An Advocate For The County

Originally published in The Door County Magazine

Copyright © Jeffery F. Davis and the Door County Magazine All Rights Reserved

Sidebar—Other Newspapers in Door County

It started with 106.
There are now 8,000.
Subscribers to the Door County Advocate.

The Advocate, one of the oldest business in the county, first served a population of 3,000 fishermen and loggers and a small but growing number of farmers. It now has a presence on the World Wide Web, 8,000 subscribers and prints an additional 4,000 copies for newsstand sales in a county of 26,000 residents.

Sturgeon Bay was a sawmill town of about 30 houses and 230 people in 1862 when Joseph Harris, Sr. approached Myron McCord about starting a weekly newspaper in Door County. According to an account written by McCord, Harris "Was so completely wrapped up in the idea of settling Door County and thought a newspaper the one thing needful to accomplish that result." When McCord explained that the population was too small, and the costs for "Help and blank paper, rent and fuel could not be figured at less than $1,000 a year he (Harris) was completely perplexed and did not know what to say."

Harris was then working as the county treasurer with a salary around $400 a year, and had no money. But Harris was also a visionary (he later convinced the county, and Congress, to build the Ship Canal linking Green Bay and Lake Michigan) and he convinced McCord to enter into a partnership to publish the Advocate. McCord new of a print shop for sale in Shawano, and most importantly, the owner would sell on installments.

Harris rented the upper floor of Grahm’s store on the northwest corner of Second and Michigan streets (where the abandoned Clark station now sits) while McCord traveled to Shawano to obtain the printing equipment. It took McCord four days on a two-horse sleigh to make the return trip through a late February snowstorm.

The pair hired a printer, David Follett, who was described as "faithful" but yet "Had a very perplexing habit of taking a ‘lay off’ when his services were most needed. One of these ‘spells’ came on about the time the first number of the paper should have been issued, and it was by one delay and another that the publication was postponed until March 22, 1862."

That first four-page issue took three hours to print 160 copies on the hand-operated press. It was printed on 12" x17" paper, two sheets, printed front and back with five columns per sheet. It included a poem, a story called "The Lover’s Prophecy," and except a for a brief note from the editor, no local news. Weekly newspapers today are almost exclusively local news, with little to no state and national news. Prior to the invention of radio, national news was distributed by word of mouth, old newspapers from larger cities and the local weekly newspaper. There was "tolerably recent" news from the war, and as there were many local boys fighting for the Union Army, "Their families were more interested hearing of their achievements on the battlefield than in learning in what their next-door neighbors were doing." There were ads on the front page consisting of little more than business-card type notices of names, trades or occupations, and locations of businesses. Shipping news was prominent, listing names of ships and lists of cargo.
A metal replica of the front page of that issue is attached to the outside wall of the current Advocate office, on Third Street in downtown Sturgeon Bay.

McCord saw early that the paper could not support two owners, and sold his interest to Harris, on time. McCord wrote that he was "promptly paid at maturity," and noted that while he made no money in the venture, "I have always been glad I went into it, for it resulted in two things, at least…One is that it laid the foundation for making one of the best local papers in Wisconsin,…the other that it resulted in making Joseph Harris a state senator."

Subsequent issues contained more local news, such as births, deaths and marriages; local government news; gossip and commentary; and more advertising, such as railroad schedules (in Green Bay), dry goods stores; and ads for the sale of land. Newspapers at this time were relatively expensive and rare, but they had extensive penetration into the community.

In an attempt to fulfill the pledge that the Advocate made in the first issue to "Be devoted entirely to the interest of Door County , to inform readers about government and the prosperity of the county," by the 1880’s a network of correspondents was in place in nearly every community in the county. This network, which continues today, reports on items of particular interest to a specific community. This ranges from who had dinner at who’s house, who is traveling to what city, what happened to someone’s pet or livestock, or anything else that people might want to read about their neighbors. This network was credited with an increase in subscribers ($2.00 a year, payable in cordwood) and stable readership.

The writing style was much different than today, with opinion, name-calling and sarcasm being common. The Door county board of Supervisors was once called the "Board of Asses," and in the next issue an apology was offered—to any asses who were offended! Headlines were also sensational. The multiple headlines for a story on a draft riot in New York included (each in a different type face): THE MOB IN NEW YORK; Resistance to the Draft–Rioting and Bloodshed; BLOODY WORK; Cannister shot Fired Upon the Mob!; Great Slaughter.

Advertisers sometimes paid in muskrat skins or other barter, and real money (sometimes $1,000 a year) was made from running legal notices placed by the county. There was no "front page" in the modern sense, and stories were placed seemingly at random. The November 2, 1863 issue had a letter to the editor, a pyramid made of the states of the union, a notice from the War Department to drafted men, and war news all on the front page.

Working conditions in the print shop were very basic. Type was set by hand using the light emitted by small kerosene lamps. Heat in the winter was supplied by a wood-burning stove, often fired by wood supplied as payment for subscriptions. Later, coal was used for heat, providing an increase in comfort during the winter months.

In the late 1800s a Washington hand press was used to proof the paper, and it was printed on an Acme two-revolution press, which was turned by hand. Everyone, including the publisher (Frank Long at that time), took turns in cranking the paper out on press day. A mixture of glue and honey was melted in a double boiler on a wood stove and poured into a brass form to make the rollers for the press. A steam engine eventually replaced arm power, and a gasoline engine was later used to turn the press. Early electric lights were a great improvement over the kerosene lamps, but they gave off a great deal of heat and the workers found themselves with hot heads, but cold feet, in the winter.

As Harris went on to the state senate and later to Washington, D.C., his sons, Joseph, Jr. And Henry ran the paper until it was sold to Frank Long in 1875.

Long started his career with the first issue of the Advocate, working as a ‘printers devil’ in the shop. In a column headlined "A Glance Back over a Long Road" in the May 3, 1883 Advocate Long wrote about that first issue. "Twenty-one years ago an excited group of people assembled around a printing press in a room over Grahm’s store…On the bed of the press was a type form which a small boy was inking with a small roller, and as the lad was taking his first lesson in the typographic art he had followed the example of all young disciples of Faust by carelessly smearing his face and hands with the mixture of lampblack and linseed oil until he looked as though he had slept in a tar barrel. He laid a sheet of dampened paper on the ‘tympan,’ detached the ‘frisket’ from a hook in the ceiling, ran the bed under the platen, pulled the impression lever, and a moment later spread out upon a table for the inspection of the group the first number of the Door County Advocate…

"From a rude settlement in the woods we have seen Sturgeon Bay blossom into a thriving city of almost two thousand people, and the trackless wilderness surrounding it become home of more than fourteen thousand industrious inhabitants."

Long was a colorful publisher, and boosted the circulation to some 3,000 copies by the time of his death in 1912. Long employed a brilliant editor in the name of D. S. Crandall, who was known as a caustic and clever writer, and a tireless worker. Crandall penned a vicious obituary when a competing paper folded (see accompanying story), but later went to work for another competing paper, where he happily skewered his old employer, the Advocate.

The newspaper wars were sometimes heated. A feud between the Advocate and the Expositor once led to a judge taking a shot at the Expositor editor. On July 4, 1878, a gala celebration was presided over by Judge Rufus M. Wright to dedicate the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. Wright was aligned with the Advocate, which often printed his poetry, and the very successful community party drew hundreds of people from other cities. George Pinney, the Expositor publisher, jeered the whole celebration, and Judge Wright in particular. Several days after the affair, a drunk Judge Wright met Pinney outside a saloon, pulled a revolver, yelled "Pinney, you damned old four-eyes, I am going to shoot you!" and fired a shot. The shot went wild over Pinney’s shoulder, and in a subsequent lawsuit Judge Wright was acquitted.

The Advocate, with Crandall leading the charge, bitterly opposed extending a rail line into Door County, and were successful in helping defeat one bond issue after another. The Advocate was closely aligned with shipping interests at the time, and the Advocate was increasingly seen as obstructionist in economic development of the county. Long eventually became a supporter of the railroad, but Crandall would not support the change, and left the paper.

Long and the Advocate received national notice in 1883 when a 20-year-old printer established a world record for setting type. Harry Dankoler, an Advocate typesetter for only four years, set 25,515 ems (a printing measurement) of type in 18 hours, 45 minutes, shattering the old record by one hour and 43 minutes. Long ensured that news of the feat was reported all over the country.

After Long died, his family, under the leadership of Dudley Long, continued to publish until August, 1918, when it was purchased by the Door County Democrat. The new publishers, among them Arthur Harris, son of the Advocate founder, decided to retain the Advocate name for the combined paper.

Arthur’s son, Sumner, started working at the paper in 1923 after completing his degree at the University of Wisconsin, and is the only one of the four Harris editors to have formal training in journalism. Sumner is credited with bring ‘modern’ newspaper techniques to the Advocate. Headlines were larger, multi-column layouts and more photos improved the appearance and the writing lost some of it’s sarcasm and personal opinion. The Advocate started winning awards and looking more like a contemporary daily newspaper.

Results of the national election in 1924 were delivered to the Advocate via a special telegraph line, and The Door County Resorter (now called The Resorter Reporter), a supplement during the summer months, was also started that year.

Sumner and his brother-in-law gradually consolidated ownership by buying the Advocate stock from the other owners, and from the estate of his father when Arthur died. The last competing paper was absorbed by the Advocate in 1940, and the Advocate started publishing twice a week in 1948.

The staid life of the Advocate was shattered when Sumner Harris and his wife, Grace, were murdered June 29, 1953 by a juvenile who lived next door to their home. Sumner’s son Chan had been at the Advocate for a year after graduating from college, and was suddenly thrust into the editor position in a most brutal fashion.

Jim Robertson, then an Advocate reporter, was in the office that day. "Chan was on the phone, and had a funny look on his face," he recalled. Chan said, "They said my dad’s been murdered." Robertson said he didn’t know what to think as he watched Harris walk out of the office. This was the day the paper was printed, there was a huge amount of work to do, but if there was a murder in town, he better get on it. He went to the Harris house, and was horrified by the scene of the double murder.

He walked into the house, and "There were people walking everywhere. I’ll never forget it." The police seemed stunned, people were handling the murder weapon, and the Advocate photographer finally told the police to seal off the crime scene. The crime was easily solved, as the juvenile left a note in his home confessing to the crime before stealing a car and fleeing the county.

Robertson returned to the Advocate office and got the paper out, although much later than normal.

Chan Harris, then 24-years-old, soon returned to work as editor, and the growth and stability of the Advocate continued. Doug Larson was hired by Chan soon after he took over as editor, having to spend $75.00 to break Larson’s teaching contract. Larson, who still writes a column for the Advocate, has been compared to D.S Crandall in writing ability, but Larson has none of Crandall’s caustic qualities. Larson is often described as a wordsmith, and his syndicated columns make points with style, language and tongue-in-cheek humor, rather than Crandall’s sledgehammer method.

Chan Harris sold the Advocate to Frank Wood and the Brown County Publishing Company in 1986, and stayed on as editor emeritus. Chan died earlier this year, of a heart attack as he worked at his desk in the Advocate office, ending the Harris family connection with the Door County Advocate.

And today? The Advocate continues the tradition of Community Journalism, concentrating almost exclusively on the community it serves, and winning awards for their coverage. But not resting on their laurels, the Advocate established a presence on the World Wide Web in 1986, at a time when few daily newspaper had web sites, let alone weeklies. (

While journalism is referred to as "The first draft of history," history is still being made, as well as drafted, at the Door County Advocate.

Other Newspapers in Door County

The early days of the county were a raucous time for newspapers, and the lineage and ownership of the various newspapers that competed with the Advocate are sometimes complicated and confused. For instance, at one time there were four newspapers published in the county, and two newspapers with the same name were published at the same time. Other newspapers (all weeklies) include:

· The Expositor, started in October, 1873.
A small paper, it was four columns and eight pages, and was edited by George Pinney. From the beginning, there was bad blood between Pinney and Harry Harris (son of Joseph Harris), then editor of the Advocate. The battle was carried out in the pages of the newspapers, with insults and vicious sarcasm. For example, in August, 1874 Harris printed that Pinney, was such an "inveterate liar," he would claim to enjoy the climate in Hell, when he eventually takes up residence. The feud was so intense that it was even remarked on by other newspapers in the state. In 1877, the Expositor was sold to Charles I. Martin, who published it until 1886. The Advocate printed a lengthy obituary, of sorts, on March 11, 1886 which began: "Died—In this city, Friday, February 26, 1886, of paralysis of the brain and pocket, weakness of the spinal column, flatulence, swelled head, hard times, universal contempt, mismanagement, stupidity, ignorance, general debility and natural cussedness, the Weakly Expositor, aged about twelve years and four months."

· The Independent, started in February, 1877.
A group of Sturgeon Bay businessmen, upset over the Advocate’s stand opposing a railroad line into Door County, purchased the assets of the Expositor and published the next week as the Expositor/Independent, in an effort to promote the rail line as economic development. The paper struggled for a year until, in an ironic twist, they hired D.S. Crandall as editor. Crandall was a gifted writer, but was sarcastic to the point of viciousness. Crandall was the point man of the Advocate’s railroad opposition, but lost his job at the Advocate when Frank Long relented in his opposition to the railroad, Crandall would not. After being hired by the Expositor/Independent, Crandall happily skewered the Advocate and promoted the railroad. However, the Advocate now also supported the railroad, and the Expositor/Independent had lost it’s reason for being. In 1886, it was sold to Joseph Harris, Jr. and renamed the Republican.

· The Republican, started in March, 1886.
Published by Joseph Harris, Jr., it was sold to his son, J.E. Harris, in 1891. The Republican was published until 1893, when the name was changed to The Democrat, in response to a new newspaper called The Democrat. As a result, there were two newspapers in Door County called The Democrat. Called the "Little Democrat" by locals to avoid confusion with The Democrat published by J.J. Pinney. Sold subscription list to Pinney and ceased publication in 1895.

· The Democrat, started in January, 1983.
J.J. Pinney (son of George Pinney, publisher of The Expositor) ran the Evergreen Nursery Co. and printed a trade publication for the nursery industry. He branched into commercial printing and advertising (which was actually printed on the Advocate’s presses) and founded a democratic party-oriented newspaper to compete with the two republican-oriented papers in Door County. Pinney bought the subscription list of the other Democrat newspaper in 1895 and enjoyed a successful publishing career until his death in 1909. Employees, among them Arthur Harris (son of the Advocate founder) purchased the paper, forming the Door County Publishing Company, and was later absorbed by the Advocate. Ironically, as the newspaper matured, The Democrat gradually became more republican in political outlook.

· The Door County News, started in July 1914.
A politically independent newspaper, it had stockholders in every town in the county. Sold out to the Advocate in 1940.

· Door County Farmer and Fruit Grower, started in 1926
Published by Bernard Hahn until 1927, when it was sold to G.L. Wellemeyer & Son. Stopped publishing in 1928.

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