Looking Back: Walton put out the news in Lincoln

November 23, 2003|RICHARD C. BROWN

Noted Kentucky historian Thomas Clark has written many books. One of his earliest was "The Southern Country Editor," published in 1948. In it Clark paid tribute to the editors of the country papers who worked during the times of the Granger movement and the myth of the New South. During those years "perhaps no other calling offered so much prestige and community honor in so short a time as did editorship," Clark wrote.

"An ambitious young man possessing a common school education, some gumption, imagination, business ability and mechanical sense could establish himself as a figure in a remarkably brief time."

W.P. Walton fit that pattern. Soon after the end of the Civil War, he was a railroad contractor from Virginia building that section of the Cincinnati Southern Railway that crossed Lincoln County. However, he changed careers in 1875 when he bought a struggling little newspaper a man named Campbell had started in 1872.


Like other country papers, The Interior Journal recorded marriages, births and deaths that occurred among the county's residents. Those citizens who traveled out of town often found their names in the paper when they returned. So did those travelers who came to visit. Still, from the beginning of his editorship, Walton added meat and potatoes to these items by inserting strong statements on public issues.

Gangs of armed thugs ravaged the counties of central Kentucky in the 1870s. The Interior Journal called the pistol carriers "cowards" who substituted firearms for courage. Walton himself made a point of never carrying a gun, though he was often threatened with violence because of his editorials.

Under Walton's editorship, the paper sought to give lessons in proper public behavior. He bemoaned the lack of dignity among Kentucky legislators.

"What a beautiful spectacle," he wrote with sarcasm. "Shooting paperwads, laughing and yelling in their seats, while waiting a message from the governor."

In the 1880s and '90s the activities of the Grange Movement became news for southern newspapers. After attending a Grange barbecue, Walton prepared a column describing his experience. He related that he had enjoyed a bountiful dinner: "Old ham, turkey, chicken, Southern mutton, beef, roast pig, light bread, corn dodgers, delicious cakes, hot coffee and fresh fruits!"

Not only did the dinner impress Walton, but so did the farmers' attractive daughters. His column continued, "We will match Kentucky girls against the world's ancient, medieval and modern belles for beauty, vivacity, general intelligence and cleverness."

He ended by predicting the need for agrarian reform and pointing to signs that Kentucky farmers were about to become involved in politics.

Demands for reform culminated in the Populist parties of the 1890s. Henry W. Grady, editor of the big-city Atlanta Constitution, competed with Walton for attention with his idea of a New South. Grady declared the "Yankee way" was the better route to economic growth in the South. Reject leisure, replace agrarian politics with business and industry, preached advocates of the New South idea.

Walton found the New South idea unattractive and dangerous to traditional southern ideals. "This has been, is, and should remain an agricultural society," he trumpeted from the pages of The Interior Journal.

He feared the impact of a New South on women.

"The New South was worldly," he wrote.

It would bring the wickedness of high life, including lotteries, gaming and drinking. Women would learn the secret of becoming wasp-waisted. They would paint their faces and burn their hair to a crisp with curling irons.

During the first half of the 1900s, the Walton family owned The Interior Journal almost continuously. By this time it was an established institution in Lincoln County, generally following editorial paths laid out by Walton. Nevertheless, the family sold the paper to Shelton Saufley of Stanford and for two years attempted to establish a paper in Orlando, Fla. But the lure of the small Kentucky town remained strong. E.C. Walton returned from Florida to edit the paper, the family repurchased The Interior Journal and continued to own it until 1948.

Since that time the paper has had several owner-editors. Richard and Martha Ferguson, two experienced foreign correspondents from Louisville, owned and operated the paper for 20 years. They sold out to William Caldwell, a printer from Danville. The current publishers, Tom and Sharman Moore, bought the paper at a bankruptcy sale in 1984 and have operated it since then.

In April 2000 and again in October of the same year, The Interior Journal invited readers to "Step Back In Time" with multi-paged editions made up of pictures and articles taken from the paper's 20th-century files, supplemented with current advertisements.

These "Millennium Issues" would have amazed old Walton had he been able to read them. However, he would have felt very much at home with a short article printed first on March 20, 1900. Headed "Old Razor Superior", it read "Lee Stone, the carpenter, shaves with a razor that had done service nearly a century. It belonged to his father, who used it for 50 years and that gentleman bought it second-handed. Mr. Stone has used it since his father died in 1877, and says it beats the razors made nowadays all to pieces."

Richard C. Brown, a retired history professor, lives in Danville.

Central Kentucky News Articles