Copy of Fire First Newspaper Link to City’s Past
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
To a Mansfield history fan, find a copy of The Olive is something akin to finding a long forgotten Rembrandt in an attic trunk.
Let’s explain that The Olive was the first newspaper published in Mansfield. It was in business less than two years and copies were believed to be nonexistent.
A well-preserved copy of The Olive turned up in Iowa.
Once upon a time Dale P Buhl of Des Moines, Iowa called The News Journal to report he had a copy of the paper. He wanted to know something of its history.
Buhl collects newspapers as a hobby, and said an 1820 copy of The Olive was included in a box of newspapers and clippings he received from a retired minister who lived about 30 miles west of Des Moines. The former minister is deceased and his widow lives in Missouri.
Buhl was kind enough to have sent the paper copied and sent to The News Journal.
The edition of The Olive is dated July 7, 1820. It contains a story about the sale of the paper by John C. Gilkison to Robert Crosswaite and John Fleming.
In his farewell story Gilkison said: “In bidding adieu to the patrons of The Olive we wish to express our thanks for their liberal support. The editor of a newspaper has claims upon him which are, perhaps, not generally considered. Each patron thinks for himself—each one has politically principles which are dear to him and which he wishes to see defended.”
“Deviation in the smallest degree had a tendency to create unfriendly feelings, and as the great variety of opinions precludes the idea of gratifying everyone, no other plan can be adopted than for an editor to make his columns the transcript of his own mind on subjects which are disputed, or give contending parties each an opportunity of being heard. The latter course we have hither-to adopted.”
“In Mr. Crosthwaite, I feel perfect confidence he is capable of taking in the share of discharge of editorial duties, and I rejoice in saying that I anticipate an improvement in the future numbers of The Olive.”
Despite Gilkison’s faith in the new owner, The Olive didn’t prosper, and its shop closed a few months later. The newspaper office was believed to have been in a small structure on South Main Street not far from Park Avenue.
The Gilkison family lived in a small cabin on the future site of the Southern Hotel. Gilkison was one of Mansfield’s first residents and his son, Mansfield Hedges Gilkison, was the first boy born in the new frontier village.
Running a newspaper in a town like Mansfield in 1820 was an almost impossible task. The only means of communication was by mail, and mail was carried mostly by horseback. Roads were virtually unknown. Printing equipment was extremely crude; type was set by hand the small press was hand-operated.
Mansfield at that time had 75 or 80 dwellings; most of them were made of logs. There were few businesses and the county probably had less than 1,000 voters. Some the readers of The Oliver were even in Huron County, which had no newspaper.
The Olive had something less than 400 subscribers at a price of over $2.50 a year. The publisher, however, didn’t count on getting his money in cash. He often had to accept food and other items.
An ad in The Olive said rags would be accepted in payment of subscriptions. While that sounds absurd today, rags were a valuable commodity in a printing office 155 years ago. In the first place, cloth was hard to get. Most of it was used for clothing.
A printing establishment needed rags to clean the type and press and the only way to get them clean was to take them in trade for the paper.
Historians estimate Gilkison had an investment of about $150 in his printing office. The equipment was old and probably had been brought East in a wagon.
After The Olive failed, probably sometime in late 1820 or early 1821, Mansfield was without a newspaper for a time. That virtually left the town without the out side world. If a resident here wanted to subscribe to a newspaper from a larger city, he had to get his paper by horseback or wagon train. By the time the news reached here, it was old.
In 1823, James Purdy, one of Mansfield’s great me, acquired the printing establishment here and began publication of The Gazette, which continued to serve Mansfield and Richland County for at least eight years. It was followed by a series of publications under various owners.
It is not difficult to understand why copies of The Olive disappeared from circulation. The four page sheet was published weekly for about two years. That meant only a hundred or so editions appeared.
General Roeliff Brinkerhoff who published a paper in the mid-1800s was quoted by historians as saying he left a file of The Olive with the Mansfield Library, but it disappeared and no one ever knew what happened to it.
When it was suggested that a copy of The Olive might have been taken to Iowa by Samuel Kirkwood, a Mansfield Mayor in the 1840s, he replied that the idea was interesting, but improbable.
“Many Ohioans moved west before and during the Civil War period, quite a number of them settling in Iowa. The paper could have been brought by any one of them,” Buhl said.
Kirkwood, was born in Maryland in 1813, came to Ohio with his parents in 1835, settling at Newville. He taught there for a time and in 1841 came to Mansfield. He practiced law here and served one term as Mansfield’s Mayor.
He married Jane Clark of Troy Township, and they moved to Iowa in 1855. He was a Democrat when he lived her, but became a Republican later. He served three terms at Iowa Governor and was a US Senator for long period. President James A. Garfield named him secretary of the Interior in 1881, but Kirkwood quit the post after a year.
Purdy, the Mansfield publisher, lawyer and businessman, help found Clinton, Iowa, on the Mississippi River.
So, as Buhl suggested, there were several ways a copy of The Olive might have reached the Hawkeye state.