Back on Aug. 25, 1895, the first edition of the DeForest Times rolled off the big press located in the back of building on Market Street. This year marks the 125th year of continuous publication of this newspaper.
When the first issue came out, DeForest wasn’t even a village yet — it was just an unincorporated settlement in the Town of Windsor. But two men felt that DeForest needed a newspaper so Prof. E.C. Meland and Anton Nelson joined together in a partnership, bought a newspaper press, cases of type, and necessary printing equipment and started this newspaper.
It was eight pages of news every week, but only the front and back pages were local news. The other six pages were already pre-printed with general news and shipped by train to DeForest. The cost of a one-year subscription was $1.35 (around 2.5 cents per issue).
In 1995 when the newspaper celebrated it’s 100th anniversary, the front page of the special edition was a reproduction of the 1895 edition. The original front page held up quite well considering that it had spent nearly 100 years on the floor of the basement at the Times office. There was hole in the center of the front page where the paper was folded but other than that hole, the type was still dark and clear. The paper itself had not yellowed like some of the newer issues where the paper contained more chemicals that were added at the paper mill.
Here were some of the items on that first edition:
There was a news story about a fire that destroyed the home and barn of F.M. Sherinan in Windsor; An account of “A Row” at Waunakee; The marshal went to Madison on Monday to have the disturbing parties arrested for a fight in Waunakee the previous Saturday night; Display ads on the front page for Engel’s Empire Store, E.C. Alsmeyer Nursery and Seedman, J.E. Hanssen & Co. Store, K. Knutson Blacksmith, W.D. Stillman, Dentist, Dr. J.H. Bertrand Drugs and Medicines; and local high school news articles.
The paper was distributed every Friday. All the type was handset and took six to seven days a week to get it all set and then the type was thrown back into the cases after the paper was printed.
Prof. E.C. Meland was well respected by folks for his achievements in education. He was instrumental in organizing the local high school and was its first teacher. He was elected to many public offices and served on numerous committees.
Earl Emerson came to DeForest in 1926. He was 23-years old but had years of experience in the printing trade as he started as a ‘printer’s devil’ while still in grade school at the newspaper in Prentice. He asked DeForest Times Editor, Alvin F. Johnson if he could use some extra help and was hired on the spot.
It didn’t take long for Johnson to realize that the young man knew the trade well. Beside being a talented typesetter, Emerson was a good banjo player and was sought after by many of the local bands to play on weekends. He met a local girl, Alice Connor and love bloomed.
Johnson approached the young man after he had been working about five months and asked if he wanted to buy the newspaper for a few hundred dollars. Earl certainly would love to, except he did not have one extra dollar in savings. Johnson said they would talk about the deal later and maybe they could work something out.
Earl reported for work a few weeks later and discovered Johnson had pulled up stakes and left town overnight. Nobody knew where he went so Earl set to work to put out the paper alone.
He had another typesetter, William “Bill” Ihland helping him. Earl had gone to Linotype School a few years previous and he knew he had to buy a Linotype machine that would set in one day what four or five hand typesetters could produce. When the new Intertype came into the office, Ihland took off his printers apron and handed it to Earl saying he knew he wouldn’t be needed any more.
Earl and Alice continued to run the business by themselves. Several years passed and one day Alvin Johnson walked back into the office. He said he was passing through the area and he wanted to see how Earl was doing. Earl said he was doing fine but he still didn’t have the money to pay Johnson, who smiled and said he would come back again in the future. He never saw the man again.
Earl owned the Times-Tribune for 42 years and worked one or two days a week for another ten years after he sold the business.
I grew up above the DeForest Times office. For the first 12 years of my life, the family lived in the upstairs flat above the office. As a kid I earned an allowance for doing cleaning and organizing in the office. During my elementary school years, I would go around to various houses in town and collected news about visits and other local news items. In high school, I wrote about school activities and sports stories. After graduation I decided to enroll in the graphic arts course at MATC and maybe go to the UW journalism school after that. I started writing a column called “Typewriter Talk.” I was at MATC for only about a half year when I was offered a job at Madison Newspapers.
Madison Newspapers paid well and I stayed there for over 9 years. On my days off, I would work at the DeForest Times office. The old press in the basement of the Times office started to break down and dad decided to switch the printing of the paper to offset printing. I had Wednesday and Thursday off so I took the layout sheets to Richland Center every Thursday for printing. I would also cover the Village Board meetings and took a lot of photographs with the Polaroid camera the paper had.
In 1968, I left Madison Newspapers and took over the reins of ownership of the DeForest Times-Tribune along with my mother. Dad was finally able to retire although he still came over every week to help with the layout of the paper. Molly did the company bookkeeping at home. In 1972, Molly and I took over sole possession of the business.
I loved the newspaper business. I loved the DeForest area. I had the best job in town! Over the years Molly and I grew the newspaper, started a shopper, and bought the Poynette Press. I eventually sold the business to Art Drake, who owned the Waunakee Tribune, but I continued to work selling ads and writing my column for another seven years. I retired at age 66 but I still couldn’t quit entirely. I put on my writing cap every week to get out another installment of “D News.” Life is good.
While the Times-Tribune celebrates 125 years of publishing, I’m proud to say that the Emerson family has been involved with the newspaper for over 100 years.
Dick Emerson is the former publisher of the DeForest Times-Tribune.