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Sentinel owners: A century of leadership

by Larry S. Chowning

It was April 9, 1896, when the first issue of the Mathews-Middlesex Herald, the forerunner of today’s Southside Sentinel, rolled off the press in Urbanna.

A 100-year tradition was born.

The paper was founded by “publisher and editor” G.F. Palmer. In his first issue, Palmer outlined the purpose of his new venture: “The Herald - A weekly journal published in the interest of Middlesex and Mathews and the adjoining counties and devoted to news, agriculture, politics, literature and advertising. A strictly first class local paper.”

At that time it was the only paper published in the five-county area of Mathews, Middlesex, Gloucester, Essex and King and Queen.

Little is known about Palmer. He did write in the first issue of The Herald that, “This is our first trip to Urbanna. We have been very hospitably received by the people of the town and must confess that we like the people and the place. We don’t believe we have ever been thrown among a better class of people anywhere, and we trust that our stay in the village may be both pleasant and profitable to all interested.”

In that first issue of the Herald, Palmer also said he would soon establish a “Mathews Department” of the newspaper. News from that county later appeared under its own heading and P.R. Boggs was listed as the Mathews agent for the paper.

In an article published on January 26, 1950 in the Sentinel, co-editor and co-owner Carl R. Tomlinson wrote, “The paper was established in April, 1896 by the late G. F. Palmer . . . When the paper was first established by Mr. Palmer the small equipment was brought over from West Point by a mule team by the late “Capt.” Joe Hurley, consisting of an old Washington hand press, a replica which can be seen in the Smithsonian Institute . . . two obsolete job presses, some ten point type for hand-setting the paper, a few cases of job type, and some odds and ends.”

Tomlinson later wrote in a 1952 article that he was a student when the mule team rolled into town. “I well recall when the equipment was brought to the county by a mule team. We were returning from school (one room school, taught by Miss Susie Chapman) and we paused to view the equipment.”

Palmer hired W.E. Lipscomb as the first editor, R. B. Edwards as compositor, and Tomlinson, just a lad, was a printer’s “devil,” who also did some writing.

Walter Ryland

Palmer owned the newspaper less than a year. A 26-year-old attorney, Walter H. Ryland of Church View, and a group of local businessmen purchased the paper from Palmer in December of 1896.

Ryland’s diary states: “Christmas (1896) was spent very quietly, most of it being consumed in negotiating the purchase of the Mathews-Middlesex Herald, which was consummated on the 29th day of December. R.A. Davis, W.C. Walker, F.A. Bristow, W.E. Lipscomb and myself becoming owners.”

Ryland graduated from Richmond College and the Columbia College School of Law in Washington, D.C. He practiced law and ran the Sentinel.

During his early years with the paper, Ryland and his family lived with his father and mother at Church View. He either walked or rode a horse or bicycle to work in Urbanna. His father was minister at Hermitage Baptist Church in Church View.

On January 1, 1897 Ryland wrote, “I went to Urbanna to meet my associates and draw up an agreement for the conduct of our newspaper. Lipscomb was made editor and myself, associate editor and business manager.”

Later, Ryland changed the name of the paper to the Southside Sentinel (Southside referring to territories located on the south side of the Rappahannock River) and introduced two more words to the Sentinel’s motto, “Pluck, Perseverance and Progress.” On the first Mathews-Middlesex Herald, Palmer had used the word “Progress” as a slogan.

Ryland, who also had strong ties to King and Queen County, began to change the territorial coverage of his newspaper from Mathews and Middlesex to King and Queen and Middlesex.

On January 7, 1897, he wrote in his diary about court day in King and Queen. “Clear and quite cold. Left for K&Q courthouse about 8:30 a.m. Aiming for 10:30 (a.m.). Good crowd, but very little business transacted in court. Saw numerous friends and relatives. Worked hard on interest for the Herald securing several (8) subscriptions.”

It is not clear as to when it exactly occurred, but some time before June of 1901 the partnership between the other businessmen and Ryland was dissolved and he became the sole owner of the Sentinel.

The work of Lipscomb, a part owner and the editor hired by Palmer, was not satisfactory to Ryland. When Lipscomb left, Ryland began looking for another editor.

H. Jeter Haydon of the Northern Neck had come to Urbanna and married one of Columbus “Lum” Burton’s daughters. Burton was owner and operator of Burton’s Steamboat Wharf (formerly Palmer’s Wharf) at the foot of Watling Street. On the first day of June, 1901, Ryland and Haydon formed a partnership. Haydon bought a third interest in the Sentinel and Ryland maintained two-thirds.

The partnership lasted until 1905 when Ryland bought out Haydon’s portion and once again became sole owner of the Sentinel.

Ryland died on December 31, 1915. In the January 7, 1916 Sentinel, Haydon wrote a tribute to Ryland. “We worked together under these conditions until October, 1905, when the increased expenses to both of us—me in particular, as I had no other source from which to draw income—made it impossible for us to remain together longer.”

Ryland brought credibility to the struggling little paper. As a man, he possessed strong moral convictions and was politically in touch with the times. He was chairman of the county’s Democratic Party and was appointed Commissioner of Fisheries of Virginia. During his tenure, the Sentinel struggled, but continued to grow.

Ryland remained editor and owner of the paper until his untimely death at the age of 45 in 1915. For about a year the ownership of the paper remained in Ryland’s estate, but in 1916 two longtime employees, Julian Brown and Carl Tomlinson, bought the Sentinel. For nearly 50 years, the paper was to remain in the hands of the Tomlinson or Brown families.

Carl R. Tomlinson

Carl R. Tomlinson was born in Urbanna to Elija Sayward Tomlinson, a sea captain, and Lulie Albright Tomlinson of King and Queen. He started working around the office of the Mathews-Middlesex Herald when Palmer owned the business and he stayed with the paper when Ryland took over in 1897.

In 1905, Tomlinson married Pearl Davis, whose father was a sea captain from Onancock. They built and resided in the house that presently stands between the post office and ABC store on Virginia Street.

Tomlinson wrote of his start at the Sentinel, “Being fascinated with the printing outfit and also badly in need of a job, due to our large family (nine children, grandmother, and uncle, besides my parents) I applied for a job.

“Mr. Palmer consented to give me a trial, stipulating that it would be necessary to work for several weeks without remuneration in order to become familiar with the work. When the salary did start, it was the magnanimous sum of one dollar a week.

“Besides our work in the printing office, learning the trade, my daily duty also consisted of going to Chowning’s artesian well (down near the present Jamison’s Cove Marina) on the creek for a jug of drinking water, and to do a thorough sweeping up of the office.”

Tomlinson also recalls some interesting moments at the Herald. He wrote: “Mr. Palmer had been called away on business. The other printer, Bunny Edwards, had gone to West Point to see his mother and we were “boss,” making good headway in getting into type some copy left us, when something disturbed a bumblebee nest in the side of the house and one bee got into our shirt and we scattered on the floor much more type than we had been able to set during the past hour.

“Then another incident was when again Mr. Palmer had to leave town and the editor become so intoxicated that to keep him from disturbing the peace we had to tie him to the terra-cotta pipe in the back room,” wrote Tomlinson.

Julian Brown

On October 20, 1902, Julian Brown was a youngster right off the farm when he was hired by Ryland.

The Brown family lived in King and Queen County where Brown worked as a farm hand and sawmill worker. It was Brown’s father who made arrangements for the newspaper job.

The Browns were members of Hermitage Baptist Church in Church View where the Rev. John W. Ryland (Walter’s father) was pastor. Walter Ryland and his family attended the church and knew the Brown family. The elder Brown asked Ryland to consider his son for a job as soon as there was an opening.

Brown co-edited and co-owned the Sentinel with Tomlinson for nearly 40 years. When Tomlinson retired in 1952 Brown took over sole ownership of the paper.

Upon Brown’s death in 1961, a Richmond News-Leader article stated: “His first job, Brown often recalled, was to sweep the office floor—a task which he still performed after he became editor. Early chores also included washing the hand presses, working around Ryland’s home (by then he had moved to Waverly on Urbanna Creek just outside of town), and since the era of running water had not arrived, it became his duty to keep the office supplied with water.”

The article also stated that “those were days when money was exceedingly scarce and Brown frequently remarked that for his efforts from October 20 through the following December 31, he received his board and two pairs of shoes, but no money.”

The article stated that while working for Ryland and later as editor and publisher, Brown “per-formed such jobs as type setting—putting into print stories that covered many notable achievements, including the first horseless carriage in Urbanna.”

Brown never solicited advertising. “It just came in,” he once stated.

A 1954 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, by Christine Hall, stated that “twice in the past 52 years fires threatened the Sentinel office. Both times the fire destroyed the building next door and damaged the newspaper building, but the paper still was printed on time. The first of these caused so much damage, in 1931, Brown recalled that he had to take his material to the printing office in Gloucester and use their machines for one week’s paper.”

Brown holds the longevity record (45 years) as publisher and editor of the Southside Sentinel. Overall, he worked at the Sentinel for 59 years, also a record.

When Brown died in 1961 his daughter, Reginia Dunn, took over the day-to-day management of the Sentinel. She had been doing the bookkeeping for years.

The Sentinel remained in Brown’s estate from December of 1961 until February of 1963. The masthead of the February 21, 1963 issue of the Sentinel read: “Reginia B. Dunn, owner & publisher.”

Dunn kept the Sentinel for four months and then sold it to John M. Bareford Sr. and the late William T. Bareford. Mrs. Dunn remained at the paper as manager and editor.

The Barefords

John M. Bareford Sr. of Saluda and the late William T. Bareford of Urbanna purchased the paper as a business endeavor, said J. Bareford.

John Bareford is a Saluda attorney and William T. Bareford was an attorney and circuit court judge here for many years.

In 1963, the Bareford brothers were concerned that the paper might be purchased by someone who would make the Sentinel a branch of a larger regional paper.

“There was someone interested in buying the paper and consolidating it with another paper,” said J. Bareford. “We felt the Sentinel had been around for a long time and was a vital part of our community. We did not want to see our county newspaper leave the county.”

J. Bareford said his wife, Marden, and their son, John M. Jr., both worked in the business, but Mrs. Dunn was the mainstay.

“I don’t know what we would have done without her,” said Bareford. “She knew the business inside and out.”

The Barefords owned the paper for three years and in July of 1966 sold the Sentinel to the present owners, Frederick A. and Elizabeth Lee Currell Gaskins.

Fred and Bettie Lee Gaskins

Mrs. Gaskins grew up in the newspaper business. Her father, the late J. E. Currell, was the longtime publisher and editor of the Rappahannock Record in Kilmarnock.

Mrs. Gaskins graduated in 1965 from Westhampton College of the University of Richmond, where she was the editor of the “Collegian,” the school’s student newspaper.

Mr. Gaskins was from Irvington in Lancaster County. He graduated from the University of Richmond in 1963 with a major in English and minor in journalism. While a student, he had worked part-time at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

When they bought the paper, Mr. Gaskins was still in the Army so Mrs. Gaskins assumed the helm of the Sentinel for two months, traveling daily from her family’s home in Kilmarnock.

In September of 1966, Mr. Gaskins finished his stint in the service and he and Mrs. Gaskins moved to Urbanna to run their newspaper.

Mr. and Mrs. Gaskins brought youth and vision to the paper and have guided the Sentinel for 30 years. Brown and Tomlinson are the only publishers to have owned it longer.

When Mr. and Mrs. Gaskins took over, Reginia Dunn was still onboard and she continued to work at the Sentinel for about a year. Marden Bareford also remained for several months. Other employees included a part-time pressman, a Linotype operator and one pressman-compositor.

For the first few years, Mr. Gaskins edited the paper, sold ads, covered meetings, took photographs and, in the tradition of past owners and editors, swept the floors.

To make it all work, Mr. and Mrs. Gaskins had to bring some of their own pluck, perseverance and progress to the Sentinel. Within a year, they updated most of the equipment at the Sentinel and within five years moved to the present larger building.

The progress and tradition established and nourished by G.F. Palmer, Walter Ryland, Julian Brown and Carl Tomlinson continue.

More historical information may be viewed by clicking on these links to stories published in 1996 during the Sentinel’s centennial celebration:

posted 07.19.2008