135 years of reporting under The Aroostook Republican’s belt

13 years ago

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When a young attorney published the first edition of the Aroostook Republican on Jan. 14, 1880, Caribou citizens may have questioned their newspaper’s chance of success. After all, they may have reasoned, the town’s first newspaper survived for two years before being bought out by Presque Isle investors and moved across the town line.

As the years passed, however, it became clear that Samuel W. Mathews was indeed sincere in his efforts to establish a weekly newspaper in Caribou. Soon the memory of the North Star and its brief two-year stay faded and the Republican quickly gained public confidence and patronage.

Some 131 years and nine owners later, the Republican continues as a weekly newspaper committed to the people and news of Caribou and the surrounding communities of Woodland, New Sweden, Limestone and Stockholm.

Mathews, a lawyer from Hampden, visited Caribou in 1879 and decided the town of about 2,750 residents needed a weekly newspaper. He was reportedly so impressed with the town and its people, that he abandoned his plans to practice law, moved his wife and two daughters to Caribou, and launched the Aroostook Republican in January of 1880.

The newspaperman, after editing and publishing the Republican for seven years, was tapped for the position of Maine’s first labor commissioner. Mathews accepted the offer, relocated to Augusta, and sold the newspaper to his son-in-law, Alfred Winslow Hall.

Hall, who married Mathews’ daughter Mae, assumed ownership of the Republican on May 11, 1887. He would continue as its editor and publisher for 15 years before “a feeling of weariness” prompted him to retire.

Hall sold the Caribou paper to a local firm — Porter and Leonard, who became publishers from Sept. 1, 1899 to Sept. 29, 1900. Hall, in an Oct. 4, 1900 editorial, informed readers that he had repurchased the Republican from Porter and Leonard.

“With this issue the Republican again changes hands and passes control to its former editor and proprietor,” Hall wrote in the Oct. 4 edition.

In an open letter to readers on Feb. 13, 1902, Hall offered a final farewell. “I sever my connection with the paper,” he wrote, “having sold the same to Mr. Lyman J. Pendell of Presque Isle.

Pendell, a former correspondent for the Bangor News, left his position as assistant editor of the Star-Herald to accept the new challenge. He reportedly began building up the newspaper immediately and boasted some 50 area news correspondents, who he liked to gather together in the Grange Hall once a year to discuss problems and improvements for the paper.

Under Pendell’s direction, the Republican grew from four pages in 1880 to eight pages in the early 1900s. Advertising, rather than news, apparently consumed a majority of the space.

The newspaper’s circulation was pegged at 1,950 copies in March of 1907, at a time when the town’s population totaled about 5,000.

Caribou’s weekly newspaper was sold again in 1927, when ownership transferred to the Caribou Publishing Company. The new owners included Gen. George M. Carter, high school principal John A. Partridge and local merchant Charles T. Bishop.

The new firm continued the previous owner’s commitment to the newspaper until, on Jan. 7, 1943, citizens read the headline, “Aroostook Republican sold to new Caribou group.”

The newest Republican owners were: S.W. Collins, president of the Aroostook Trust Co. and the S.W. Collins Co.; Michael Corey, restaurant owner; Walter T. Day, proprietor of the Vaughn House; Dr. Fredrick L. Gregory; Elmer J. Johnston, jeweler; Elizabeth Kirkpatrick, manager of Aroostook County Federal Savings and Loan Association; Dr. Nathan S. Lowery; David Solman, attorney; Charles A. Stetson, insurance agent; Beecher Swain, manager of Caribou Light and Power Co.; C. Robert Taylor, Republican editor and manager; and Emily Tibbetts, proprietor of S.F. Tibbetts Co.

Just four years later the group sold the Republican to a Florida publisher, who would own the weekly for nearly 20 years before selling to the current owner, Northeast Publishing Company, a subsidiary of the Bangor Publishing Company.

Charles F. Helfenstein was introduced as the new owner in the June 5, 1947 edition. Described as “well acquainted with Maine” and “active in newspaper association work,” Helfenstein would earn a reputation as a dedicated newspaperman willing to risk failure to achieve success.

Under his guidance, the Republican grew in both size and scope. Correspondents began covering news in Fort Kent and other St. John Valley communities. Helfenstein hired Doug Costello as news editor in 1958 and, by September of that year, the publication offered readers 16 pages in three sections.

Helfenstein added to his newspaper holdings in late 1962, joining Houlton Pioneer Times publisher Bernard Esters in buying out the Presque Isle Star-Herald.

The partners then incorporated as the Consolidated Printing Services of Presque Isle, and converted the printing of their publications to the modern offset method in 1963. They sold to Northeast Publishing Company in February of 1966.

The new owners retained the services of Costello as editor until his departure in 1970 to accept a consultant’s position in Pennsylvania. Costello was honored by the community as a leading citizen who was “controversial at times, but always fair. He was dedicated to the proposition that people have a right to know.”

The Aroostook Republican became the Aroostook Republican and News with the Nov. 17, 1971 edition. Since Costello’s departure, the editorship has been filled by a varied group of journalists including Margaret Smith, a longtime reporter; Kathryn Olmstead, University of Maine associate dean and publisher of “Echoes” magazine; Dale McGarrigle, Joe McLaughlin, now with the Bangor Daily News; and Liz Chapman, Brenda Ketch, Don Buchanan, George Chapell and others.

Today the paper is produced by news reporters Barbara Scott and Natalie Bazinet, advertising representative Gayle Jackson, and receptionist Lisa Anderson. The Republican is edited by Mark Putnam, managing editor for Northeast Publishing Co. and Pam Lynch serves as business manager.