New Series” hand-fed jobbing platen, meaning it was made sometime after 1911. Though this particular object dates to the twentieth century, its size and heft gives a tiny sense of what the rooms might have been like in the late nineteenth century. It must have created a bustling, noisy, industrial workplace when two large cylinder presses and two smaller job presses such as this were all running at the same time.
The linotype machine revolutionized production of newspapers when it was first used by the New York Tribune in 1886. No daily newspaper in the world had more than eight pages before its introduction, due to the constraints of setting type by hand. Interestingly, John Houghton’s son, Elmer Seymour Houghton, began his own newspaper career as a “printer’s devil,” or apprentice in his father’s composing room, but ended it after many decades as a linotype operator at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Just forty miles southwest, the Enterprise was still hand-set until Walter Cole took over as its owner and editor in November 1918. Despite all the changes of the preceding half-century, the same basic production process used by James Guthrie when he began the newspaper shortly after the Civil War was still being employed in Wellington as World War I drew to a close.