By Carson Gerber
---- — It didn’t take long for Miami County to get its first newspaper. The county was formed in 1832, and by 1837, a paper called the Peru Forester was being published. It covered local issues and addressed the topics of the day in a country that was a little more than 50 years old.
The Peru Forester was just one of many newspapers that sprung up in the first decade of Miami County. By 1844, four papers had been established. The shortest one lasted three months, and the longest survived for three years.
Throughout the decades, more than 55 newspapers covering a wide variety of news started up and died away in Miami County.
“We knew we had a large number of newspapers, but we didn’t think we had that many,” said Elise Kordis, director of the Miami County Museum.
Museum staff began investigating the history of print publications last year, and organized an exhibit documenting the rise and fall of the county’s many newspapers.
Once they realized how many papers actually existed, Kordis said it was pretty shocking.
“It was like, wow, there’s 55,” she said. “We knew there were a few dozen, but we didn’t know there were that many.”
Most of the papers covered news in Peru, but nearly every town in the county had its own publication at some point.
There was Our Village News in Bunker Hill in the early 1870s, the Chili Weekly Gazette in 1895, the Converse Clipper in 1893, the Denver Sun in 1883, the Macy Monitor in 1885 and the Mexico Enterprise in 1892.
Kordis said the late 1800s were a big time for newspapers, not just in the county, but across the country. As industrialization spread and more national issues arose, entrepreneurs had plenty of cash to get newspapers up and running in a rapidly expanding economy.
The creation of so many newspapers in Peru even drew the attention of the editor of the Fort Wayne People’s Press in 1844.
“These Peruvians are great at starting papers, but they all die in their infancy … they should support liberally one small paper at least, they should not let it starve to death before it is three months old,” he wrote.
As the county’s population grew, more niche publications started springing up to address issues important to certain pockets of the population.
There was the Mayflower, a women’s rights newspaper published from 1861 to 1864 that said it was “Devoted to the Interests of Women” and “Devoted to the Literature and the Elevation of Women.”
Editorials encouraged Peru women to educate themselves, and news coverage focused on women’s rights issues of the day.
At least five publications focused on farming and farmers, especially from the early-to-mid 1900s.
A slew of political papers made their appearance from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. Most newspapers published their party affiliation on the front page, but publications like the Peru Democrat and the Peru Republican made their political leanings clear in their titles.
A number of papers also supported the Whig Party, which was the main opposition to the Democratic Party in the mid-1800s. Four different papers supported the Whig Party, but they all died out as the party’s popularity plummeted. The Whigs were replaced by the Republicans sometime in the 1850s.
Political affiliation was a big issue for Miami County papers in the 1800s. Marriage and death announcements were often placed in the paper that supported a subscriber’s politics.
Bunker Hill Air Force Base, later named Grissom Air Force Base, also had its own newspaper called the Hustler — a reference to the Convair B-58 Hustler airplane. The base was activated in 1954, and the paper started publishing in 1959.
The newspaper changed names a number of times over the years, and went out of circulation sometime after 1993, when the base changed to Grissom Air Reserve Base.
There was even a paper called The Orphan, which was published by the Mexico Orphan’s Home for a number of years in the 1890s.
Arguably the most prominent local newspaper man in the county’s history was Omer Holman, who eventually became the publisher and editor of the Peru Republican.
Holman got his start in the industry in 1885 when he was 12 years old, delivering copies of the Peru Journal every day after school. When he graduated from Peru High School in 1891, he worked as a reporter for the Journal.
Two years after that, he started his own newspaper called the Comet, which lasted less than a year. He then went back to the Journal as a reporter and delivery man. Holman estimated he walked more than 45,000 miles delivering newspapers around Miami County.
Holman eventually developed a partnership with W.W. Lockwood, publisher of the Peru Republican. That newspaper was founded in 1856 by another prominent local business man, Ebenezer Loveland. He also helped build the railroad between Peru and LaPorte and founded the Howe Sewing Machine Works in Peru.
After Lockwood died in a car crash in 1906, Holman took over the Republican.
When Holman passed away in 1955, his wife took control of the paper and sold it in 1965 to the Dixon Holding Corp.
Kordis said there’s sometimes a perception rural communities didn’t know much about current events, but she said the number and diversity of the county’s newspapers proves this wasn’t the case.
“Some people think rural communities are out of touch with the world,” Kordis said. “But if you look at it, they weren’t.”
Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, email@example.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.