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Changing with the 'Times'

The Courier-Times has a long, eventful history

John Tyler was president of a nation which, at that time, had just 26 states. Indiana was a mere 25 years old. Meanwhile in Knightstown, a wholesale grocer named John Grubbs purchased a newspaper called the Indiana Sun, a publication he moved to New Castle and renamed the Indiana Courier.

Little did Grubbs know on Thursday, Oct. 14, 1841 - the date of his first issue - that he was creating a newspaper that would still be serving Henry County residents 175 years later.

Now known as The Courier-Times, its faithful readers may not realize that this newspaper is the eighth oldest in Indiana. Its headlines have heralded the triumph of Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight in 1927 as well as the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. Two World Wars and three presidential assassinations have been recorded in its pages. Locally, the arrival of the largest automobile factory and the disappearance of a nine-year-old girl both made national as well as local headlines.

Names that would follow Grubbs in the newspaper's history included David Nation, future husband of temperance leader Carrie Nation who would attack saloons with a hatchet and call bartenders "destroyers of men's souls; George Hazzard, the grandson of first New Castle settler Ashael Woodward and a noted early historian; as well as Joseph Greenstreet, the local educator for whom the former Greenstreet Elementary School was named.

But arguably the most important name of all in the newspaper's long history was Chambers.

Capt. David Chambers was a brave Civil War veteran, among the first to arms at the outbreak of the Southern rebellion. He fought in major battles at Chickamauga and Pittsburg Landing. Among his children was Walter Scott Chambers, who would grow up to be editor of a local newspaper here for 55 years.

Walter Scott Chambers began his newspaper career by working at The New Castle Democrat for $3 a week. An archived article describes how Chambers used to ride his bicycle out around the county to not only get news but sell advertising as well.

Chambers bought the New Castle Democrat at the age of 25. The purchase, made possible by 27 prominent Democrats signing his $2,500 promissory note, happened on Aug. 6, 1895. From that date forward, for the next 90 years, the ownership of the newspaper remained in the hands of the Chambers family.

In 1909, the New Castle Democrat took over a local paper called The Daily Tribune and changed its name to the Daily Times.

As editor of The Times, Walter S. Chambers "waged a relentless war against the Ku Klux Klan as an enemy of tolerance and hence of all freedom and democracy."

"Feelings ran high in the community on this subject but nothing abated the prosecution of an editorial crusade and so long as the Klan had life left in it," an archived article read, "The Times periodically gave it an editorial flogging."

Interestingly, Chambers, editor of The Times, had served as chairman of the Democrat state committee while George A. Elliott, editor of The Courier, had served as chairman of the Republican party

"Readers of New Castle's two daily newspapers in that decade were served two of the hottest political editorial columns in Indiana. It was a daily performance that made good reading, no matter what a person's politics might be," an archived article said.

When business slowed in 1929 and 1930, New Castle merchants insisted that the two papers combine so they could reach their prospective customers in a single publication. Elliott died in the late 1920s and his heirs wanted to sell the paper. So on July 1, 1930, Walter S. Chambers consolidated the two daily papers into a single publication that we know today as The Courier-Times.

Chambers would help shape the news as the years went by. He served more than 18 years in the Indiana Senate, where he was floor leader for many years.

When Chambers died on March 13, 1951, his eldest son, Scott Chambers, took over as editor.

While the names changed often up through 1930, the location of this paper has remained fairly constant. The Courier-Times or its antecedents have occupied all four corners of the 200 block of South 14th Street in the past century.

From 1907 to 1915, The Daily Times was located at the southeast corner of Race and 14th streets. It then moved to the northeast corner of Central Avenue and 14th Street in 1915. In 1930, The Courier and The Times were consolidated and the address continued to be 218 S. 14th St. until 1962.

On May 19, 1962, the newspaper officially moved into its 201 S. 14th Street location, where it's been now for more than 50 years.

Many will remember days gone by when customers could stand and look through a glass portion of the building and watch the press as it churned out copies of the daily paper.

More than just headlines have changed here over the years. How those headlines are printed is nothing today like it was the early years. The newspaper has gone from the hot metal of Linotype (the method used from 1900 through 1976) to the wax and paste-up method (from 1976 through the early 1990s) to the computerized versions of today.

Then in 1997, The Courier-Times launched itself into cyberspace as it went online for the very first time on what was known as the World Wide Web.

The Chambers family sold the business to Nixon Newspapers in 1985. The newspaper is now owned by Paxton Media Group, a family-owned company based in Paducah, Ky.

The newspaper industry has changed greatly in recent years, but the need to know - especially the events that happen in, to and for a community - has not changed. We join readers in looking forward to our centennial in 2041.

Written by Darrel Radford, a longer version of this story appeared in The Courier-Times in June 2013.