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What Once Was

News for the Community: Origins of Washington’s Neighborhood Newspaper Tradition

Tip: Click any image in the article to view that image at a larger size.

[Editor’s Note: This is the second of two articles on the history of Washington’s newspapers, last month titled, “News for the Capital and the Nation: Politics and Washington’s Daily Newspapers.”]

To view images full size & high resolution, left click on each

By Matthew B. Gilmore*

Hill Rag, the Georgetowner, Northwest Current (and more recent targeted Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, and Dupont editions), the Southwester, and The InTowner itself (and others) are the latest representatives today of a long history of neighborhood community newspapers in Washington. While these existing newspapers today stretch back 40, even 50, years, the phenomenon of local newspapers for Washington’s distinct neighborhoods dates to the 1880s.

A local newspaper has many uses — communicating local news, offering more directed advertising, and articulating and advocating for distinct neighborhood concerns. It is a way to build community. In that context it is unsurprising where Washington’s earliest neighborhood newspapers sprang up — Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Anacostia, and Takoma. Each community had specific concerns.

The first neighborhood paper was the East Washington Press, published for just two years from 1880 to 1882. John P. Wright published it on Capitol Hill, at No. 4 3rd Street, SE. He died a decade later in 1893. His newspaper publishing career had begun in post-bellum Virginia, where he published the Lynchburg Press and the Marion Record from 1869 to 1877. He came to Washington to prosecute pension claims (a business his wife continued until her death). [1]

Federal Census return for John P. Wright and family.

Federal Census return for John P. Wright and family.

Newspapers listed in the 1880 Boyd's Directory of the District of Columbia.

Newspapers listed in the 1880 Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia.

Wright, his career, and the fate of the East Washington Press typify early Washington, DC community newspaper publishing. Neighborhood-serving newspapers were often started by newcomers to Washington, who saw (or made) the opportunity. Most of the newspapers had a short life span — as long as the editor/publisher could maintain the energy and interest to continue. And, copies of most of these papers have entirely or almost entirely vanished.

It is no surprise that “East Washington” originated local newspapering in Washington — the area had long-standing grievances to articulate. The first of Washington’s many neighborhood community organizations, the East Washington Citizens’ Association, was founded in 1870, starting a neighborhood advocacy tradition continuing today (through both Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and successor neighborhood associations). East Washington created a distinct identity itself through grievances about lack of physical improvements — this even before the intensive building programs of the Territorial government later in the 19th century.

The Georgetown Courant

Georgetown was the next to join the neighborhood newspapers trend in 1885 with the Georgetown Courant. The town had a newspaper tradition dating back almost a century, to the Times and Patowmack Packet in 1789. But the early Georgetown newspapers competed with those of Washington City and had not defined themselves as simply serving a community within the larger capital city. For decades the community struggled with how to define itself in the federal city, considering retrocession to Maryland and merger with Washington City numerous times before the Territorial government consolidation of 1871. By 1880, Georgetown had even lost its name and often was simply referred to as “West Washington.”

But by the 1870s Georgetown no longer had any newspapers. Georgetown newspaper publishing had tapered off. The Georgetown Courier ceased in 1876 — the Evening Union and the Georgetown Citizen and Semi-Weekly Register around 1869.

Frederick A. Cogswell decided to revive Georgetown newspaper publishing in 1885 with the Georgetown Courant. He ran a printing business in Georgetown with his brothers; in 1893 the paper was turned into a free weekly. Although other newspapers reported the sale of the Courant in 1894 to one Alexander Beatly, it was Frank J. Wissner who published the paper until 1914. Wissner had wide interests and was politically active, serving on Woodrow Wilson’s inaugural committee, and was a practicing attorney. He died in 1926 in Arlington, Virginia. [2]

Excerpt from the book Washington, D.C., with its points of interest . . .. (New York, The Mercantile Illustrating Co., ca. 1894).

Excerpt from the book Washington, D.C., with its points of interest . . .. (New York, The Mercantile Illustrating Co., ca. 1894).

After a gap of several decades, his Courant would be succeeded by numerous new neighborhood newspapers for Georgetown. The Georgetown News began in 1932, going through a sequence of name changes, and ending about 1942. The Georgetown Advertiser was published for a couple of years (1938-‘39) by the Progressive Merchants and Business Men Association. In 1954 the Georgetowner began (and continues to this day); in 2004 it was proudly celebrating its 50th year. Others, like the Georgetown Courier and Georgetown Spectator, have come and gone.

Anacostia Newspapers

Newspaper publishing began in 1888 in Anacostia, with two papers, Messenger and the Herald, followed by the Anacostian in 1890, the National Press in 1891, a revival of the Herald in 1893-‘94. In 1909 a new title appeared (briefly): the Weekly News. It is the only one of these newspapers for which original issues are archived and accessible.

George O. Walson very briefly published the Herald in 1888 — it was a youthful endeavor for the 18-year-old Walson. He would make his career in banking, and in 1910 he became the first president of Anacostia Bank, later moving to preside over Liberty National Bank. He died in 1931.

George O. Walson. photo--Find A Grave (findagrave.com)

George O. Walson. photo–Find A Grave (findagrave.com)

Mrs. E.B. Russell published the Anacostian newspaper in 1890 but returned to duties as matron of the District Jail in 1891. She attempted to rebrand the newspaper in 1891 but no further record seems to exist of the new Capital News. She was a noted temperance and penal reform advocate.

A new Anacostia Herald was published by Herbert F.L. Allen from September 1894 to February 1895. The Evening Star gave him a positive review. But even with that boost success was not his.

News about Anacostian name change reported by the Evening Star, Apr. 1, 1891.

News about Anacostian name change reported by the Evening Star, Apr. 1, 1891.

 

He’d run a notice in the Evening Star on January 14, 1895 indicating that his newspaper had not ceased — just a month before it would.

Review of The Anacostia Herald" debut from the Evening Star, Nov. 5, 1894.

Review of The Anacostia Herald” debut from the Evening Star, Nov. 5, 1894.

This was also a very youthful endeavor — Allen was just 21 years old. He was active in business and community affairs and ambitious enough that the Board of Trade put his name forward in 1909 for consideration to become a District Commissioner. He would become a Washington correspondent for the New York Sun before moving on to a mostly non-journalistic career.

Notwithstanding, he returned to journalism and edited the Montgomery Press a weekly community newspaper serving Montgomery County in suburban Maryland during the 1930s.

Notice of The Anacostia Herald not ceasing publication reported in the Evening Star, Jan. 14, 1894.

Notice of The Anacostia Herald not ceasing publication reported in the Evening Star, Jan. 14, 1894.

Herbert F.L. Allen’s photo from his passport application in 1919. (Source, Photo--United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925, database with images, Family Search.)

Herbert F.L. Allen’s photo from his passport application in 1919. (Source, Photo–United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925, database with images, Family Search.)

Masthead from the Montgomery Press?em>, edited by Herbert F.L. Allen.

Masthead from the Montgomery Press?em>, edited by Herbert F.L. Allen.

By the 1890s the Uniontown/Anacostia area was seeing intense real estate speculation. Sections of the Maryland land grant named “Chichester” were being turned into residential subdivisions — the areas surrounding the original Uniontown in what is now Southeast encompassing Good Hope Street, U Street, 16th to 19th Streets, Morris Road, and stretching to Buena Vista and Garfield Heights. Farther south was Col. Arthur Randle’s Congress Heights subdivision (and later Randle Highlands) and to the north lay Twining City. [3]

The area was isolated by the Eastern Branch from the original L’Enfant Washington City — connected by bridge to the Navy Yard. By 1878 it was one of the communities defined by a post office: Anacostia, Benning, Brightwood, Georgetown (carefully noted as a branch of Washington PO), Mount Pleasant, and Tennallytown. [4]

“New map, Washington, D.C.: compiled from official surveys and best authorities”; detail from Union Engineering & Surveying Co., Flamm, Wm. A. (ca., 190-?) image, Library of Congress, Geography & Map Div.

“New map, Washington, D.C.: compiled from official surveys and best authorities”; detail from Union Engineering & Surveying Co., Flamm, Wm. A. (ca., 190-?) image, Library of Congress, Geography & Map Div.

The Takoma Newspapers: A Gosorn Empire

Takoma Park and Takoma DC is fortunate that its historical society preserved so many of its ephemeral newspaper and newspaper-like publications. In conversation with Diana Kohn of Historic Takoma, the question of how to define a newspaper came up. An early publication, The Favorite, was published for a few issues by Pamela Favorite, owner of the local general store (“Favorite’s” after their last name). Another set of newspapers in the archives were published by a teenage boy and hand-delivered. They appear to be printed and then folded into quarter page size. He did go on to publish a subsequent paper as an adult. There was also the Takoma Enterprise which was published just twice a year in the 1920s — for some it might be a stretch to consider that a newspaper.

In Takoma Park, according to Diana Kohn, “The Gosorn family did make three short-lived attempts to start a paper: Takoma Park Tidings (1894), the Takoma Localizer (1907) revamped as The Takoma Gazette (1909), and The Record (1920).” [5] This is an understatement — the Gosorn family does seem to have had ink running in their veins.

Takoma Gazette, first issue, Dec. 10, 1909.

Takoma Gazette, first issue, Dec. 10, 1909.

Generations of Gosorns edited and published newspapers throughout the mid-Atlantic and south and west. David Gosorn published the Harper’s Ferry Sentinel which began in 1887. Son George T. Gosorn published several newspapers in West Virginia in the late 19th century. His brother Thomas H. Gosorn was much more wide-ranging and published the Leader in Winchester, Virginia. He had published the Keyser Tribune in Keyser, West Virginia in 1880. His Takoma Park Tidings ran in 1894. Takoma Park was a waypoint in his career — he was born in Germantown Pennsylvania and died in 1939 in Old Fort, North Carolina. In 1909 he founded and published the Mitchell County Kronicle in Bakersville, North Carolina.

George Gosorn, patriarch of the Gosorn dynasty.

George Gosorn, patriarch of the Gosorn dynasty.

Bruce Gosorn published the Takoma Localizer, which soon became the Takoma Localizer and Brightwood News (1907-08). This Gosorn was a grocer as well as an editor and on December 23, 1905 the Washington Post records him at O Street Market’s Stall No. 1 with “teas, coffees, spices, and fancy groceries.” Bruce Gosorn was of the generation from Keyser, West Virginia, where a Gosorn title is still published — the Mineral News-Tribune — and died in Washington in 1957. Later, Lloyd Gosorn (1897-1975) published Takoma Park’s the Weekly Record in 1957. Later, Lloyd Gosorn (1897-1975) published Takoma Park’s the Weekly Record in 1920.

Announcement of the publication of the new weekly Takoma Localizer as reported by the Washington Post, Sep. 10, 1907.

Announcement of the publication of the new weekly Takoma Localizer as reported by the Washington Post, Sep. 10, 1907.

Community and Citizens Associations

Community groups have played an integral role in Washington’s development and society. Citizens’ associations date back to 1870 with the establishment of the East Washington Citizens’ Association which advocated for investment in the neglected (in its opinion) eastern sector of the city.

Many of the community newspapers arising later in the 20th century included “citizen” in their titles. The first of these “citizen” papers was the Suburban Citizen, <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82016357> published between 1891 and 1902. This was actually a “supra-local” newspaper, covering the “suburbs” of Washington — not outside the District’s boundary but those new subdivisions in what had been (and was still often called) Washington County.

Masthead from the final issue of the Suburban Citizen, Dec. 27, 1902.

Masthead from the final issue of the Suburban Citizen, Dec. 27, 1902.

 Later “citizen” newspapers would be more local, such as the Brookland Citizen (1903-06) and the Parkview Citizen (1921-1924). Especially prominent was the Uptown Citizen which covered upper northwest Washington neighborhoods from 1946 to 1993 until its owners unsuccessfully tried to expand overage far beyond the paper’s traditional area, briefly changing its name to  the Washington Citizen until it failed following being hit with DC and federal liens seeking to recover unpaid employment taxes in 1995.

In the years following the early decades of the 20th century many other local community newspapers have come, flourished, and gone, contributing Washington’s neighborhood life and to its reputation as a journalistic graveyard. Yet the need for local news and the market for local advertising remains. Local newspapers are switching to, or incorporating, web publication. The InTowner has issues in PDF online back to 2007. Other newspapers, such as the Current newspapers and those published by the Capital Community Newspapers group — East of the River, Mid City DC, and Hill Rag — publish their back runs on https://issuu.com.

Front page news story chronicling the “More than Seventy Publications of All Kinds” in Washington, The Washington Heralld, May 28, 1911.

Front page news story chronicling the “More than Seventy Publications of All Kinds” in Washington, The Washington Heralld, May 28, 1911.

Finding the Newspapers – Bibliographic Confusion

Researching local newspapers is a tremendous challenge. The majority have been lost to time and no longer exist. The major federal and state newspaper preservation projects have defined newspapers often to exclude neighborhood titles as too specialized or too infrequent (monthly).

Several sources exist documenting the existence and/or location of early (and all) Washington, DC newspapers; unfortunately, they are dated, inconsistent, incomplete, and conflicting. A basic tool is Wilhelmus Bogart Bryan’s Bibliography of the District of Columbia: Being a List of Books, Maps, and Newspapers, Including Articles in Magazines and Other Publications to 1898. It is a wealth of obscure materials of all kinds covering the history of Washington to 1898. In some cases, this is the only mention of an early Washington DC newspaper title. The information included is quite telegraphic, however. This bibliography obviously gives no indication of what institution might hold any of the material.

To explore a variety of research options scroll down to References & Resources following the footnotes.

Footnotes

[1] No copies of the East Washington Press seem to survive. The Library of Congress transferred its entire paper copies of Washington DC newspapers to the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) in the 1990s. The AAS retained only those published prior to 1877. Those published after 1877 (including this title) seem to be lost; the Library of Congress has no information on their disposition.

[2] No copies of the Georgetown Courant seem to survive either.

[3] Matthew B. Gilmore & Michael R. Harrison, “A Catalog of Suburban Subdivisions of the District of Columbia, 1854-1902.” Matthew B. Gilmore & Michael R. Harrison, “Commemorating the Centennial of the McMillan Plan, “Part II  Washington History, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 26-55 (Fall/Winter, 2002/2003).

[4] U.S. official postal guide, containing alphabetical list of post offices in U.S., with county, State, and salary; money-order offices, domestic and international; chief regulations of Post Office Department; instructions to public; foreign and domestic postage tables; schedules of arrival and closing of mails at principal cities, arrival and departure of foreign mail steamers, with other information Date: January 01, 1878. Washington, DC, Government Printing Office, 1878.

[5] Diana Kohn. “TAKOMA ARCHIVES: Capturing a community in print.” http://tpssvoice.com/2012/04/17/takoma-archives-capturing-a-community-in-print/

References & Resources

The History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 details early newspapers and is continued by American newspapers, 1821-1936; a Union List of Files Available in the United States and Canada. <https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE1916583>

Contemporaneous sources are the Rowell’s and Ayer’s annual national newspaper directories, all to be found at the Library of Congress and some issues are also available online from the Hath Trust digital library or on-line from Google books.

Another source to consult is the U.S. Newspaper Directory. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/search/titles>. This Library of Congress database contains the information generated by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ U.S. Newspaper Project (USNP) and the successor National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP); information about this program can be found in the on-line Washington DC History Resources.

Caution is urged in using the Directory. Many entries were last updated 20 or more years ago. Finding the entry for a particular title will then give you a link to holding institutions, many of which are outside the District. The Library of Congress has not updated its holdings for newspapers sent to other institutions.

Digitized copies are accessed through the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America archive <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/#tab=tab_newspapers> which has 69 District of Columbia newspapers (including early Alexandria). Paper copies were sent to their home states, though the Library has retained a wealth of microfilmed copies. Unfortunately, its online catalog has not been updated to remove paper copies of newspapers no longer held.

WorldCat is the world’s largest union catalog and in some cases, indicates whether a library holds an item. WorldCat can help with discovery of newspapers but one needs to go to individual institution catalogs to discover or verify actual holdings.

A major collection of 291 Washington DC newspaper titles is held in the American Antiquarian Society’s “Clarence” database. “Clarence” is named in honor of Clarence S. Brigham (1877-1963), who was pivotal in the building of the AAS newspaper collection. Brigham began his service to AAS in 1908 as its librarian and retired in 1959 as its director. His monumental History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, listing over 2,000 titles, was first published in 1947. Digital access to the AAS newspapers is through NewsBank. <https://www.newsbank.com> (It was NewsBank which finally published Washington DC’s Evening Star online.)

For yet more resources, visit author’s Washington DC History blog.

*Matthew B. Gilmore is the editor of the H-DC discussion list and blogs on Washington history and related subjects at matthewbgilmore.wordpress.com. Previously, he was a reference librarian at the Washingtoniana Division of the DC Public Library for a number of years and chaired the Annual Conference on DC Historical Studies for four years.

© 2018 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Matthew B. Gilmore. All rights reserved.