The exact day the local newspaper in Chattanooga started is unknown, but the year was 1869.
What is known is that The Daily Times was published on Dec. 30, 1869, and a newspaper has been a part of the Chattanooga community for all the 54,435 days since.
A second daily newspaper began publishing in Chattanooga in 1891 and continued until 1999, when the two merged to form this newspaper.
Inside all those pages of newsprint over the last 149 years can be found the ultimate textbook on Chattanooga history, with tens of thousands of chapters.
"Historically, newspapers have played a unique role in this country's history," said Penny Abernathy, who holds the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina. "Newspapers have been community builders as well as educators of its citizens. The first thing a founder of a community west of the Mississippi would do is to put out a newspaper because it creates a sense of identity."
Abernathy is a former editor at the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, where she learned about the history of Adolph Ochs, who bought The Daily Times in 1878 and later bought The New York Times. Abernathy said few communities in America have the legacy of journalism that exists in the Chattanooga region.
"The people who owned newspapers in Chattanooga understood that journalism is not just a way to make money, but a calling," Abernathy said. "It is a mission-driven enterprise where the primary mission is to produce the news and information that feeds our democracy."
To mark the 150th anniversary of the local newspaper, the Chattanooga Times Free Press will dig back into the archives and recall different specific events or days each Sunday through the end of the year, as reported in the newspaper.
"The paper has covered every significant event in the city's history for a century and a half," said Alison Gerber, Times Free Press editor and director of content. "As keeper of the community's story, we thought it would be interesting to look back at both big and small events recorded in the pages of old papers."
The Dec. 30, 1869, edition of The Daily Times was delivered to homes in Chattanooga on that Thursday for 25 cents a week, $10 for the year, and rates were printed at the bottom right corner of the front page. Those prices were good only if you paid "strictly in advance." The front page was six columns, the right two of which were ads except for the daily editorial from publisher Adolph Ochs.
Time has caused many of the written words to be unreadable, but the lead story in the middle of the page carried the headline, "A Controversy in the Catholic Church about Music." The Catholic Telegraph report said, "An effort will be made at the Council to issue a decree prohibiting any music but plain o'haupt music in services of the Church." In the news that day was a notification by the Alabama & Tennessee Railroad that it was shifting its designated stops.
The left column contained briefs from different locations, including Washington, Virginia, New Orleans and Jamaica. A single column presented financial market reports from New York, both noon and night markets; St. Louis; Augusta, GA; Cincinnati; Louisville, Kentucky; Savannah, Georgia; and foreign markets. There was a single sentence that announced that Assistant Secretary of the Treasury William Richardson would "definitely quit Jan. 1." He didn't and was named Treasury secretary three years later.
Over the next 50 years, the look of the newspaper remained the same, although it was now seven columns instead of six. The content changed, as the front page contained no ads and no local news. Twenty-one different stories are on A1 of the Dec. 30, 1919 issue of The Daily Times.
The paper cost 2 cents and had an open call for local content from its readers. "The Times Wants Columns" is the headline just left of the nameplate at the top of the page. "Are Read by Everybody in Chattanooga and Vicinity. Rate 10 Cents Per Line; Payable In Advance."
Among the seven stories across the top of the page is a report titled, "Aid Armenian Girls From Turkish Harlem In Getting Husbands." Lt. Chester Forrester Dunham of Chicago, a member of the Army reserves after the end of World War I, arrived in Armenia to set up a program that rescued young women from the sex-slave industry and then found them husbands. "So far, all of these marriages have turned out happily for all concerned." The story was two paragraphs long.
Right alongside was a report about burglars in New York City that had stolen $25 million worth of merchandise in the previous year, including $1 million lost due to "the number of liberty bonds and other securities appropriated by youthful bank messengers."
The half century since 1919 saw the evolution of photography in newspapers, and by Dec. 30, 1969, the front page of the Chattanooga paper had two large photos of flooding in Bakewell. A picture of a car slammed into a tree ran with a local story about a woman who died in the crash.
There were two papers in Chattanooga in 1969. Ruth Holmberg, the granddaughter of Adolph Ochs, was the publisher of the Chattanooga Times, while Roy McDonald was the owner and publisher of the Chattanooga News-Free Press. The newspaper was now eight columns across and no longer listed its subscription price on the front page. An index to the pages inside the paper and a daily weather forecast were on A1.
"Nixon Signs Tax Reform Bill" was the banner headline. The report said the bill was the "most far-reaching tax bill since the enactment of the income tax in 1913." The paper had a "BULLETIN" in the middle of the page announcing that Doug Dickey, the Tennessee coach coming off a conference championship, would leave to become the next football coach at the University of Florida.
In addition to the Bakewell flood, the local news of the day included the third part of a series previewing the upcoming Legislature, a story headlined "Banks to Compound Interest Daily Here" and a report out of Madison, Tennessee, about local banks beginning to use compound interest. Well-known City Hall reporter J.B. Collins had a story on the bottom of Page A1 about certain litigation around the city of East Ridge trying to annex 63 acres of property inside the Chattanooga city limits, the city trying to annex part of the Tyner area and the city preparing to oppose a rate increase from Tennessee American Water.
Reflecting the desegregation issues in the South, an all-capital-letters headline out of Jackson, Tennessee, said "PLAN OKAYED ON MIXING. Madison to Abolish 6 Negro Schools."
The events of Dec. 30, 2019, have yet to be written, but the events chronicled in the newspaper over those 49 years and two weeks are as impactful as any over the past 15 decades.
President Richard Nixon was impeached and resigned after being engulfed by the Watergate scandal, which began with an innocuous story in a newspaper. The Vietnam War, the deadliest in American history, came to an end, while the nation celebrated its bicentennial and Elvis Presley died.
The economy soared and crashed. The Cold War ended, and the country went to war in the Persian Gulf, where it remains. The first woman went into space and the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff. O.J. Simpson was found not guilty, while Princess Diana died in a car crash.
And there was 9/11.
Chattanooga went from the dirtiest city in America to a destination point for young entrepreneurs. The Tennessee Aquarium changed downtown Chattanooga forever. The city had its first businessman mayor and later a second businessman mayor who would become a U.S. senator. A predominantly black school system merged with a predominantly white school system.
"What we have found over and over is that newspapers have historically and are still currently the primary, if not sole, source of local news and information that I need to care about, even if I don't care about it," Abernathy said. "A good newspaper makes me understand why I should care about it."
Contact Davis Lundy at email@example.com.