A quarter century of news: Jamestown Press turns 25 years old
During most of its history, Jamestown hasn’t had its own newspaper. The first periodical published in Jamestown for Jamestowners was The Electric Spark, which began publication in April 1910. The Electric Spark started as the house newspaper for Dr. William Lincoln Bates’ electropathic sanitarium, founded in 1900. Bates’ Sanitarium, also known as Maplewood, was part resort, part a place for rest and recuperation, and part nursing home and electrotherapy treatment center. Almost from the beginning, The Electric Spark carried stories about social and church activities on the island. After March 1915, the paper carried the subhead, “A Monthly Chronicle of Jamestown Happenings.”
Subscription to The Electric Spark, which was usually published monthly although during some periods it appeared twice a month, was 50 cents a year, with single copies selling for five cents.
In 1926, The Electric Spark sparked a rival publication – the weekly Jamestown Town Crier, which was published every Saturday and sold for five cents a copy. The founder was 22-year-old Ernest L. Caswell, the proprietor of the Bay View Hotel for more than 25 years. Marion Albee, who later married Ernest’s brother William Foster Caswell, was the editor. Unlike The Electric Spark, the Town Crier focused on hard news. One early issue discussed the possibility of a canal between the East and West passages and printed a map showing the route of the proposed canal through the Great Creek to Taylor’s Point. Another carried a story about the Jamestown Garden Club’s campaign to ban billboards on the island.
The ambitious paper lasted less than a year.
Leon C. Hull, who was born in Jamestown in 1902, tried several times to start a paper for Jamestown. On June 10, 1937, he distributed the first issue of The Jamestown Gazette. The weekly paper sold for 10 cents. Hull himself was editor, and his wife Irmgard K. Hull was managing editor.
Two years later, in early 1939, the first issue of The Islander, Jamestown’s Own News Magazine appeared, with Leon C. Hull as both editor and publisher. He priced it to sell: five cents a copy, $2 per year, $1 for six months, 50 cents for three months, payable in advance. For about two years, the pamphlet-size magazine dedicated to a “better Jamestown for you and me to live in” was published every week, although not always, as the cover announced, on Thursday.
Hull’s failure to keep his papers going was not because he lost interest in Jamestown news. He continued to write about Jamestown topics for off-island papers and, in 1947-48, the Standard Times published his 10-part series, “A History of Jamestown.”
For almost 50 years after the demise of The Islander, Jamestown depended on newspapers from both sides of the bay for local news, and, most often, on word of mouth. As the population of the island grew, reaching 5,000 in 1990, the men and women interested in town governance complained more and more about the need for a reliable news source closer to home.
Peter J. Malloy listened to the complaints, and on April 21, 1989 – 25 years ago this month – he and his wife Barbara published the first issue of the Jamestown Press. The front page carried an aerial photo of the old Jamestown Bridge and the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge, then under construction. The caption pondered the question that still bothers some Jamestowners: “With all due respect to the great explorer, many people cannot understand why we had to try and establish another Verrazzano Bridge to compete with the original one over the Narrows in New York.”
The first editor, Thomas Reitz, stayed with the paper for only three months, and with the Aug. 3, 1989, issue, Christopher Irby, a freelance writer who had come to Jamestown in the late 1970s, took the helm. Irby continued to be associated with the paper as a writer, at times stepping in as managing editor, and now as editor emeritus. But with Volume 2, Issue 1, on May 3, 1990, Jeff McDonough took over as the editor.
Jeff and his wife Kim came to Rhode Island from Indiana, where both had grown up. Kim, a doctor of pharmacy, worked at the time for Rhode Island Group Health Association in Providence. Jeff, who after attending Purdue University had edited a small-town daily in Indiana, was a freelance writer and publications consultant.
Jeff and Kim purchased the Jamestown Press shortly before Malloy’s death in 1991. The Press became the town’s “paper of record” the same year. With Jeff as publisher, the paper is distributed free of charge to every household in Jamestown, ensuring that everyone has access to information about all facets of Jamestown life.
The paper is also published online at JamestownPress.com. Issues from 1989 to 2005 are available at the Jamestown Philomenian Library, both on microfilm and in digital form at its website, JamestownPhilomenianLibrary.org. All issues since Aug. 4, 2005, are searchable on the Jamestown Press website.