Newspaper office

The Bloomfield Democrat will celebrate a milestone anniversary — its 150th — next Wednesday, Sept. 18, with an open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Bloomfield Newspaper office at 207-209 S. Madison Street.

The public is invited to attend and browse through volumes of old newspapers dating back to the early 1900s.

Visitors will be able to request the volumes they wish to view — whether curious about significant historical events, local government news, school news, sports, or family news such as births, weddings, or deaths.

“Our full staff will be available to assist visitors in handling the historical documents as they reminisce and are reminded of the importance of newspapers in disseminating accurate news, spurring the community to action, preserving freedom of speech, and recording history,” said Karen Spurgeon, publisher.

“Of course, we hope everyone will enjoy refreshments and some good conversation as well,” she added.

Bloomfield Newspapers’ history is reviewed

By K. F. Baldridge, Former Bloomfield Democrat Publisher

Originally published Oct. 6,1966

I became a newspaper employee because my father owned a team of western broncs and a battered topless buggy.

This is how I got my start in the newspaper business 63 years ago, and since this is National Newspaper Week, I thought I would review some of the history of the Bloomfield Newspaper.

It is to the credit of editors such as Gary Spurgeon, Bob Norberg, Keith Hawk, Verner Lindgren, and Howard Wilson that over these years the Bloomfield Newspapers have been able to maintain a high standard of journalism.

Going back to May 1903, when I first became associated with The Bloomfield Democrat, it may be of interest to note the conditions that existed in Bloomfield and Davis County at that time, and had changed little by the time I became owner and publisher of the Democrat in 1909.

Bloomfield then was a town of mud streets and board sidewalks. Daytime electric service did not exist, and nighttime service was discontinued at 10 o’clock each evening. Without electricity there were no street lights.

Bloomfield was without a library, and hospital facilities were inadequate. Very limited sewerage and a minimum water supply made most resident districts without either public utility. The Bloomfield school system for the grade and high school combined was staffed with only 11 teachers. There were only three automobiles in the county that I recall. They were owned by Herbert King, Dr. H. C. Young and Dr. E. D. Beauchamp.

In case those who read this National Newspaper Week comment are confused and bewildered as to how and why a team of broncs decided what my life work would be, here is the story.

Back in 1903 the owners of the Democrat were Guy Hardy and James M. Games. Hardy survives that partnership, and now resides in Wyacondah township. He is the father of Tom Hardy, present county chairman of the Democratic County Central Committee.

With the purchase of the Democrat from Sam McConnell, the new firm of Hardy and Games found itself owner of several hundred maps of Davis County which showed the boundaries of the townships and the ownership of the farms. Those maps contained information similar to that in the county plat books now sold at the Bloomfield Newspapers office.

It became a prime objective of the new owners of the Democrat to sell those maps, and also to increase their list of subscribers. They needed someone for that job who owned a team of horses and a buggy or road wagon. I had just graduated from the Bloomfield High School, was 17 years old, and was looking for a job. I had no horse or travel equipment. However my father had a good many horses, and he gave me the use of a team of horses and an old battered topless buggy, so I got the job.

The first day out I sold no maps and secured no new subscriptions. My new bosses may have been discouraged with me, but they kindly gave me a second chance. The second day I had sold 21 maps and wangled a half dozen new subscriptions. From that day on I became a member of the Bloomfield Democrat force, and continued as a circulation solicitor until Guy and Jim decided to use the free passes on the railroads given newspaper editors and publishers in those days, and left to see the wonders of Texas and the historic cities of Mississippi and other states of the Deep South. As a result I was promoted to news editor.

After a time Jim returned to Bloomfield, but Guy remained in Dixie, where he bought a Mississippi newspaper and later on founded one at Hugo, Okla., in an area just recently opened to settlement.

The one thing that Jim Games detested about the newspaper business was the writing of news and editorials. So I was kept on the job as editor until Jim’s son, John Games, returned from Idaho in 1906, where he had been attending Idaho University.

For the next three years I was a rural carrier for Bloomfield route 7, with time off to attend law school at Drake University where I graduated in 1909. Soon afterward Jim Games told me he was selling the Democrat in a few months, and I would have the opportunity to purchase it. I then had to make the choice of practicing law, since I had passed the bar examination, or making the newspaper business my life profession. Against the admonitions of some of my Bloomfield businessmen friends I chose the newspaper business, and purchased the Democrat and took possession on December 4, 1909. Since that date I have been actively connected with the business for almost 57 consecutive years. My total newspaper experience is actually a few months more than 63 years since during the time I was a rural carrier I still served the Democrat as a special correspondent and reserve editor.

During the years I was employed by Hardy & Games and from 1909 on to 1913 under my ownership, the Democrat was housed in upstairs quarters over what is now the Carroll Hardware. In those days power to operate the newspaper press was supplied by the strong back and heavy muscles of a Bloomfielder named Lew Duckworth.

One of my first equipment purchases was a gasoline engine, which sometimes ran and sometimes did not. When we succeeded in getting it started, Walter Davis, who soon became foreman, would keep it going every day and night until everything in sight had been printed.

In 1913, Woodrow Wilson had been elected president, and according to political custom I became due to succeed to the Bloomfield postmastership when F. T. Grimes’ term would end. That fact, and also that time had marched on and the linotype had been invented, caused me to sell a fourth interest in the paper to Will Allender, my boyhood friend and high school classmate. Will had learned to operate the linotype as an operator for P. T. Grimes, owner and publisher of the Davis County Republican, who had bought the first typesetting machine ever to be installed in a Bloomfield newspaper office.

From the upstairs location over the present Carroll Hardware, the Democrat was moved to the building on South Madison street now occupied by Bruce Bogle’s television and radio business, and remained in that location until it was moved to a new building half occupied by the post office. That building is now owned by Davis County and houses several governmental agencies. The paper was printed there until Uncle Sam exercised his option to take over that portion of the building occupied by the Democrat. From there the Democrat was moved to the north side of the square to a building purchased from S. S. Standley, and which is now occupied by the ASC offices.

Some months prior to the move to the north side of the square, Mr. Grimes indicated to me his intention to sell the Republican, and inquired if I would be interested in buying it, but I did not have sufficient funds to meet his sale price. He then suggested I try and find a buyer with whom I could cooperate as he and I had been doing. Actually due to World War One labor shortage we had arrived at the stage where many advertisements and official proceedings would be set in one of the offices and then carried by wheelbarrow through the alley to the other plant. I had served as a postal employee under P. T., and he and I understood each other well enough to make such an arrangement workable.

Karl Melcher had recently been discharged from a Washington D. C. hospital, and had also been released from his World War One duties in the Capitol City. I asked him if he would be interested in buying the Republican, and found out he had a desire to enter the newspaper business. I suggested that his wife’s grandfather, Senator W. H. Taylor, and her uncle, W. B. Taylor, would probably finance at least a large portion of the purchase price Grimes had indicated, and that if other funds were needed I thought I could supply the deficiency. Melcher bought the Republican.

All of us working in the two offices were tired of lugging type from one office to the other, so when Uncle Sam served notice on Allender and me to get out, Karl joined us in purchasing the north side building where we remained from many years, until the offices were moved to the present location in 1953.

The double move of the Davis County Republican and the Bloomfield Democrat permitted the two newspapers to use the same equipment, and to operate with one group of employees, which not only reduced the costs of operation but provided better news and advertising services for the public served. The operation is said to be the first of its kind in the nation, and soon became known as a twin-weekly operation, which it remains today.

The Bloomfield Democrat — 150 years

By Karen Spurgeon

Several newspapers were started in Davis County following the Civil War according to the book, “Rise and Progress of Civilization in the Hairy Nation,” an early history of Davis County by Henry C. Ethell.

Among them were the Gazette, the first newspaper in Davis County; the Davis County Democrat, the Davis County Index, the Democratic Clarion, and the Union Guard.

In September of 1869, The Bloomfield Democrat was started by T.O. Walker and today is the only surviving newspaper in Davis County.

By 1916, the Bloomfield Newspapers were publishing two papers per week — The Davis County Republican and The Bloomfield Democrat.

Kenneth F. Baldridge was the publisher of the two papers in the early to mid-1900s and also became owner of the Albia and Chariton newspapers.

In 1964, Gary Spurgeon earned his degree in journalism from the University of Iowa and became the editor of the Bloomfield Newspapers. In 1976, he and his wife Karen purchased the Bloomfield Newspapers from the Baldridge family.

Publication of the Republican ended in mid-1986 as residual effects of the drought of 1983 and Bloomfield’s shrinking retail base took their toll on the advertising revenue needed to support two issues per week.

During the Spurgeon era, The Bloomfield Democrat office replaced typewriters and linotype machines with computers. The local printing press was taken out of commission in December of 1970, and pages were taken to a centralized plant at the Albia Newspapers for printing. Eventually, it became possible to email the pages to Albia, where plates are made and the newspaper continues to be printed.

As a vehicle to disseminate news on a daily basis, the Bloomfield Newspapers began a cable news channel on Mediacom in the 1980s. Bloomfield Cable News is now found on CMTV’s Channel 7.

By the 1990s, Gary Spurgeon was experimenting with web design and The Bloomfield Democrat was the first newspaper in Iowa to have a web presence. Shortly after, the Bloomfield Democrat was one of the first two newspapers in the state of Iowa to have an online edition.

Today, The Bloomfield Democrat produces a 16-20-page print edition weekly and posts news on Bloomfield Cable News, www.bdemo.com, and social media.

The newspaper’s online edition is mobile-friendly.

The Bloomfield Democrat remains committed to providing accurate information to the public on local governmental affairs; public safety and health; political campaigns; agriculture and business; school and sports; church and community events; area news; features on local people; an opinion page with editorials, columns, and letters to the editor; and much more.

The purpose of The Bloomfield Democrat and its electronic counterparts is to keep the public informed and provide the information people need to make wise decisions for themselves, their families, and their community, as well as provide a well-read venue for businesses, organizations, and individuals to advertise and promote their businesses and events.

Over time, the newspaper also becomes the primary record of community history.

Scott Spurgeon is editor and Karen Spurgeon is publisher of The Bloomfield Democrat. Other employees include Melissa Millmier, Sharla Osborn, Michael Gates, Shelby Tolle and LeRoy Arndt.