A History of The Virginia Gazette

The Virginia Gazette
1736-1765: The Colonial Period
1766-1779: The Revolutionary Era 
1780-1929: The Dormant Period
1930-2002: Modern Times

1736-1765: The Colonial Period

If there is nothing as fragile as news, the fragilityof newspapers themselves runs a close second. Hundreds ofnewspapers have begun with great ambition, only to merge withothers or fold from bankruptcy.

With that knowledge, William Parks might be the most astonishedperson of all to learn that his Virginia Gazette survives intactnearly 270 years after he published the first four-page edition onAug. 6, 1736.

The Gazette encountered its own hard times and ceased publicationseveral times, notably during the 1800s, and the number of years ofpublication totals closer to 210. But in 1986 the Gazette markedits 250th birthday as the oldest newspaper in Americapublished on a non-daily basis. Until it expanded to twice-a-weekpublication in June 1984, the moniker was simpler: America’soldest weekly.

Newspapers were a long time coming to colonial Virginia. Englishlaw precluded any printing by the colonists for years afterJamestown was founded in 1607. The royal governors did not allowany printing until 1690, and even then printers were governed byroyal instructions which required a license and the governor’spermission.

One of those governors, Sir William Berkeley, put it bluntly. "Ithank God, there are no free schools nor printing, and I hope weshall not have these hundred years; for learning has broughtdisobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printinghas divulged them, and libels against the best government. God keepus from both."

An enterprising fellow tried anyway.

In 1682, a printer named William Nuthead arrived at Jamestown, thenthe capital. He set up his press and began to publish the acts ofthe recently adjourned Assembly. He also printed several otherpapers about which nothing is known.

Nuthead was called before the governor and the council, where hewas ordered to stop the presses "until the signification of hisMajesties pleasure shall be known therein." Within months that"pleasure" was known when a royal order was issued that "no personbe permitted to use any press for printing upon any occasionwhatsoever."

With that definitive ruling, Nuthead packed up and returned to hisnative Maryland. Printing was nonexistent in the colony for nearly50 years thereafter.

Government policy eventually eased and a more tolerant attitudeprevailed. In 1730 William Parks moved from Annapolis toVirginia’s new capital, Williamsburg, to open a branch office.Parks had only three years earlier founded Maryland’s firstnewspaper, The Maryland Gazette.

Parks was an eminent printer. Before arriving in Maryland heoperated printing shops in three locations of his native England– Ludlow, Hereford and Reading.

An accomplished printer of job work and newspapers, it is a wonderthat Parks waited six years before publishing his first VirginiaGazette. Perhaps like virtually every other colonial printer hewanted to build a base of printing operations on which to found thepaper.

It’s possible the trial of John Peter Zenger in 1735 had aninfluence on Parks. Zenger was the publisher of the New York WeeklyJournal who was charted with seditious libel for his disrespect inprint of the Crown. A jury freed Zenger and "There were huzzahs inthe hall," according to one report.

If Parks was struck by Zenger’s zeal, he did not reflect itin print. His own sheet was devoid of outright political criticism,and journalism historian Edwin Emery does not list Parks among thetop ten leaders of the pre-Revolutionary press.

Nonetheless, Parks had an effect on Williamsburg. Right from thestart his Gazette had the professional touch of a master craftsman.The earliest edition in existence, No. 6, is full of accounts fromEngland, including news of the ministry, unrest in Persia, and thisjuicy crime item:

"We have an Account from Bristol, that last Wednesday Morning, oneMrs. Norman, who kept a Huckster Shop on St. Phillip’s Plainthere, was found murdered in her own Shop, in a very dismallmanner, she having several Marks of Violence about her Head, which,in all probability was the Cause of her Death, of of which a largeQuantity of Blood issued."

News in the Gazette was taken largely from letters written abroadand recently arrived in the hands of the printer himself orfriendly readers. Information was also taken from English papersand other colonial sheets.

There was not much local news in Parks’ Gazette. What littlethere was appeared primarily in advertisements of recent shiparrivals, shops opening, runaway slaves, deserted spouses, andstrayed horses.

By today’s standards The Virginia Gazette of 1736 would lookgray and ponderous. There were no headlines, no photographs, nofancy page makeup. But there was news, and for a town that neverhad a newspaper before it was welcome.

It was also well produced. The writing was clear and to the point,though modern readers may find it difficult to plod through thelong "s" formation that resemble an "f."

There were few typographical errors, which is a statement anynewspaper then or now would like to make. But it was even moredifficult in the 1700s. There were six variations of the "s"ligature, and most nouns were upper-cased regardless of whetherthey were proper nouns.

Advertising was crucial to The Virginia Gazette. Parks ran an"Advertisement, concerning Advertisements" on Oct. 8, 1736, whichconcluded with this promotion:

"And as these Papers will circulate (as speedily as possible) notonly all over This, but also the Neighboring Colonies, and willprobably be read by some Thousands of People, it is very likelythat may have the desir’d Effect; and it is certainly thecheapest and most effectual Method that can be taken for publishingany Thing of this Nature." The same holds true today.

A typical day for William Parks had him working ten hours, perhapsmore if he was printing his weekly Gazette on his sheet-fedhandpress. It was a laborious process of setting the type by hand,picking letter by letter from a box of matrices.

Once the type was set it was locked into place in a metal form.The type was inked and paper was laid across. The form was rolledinto the press, where the pressman "pulled" an impression byyanking with both arms the big handle of the press. This pressureforced the press to screw down on the paper and imprint the type onthe paper sheet. Around 200 sheets an hour were printed this way,then hung to let the ink dry.

Hours were dictated largely by daylight, although some type wascomposed by candlelight. This led to errors and an occasionalmishap in which trays of painstakingly set type were "pied" orspilled.

Colonial printers were hampered by a scarcity of type that slowedthe printing of books because only a few pages could be set at atime before the letters were reused.

Weather frustrated many a printer, Parks included. Winter coldslowed the mails on which the Gazette was so dependent for news.When no dispatches arrived, Parks would offer that as an excuse forprinting a shorter sheet. Spring and fall were the busy time duringwhich the General Court convened in Williamsburg. Summer and winterwere comparatively dull, and this is reflected in the Gazettes ofthe period.

Censorship also posed problems, and from three sectors: theEnglish government, local authorities, and an offended public.

The last major problem faced by colonial printers was a shortageof paper. This was handmade stuff, consisting of ground-up rags. Itwas tough and durable but varied in quality.

During 1736-1744 Parks imported his paper from Pennsylvania,except for finer stock shipped from England for publishing booksand other more permanent pieces.

In 1743 at the urging of Benjamin Franklin, Parks set aboutbuilding his own paper mill in Williamsburg. Over the next fouryears Franklin sold Parks 11,382 pounds of rags. Appeals were oftenprinted asking readers to save their old clothes for paper-makingpurposes. Old shirts, caps, dresses, handkerchiefs and gowns werebrought and subsequently returned to the reader in a differentform.

Park’s watermark, with the distinctive "WP" and crown, waslater recovered during the restoration of Williamsburg. It remainsperfectly intact more than 200 years later, despite the intricacyof the watermark’s fragile wires.

By 1776 the paper mill in Williamsburg had apparently ceasedoperations, and printing paper was being imported from Philadelphiaby water. It was risky and uncertain, since colonial ships werefair game for British men-of-war.

In early 1750 Parks sailed for England on a business trip. Duringthe voyage he was seized with a fatal attack of pleurisy and wasburied at journey’s end in Gosport, England.

The stature of William Parks in journalism history can be measuredin part by the number of "firsts" to his credit:
  • First newspaper in Maryland.
  • First public printer in Virginia.
  • First newspaper in Virginia.
  • First publications of literary works in Virginia.
  • First paper mill south of Pennsylvania.
  • First postmaster of Virginia.
Add to this his diversity, energy and penchant for excellence, andone realizes what a giant Parks was in pre-Revolutionary times.

Lawrence Wroth described it best. "The establishment of fourpioneer newspapers in as many towns, the publication of thecollected laws of two American colonies, the fostering of literarytradition in these colonies by his encouragement of native writersare projects that speak clearly of unusual enterprise in one whoafter all was a provincial printer, or as we should describe himnowadays, a country printer."

1766-1779: The Revolutionary Era

If there ever was a heyday for newspapers in Virginia andWilliamsburg, it was during the Revolution. Albeit partisan, TheVirginia Gazette and other colonial newspapers reported well thenews of the growing unrest between the Crown and the colonies.

Fully 10 years before the Declaration of Independence, thereappeared carefully worded accounts. The repeal of the Stamp Act inMarch 1776 brought great rejoicing to the colonies and was coveredlocally in The Virginia Gazette on June 20, 1776.

"On Friday last, a good deal of Company being in Town at the Oyerand Terminer Court, our Gratitude and Thankfulness upon the joyfulOccasion of the Repeal of the Stamp Act and the universal Pleasureand Satisfaction it gives that all Differences between the MotherCountry and her Colonies are so happily terminated, was manifestedhere by general illuminations…"

Following the death of William Parks in 1750, his associate inbusiness, William Hunter, bought the printing shop and with it theGazette. Hunter went on to distinguish himself in the tradition ofWilliam Parks.

He served jointly with Benjamin Franklin as deputy postmastergeneral for all the colonies. He also printed in 1754 the firstpublished writings of George Washington, "The Journal of MajorGeorge Washington," who at the time was 22 years old.

Hunter was the brother-in-law of John Holt, noted printer ofConnecticut and New York in Revolutionary times. Hunter died in1761 and was succeeded by another brother-in-law, Joseph Royle.Hunter’s will stipulated that Royle manage the business forhimself and Hunter’s infant son, William Hunter Jr.

Already things were heating up politically and competitively. Aloyalist clergyman, the Rev. John Camm, could not get his pamphletprinted because the printer, Royle, objected to its "SatyricalTouches upon the Late Assembly."

Yet when Col Richard Bland set out to reply to Camm’spamphlet, Royle was a willing printer.

This selective suppression of views went badly for Royle. Theregrew a controversy between him and The Maryland Gazette overaccusations that Royle refused to print attacks on the localgovernment.

At the urging of Thomas Jefferson and others, William Rind movedfrom Annapolis in 1766 to set up a rival Virginia Gazette.

Jefferson recalled years later that "we had but one press, and thathaving the whole business of the government, and no competitor forpublic favor, nothing disagreeable to the governor could be gotinto it. We procured Rind to come from Maryland to publish a freepaper."

Royle died shortly before Rind came to Williamsburg, and it turnedout to be a fortuitous death for the new fellow. Rind was electedpublic printer by the House of Burgesses, giving him an economicfoothold in the form of printing documents and laws. As it turnedout, the Assembly three years later spread the wealth to bothGazettes when it ordered them to print a large volume of the Actsof Assembly then in force.

Alexander Purdie succeeded Joseph Royle as publisher of theoriginal Virginia Gazette. In 1767, Purdie took into the businessJohn Dixon, who by marriage was related to Royle’s widow.

Purdie, dissatisfied with the partnership, withdrew to set up hisown Virginia Gazette. The first issue appeared Feb. 3, 1775.

If the reader is confused, imagine how confused Williamsburgreaders were 200 years ago. By early 1775 there were three separateVirginia Gazettes, all operating in town and all under the samename.

There was Dixon’s Gazette (the original), Rind’s Gazetteand Purdie’s Gazette (the newest).

They all carried pretty much the same news in largely the sameformat, four to eight pages weekly. The easiest way to tell themapart was by their mottos. The original Gazette was known to be"Containing the freshest Advices, Foreign an Domestick."Rind’s Gazette promised it was "Open to all Parties butInfluenced by None." Purdie’s declared "Always for Liberty andthe Publick Good."

Nor were these three the only Virginia Gazettes. By 1809 a totalof 24 papers in the state had used the term Virginia Gazette intheir flags.

The reason is simple.

"Gazette" in Britain specified "official record" and lent realauthority to any periodical with that name. In the colonies, theAssemblies ordered their resolutions and proclamations printed "inthe Gazette" or "in The Virginia Gazette" for public attention andconsumption.

But it was not specified which Gazette was to get the business,leaving it up for grabs in Williamsburg among three papers. Aprinter calling his paper, say, The Williamsburg Bugle, wasautomatically eliminating himself from any government income.

Dixon did not run the original Gazette alone when Purdie left.Dixon went immediately into partnership with William Hunter Jr.,son of the late printer. Together they continued their Gazetteuntil the end of 1778. Early in 1779 Hunter joined the Britishforces and left Williamsburg.

Dixon then entered into partnership with Thomas Nicolson andrevived the Gazette in February 1779, but it was not to last forlong – at least not in Williamsburg. When the capital wasmoved from Williamsburg to Richmond in 1780, the printersfollowed.

Rind’s paper was taken over upon his death in 1773 by hiswife, Clementina. She thus became the first woman printer andeditor in Virginia, and is credited by at least one historian asone of the 10 pioneer women journalists in America.

By 1775 John Pinkney took over as manager and then in 1776 asowner of Mrs. Rind’s shop and paper, but he moved to NorthCarolina early in 1777 and died in August that year. This markedthe end of the second Virginia Gazette.

The third Gazette operated by Alexander Purdie continued after hisdeath in 1779. His nephew, John Clarckson, and one of his printers,Augustine Davis, ran it until the end of 1780 when it ceasedoperations because the capital had moved.

Printers’ fortunes – indeed everyone’s – roseand fell with the legislature. As the Revolution intensified, sodid government action, and in the brief 14-year span of 1766-1780three Virginia Gazettes prospered, only to vanish when the GeneralAssembly packed up and left.

The Gazettes of the 1770s contain a myriad of fascinating detailsabout the Revolution, and about life itself. Ever since 1930 whenit was revived, the modern Virginia Gazette has run a weekly columnof extracts from these papers, usually 200 years ago to the month.The extracts ran on page 1 for years but now run on the Diversionspage.

An essay in the Gazette of June 2, 1774, had this to say about the"Rise and Utility of Newspapers":

"Politicks are now little more than a Farce; The Rage of Partyhas, in great Measure, subdued, and Peace having fixed her Standardamong us, we are no longer troubled with long accounts of Battlesbetween contending Armies. Our Newspapers are now devoted to a moreagreeable Purpose: They yield us a more amusing Variety of Matter,as they are either employed n the politer Services of Literature,or in establishing more extensive Connexions amongst Mankind."

Historian William P. Black said, "What is particularly importantabout the years of Alexander Purdie’s editorship is not simplythat he provided a free forum for local writers, but that the veryfreedom of his press prompted Virginians to speak openly on nativesubjects."

Often when readers wanted to be free to write scathing criticismof policies and people, they signed their remarks with pseudonymssuch as "Nonestus," "Phili Meritus" or "Dikephylos."

Sometimes it didn’t work, as in the case of a Virginiaclergyman who attempted to praise himself using a pseudonym. Hesent in a wedding announcement which described the sermon preachedby the Rev. Mr. Dunlop as given in a "New and striking Manner."Three weeks later, the paper carried "A consolatory Epistle of theReverend Mr. D_______P, Upon the Unlucky Discovery His Being theAuthor of His Own Panegyrick."

The Gazettes published much poetry, often satirizing or defendingpeople. One writer, disgusted with the satirical verse, wrote oneof his own, calling their writings the "Bully’s art," andcomparing their poetry to the screeching of an owl.

Satire turned against satirists was not uncommon, either. Whendebates dragged to excessive length, readers often responded withangry threats of canceled subscriptions.

More predominant was the long heavy prose on the state of thecolonies or the world in general.

Native humor was found sparingly in the Gazettes. "Hasty Pudding,a Cure for the Quinsy," ostensibly informed the public of a newcure. Actually it was a farce recounting a tale of a doctorordering two large bowls of hasty pudding for a patient sufferingfrom an inflamed throat. A slight spill from one of the bowlsresulted in a pudding fight, and the ensuing laughter cured thepatient of his quinsy.

Minority views were also printed, as in the case of a grouchycharacter reflecting on "the Absurdity of various fashionableCustoms."

"It is my Misfortune to visit some Houses where six Children dineat the Table, and Mamma, to show her good Breeding and Manners, hastaught all her squeaking Brats to drink to every Person’sHealth at the Table and therefore, we have nothing in our Ears butthe dull Repetitions of these Children, to show their Observance oftheir Mamma’s Dictates."

Purdie’s Gazette, from which all these items have beenextracted, continued to be a sparkling newspaper after it wasformed anew in 1775 and Dixon was left with the originalGazette.

Perhaps because Dixon’s new partner, William Hunter Jr., wasa loyalist, the original Gazette dragged its feet on covering theRevolution. In any event, Purdie continually scooped the other twoGazettes.

On Feb. 2, 1776, Purdie printed excerpts from Tom Paine’spamphlet, "Common Sense," the famous statement of arguments forindependence. John Pinkney ran it the next day in his VirginiaGazette.

Purdie also beat the competition on breaking the Declaration ofIndependence. He published a brief reference to it by way of thepostmaster in Fredericksburg on July 12, just 10 days afterCongress resolved that the united colonies were free andindependent states. (It wasn’t declared until July 4.)

The following Friday, July 19, Purdie ran key passages from theDeclaration, promising to print the entire document next week.Dixon and Hunter followed suit and the two Gazettes ware thought tobe the first papers outside Philadelphia to print the Declarationverbatim.

What’s curious is how the two Gazettes played it up – ordown. Purdie ran it as lead story on Page 1, which it consumedentirely before concluding atop page 2. There were also reports onthe proclamation of the Declaration in Trenton, New York andWilliamsburg.

Dixon and Hunter, on the other hand, ran the Declaration on Page2, reserving Page 1 for lesser accounts about shipping, navalmatters and a death. (Pinkney’s Gazette didn’t run it atall – it had folded the previous February.)

No one knew during these troubled times what the outcome of theRevolution would be. But the Gazettes and the other 34 colonialnewspapers reported the excesses of the British government and thesteps taken by the colonists to guarantee their own freedoms.

More than the political pamphlet and more than the sermons bypolitical clergy, the colonial newspaper contributed the most tothe propaganda of the Revolution. The Patriot press inspired thecolonies to rebel against tyranny, and it worked.

1780-1929: The Dormant Period

Nothing, not even war, had such a disastrous effect onWilliamsburg as the removal of the capitol in 1780 to Richmond. Itwas done to make the seat of government more convenient to thewesterly counties of the state, including what is now Illinois andKentucky.

Like other merchants and lawyers and doctors, John Dixon and JohnNicolson moved their Virginia Gazette to Richmond, leavingWilliamsburg without a newspaper for the first time in 44years.

A case can be made that the Gazette did not die out since it wasmerely removed to Richmond, but the fact is Williamsburg waswithout its own hometown paper.

Furthermore, the original Gazette that did continue in Richmondwas quickly dissipated by competition and an apparent disregard byDixon and Nicolson for their paper’s historic title andidentity.

Dixon and Nicolson published their last Gazette in Williamsburg onApril 8, 1780. The first issue in Richmond appeared May 9, 1780. Itcontinued until April 21, 1781, and then stopped until May 19,which is the last issue located. In December 1781, Nicolsonestablished The Virginia Gazette, or Weekly Advertiser. Dixon wasno longer partner; William Prentis was.

In February 1782 they changed the "or" in the flag of the paper to"and," so it read The Virginia Gazette, and the Weekly Advertiser.In 1792 the initial "The" was removed from the flag. Nicolsoncontinued the paper until 1797, when it apparently folded with theissue of April 22.

It was a sudden and serious vacuum, considering that in recentyears three Virginia Gazettes were competing for readers andadvertisers. But there was no news to speak of anyway, since allthe government activity that stimulated Williamsburg had shifted 50miles up the James.

It was many years before another newspaper was established inWilliamsburg. In 1824 Joseph Repiton set up the Phoenix Gazette andWilliamsburg Intelligencer. In 1828 the Plough-Boy was added andthe paper renamed the Phoenix Plough-Boy. Publication continueduntil July 1829.

Then for the next 25 years the quiet of inactivity again settledon Williamsburg, known as the "great decline." During these yearsno newspaper was published in the community.

In 1853 Thomas Martin re-established The Virginia Gazette. HarveyEwing became editor in 1854. In 1857 E.H. Lively associated withEwing and they continued the Gazette until June 9, 1858.

When Ewing retired R.A. Lively became associated with his brotherand continued the publication until the Civil War intervened.

Federal troops took over Williamsburg in May 1862. The Gazetteplant was seized and editor Lively, who had joined the Confederateforces, was captured and sent to prison.

At the end of the war the press was returned to Lively inWilliamsburg. For a time he published a paper called The WeeklyReview, but in 1869 with his brother he again revived The VirginiaGazette. It was suspended a short time later, however, in 1871.

During 1884-1887 Benjamin Long and R.T. Armistead published TheWilliamsburg Gazette and James City County Advertiser. It was thefirst and only time a paper carried the name Williamsburg Gazette,though even today many mistakenly call The Virginia Gazette by thatname.

There was no paper published for another six years until in 1893W.C. Johnson revived the Virginia Gazette. This time publicationlasted 25 years until 1918. Two years later, Record PublishingCorp. took control and published the Gazette until 1922.

In 1926 Dr. J.A.C. Chandler, president of the College of Williamand Mary, resumed publication of the Gazette, with Havilock Babcockof the School of Journalism, as editor. The paper died out in sixmonths and eventually so did the journalism school.

1930-2002: Modern Times

In 1930, as work on the town’s first major restorationundertaking, the Christopher Wren Building was nearing completion,newspaper publisher J.A. Osborne came to Williamsburg. He came atthe request of W.A.R.

Goodwin, rector of Bruton Parish Church, who originally envisionedthe restoration of Williamsburg to its colonial appearance. It wasDr. Goodwin’s idea that if Williamsburg was to be revived, sotoo should its newspaper, The Virginia Gazette.

Osborne moved his Florida plant to Williamsburg and on Jan.10,1930, with his son, Hugh S. Osborne, issued the first edition ofthe revised Gazette under the original Williams Parks motto,"Containing the freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestick."

The paper has been printed every week since, including semi-weeklythe past 25 months. It is a curiosity that the two longest spans ofuninterrupted publication are at opposite extremes of thepaper’s time line: 1736-1780 and 1930-present. In 1932, FrankL. Adolph joined his father-in-law, J.A. Osborne, in the business.Osborne’s son, J.A. Jr., came to the paper in 1944.

From 1930 on, many members of the Osborne family worked for theGazette. By 1957 Alex Osborne was business-ad-job manager; MildredOsborne Adolph was social editor; and Marian Osborne was the newassistant editor.

A third sister, Marguerite Osborne, was the editor. She was onlythe second woman to hold the job in over 200 years, succeedingClementina Rind.

When the Osbornes sold the paper to John O.W. Gravely IIIeffective Jan. 1, 1961, an era of family control ended as theGazette changed hands. But Marian Osborne remained and becamebusiness manager. She retired in October 1975 after 45 years ofservice to the paper, the longest stretch by a single Gazetteemployee.

In 1970 the Gazette turned from the traditional letterpressoperation for printing the paper to the more modern offsetmethod.

The result has been a crisper print job on finer paper with sharperpictures as well. The Gazette also dropped its 200-year-old tabloidform for the more practical and modern broadsheet.

In July 1972 the entire Gazette plant and offices were moved from420 Prince George St. in mid-town to 173 Second St. on the easternfringe of the city. This doubled the news and production space to6000 square feet and included a new 1400-square-foot wing for afull-sized press capable of printing 15,000 papers an hour. A laterexpansion of the press boosted its page capacity to 20 pagesbroadsheet or 40 pages tabloid.

By May 1975 when Gravely died unexpectedly at the age of 47, theGazette had grown threefold in 15 years to 8,100 paid circulationand had regained its position as the leading newspaper in theWilliamsburg area.

Gravely’s success with the Gazette was due entirely to hisown broad experience in newspapers. Unlike many publishers whobecame specialized in news or advertising departments in theirformative years, Gravely was experienced in both sectors. He workedfor four years writing city and state news with the RichmondTimes-Dispatch in the early 1950s and then moved to advertisingsales, where he spent another four years and rose to assistantmanager of national advertising.

During the next 11 years, the Gazette staff grew to 52 full-timeemployees, 29 part-timers and 17 motor route carriers.

The news staff now comprises 10 reporters and editors and 10 morecolumnists and part-time reporters.

Under the late Al Eberhard and his successor as productionmanager, Ralph Swartz, the Gazette modernized its typesetting, jobprinting presses and camera department, and expanded into offsetproduction and other community and college publications.

In March 1986 William C. O’Donovan, assistant publisher andeditor, was named editor and publisher when the Gazette was sold toChesapeake Publishing Corp., a subsidiary of WhitneyCommunications.

Swartz became general manager for printing.

During Mrs. Burgess’s tenure as publisher and president, theGazette took another major step when it became a twice-weeklynewspaper. Although it lost its unique distinction asAmerica’s oldest weekly newspaper, it celebrated a landmark injournalism history 250 years to the day that William Parks firstpublished The Virginia Gazette.

In 1988, the Gazette built a 9,000-square-foot office building infront of its printing plant on Ironbound Road. That tripled theworking space and enabled the staff to grow accordingly. Theinterior was designed with plenty of open space and few walls, aswell as with windows looking out from nearly all departments.

In 1992, Chesapeake Publishing set out on a strategy of"clustering" newspapers in Virginia, having already done sosuccessfully in Maryland. The Northern Neck News in Warsaw waspurchased from R. Marshall Coggin, whose family had run the paperfor 113 years. After several years, the office building was guttedand rebuilt to modern specifications.

In 1995, Chesapeake bought five weeklies from AtlanticPublications of the Eastern Shore:
  • Northumberland Echo in Heathsville.
  • Westmoreland News in Montross.>
  • The Caroline Progress in Bowling Green.
  • Tidewater Review in West Point.
  • Sussex-Surry Dispatch in Wakefield.
By 2000, Chesapeakehad grown nearly 1,000 employees working at 55 publications andfour printing plants in five states. The Virginia division had 145working at seven newspapers, three specialty magazines, and aprinting plant.

In 2001 Chesapeake began divesting much of the company by sellingoff certain divisions to publicly traded companies. The Daily PressInc., a subsidiary of Tribune Co., bought the entire Virginiadivision and pledged to preserve the competitive spirit of news andadvertising between the daily and the Gazette in the Williamsburgmarket.

In 2002, the four papers comprising the Northern Neck group weresold to a family with ties to the Northern Neck. Michael and CarolDiederich of Richmond and Oak Grove joined with his parents Billand Mary Diederich of Incline Village, Nevada, to take over thepapers as well as the visitor publication Riverviews.

By 2002, the flagship Virginia Gazette had grown to a paidcirculation of 16,500 and running up to 100 pages a week.

Under  Daily Press ownership, improvements in technology andprinting enhanced the look of the paper, including widerapplication of color. Internal improvements extended throughout alldepartments to improve workflow and productivity. A revamped Website enabled readers to get in touch with the paper more easily andcheck current news and commentary.

Along the top of the walls surrounding the News and Advertisingdepartments, hundreds of awards over the years testify to theGazette’s excellence in reporting, writing, design,photography and advertising. The paper won Virginia’sprestigious Copeland Award for community excellence in 1969, 1980and 1994, as well as numerous top awards for editorialleadership.

To this day, the paper serves the Williamsburg area with the sameenthusiasm that inspired William Parks. The company has quietlylobbied the City of Williamsburg to name a street on his behalf tocommemorate the printer who started it all.

--From a 1986 history of The Virginia Gazette by W.C.O’Donovan, updated 2002 and transcribed by Lew Leadbeater

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