The front page of the Herald and Tribune on Sept. 15, 1892. (Contributed Herald & Tribune)
Although the town of Jonesborough already has a reputation for celebrating its history, that celebration may expand this week, as the town’s oldest publication observes more than 140 years of news coverage.
Today, the Jonesborough Herald & Tribune celebrates its 145th anniversary with a special edition newspaper featuring some of its older and more historically significant stories.
Though the paper has been unable to observe its anniversary in previous years — it’s a weekly paper that runs every Tuesday — this year, the paper was able to take advantage of the chance to celebrate its heritage. When he and his staff realized this, Publisher Bill Cummings said they wanted to make this edition special.
“When we learned this year that Aug. 26 is our 145th anniversary, we were excited about finding some older (editions),” Cummings said. In that search, he added that he and his staff spent time “researching our archives and finding older copies we could run and basically reprint to give the readers an idea of what our paper looked like 145 years ago.”
Like other papers of that time, Cummings said the Herald & Tribune boasted little front-page artwork and gave precedence to stories of national renown.
“Back then, a lot of what was featured on the front page was national and international news, because that’s how people got all of their news,” Cummings said. “Then there would be some local stories on the front, too, such as meetings and that sort of thing.”
Though its stories may have been limited, the town of Jonesborough and newsworthy events were not exclusive. According to Cummings, the year 1873 proved to be a trying one for the town as it battled a lethal strain of disease.
“The major events that happened in Jonesborough were in 1873,” he said. “The cholera epidemic basically turned Jonesborough into a ghost town.
“Jonesborough then had a population of about 2,000 people. As people were getting sick, they just left town. The healthy people would leave town and go out to the countryside and wait for the epidemic to run its course. There were only about 100 people left in Jonesborough. In about a two- or three-week period, 34 or 35 of those died. There was about a 34 or 35 percent mortality rate, including several of the doctors who stayed to care for the ill.”
Though the cholera epidemic would prove costly for the town, 1873 would offer one more trial before its end.
“Later that year, on New Year’s Eve, a major fire broke out in Jonesborough that burned three large buildings right in the heart of town,” Cummings said. “1873 was a tough year for Jonesborough.”
To paint a vivid picture of those and like events, the anniversary edition of the Herald & Tribune will feature the original stories, in their entirety, that covered them. Stylistically speaking, Cummings said there were noticeable differences in the newswriting of today and yesteryear.
“It was a very descriptive, dramatic and flowing use of the printed word,” Cummings said.
As he and his staff pored over microfilm of older papers in creating today’s anniversary edition, Cummings said he felt privileged to represent a publication with the history of the Herald & Tribune.
“When you look back over the history of the paper and everything Jonesborough has been through, from the cholera epidemic to the fire, and later flooding, there’s just so much history here,” he said. “It’s an honor. I’m very fortunate to be a part of it.”
Follow Max Hrenda on Twitter @MaxLHrenda. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/jcpresshrenda.