Lake County History: A brief history of Lake County’s newspapers

Sunday, 28 April 2013 01:48
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Eubra Bryant, right, long-time owner of the Kelseyville Sun. The other man is not identified. Courtesy of the Lake County Museum.

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – Newspapers sprouted all around Lake County before radio, television and the Internet supplied the news.

Lower Lake was home to the Lower Lake Sentinel and later the Lower Lake Bulletin. Kelseyville had the Kelseyville Sun. From Upper Lake came the Upper Lake Star and the Upper Lake Standard. Other early titles were the Lake County Avalanche, the Clear Lake Courier and the Clear Lake Times.

Information on Lake County’s newspapers before the mid-1860s is hard to come by. According to the 1881 History of Napa and Lake Counties, in 1866 a paper called the Observer was published in Lower Lake and the Clear Lake Courier was published in Lakeport. This book also states that there were other newspapers published in Lake County before 1866, but nearly nothing is known of them.

The newspapers that exist today all have long histories. Lake County’s longest running newspaper operation is the Lake County Record-Bee, the latest descendant of a line of papers that began in 1872 in Cloverdale. The Clear Lake Observer-American and the Middletown Times Star can trace their histories to the 1930s.

The genealogy of the Lake County Record-Bee (briefly outlined on the accompanying chart) illustrates the bewildering changes of ownership that have occurred in Lake County’s newspapers.

J. B. Baccus started the Cloverdale Bee in 1872, then moved his equipment to Lakeport and started the Lake County Bee in 1873. Baccus sold his interest to L. Wallace, and in 1885 Baccus was running the Clear Lake Press. Both the Press and the Bee are ancestors of today’s Record-Bee.

Long before Facebook, Twitter and email, Lake Countians shared their important personal news in the popular social media: newspapers. The local newspapers chronicled the visits of out-of-town friends and relatives, trips that local residents made, changes in local businesses, significant purchases like autos (a big announcement in 1913), and the medical conditions of the townspeople.

A century ago, Lakeport boasted two newspapers, the Lake County Bee and the Clear Lake Press. Kelseyville residents read about their neighbors in the Sun, and Middletown had its Independent. Copy and paste is nothing new – the Lake County newspapers routinely copied news from each other in their quest for news to fill their columns.

Special correspondents wrote weekly social news columns for the major papers, a practice that existed into the 1970s when people like Thelma Griner in Upper Lake and Marie Forbes in Lucerne reported social news from around the county. The correspondents contacted people in their towns, asking them for news which they then submitted to the newspapers.

Sometimes the editors and publishers themselves were the actors in the dramas that played out on the front pages.

One such case began in November, 1913, when Hugh Cross decided to retire and lease the Lake County Bee’s plant and business to John J. Morton.

On Nov. 6, Morton published his first edition, then, according to Cross, influenced by “certain people whose moral turpitude impels them to tell lies and meddle in other people’s affairs, Mr. Morton developed a pronounced case of cold feet and passed up the deal after the papers had been signed.”

Cross then returned to the editor’s desk while Morton returned to San Francisco. For weeks Cross reported the progress of the debacle while over at the Clear Lake Press, editor Percy Millberry capitalized on the spectacle. His lively writings with headlines like “Mexican Tangle Outdone In Quick Change Of Bee Editors” likened Cross to a Mexican dictator and Morton to a Texas insurgent.

Morton tried to regain control of the Bee but Cross refused to comply. Morton filed suit against Cross; Judge Bruton dismissed the suit and Morton and Cross settled the matter with Morton back in control.

John J. Morton’s editorial (“We Have the Gun; Tell us Where to Fire,” Jan. 22, 1914) declared that “[a]fter much litigation and bitter invectiveness this paper has again come into the possession and control of John J. Morton, the present proprietor and editor. We come today before the people of Lake County with a straight game and the cards up, but we claim your indulgence if we do not show our complete hand. Every method of opposition that could be used, every unfair scheme that could be devised was employed by the interests who though it unsafe to let the present editor get possession of this paper. We do not accuse the late editor of having knowledge [of] the interests behind this game. The latter gentleman was merely an unknowing cog in the wheel of the scheme to fleece Lake County. But let us dismiss the unsavory mistakes of the past and speak of the glorious possibilities of Lake County’s future.”

Editors managed to publish their papers despite disasters and personal tragedies. With dedication that the Lake County Bee termed “heroic,” Lavinia Yates Noel, ill with pneumonia contracted in the “Spanish Flu” influenza pandemic, published her last issue of the Lower Lake Bulletin five days before dying in January 1919.

Fire destroyed or damaged several buildings in downtown Lakeport on April 20, 1926, including the offices of both of Lakeport’s newspapers.

The Lake County Bee employees, having rescued the press and other equipment, returned to their nearly-completed issue and went to press five hours after the fire started.

The same fire destroyed the nearby office of the Clear Lake Press, but owners Ed Moore and Sid Roche published the next issue with help from the Bee.

Rival editors battled over the issues of their times and addressed each other in strong terms. In no uncertain terms, Hugh Cross of the Lake County Bee took Mort Stanley of the Middletown Independent to task for his support of the Yolo Water and Power Co. in 1913 and complimented Eubra Bryant of the Kelseyville Sun on his stand against Yolo Water and Power.

The newspapers made no secret of their political affiliations, declaring allegiance to the Republicans or Democrats. In the 1870s, Lakeport had two rival Democrat newspapers the Lake Democrat and the Lake County Bee, which merged in 1880.

Along with her husband Ross, Bonny Hanchett, who died in 2008, ran the Clear Lake Observer-American, based in Lower Lake, Calif., from 1955 to 1986. Courtesy photo.

Lake County’s newspapers were often “mom-and-pop” enterprises with family members performing all the roles from sweeping the floor to writing editorials and handling the finances.

Spouses Alonzo and Lavinia Noel ran the Lower Lake Bulletin together for five years until Alonzo’s death in 1893, and then Lavinia published and edited the Bulletin for another 26 years.

Manning and Marcia Mayfield bought the Clear Lake Press in 1893. Manning died in 1903 and Mrs. Mayfield continued the business with her son-in-law David F. McIntire until her retirement in 1905.

J.S. and Nora McEwen operated the Kelseyville Sun for 10 years before selling it to Eubra and Alice Bryant in 1911. The Bryants owned the paper until 1942 when “ill health and war conditions forced its closure.”

Ed and Florence Moore owned the Lake County Bee, the Lake County Record and the Clear Lake Press, all antecedents of the Record-Bee, between 1926 and 1951.

Bonny and Ross Hanchett bought the Clear Lake Observer-American in 1955 and ran the paper until 1986, when they sold it. Ross Hanchett died a short time later and Bonny became the owner of the Cloverdale Reveille for nearly 20 years.

Among Lake County’s newspapermen have been people who started young in printing and journalism, such as Eubra Bryant and Ed Moore, but others began their careers in other fields.

Lawyers such as Alonzo Noel, David Hanson, R. W. Crump and D. F. McIntire were drawn to newspapering and all published newspapers in Lake County. Hanson, Crump and McIntire all served as Lake County’s district attorney.

The publishers kept up with technology, embracing the latest technology to produce their papers.

Marcia Mayfield was one of those who set type by hand before Percy Millberry brought a Merganthaler linotype machine to Lake County in 1912. Linotype machines were standard equipment in Lake County’s newspaper plants. The Record-Bee made major changes in 1973, retooling its operation with a photo-offset press.

Computerization has changed the industry. Composition and layout is done on computers and the news itself is now published online.

Dec. 19, 2006, was an historic day in Lake County journalism, when Elizabeth Larson, her husband John Jensen and others, having left the Record-Bee, started Lake County News ( ), a wholly online news service.

Larson and Jensen married their newspaper backgrounds with their computer skills to bring paperless news to Lake County.

The Record-Bee now publishes both an online version and an e-version. The day may come when all of Lake County’s news will be published online and newsprint might be only a memory.

Printed newspapers are losing ground to instant, electronically-delivered news.

All of Lake County’s local newspapers struggle to survive in competition with multiple electronic media. The papers are thinner than in former days. The Clearlake Observer American, now part of MediaNews Group along with the Record-Bee and about 50 other papers across the country, has returned to being published once a week.

Local ownership of Lake County’s newspapers is rare now. The Middletown Times-Star continues in local hands, but the Record-Bee and the Clearlake Observer American belong to MediaNews Group. Lake County’s online news service, Lake County News, is locally-owned.

For those people interested in reading Lake County’s historical newspapers, microfilm has preserved many of them, making it possible to explore the county’s history as it unfolded.

The California State Library filmed many papers, and the Lake County Library routinely microfilms current Lake County newspapers.

The library’s microfilm collection can be viewed at the Lakeport Library and the Redbud Library in the city of Clearlake on computerized readers that can print, save or email from the films.

Lake County history scrolls through the viewing window, a kind of time machine that offers glimpses of times past.

Jan Cook has lived in Lake County for about 40 years. She works for the Lake County Library, is the editor of the Lake County Historical Society's Pomo Bulletin and is a history correspondent for Lake County News. If you have questions or comments please contact Jan at [email protected] .

January 1913 Lake County Bee Editorial by LakeCoNews

Lake County Record-Bee Genealogy by LakeCoNews

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Comments (1)Add Comment
written by tom, April 28, 2013
Wonderful glimpse into our past. I'd love to see this series continued. I have a copy buried somewhere in my attic of a Middletown Times Star that my great-grandfather subscribed to, dated 1888. I'll try to dig it out and give it to the Museum.

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 28 April 2013 02:48 )