The newspaper owners of frontier Ohio were a bit more individualistic and entrepreneurial than modern publishers.
Newspapers are expensive to produce and now typically are backed by large corporations with substantial capital at their disposal. But in 1803, all it took to start a newspaper in the new state of Ohio was a portable printing press and a person who knew how to use it. Such a man was James Gardiner.
Gardiner has the distinction of being the owner, editor, publisher and general factotum of the first newspaper to be published in Columbus. The capital city was more of a plan than an actual plat in 1812 when Gardiner arrived in the area. He previously published a small newspaper in Marietta and decided to make his fortune in the new capital city.
He was undoubtedly dismayed to discover that, other than Statehouse Square, very little of the forest covering the High Banks where the Olentangy met the Scioto had been cleared. Columbus was a village of a few hundred people and many of them were illiterate.
But the War of 1812 had just begun and the village of Franklinton across the river was bustling with activity. Encouraged by the activity in that village, which was founded in 1797 and was more established, Gardiner moved across the river and began publication of his paper called the Freeman's Chronicle. The first issue was printed July 4, 1812.
On the masthead, Gardiner boldly proclaimed his mission: "Here shall the press the people's rights maintain; Unawed by influence, unbribed by gain; Here patriot truth its glorious precepts draw; Pledged to religion, liberty, and law."
Gardiner had a tendency toward the grandiloquent -- but timeliness was not among his goals. News on the frontier was hard to get and often arrived late on the scene.
A later account described the paper's content: "In the news columns, there was very little about Franklinton; the space was devoted to news from Europe, Washington and the Indian wars in which 'Old Tippecanoe,' William Henry Harrison, with headquarters at Piqua and later at Franklinton was then actively engaged. The foreign news was three to five months old, the Washington news was from three to five weeks old, and nearly all of it was taken from other papers received in exchange. The Chronicle also had its political battles to fight ... "
To compound Gardiner's problems, the paper soon would face formidable competition. The Chronicle was the first newspaper in Columbus, but it was not the first in central Ohio.
A few miles up the road from Columbus was Worthington. Established in 1802 by settlers from Granby, Connecticut, Worthington had hopes of becoming the state capital in 1812. But before that, some people in the thriving village felt the time had come to publish a paper.
Col. James Kilbourne, one of the founders of Worthington, made the acquaintance of a man named Robert Richardson, and the two decided to bring a newspaper to Worthington. It turned out to be a difficult undertaking.
A later local history told some of the story: "It was in the summer of 1809 that Robert D. Richardson, who, prior to that time had published the Fredonian, at Chillicothe, and Colonel James Kilbourn brought the first newspaper press into the county for the purpose of establishing a paper at Worthington ... Mr. Richardson however failed to issue the paper and soon left the place, and the enterprise was temporarily abandoned. The Worthington newspaper enterprise remained undeveloped and the press lay idle in the possession of Colonel Kilbourn until 1811, when the publication of the Western Intelligencer was begun by Joel Buttles and George Smith."
Passing through several different hands, the Western Intelligencer came to Columbus soon after the capital city was established. It proved itself to be formidable competition for the Freeman's Chronicle. By 1814, the Chronicle was a financial failure and James Gardiner moved on to other ventures. He died in Columbus in 1837.
The Western Intelligencer was destined to have a much longer life. With different owners, it had become the Ohio State Journal and Columbus Gazette by 1825. The Ohio State Journal went through various mergers and name changes and did not cease publication until 1985.
Over the years, The Ohio State Journal would see significant competition from a number of other papers with a remarkable variety of literary and journalistic merit. But it all began with a few men, a few printing presses and a determination to bring their voices to the people of central Ohio.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek Community News.