History of Westmoreland County
Volume 1
Chapter 25

Westmoreland Press

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For more than a quarter of a century after the formation of the county, there was no newspaper published within our present limits. On July 26, 1786, the Pittsburgh Gazette was first issued by John Scull and Joseph Hall. Pittsburgh was then in Westmoreland county, and all of our county printing was done there. Prior to that there had been no printing press in Western Pennsylvania. All county matter, sale bills, writs, etc., were written with a pen. Even after the establishment of the Gazette, our public printing was probably very limited. The Gazette had undoubtedly a very meager circulation in our county.

The Farmer’s Register was the first paper published in Greensburg. It was issued and edited by John M. Snowden and William McCorkle, and its first issue was May 24, 1799. The editor, Snowden, was a native of Philadelphia, and did not prosper here, though he remained in the business ten years. In 1808 he sold his paper to W. S. Graham. Snowden remained here for some years afterwards, and filled various offices in the county. He then removed to Pittsburgh and took upon himself the management of the Sunday Mercury, which was the legitimate ancestor of the Pittsburgh Post. Snowden was a professional printer and editor. He was a relative of the Laird family, which has since given several generations to the newspaper work in Westmoreland county.

The Farmer’s Register, under the management of Graham, became The Greensburg and Indiana Register, and still later The Westmoreland and Indiana Register. It then served both counties, and until after 1811 was the only means of advertising in either of them. The name of the paper was not very material in those days. The name was set up in large type, and occasionally, when job work was very brisk, they ran out of certain large letters and had to change the name of the paper to suit the letters remaining. This happened on July 9, 1812, and the editor very innocently explains the event by saying in his editorial that, being disappointed in receiving the proper type, he had to change the name of the paper from Westmoreland and Indiana Register to Greensburg and Indiana Register. This was perhaps more of an evidence of a thrifty job printing business then than it would be now. The Register, be it Greensburg or Westmoreland, was a very neat sheet for the times. The few old copies preserved are much better in paper, type and general make-up than one would expect in that early day. Though yellowed by nearly a hundred years, they are still bright to the eye and easily read. They were printed on paper made by the Markles, or by Markle and Doum, after they began the paper business on the Sewickley in about 1811. The Register was 9 1/2 by 13 inches. There were four of these pages, and four columns on each page. Every inch almost of available space was utilized by printed matter. The price was $2.25 per year. In their columns they had news of Congress, European news and a good deal of war news during the War of 1812. In one issue was printed an address by Thomas Jefferson; a report of the trial of Aaron Burr for treason, then going on in Richmond; and the first news of a battle gained in Europe by Napoleon Bonaparte. No newspaper man of today would publish such important matters in the subdued style the editors adopted then.

In almost every issue for years is a standing offer to take rags at the highest market price in payment for the paper. The publisher, in turn, we need hardly say, traded the rags to the paper maker for paper, illustrating the old method of barter when money was scarce. There were few editorials in those days. Many issues had political articles written by outsiders under assumed names; perhaps in some instances the outsider was the editor himself. In a week or so the article would likely be answered by another writer under a nom de plume. Prominent men like Findley, who was then in Congress, frequently reached the constituents by letters to the paper. Findley’s letters were often written from Washington. Politics or material of that nature filled from six to eight columns each week. Findley wrote so much for the Register that many blamed him for having an interest in it. This was intended to injure him, or rather to weaken the paper in its support of him.

Graham was a publisher as well as an editor, and often printed and published small books, such as the “Constitution of the United States,” “Watts’ Hymns,” etc. In some way he had them bound in sheep and bound very neatly for that age of book-making. He also, like most country editors, kept a small assortment of books, papers, etc., for sale.

As the years go by, the paper assumes more life, and in 1812 they began to advertise patent medicines. “The Elixir of Perpetual Adolescence” and the “Modern Anti-Bilious Compound” are the leading curatives of that day. The paper also gave a sure cure for the bite of a mad dog and told, in very matter-of-fact way, of the hanging of eight Negroes at one time in the south. They were not news-gatherers at all as our papers are now; they published almost nothing about the local happenings of the town and county. No one can learn anything from their columns as to what manner of a town we had then, nor what was going on here at home. Houses were built; the court house was completed and occupied; marriages took place and prominent citizens died; and not a word was printed about such incidents. The inference is that the people wanted foreign news, which most of them could get in no other way, while the home happenings they could learn from each other. In those days there were no mails throughout the county. The editor delivered his paper in the town himself, and he sent it out over the county the best way he could. The editor usually tried to have a number of subscribers in one community, so that he could send a package of papers with some home-going citizen to leave them at a cross-roads store, where each patron could call for his paper. When the first regular mail route was established from Greensburg to Bedford in 1812, the Register announced with great joy that subscribers on the route could have their papers delivered regularly by the mail carrier. The enterprising editor and publisher died in 1815, and his widow carried on the paper for a few years, when she sold it to new proprietors, who, in turn, changed its name. The Register was, as its original name indicated, a farmer’s paper. It had a little political leaning, but very little. It has had many names and many editors, but it is still in existence and is now popularly known as the Westmoreland Democrat.

In 1811 the Federalists started a paper in Greensburg called the Greensburg Gazette. This was done so that their political organization might have a mouth-piece. The Federalist paper seeming to succeed, in 1818 the Democrats got together and purchased the old Register. Frederick A. Wise was made managing editor, and the paper came out in 1819 as the Westmoreland Republican and Farmers’ Chronicle, for they were evidently not afraid of long names. Wise had been born and brought up in Greensburg, but for some years he had been a printer in Baltimore. On coming here he made a contract with the owners that when he should pay a certain price, most likely the original cost of the establishment, he was to become sole owner of the organ. He thus gained the ownership of it and continued to edit it till 1830, when he sold it to Joseph Russell. In 1841 Mr. Russell formed a partnership with David K. Marchant, a printer by trade, who became sole owner in 1844 and continued its publication till 1856, when he sold an interest to Andrew Graham. In 1861 Graham became sole owner and proprietor by purchase, and sold it January 1, 1862, to James F. Campbell & Company. They changed its name to the Westmoreland Republican. In January, 1863, William A. Stokes, a prominent lawyer who had come here from Philadelphia, purchased it entirely, for he was a part owner before, under the firm name of James F. Campbell & Co. Stokes was a very able man whether at the bar, in a public address, or with the pen. He had formerly written a great deal for it, and was on all hands regarded as a most pungent and eloquent writer. He published it till 1864 when he sold it to W. W. Keenan, who by this time owned the Greensburg Democrat. Under Mr. Keenan’s administration the two papers were combined and by their union was formed the Westmoreland Democrat, which is yet published in Greensburg.

The Greensburg Democrat was first published by Edward J. Keenan and John Klingensmith, Jr., and made its appearance on November 18, 1853. This paper was founded to give expression to those who favored the renomination and election of William Bigler a second time to the governorship of Pennsylvania. It heartily and ably endorsed his administration. The other papers, though Democratic organs, were opposed to his re-election. The editors were both prominent Democrats and closely associated with the politics of the county. They made the Democrat a bright, sparkling paper indeed. Mr. Klingensmith died in 1854, and Keenan became sole owner. In 1857 his brother, W. W. Keenan, became editor and manager, under the name of E. J. Keenan & Bro. In June, 1858, James Keenan & Co. purchased it. James Keenan was at that time United States consul at Hong Kong, China. He was also a member of the Westmoreland bar, and a more extended notice of his character and attainments is given among the special biographies of the county, later on in this work. The paper was still published by the brothers here. James Keenan died in 1862. E. J. Keenan was then in the United States army, and W. W. Keenan managed the paper. E. J. Keenan was one of the ablest newspaper men who ever came to Greensburg. He was very zealous in advocating his cause, be it whatever it may, and was extremely bitter against his opponents. He was assailed on all sides, but his paper grew more prominent with each issue. The editorial against William A. Cook, an attorney of much prominence here who left the Democratic party in 1854 and joined the Know-Nothings, has been written of as one of the severest articles ever published in the state. A libel suit against the editor followed, but the verdict was only six and a fourth cents. The edition of his paper of July 13, 1859, was aimed at Simon Cameron and his political friends. It was illustrated with many ingenious wood cuts, and for that day shows a high order of newspaper art. Mr. Keenan always used good English and was a natural newspaper man. He was an editor before he was twenty-one years old, and was more or less connected with the newspaper business all his life. In private life he was a most genial and companionable man and had always many friends. Notwithstanding his bitter pen, when he chose to wield it, he was always open-hearted, generous and forgiving. On the death of James Keenan in 1862, Alexander Allison purchased his interest and in 1863 Allison retired, when W. W. Keenan became sole owner.

In 1864 W. W. Keenan, proprietor of the Democrat, purchased the Republican form Mr. Stokes, and thereafter he and E. J. Keenan published the Republican and Democrat till 1871, when Kline & Co. purchased it and assumed proprietorship on January 1, 1872. The firm was composed of Dr. W. J. K. Kline and Silas A. Kline. On October 1, 1873, Silas A. Kline sold his interest to A. B. Kline, who as Kline & Brother published the paper, but changed its name by dropping the word “Republican.” They continued its publication till November 22, 1882 when it was again sold to B. F. Vogle and T. R. Winsheimer, by whom the paper has since been and is now published.

The Tribune and Herald of today really dates back to 1811, when, as we said, the Greensburg Gazette was started as the organ of the Federalist party. David McLean was then the editor, and was succeeded by Frederick J. Cope in 1822. McLean moved to Pittsburgh after selling to Mr. Cope. The early Gazette was a four-column sheet, and so remained till 1823. Paper was then scarce and expensive, and the proprietors wasted no space with flaming headlines. The original Gazette was 18 by 11 1/2 inches, with not quite a half-inch of margin around the printed columns. On the last page of each issue was a new feature, a story of romantic character under such titles as “The Pirate’s Treason,” “The Count’s Secret,” “The Mystery of the Castle,” etc. It also gave some local news but very little. The province of the Gazette politically was to oppose the Republican. It favored the election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency, but it will be remembered that the Federalists claimed him for years before his election, and many of them voted for him in 1828. When he was supported by the Democrat-Republican party, it opposed him bitterly. This paper, or its editor, also published and bound books and kept a miniature book store. Among the publications of the Gazette in 1824 was “Divine Breathings, or a Pious Soul Thirsting After Christ in One Hundred Pathetick Meditations, etc., to contain 128 pages, 160. Price 37 1/2 cents, full bound and gilded.”

The Gazette of March 25, 1824, has a picture representing a railroad engine and three cars laden with coal. Three columns are devoted to a description of this wonderfully designed motive power then recently introduced in England. The editor thought it wonderful that three cars carrying as much as fifty tons of coal could be transported by one engine twelve or fourteen miles per hour. He sadly informed his readers, however, that it will be impossible ever to introduce such a method transportation here in Westmoreland, because of the hills. “It would require,” wrote the editor, “too many engines to pull the cars over the hills. It can never be used near Greensburg because of the hills, for we are situated on one and surrounded by them on all sides.” Yet the editor, Frederick j. Cope, lived in Greensburg till he saw railroads all around the town and crossing all the chains of high mountains in the United States. He saw one engine transporting hundreds of coal at a greater speed than fourteen miles per hour. He owned the farm north of Greensburg patented to Captain Joseph Brownlee, who was killed by the Indians, July 13, 1782. He was born in Greensburg in 1801, and did in 1882. In his later years he contributed much useful material on educational and agricultural subjects to the press of Western Pennsylvania.

In 1828, February 1st, the Gazette was sold by Mr. Cope to John Black & Son. It then became the Greensburg Gazette. In 1829 the Federalist party was gone, and the paper became Anti-Masonic. Mr. Black, the father, retired in 1832, and his son changed the name of the paper to the Westmoreland Intelligencer. Not long after this Mr. Black, Jr., died, and the Intelligencer was purchased by R. C. Fleeson, who had been one of the proprietors of the Pittsburgh Dispatch. Then it passed to John Ramsey, and in 1839 was purchased by John Armstrong, the father of the late John and Colonel James Armstrong. The elder Armstrong and his son, James, edited it for over ten years. In 1840 a new paper called the Sentinel was started in Greensburg, of which John F. Beaver, a noted member of the bar, was the leading spirit, and a man named Row was editor. That was the year of the greatest political campaign in our history, and the Sentinel was started largely because of it. It was not successful, and shortly after the campaign was over it was purchased by the Armstrongs, who merged it with the Intelligencer. In November, 1850, they sold it to D. W. Shryock, who came here from Salem township and began its publication. In 1854, during the Know-Nothing campaign, its name was changed to the American Herald, and still later to the Greensburg Herald. For many years it remained the chief organ here of the Whig and later of the Republican party. Mr. Shryock is yet most favorable remembered by the people of Westmoreland county. He was an open-hearted man, of good ability, and always published a neat, readable paper. In 1860 he was a member of the National Republican Convention in Chicago, which nominated Abraham Lincoln for the presidency, and afterward he was appointed internal revenue collector for this congressional district. Later he was unsuccessfully engaged in the bank business and lost the entire earnings of a lifetime.

In 1870 J. R. McAfee founded the Tribune in opposition to the Herald. Messrs. D. S. Atkinson and T. J. Weddell then purchased the Herald from Mr. Shryock, and shortly afterward united it with the Tribune, forming the Tribune and Herald. Some years later the corps of editors was changed by John M. Peoples taking the place of Mr. Weddell and still later, William C. Peoples took the place made vacant by the death of his brother, John M. Peoples. All the proprietors of this paper since the retirement of Mr. Shryock have been members of the bar. The paper is now incorporated under the name of the Tribune Publishing company. It publishes both a weekly and daily edition, and has a large circulation.

The Pennsylvania Argus is the oldest of all Westmoreland papers, if confined to one paper or to one name. It was founded in 1831 by Jacob Steck and George Rippey. It has always prided itself on pouring forth pure, unadulterated Democracy.

George Wolf, a Democrat, was elected governor over Joseph Ritner in 1829 by a large majority. He again defeated Ritner in 1832, but by a reduced majority. Then the Democratic party unwisely placed Wolf in nomination a third time in 1835. This alienated many Democrats, who nominated Henry A. Muhlenburg as their candidate. The Whigs and anti-Masons again nominated Ritner, a level headed Pennsylvania Dutchman, who was elected over his two opponents. The Argus sustained Muhlenberg and weakened its standing with the rank and file of Democracy, so that it was very poorly patronized. The result of this was that in 1839 it was sold at sheriff’s sale and purchased by J. M. Burrell, a talented and eloquent member of the bar, who afterwards became president judge of the district. He proved to be an able journalist. Some of his political articles in the campaign of 1840 advocating the election of Martin Van Buren over William Henry Harrison were taken up and answered by Horace Greeley in the Log Cabin, of which he was then editor. Late in 1841 the Argus was sold to Joseph Cort and James Johnston. In July, 1844, it passed to S. S. Turney and W. H. Hacke. They published it till 1849, when it was sold to John M. Laird. Since that time it has been under the continuous proprietorship of the Laird family.

All things begin considered, we believe that John M. Laird deserves first place among the newspaper men of the last century in Westmoreland county. There may have been abler men than he, who for a brief space were connected with the profession, but there are certainly none who brought to the field the equal of his intellect and devoted there time to the work for life as he did. He began newspaper work very early in life. His first ventures as editor and publisher of a Democratic paper in Somerset, Ohio. Later he moved to Steubenville, and worked on the Republican Ledger, first as a journeyman printer, and later as its editor and proprietor.

There he met and worked in the printing office with Edwin M. Stanton, who afterwards became attorney-general under President Buchanan and secretary of war under President Lincoln. This acquaintance stood him in good stead in later years, for he used it to have President Lincoln spare the life of a young man named Smith, the son of a poor widow in Greensburg. After leaving Steubenville he returned to Westmoreland county and purchased the Pennsylvania Argus from Major William H. Hacke and S.S. Turney. He was its editor and proprietor from January 1, 1850, till his death in 1887. His style was vigorous and pointed. In politics he was an unswerving Democrat, and while he may have expressed bitter sentiments against his political opponents, he never carried them into his private life. Then he was most gracious and obliging. He hated hypocrisy and shams, and loved an honest expression, be it what it may. In 1872 he was elected register and recorder of Westmoreland county. This, we believe, is the only position he ever sought or received. When he took hold of the Argus, it had a high standing as a political organ, for it had had as editors and contributors such men as Judge Burrell, James Johnston and others. Under Mr. Laird’s management it lost none of its standing, though for a generation he was almost its sole writer. He was a grandson of Judge John Moore, who first became president judge of our courts and who has been considered among the early judges of our county. Mr. Laird died from old age, superinduced from a fall he received on the icy streets. He died January 25, 1887.

Frank Cowan’s Paper was founded by Dr. Frank Cowan. Its first issue was on May 22, 1872. Its editor and proprietor was a man of superior intellectual attainments and wrote himself largely into his paper. In its first number was a strong article from the pen of Hon. Edgar Cowan, the father of the editor, on the rights and wrongs of women in Pennsylvania law. It was a most exhaustive article, such as might be expected from him. It furthermore suggested remedies for her wrongs in the law and treated somewhat on her social and domestic relations as well. The Paper was always bright and attractive. It devoted its columns largely to the coal, coke and iron industries, then in their infancy in this county. In 1874 it was removed to Pittsburgh, and in August, 1875, its publication was suspended because of the ill health of the editor.

For some time in 1875-76 the Democratic Times was published in the Paper office, but it was soon suspended. In the winter of 1878 the Argus office was destroyed by fire, and for some weeks it was published there also. In 1878 the office and fixtures were sold to a company which published the National Issue, a Greenback Party advocate. Under several managements and with various editors and writers, among others Calvin A. Light, F. L. Armbrust and Uriel Graves, it was conducted till 1881. By that time, mainly through the energy of Mr. Light, the company saw its way clear to begin the publication of a daily paper called the Evening News. This as the first daily paper published regularly in Westmoreland county. In May, 1881, it was sold to J. H. Ryckman and James B. Laux, who converted it into the Greensburg Press, with both daily and weekly editions. With the change it also became Republican in politics. The first issue of the new daily was on May 18 and the weekly on June 6, 1881. Shortly after this, the late H. J. Brunot purchased the interest of Mr. Ryckman. A fine brick building on West Otterman street was erected for its publication, and it has remained there ever since. Like the Tribune and Herald, it has since been incorporated. Mr. Laux remained its editor for many years and raised it to a very potent paper. Some years later he retired from its management and is now a citizen of New York city.

There were two newspapers published in Greensburg in the German language. The first was published by Frederick A. Cope, in connection with the Gazette in 1828, and later by John Armburst. The other was published by J. S. Steck, in connection with the Pennsylvania Argus. It was furthermore not uncommon for the early papers, the Gazette and the Register, to publish a German edition of their papers and an English one as well. There was always a call for more or less German literature, particularly in Hempfield township.

The Greensburg Record, founded April 1st, 1886, by Messrs. Darwin Musick and Daniel P. Stahl, was a bright, sparkling addition to the Democratic literature of the county. It was issued as a daily and weekly. The daily, for the first time in our daily paper history, published the Associated Press news, which added greatly to its popularity. The publication of the daily edition was discontinued in December, 1892, and that of the weekly on September 11, 1895.

The first paper published outside of Greensburg, as far as we can learn, was the Democratic Free Courier, published in Mount Pleasant, by N.W. Trexel as editor, and D. H. H. Wakefield as assistant editor. The paper died not last long, and we have never seen a copy.

Another early paper was the Ligonier Free Press, edited by one Samuel Armour. The first number was issued June 1st, 1845, from the editor’s printing office in Ligonier. Mr. Armour had come to Ligonier from Maine, no doubt most of the way on foot. He was about six feet and four inches high, and was very slender. Mentally, he was extremely eccentric, and yet had a genius for newspaper work. The Free Press was devoted, as its old musty numbers tell us, to “literature, morality, agriculture, news, finances and miscellany,” and we will add, to any other fancy which entered the fanatic editor’s brain. In its early issues it was neutral in politics. But the editor had not resided long in that strongly Democratic community until he began to realize how extremely sinful and corrupt the Whigs were, and forthwith his paper began to lean towards Democracy. The birth of the Know-Nothing party in 1854 was, in his opinion, the culmination of all evil, and the final power which drove him from his Whig moorings into the Democratic camp. In an editorial he says that “an increased number of subscribers and their political preferences” had also urged him in this direction. He also changed the name of his paper from the Free Press to the Valley Democrat, the change coming with the issue of January 10, 1854. The paper adapted its size to the demands of the occasion; at the editor’s will it shrunk and expanded, suiting itself entirely to the amount of light and wisdom which was hurled from his brain. Nor did the modest sheet necessarily impose itself upon its patrons regularly each week. This feature was regulated to suit the supply and demand of the paper. More than once, some people say scores of times, did the editor walk to Pittsburgh in one day and walk home the day following, carrying the paper on his back walking a distance of fifty miles each way, in order that the people might be enlightened by his wisdom, and that the child of his inventive genius might live and grow. Nor had he a less stock of ingenuity than walking energy, for, when short of type of a large size, he not infrequently cut them from hard wood, and cut so neatly that no one could detect his home-manufactured type from examining the printed sheet. He often made wood-cuts to illustrate his paper. A news-boy on horse at full gallop, printed from a wood-cut of his own, indicated that news was carried to him with great speed. A ship sailing on the ocean and under it in large letters, also of his own make, the works, “Highly important from Russia and Turkey,” indicated that he had the latest news from the “front,” for those two nations were then at war. In another column, with flaming headlines, he brings to the news-thirsty, housed-up inhabitants of hill and vale, the word of an “insurrection in Nickchivan,” that “the Russian Prince Woronzoff had surrendered at Tifles,” that “Schanye, the great Circassian leader and Seline Pasha were approaching each other,” and the “Admiral Machinoff was rapidly overcoming Vice Admiral Osman Bey.”

The muses, too, were not neglected. Under the column headed “Poetry,” was that fine ballad so illustrative of the rhythmic culture of the nineteenth century, entitled “The Arkansas Gentleman Close to the Choctaw Line,” which filled over a column, while following it was that most classic gem of the poetic temperament as personified in English verse, entitled “Joe Bowers.”

In the more modern times newspapers have sprung up in almost every town in the county, and there are seven daily papers printed in it, viz.; four in Greensburg, and one in each of the towns of Scottdale, Monessen and Latrobe. The papers published outside of Greensburg are referred to in the parts of this work which relate to the several boroughs and townships of the county.

Source: Page(s) 295-405, History of Westmoreland County, Volume 1, Pennsylvania by John N Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed September 2000 by Marilyn Brown for the Westmoreland County History Project
Contributed by Marilyn Brown for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)

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