In 1897, William McKinley was president. War with Spain would not break out until the next year. The British Empire was the most powerful country on Earth.
And the Shinnston News published its first editions for a town with a little over 500 residents.
Since then, the paper has changed hands many times. The original owner sold the paper in 1899, then it sold again in 1902 to William A. Meredith. His family would own, shape, and develop the newspaper over the next several decades.
According to Bobby Bice, Shinnston Historical Association president, “the first edition of the paper came off the press in December 1897,” under the direction of Henry Hall. That paper may have carried news of the execution of John F. Morgan in Ripley, the last public hanging in the state.
Hall established the office in a building owned by Benjamin Franklin Lowe, now the Lowe Public Library.
This was neither Hall’s nor Shinnston’s first newspaper. He had previously and briefly published “The Shinnston Star.”
In 1902 the newspaper changed hands again, purchased by William Meredith. As Leigh Merrifield, his great-granddaughter and former editor, says “my great-grandfather was owner, publisher, editor, pretty much everything.”
Merrifield stated “many people are not privileged enough to know their great-grandparents, but I was” then added “they were both fine people. I think of all of the owners who had the Shinnston News. None had 80 years’ longevity with the newspaper.”
Meredith moved the office of the newspaper from Bridge Street to a building near the former location of Short’s Opera House, located on the corner of Pike and Station Streets. Charles Asbury Short built it in 1889 and was used for performances, religious worship, meetings of fraternal organizations, and more.
A fire that started in the Opera House soon spread to engulf the nearby buildings, including the Shinnston News office. The incident inspired Short himself to acquire the equipment to help furnish the first fire department. As Bice describes “after the fire, the news office relocated to a building on lower Station Street until about 1911, when it moved to the building most people know as where the news always was, which was 223 Pike Street.”
Early on, the Shinnston News lived up to the nickname of mass papers of the time “the penny press.,” or perhaps more accurately the two penny press. Merrifield shared that was the cost of an individual paper at the time, with a yearly subscription of 75 cents.
Newspapers had changed drastically after the Civil War. The cost of materials and production dropped substantially at the same time as the emergence of free public schools created widespread literacy across the nation. A huge market for newspapers emerged at the same time that they became much less expensive to get. At the same time, the growing consumer economy paid money for advertisements that brought in revenue as well.
Until around World War I, almost every county and many towns of any size in the state saw pairs of competing newspapers. In these cases, one paper represented the Democratic Party side and the other the Republican. Whichever party held authority in local government threw its local printing to the paper of their side. In Preston County, the Republican Party divided and each side created their own paper, both of which still exist today.
This did not occur in Shinnston, however. Meredith acquired the newspaper during the start of the Progressive Era. In this period newspapers, for the first time ever in large numbers, held up objective and non partisan coverage of news as the desired standard. Merrifield explained that the readers in Shinnston over time responded favorably to this approach, saying “people appreciate local stories. They don’t want all the political stuff.”
The Shinnston News “never had any political rival in its news field,” Bice shared, adding that “I never knew or heard of anyone to state that it definitely took a stand on anything.” He said that the paper may have leaned liberal in earlier times, but “of course West Virginia in general did as well.”
Meredith early on formed a partnership with another newspaperman named Basil Lucas, who also served as a Shinnston representative to the Harrison County Republican Executive Committee, according to the 1916 West Virginia Blue Book. He resided in a towering mansion on what is now Shinnston’s west side, featuring Ionic columns. John Lowe also assisted with leading the paper.
In 1909, Meredith moved to Salem and left the Shinnston News in the hands of his earlier partners, plus Robert L. Finlayson. He returned after only four years and resumed ownership.
The story of the Shinnston News will continue next week, taking a look at the second generation of Merediths to act as stewards of the Shinnston News