I wonder how many of our readers realize that the history of Denison can come alive with just a few taps on the computer keys. Some people are regular visitors like Jim Sears who finds some very interesting information when he reads the early Denison newspapers on The Portal to Texas History.
We became involved in the Portal several years ago when Mavis Anne Bryant and I became interested in the program that operates at the University of North Texas Libraries. Mavis and I were board members at Grayson County Frontier Village. Those early day newspapers had been stored a few years prior to that time when the Denison Herald storage room upstairs in the former newspaper building was being cleaned out and the old copies were going to be “tossed.”
At that time, John Crawford, a former editor of the Herald, learned of the “tossing” plan, saved the newspapers and took them to Frontier Village and stored them in the locked vault there. Mavis actually was first to learn about The Portal to Texas History and as board members, we thought it would be good to add them to it so that the city’s history could be made available to anyone wanting to read them. We thought it would be a good community project for the village.
Copies of the Sunday Gazetteer and The Denison Daily News from the time that local pioneers were living in some of the houses now located in the Village make up the majority of the collection. As we began talking about the possibility, several people volunteered donations to make the project possible.
Then one Saturday morning, Mavis and I loaded a car down with the historic newspapers and drove them to Oklahoma City to be digitized in preparation to be placed on the Portal.
While Jim, who now lives in Indianapolis, but grew up in Denison, is a constant reader of his hometown activities, he definitely isn’t the only person from around the country and even other countries who have benefited from the newspapers being available.
Last week, I received a note from Dreanna Belden, assistant director for External Relations at UNT, who worked with us in making the papers available. She included the note in a copy of The Portal’s Impact Report for 2016-2017. Dreanna was thanking me for my role in helping place the historic Denison newspapers there.
She said that they are very popular with readers and have been used 215,711 times.
“It’s a wonderful thing to have these treasures of Denison history available to all,” she said.
The Portal was established 15 years ago in Denton and as of March this year, five million pages of historical newspapers preserved were online for anyone with a computer to read or research free. These papers have been contributed by more than 380 partners who have been and still are contributing their contents to the Portal. It is a gateway to rare and historical material about Texas.
While Sunday Gazetteer and The Denison Daily Herald were the primary Denison newspapers in those early days, we have not been able to locate another even earlier newspaper, The Red River City Journal, dating back to pre-Denison Days. At one time, a copy printed in red ink was located at The Denison Public Library, but someone with sticky fingers managed to take it away and not return it. Retired Assistant Librarian Dixie Foster did see it and found that it had disappeared.
In the early days that I worked for The Denison Herald, one of my jobs was going through the old newspapers, some of which had been bound in large, heavy books, and to write a column every day on items of interest. I’ll admit that I did more reading than I did writing many days because I would find information so interesting that I couldn’t put it down. Most of those old papers are included in those that have been digitized and placed on the Portal.
B.C. Murray edited and published The Denison Daily News for several years. He came to Denison late in 1872 from Austin, where he was a co-owner of the American-Statesman. He set up for business here in a small room of unseasoned boards in the 300 block of Skiddy Street, now Chestnut Street. His second location was a tent at the corner of Austin Avenue and Morgan Street.
The News prospered from the beginning and on Feb. 22, 1873, it became a daily that also prospered. In 1876, a two-story brick building at 112 West Main, the present site of the Denison Police Department, was built to house the newspaper. In 1881, he sold his circulation to the old Denison Herald and began specializing in printing, particularly posters of circus and other shows. For a time, he had the largest poster printing plant of its type in the South.
Murray couldn’t stay out of the newspaper business long though and in 1883 he started publication of The Sunday Gazetteer, a newspaper that was called “Your Sunday glass of beer” by newsboys until Murray retired in 1913. Both the News and the Gazetteer recorded more or less routinely many of the dramatic happenings and blended into the history of Denison’s frontier days.
If I have whetted your interest to read some of these old newspapers for fun or for research, I hope you will take a look at The Portal of Texas History and read away. Just type “The Portal of Texas History,” then search for either the Sunday Gazetteer or The Denison Daily News and have a great read.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.