‘The handsomest paper north of Sacramento’ | TheUnion.com

‘The handsomest paper north of Sacramento’

During the past 140 years of publishing, under many ownerships, the present day Union newspaper has been regularly (and still is) cursed and praised, by readers and staff alike.

It has been called “Grass Valley’s daily waste of ink,” and in the days prior to radio and television, “Our only contact with the outside world.”

Through the years, for research projects, I have read countless 19th and 20th century Nevada County newspaper files. In the early 1960s, I was a full-time staff photographer/ writer for The Union. Here are a few events I consider important in the life of this paper:

IN THE BEGINNING: Let’s backtrack to this announcement for Oct. 27, 1864, in the Alta California, the north state’s leading newspaper published in San Francisco, that would be one day prior to the usually given starting date for this paper: “The Grass Valley Union is the title of a new Union (supporting President Abraham Lincoln’s administration) paper just started in that flourishing mining village.” As is the paper’s boast today, “Founded in 1864 to preserve the Union, one and inseparable.”

However, it is likely that The Union started publication earlier, since it took three or more days for correspondence to reach San Francisco from “that flourishing mining village.”

OWNERSHIP: “The Three Godfathers” is how The Union’s longtime managing editor, the late Edmund Kinyon, refers to the founders, M. Blumenthal, James Townsend and W.H. Miller. Kinyon said that he could find little information regarding the men except Townsend, who was “found to be an itinerant printer and wandering journalist from … Virginia City … (who) engaged his craft in Bodie … and perhaps Meadow Lake. He carried the sobriquet of ‘Lyin’ Jim.'”

In 1867, W.S. Byrne and Charles Mitchell took the reins. Mitchell remained publisher until 1893, when he sold to Calkins and Tyrell who, three months later, sold to William F. Prisk.

INNOVATION: Prisk was a former part owner of the Grass Valley Evening Telegraph. In his editorial of June 23, 1893, he announced that “The new ‘Union’ … (will discard) the ancient and worn out type” and replace it with all new faces and added, “We do not exaggerate … when we state that typographically speaking the UNION is the handsomest paper north of Sacramento.” He installed the revolutionary Mergenthaler Linotype typesetting machine that became a standard in all newspaper composing rooms for more than 60 years.

On June 12, 1894, this paper became the first of its size (under 1,000 circulation) to become a member of the Associated Press and receive their telegraphic dispatches. In 1895, Prisk was publishing both a daily and weekly edition of The Union.

Under his guidance, The Union moved into the 20th century financially sound and in modern dress. In 1906, Prisk moved the office from the southwest corner of Mill and West Main streets, where the paper had been printed for more that 40 years, to a brand new building at 151 Mill Street. Both buildings are still standing and in commercial use today.

At the Mill Street location, he installed a state-of-the-art, Duplex web-fed press, through which newsprint is fed continuously from a large roll to the printing surface of type lying flat on a stable metal bed. Reports are that the press was delivered, placed in the basement and covered with canvas as the rest of the building went up around it.

PRINTING: In 1963, The Union’s publisher Robert T. Ingram chose to change the printing process from letter press (hot type) to offset (cold type). Out went the ancient Duplex flat bed press and in came a brand new, three-unit web-fed, Goss Community offset newspaper press. The paper was among the first in the West to publish by the offset process; the serial number of the new press was No. 3!

That process, much refined during the ensuing 40 years, is used to print today’s Union, although not on the same presses. The high-speed printing of quality, full-color photographs is an expected everyday part of today’s offset newspaper.

TODAY: The Mill street location eventually became too small, and once again the paper moved, this time to the Brunswick Basin, where it is printed today at 464 Sutton Way. Three moves in 125 years.


Bob Wyckoff’s column on the history of Nevada County appears twice monthly on The Union’s History Page. He is the author of several books on regional history, including his most recent work, “Never Come, Never Go!”

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