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Saturday, January 15, 2005

History of Solano papers makes headlines

Nancy Dingler

The first experiment in the newspaper publishing business in Solano County was made at Benicia in November 1855, by Messrs, George and Cellars.

The paper was called the Solano County Herald. In 1858, the place of publication was removed to Suisun, and the first number issued there was dated the second day of October of that year.

The managers, who at that time were William J. Hooton & Co., announced that their office was in the “new building south of the plaza.” William J. Hooton was publisher for about a year, from 1858-‘59. He ended his position as publisher to take a new job in Sacramento as a clerk for the Swamp Land Commissioners Board. Unfortunately, the 35-year-old Hooton died shortly thereafter.

In the issue of Dec. 17, 1859, J. G. Lawton Jr. appears as editor and publisher, although prior to that time he had been editor. On the 10th day of March 1860, Powers and Gunnison became the owners, Gunnison occupying the editor’s chair. Later in that year, Edward E. Hathaway was admitted to the firm. By 1863, the Herald moved to Suisun under the reign of O. B. Powers and E.E. Hathaway (or Hatheway).

Hathaway and Powers formed the O.B. Powers and Co. Under the company umbrella, they not only printed the newspaper, they printed books, blanks, bill heads, circulars, ball tickets, programs, posters and cards.  In 1862, another Suisun newspaper was established by H. Hubbard & Co. Its offices were in the Wheaton Building at Main and Solano streets.

Within a month, there was a feud between The Solano Press and The Solano Herald.  The Herald attacked the Press for making allegations that a county representative had overcharged on his travel expenses. Apparently, the county rep was associated with the Herald. A caustic editorial resulted against the Press.

The Solano Press continued publication until September 1866, when its interest was purchased by George A. Gillespie and Woodford Owens. In the fall of 1869, the Press was consolidated with the Herald, the consolidation resulting in the Solano Republican. In October 1875, the paper was purchased by Montgomery and Bowen and moved to Fairfield.

In time, the paper would evolve into the Daily Republic.

In September of 1877 another newspaper in Suisun was started up. Mr. L. L. Palmer began a new enterprise called the Weekly Gleaner. The Gleaner had to be printed by the Solano County Republican. The Gleaner was printed on one side of each sheet of the eight-page paper, and the other side of each sheet was printed in the Solano County Republican office.  The type was hand-set and the edges of the paper were trimmed with a shoe knife. The Gleaner was discontinued by February of 1879, when Palmer was hired by the owners of the Fairfield newspaper.

The early newspaper business, in the 1860s, was a shaky affair. There was never enough money. Printers were itinerant, moving from town to town. There was a constant drive to elicit advertisers and subscribers.  O.B. Powers (Oliver Bliss) obstinately stayed the course, slowly building the business while fending off the competitors. E. E. Hathaway left in 1864 to try his hand at selling insurance.

In May there was a large ad placed announcing that “E.E. Hathaway Is Our Authorized Agent for Suisun and Vicinity - Phoenix Insurance Company of Hartford.” In the meantime, Oliver printed his own ad announcing in November 1864, that The Solano Herald would now provide Notary Public service.  One year later, Hathaway returned, either because of lagging insurance sales or because “he had ink in his blood.” An inducement to subscribers was announced.

The Solano Herald had made arrangements with publishers of Eclectic magazine, Harper’s Monthly and Harper’s Weekly to offer copies of serialized stories.  For a one year subscription of $7.50, in advance to the Herald, the subscriber would receive the Herald and the Eclectic. For $6.75 the subscriber would receive the Herald and either Harper’s Weekly or Monthly.

When the Friday’s edition of Aug. 18, 1865 went to press, E.E. Hathaway was gone again. He ran for People’s Union Party nominee for county clerk. O.B. stayed the course, once more. By 1869, he ran for county judge, obtaining that post in 1870. He served as judge from 1870 until 1873.

O.B. married Harriet (Hattie) R. Clanton of Alameda in September of 1873. His passing would be noted in November 1899 obituaries as a pioneer who had come to California in 1849 from New York. “The deceased had borne a prominent part in the affairs of Solano County and was for many years editor of the Solano Republican. He was active in politics and held the position of Justice of the Peace for several terms.  He was 80 at the time of his death and leaves a widow, one daughter and one son.”

Powers and Hathaway had come to California during the ‘49 gold rush. They, like many others, did not strike it rich, but rather than return “home” decided to make California their home and seek other opportunities.

Hathaway must have moved completely out of the area at some point, because he disappears from the records.  However, Powers continued in the publishing business, as well as a justice of the peace, establishing his reputation and fortune. Relocating to the Suisun Valley from the gold fields, would not be a unique decision. Many saw the rich, fertile Suisun Valley as a prosperous prospect for their future.

Located near the waterway to San Francisco, a much traveled route to the mines, Suisun was part of the Rancho Suisun Grant. It was a future city of promise to Captain Josiah Wing, who in 1851 sailed his schooner, the Anna Sophia, into the bay.

He soon built a wharf and proceeded to conduct business from his schooner. By 1854, with the population swelling from former miners and their families, the captain laid down the street plans for his city. He built a warehouse and hotel and a fine residence.The exodus from the gold fields to Solano County was a boon to agriculture, creating a market for foodstuffs and labor. The captain’s vision came to fruition; he had chosen the ideal place to establish a shipping point for agricultural trade. Captain Wing’s “embarcadero” was a busy place as the transportation of produce farmed throughout the county grew into a prosperous industry.

Suisun grew and prospered in the 1860s. The pioneers were creating a lifestyle similar to the one “back home.” A township system was established. The Semi-Weekly Solano Herald reported on all of the activities, business and social. The news beat may be expanded from those early days, but 150 years later, the Daily Republic is still reporting the news.