DAVIDSON HISTORY

Getting the News in Davidson – Part 1

by | Aug 16, 2017 | Davidson History

May 11, 1883 issue of The Weekly Enterprise

Depending whether you count from Davidson College’s founding in 1837 or from the incorporation in 1879 of the town that grew up around the college, the town’s first newspaper took either 46 or four years to arrive. The Weekly Enterprise began publication in 1883 and started at least three trends in Davidson news history.

The first trend is that the editor was only 15 years old. Robert Sparrow grew up in Davidson. One of his grandfathers was John Kirkpatrick, Davidson College president from 1860-1866, and a great uncle, Patrick Sparrow, was one of the college’s first professors. Fifty-odd years in the future, more young people would follow Sparrow’s example and take up news publishing.

The second trend is that the paper had a short run. Sparrow managed the paper for two years and closed it when he entered Davidson College in the fall of 1884. The third trend was a name change. Sometime between June 1883 and January 1884, The Weekly Enterprise became The Davidson College Enterprise.

By 1884, the newspaper had a new name and fancier look

During its publication, the paper was a mix of town and college news, short news items borrowed from out of state papers, editorials, jokes, short stories, and advertisements.  Only seven issues of the paper survived and are now available online.  Articles about low-key local elections run alongside chillingly casual references to lynchings; editorials decry the irregularity of train schedules and suggest better heating for the new town church.  Typical headlines include:

  • Grand Social EventHow Thursday Night Was Spent at the Society Halls – How Some of the Ladies were Dressed
  • A Quiet Election
  • Young’s Special Car
  • Milburn’s Lectures – The Celebrated Blind Orator and His Lectures Here – Fine Audiences, etc.
  • A New Livery Stable

Advertisements in the paper provide some clues about businesses of the era. It is probably no surprise that the biggest ad is for another Sparrow business.

After the last issue of the paper, the town was without a local paper until 1930. Happily, for local historians, Robert Sparrow transferred his editorial skills to a new college publication, the Davidson Monthly (later renamed the Davidson College Magazine). Beginning with the February 1886 issue, space was given to small bits of local news and reports about the town. The very first article proclaimed:

“Our village is beginning to show itself. Within the last year or two various improvements have been made. New dwelling houses and stores have been erected, and our beautiful new church stands as a witness of the enterprising spirit of our townsmen. The Campus is also holding its own. We now have neat and brilliant lamps, and we are told that Macadamized walks are soon to follow. “Verily the sun do move!” And now we are also connected with the rest of the world by a telegraph line!”

Given that the Monthly was edited by young men, the town column often featured the activities of the town’s young women alongside brief reports of new businesses or town events. In 1914, local news moved from the magazine to the new student newspaper, The Davidsonian. For those curious about town history, excerpts of the local columns can be found online in the Davidson College Archives Local History Database  .

Jan Blodgett

Jan Blodgett moved to Davidson in 1994. In 2017, she retired after 23 years as the Davidson College Archivist. Jan and former Davidson College history professor, Ralph Levering, are the co-authors of "One Town, Many Voices: A history of Davidson, North Carolina."

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