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History Lives Here Text

TheCommercial Record and Its Ancestors

ByKit Lane

[Originallygiven for the Museum's "Tuesdays at Noon" series.]

The Saugatuck Commercial first beganpublication July 9,1868. It is the oldest newspaper inAllegan County in continuous publication,the only time the newspaper did not print was a couple of weeks in 1886. The AlleganJournal at the county seat which is related to the present-day Allegannewspaper is older, it was first published in the 1850s, but it has not beencontinuous.


The first editorof the Saugatuck Commercial was Dr. A. H. Pattee,whose medical practice according to the ads in his own newspaper) specializedin corns and consumption. He had previously published a paper at Hudson which he leftunder strange circumstances. The Hudson Post later reported, "Dr. Pattee, recently of this town, has moved on to Saugatuckwhere people are just discovering that he is a fakir of the worst kind."It is unclear whether they are referred to his doctoring or his editing.


In 1869 the newspaper was taken over by hisbrother F. B. Pattee and some accounts claim that thedoctor went over to Douglas to establish theDouglas Messenger but it was not a success. The following year, 1870,the Pattees sold out to a group of Saugatuck men whoestablished E. W. Perry as manager. The newspaper was renamed the Lake ShoreCommercial to include Douglas and thelakeshore.


Perry wrote: "Again we ask our friendsto send us short items of news from every part of the country... no one looksfor fine writing in a weekly paper, as they know our time is short for it,therefore, you need not hesitate to do your duty by us and send on anything ofinterest - new subscriptions are of interest."


The location of thefirst newspaper office is unknown, but In 1 871 the editor wrote that they weremoving "... to new, well lighted pleasant rooms on the west side of thesquare and near the corner where the pretty girls play croquet and bother ourcompositors."


In 1873 newspaperwas purchased by Myron W. Tarbox and sold two yearslater to John Wilson and Henry Elmeyer, whoestablished Charles M. Winslow as editor. In 1877 Byron Markham became ownerand later in the year made Charles F. Wasson, a printer in the office that heprobably could not afford to pay, a partner. The name was unsteady at this time, it changed from Lake Shore Commercial to TheCommercial, and back to Lake Shore Commercial.


Life wasn't easy back in the old days, theOctober 26, issue recounted:


More things have combined this week to prevent our paper coming out ontime than ever occurred to us in one week before. first our Mr. Wasson hadbusiness in Chicago and after the paper was off last Friday he got ready to goexpecting to be gone two days, instead, owing to rough weather he was gone tillFriday morning of this week. next thing, more job workwas required than we could have done had we been full handed. Various otherthings got in the way, but to cap the whole business just as we were ready forproof the cry of fire was heard from Douglas and Mr. Wasson, who is a member ofthe fire department, had to go to it, and before he came back Mr. Hauer who has been sick for a long time and who was caredfor by Mr. Dixon who turned press for us, died and Mr. Dixon had to go anddress the body for burials and those of us left in the office are wondering atthe peculiar dispositions of providence.


Markham sold out to Wasson in March of 1878 and since Wasson was aprinter, he established Mrs. Lena Woodhull as editor, one of the first female newspapereditors in the state.


The Commercialwas the only paper many people received and it had to cover all the news:local, national and worldwide. When the newsprint arrived, usually by boat, thenews from outside the area was already printed on one side. It would be placedon the press in position to have the local news and advertisements added to theback.


InApril of I882 the paper was sold to AdrianHoutkamp, In 1885 Charles Winslow, a former editor,returned to Michigan and started a newspaperin Douglas called the Weekly Record. EditorHoutkamp was incensed and wrote in the January 1issue:


Three yearsand nine months ago I bought the Lake Shore Commercial. I have ownedit longer than any other person. It having been clearly demonstrated in thepast two years that there is no possible show for a man with a family - let himlive ever so economical - to make more than a bare living in the printingbusiness here, the publisher has concluded to shut up shop and go where hislabor will pay him.


Thepaper did not published for two weeks, the only issuesmissed in more than a century of its existence. The January 22, issueintroduced editor Fred Wade, related to the Wades whowere founding fathers of Douglas. He ran thepaper for 12 years, searing simultaneously as village president for some ofthose years, and later postmaster. and a member of theMichiganHouse of Representatives.



InSeptember of 1898 the paper was purchased by William P. Duntonwho changed the name back to the Saugatuck Commercial. In 1902 he boughtthe subscription list of the ten-year-old but struggling Douglas WeeklyRecord and thus began the Commercial Record first it was hyphenated.Some people in Douglas were unhappy that theirnewspaper had been sold out so they began Douglas Herald but it only ashort time.


In 1902 theCommercial Record was sold to Otis O. Hauke,who moved the offices to Butler Street where the Heath block was later built. Hisdaughter visited some time ago and said she always had fondest memories of herlife in Saugatuck, but her father sold the paper April 12, 1917, as World War Iwas looming and those with German surnames often found themselves indifficulty.


The new owner was LintsfordB. Goshorn, related to those who lent their name to Goshorn Lake. He ran the paperfor nine years and died unexpectedly in April of 1926. After his death his wifecontinued to run the paper for more than a year, Saugatuck's second female editor.In 1927 sold to Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Madden of Chicago, who was related to the family thatran the Plainwell newspaper. The office was on Hoffman Street, using the building thatwas later Grubowsky's and later Water Street Cafe, now Back Alley Pizzahand now fronts on Water Street).The Simmons family lived upstairs and Ruth, sister of the man honored in thisyear's exhibit, said it was a fine place to live except when they were runningthe press, which was usually done early enough to get it into subscriber'smailboxes the same day,. When printing was delayed there was little sleep inthe Simmons house. While the press was in operation you had to hang onto thebed. One night she put on a robe and went down to complain to the editor that"she had laid there and watched as all of the bottles on the dressermarched to the edge and jumped off and she wondered when he would be finishedso she could go to sleep."


The press was an old flatbed, so it didn'thum like modern rotary presses, it had a big arm that grasped and advanced eachsheet, Parker Sands, an old printer under Madden, described it as "SLAMrumble, SLAM rumble." The sheets were split by a little cutting wheel andinserted and folded by hand.


By 1942 themasthead proclaimed that it was The Commercial Record "The OldestNewspaper in Allegan County." It was soldOctober 1 to Robert and Gwen Crawford, who moved it to a small brick buildingnext to their house on Culver street. In 1950 the newspaperbegan being published in the smaller size, or tabloid size.


In 1951 theoperation was sold to T. E. Van Dussen who owned thenewspapers in Fennville and Hamilton. He printed all of them in Saugatuck. Onesnowy day he turned the corner coming into Lake Street too sharply and spilled the made-upforms over the embankment, soon the whole staff was on their hands and kneesplucking type from the snow. In 1952 Van Dussenappointed William R. Simmons as editor so that he could provide the people witha paper that was "of, by and for Saugatuck and Douglas." Bill wrote afront page column, the most famous paragraph is:


Harry Newnham violently denounces the base canard that thesidewalks are rolled up on Labor Day and stored for the winter. No such thing -in Saugatuck they are set up on one side to act as snow fences.

VanDussen sold in 1955 to Pat and Ed Bigelow, formerpublishers of the Cordova Alaska Times, Pat was a polio victim and worked froma hospital bed, but they were plagued by ill health and hired Mary K. Bettiesto assist them. The Bigelows returned the paper toVan Dussen who established Bill Simmons once again aseditor.


It is ironic that although Simmons was an excellent photographer, asdemonstrated in the 2001 exhibit, few of his pictures were used, because of thedifficulties of using locally made pictures. They printed on an old flat bedpress in the basement of the office on Lake Street. Forms were made up of textmaterial set by linotype, handset headline type and ads and some national photographsthat arrived at the newspaper office as paper molds and were filled with moltenlead. Local pictures had to be taken to Grand Rapids where zinc plates were made,it was expensive and hard to do on a deadline.


The newspaper was sold in 1958 to Dale E.Royer, from Three Rivers who kept Bill Simmons as editor. Royer was a printerby profession and later said, "I tried writing something for the paperjust once and got myself in a lot of trouble, so I left the writing to Billfrom then on."


In 1957 a new flag (the paper's nameplateon the front page) was created by local artist Fred Steams. There is a lot ofhistory in the flag if you look closely. The perspective is fictitious althoughyou might came close from the back porch of the old Douglas schoolhouse. At left is the brand new St. Peter'sChurch, center the Michael Brown Spencer house which served as the first Tara restaurant. It burned and was rebuilt and recentlyrazed. In the center, Mt. Baldhead and the radar before the dome was put on,and in the water the twin-stacked excursion boat, IslandQueen. To the right, Coral Gables and the Big Pavilion, which burned in 1960 andthe school up on the hill.


In June of 1965 Royer sold the newspaper toWilliam R. Parker, an advertising man from Dearborn, who rapidly found out thata small town newspaper was not the kind of new life he was looking for. He leftin 1967 and shortly afterwards moved the family to Australia.


The new owners were Kit and Art Lane, formerlyof Detroit, most recently of Murphysboro, Illinois,who ran it for 21 years establishing a new record as local owners. In 1868 theycelebrated the newspaper's centennial with a special edition. After all of thechildren were in school they purchased The Fennville Herald which Kitedited from 1978 T01988. It was said to be the only his and hers newspapers inthe state.


Both newspapers were sold in 1988to Kaechle publications. thepresent owners.