Henderson Reporter newspaper closed doors 120 years ago, but downtown home remains today
By FRANK BOYETT, Gleaner staff
The Reporter is the only Henderson newspaper published prior to the 1890s to survive on microfilm with large periods intact. For that we must largely thank Percy N. Simmons. In February 1925, four decades after he and his father had shut down the Reporter and returned to Mississippi, Simmons packaged up the bound volumes of the Reporter published between 1880 and 1885 and shipped them to Henderson Public Library.
I began using the Reporter as one of my primary sources five years ago; it was a temporary replacement to fill a 1900-1904 gap in surviving issues of The Gleaner.
Researching a history column can be time-consuming, which is why I've largely restricted my scope to old newspapers. By mid-September I'll have mined out the existing run of the Reporter's 1861-65 publications. So, after having already perused all of the Reporter from the 1880s, this fall I'll be reverting to writing about what happened 100 years ago.
The final issue of the Reporter on May 2, 1885, included a brief history of the paper written by E.L. Starling, who had been the Reporter's editor prior to helping found the Henderson Journal in December 1883. What I find interesting about Starling's article is that the building where the Reporter was born still exists, even though the Reporter is long gone. Here is how Starling began his history:
"The Reporter was established in 1853, the first number appearing March 31st. The office of publication was then upstairs in the building now owned and occupied by John Reichert on Main Street."
That building at 121 N. Main St., which long housed Reichert's cigar factory, was lovingly restored by Ralph and Marcia Baker in 2003. Balfour Rings & Things occupies the ground floor. The upstairs, where the Reporter was first published, has been authentically restored as a spacious apartment available for corporate meetings, private parties or similar uses.
The first proprietors of the Reporter, according to Starling, were E.W. Worsham, who later founded a major distillery here, and Col. C.W. Hutchen, who later became county judge. Politics appeared to break up their partnership. In 1855 Worsham was elected state representative on the American Party ticket better known as the Know Nothing Party; Hutchen, the Democratic nominee, was his opponent.
Hutchen was the editor and under his leadership the Reporter vigorously battled the Know Nothing party in the 1855 election.
"Thoroughly tutored in the Jeffersonian school of politics, Col. Hutchen saw in the new faction the Trojan horse that threatened the bulwarks of our political unity," Starling wrote.
Hutchen turned over the editor's chair to J.M. Dodd in 1856 and in 1860 the paper was bought by J.S. Spidel and J.G. Staples, who were both young men at the time. Spidel was editor at the outbreak of the Civil War, and at first he was rabidly supportive of the Confederate cause. The displeasure of federal authorities prompted the paper to cease publication "for prudential reasons," between mid-September 1861 and early February 1862, at which time Spidel affected a "neutral" position on the war.
Spidel remained editor until 1876, at which time James N. Banks assumed the job. Starling became editor in June 1878, but at the first of 1880 he sold the paper to Leonidas W. Coleman of Sardis, Miss. Coleman stayed only a couple of years, moving back to Mississippi shortly after his Henderson-born wife died.
The last editor of the Reporter was Judge J.F. Simmons, also of Sardis, who moved here thinking he would later bring his family. But he was unable to sell his house in Mississippi, and as the newspaper field in Henderson began to get crowded, he found it increasingly difficult to support two households. After seeking a buyer for six months, Simmons reluctantly shut down the paper and moved back to Sardis. The weekly Southern Reporter, which he founded there, still publishes to this day.
I suspect the demise of the Reporter probably contributed to The Gleaner moving here from Madisonville. The Gleaner began publishing here in July 1885, two months after the Reporter closed.
Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS