Weakley County Press

The Press and Martin Have Grown Up Together

Written December 1985 by Robert Nanney, former editor

Although it has had different owners and editors, the Weakley County Press and its forerunner, The Martin Mail, have printed continuously for over 100 years, beginning on Dec. 11, 1884.

The earliest preserved copy of the Martin Mail is on microfilm, dated April 23, 1897, and can be seen at the C.E. Weldon Public Library.

The Press’ history is long and prestigious, marked by owners and editors who played a key role in shaping the face of the City of Martin.

There were area newspapers prior to The Martin Mail (listed later) but past files likened this area to a “newspaper graveyard: until 1885 when Martin Mail owner Dr. S.F. Cayce “brought order out of chaos and displaced the lack of respect and prosperity with dignity and financial standing.” He purchased the newspaper from J.B. Gilbert, its founder.

The first specific location of The Martin Mail mentioned was its “new” location, built in April 1897 near the northwest corner of McCombs and Main streets.

Back issues recall $5,000 was spent at that time to build the brick structure and install new and modern machinery and printers’ supplies.

One story in the early 1900s said of The Mail, “It is newsy and Democratic.”

Cayce later persuaded T.L. Turner, a native of Milan, to form a partnership and write for him at The Martin Mail. Turner married his daughter.

He went to work with Cayce on Oct. 3, 1886, for $3 a week and board.

Under the partnership agreement, Dr. S.F. Cayce, along with Elder C.H. Cayce and O.F. Cayce, devoted more of their attention to publishing The Primitive Baptist, another Cayce paper, and Turner edited and managed The Mail.

The Mail was entered as second-class matter at Martin later with a subscription price of $1.50, up from the original $1 yearly price.

Turner edited The Mail with distinction for about 30 years. While writing his brief autobiography, which appeared in The Mail, Turner recalled he came to Martin in the 1880s “in its infancy, being wide open and somewhat ‘tuff.’”

A later 1897 issue records the city was 24 years old and had a population of about 2,000.

Turner wrote during those years there were from 6-10 saloons, which kept open on Sunday, as well as weekdays.

He also wrote that the walks in front of businesses in Martin were planks and there were only 2-3 brick stores.

As the City of Martin and The Mail grew together, Turner recorded he was one of the first to fight the open saloons. He was also the first to mention a water and light plant and said he was “ridiculed and scorned: for advocating such a thing.”

He also advocated building schools, graveling the streets and fought for “the cause of the sewer.”

Turner was a Martin alderman for 10-12 years and served on several important committees. When the $25,000 in bonds was approved to provide the city with electricity and water, it came after some controversy.

He recalled after the bond issue passed, some appreciative citizens bought new furniture for his house.

During his years at The Mail, Turner also served for a time as president of the Tennessee Press Association.

Turner left Martin in 1916 and took charge of the Belzoni (Miss.) Banner.

After Turner left, The Martin Mail was edited and published by Elder Claud Cayce until it was sold to the Baptist Builder Publishing Co. and was later purchased by A.J. Sander and R.L. Whitcomb on Dec. 23, 1920.

They assumed charge on the morning of Dec. 24 and soon changed the name to The Weakley County Press. The last issue with The Martin Mail flag was Dec. 31, 1920.

Whitcomb came to Martin from Memphs is 1917, the son of a newspaper publisher. His major interest as a young man was automobiles and he later opened the first Chevrolet dealership in the Martin area.

During the 20 years Whitcomb and Sander owned The Press, it was a center for community boosting. Through his many business connections, Whitcomb was instrumental in obtaining many things for Martin, including the playground equipment and wading pool, which used to be in the Illinois Central Park (now Weldon Park), Harmon Field and the Fourth of July celebration.

In 1941, after the death of Mrs. Whitcomb’s mother, The Press was sold to a Mr. Letch, who came here from Wisconsin.

During his tenure here, Whitcomb is also credited, along with J. Martin Adams, with convincing the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to locate its West Tennessee campus on the grounds of the old Hall-Moody Institute in Martin in 1927.

According to notes provided by Martin historian Col. Jim Corbitt, Sander was known for years as a hand typesetter and later the Linotype operator at The Mail and The Press.

Sander was born in Sturgeon, Mo., Jan. 12, 1885, and died in Martin, Oct. 12, 1969.

Sander was in the newspaper business for about 65 years. He started his career in Brookings, S.D., where he married.

His career began at The Mail under the editorship of Cayce and Turner and extended through Whitcomb and on to other owners.

He was the father of Miss Margret Sander, Martin, who has been personnel director of Milan Arsenal for many years.

We have a gap after 1941 when the paper was sold to Mr. Letch. Other names linked with the newspaper are Barker and White and a Mr. Burns until The Press was purchased in 1947 by James W.R. White.

That year he began a 16-year career at The Press until it was sold in 1963.

During those years White also was owner of The Southern Standard newspaper in McMinnville.

White had more recently moved to McMinnville, where he died in January of 1984.

In 1963, Ed S. Critchlow purchased The Press and it remains in the Critchlow family.

It would be impossible to locate the names of all of the other editors during the last 100 years, aside from the owner-editors already listed.

General Manager Randal Benderman was with The Press 18 years, heading up the business end of the paper.

Beginning with W.R. White, the list includes Woodie Whaley, Jim Wooten, Harvey Gardner, Ed Chenette, Lance King, Dennis Richardson, Robert Nanney, Joe Lofaro, Herb Smith, Robert Barber, Renee Robey, Laura Lytle, Tracy Sharp and Sabrina Bates.

Wooten became a nationally known ABC News TV correspondent.

Chenette had by far the longest association with the newspaper, beginning his career in the mid-40s and ending it in July of 1980.

The Press is located at 235 Lindell St. in downtown Martin. Its previous location was farther south on Lindell in the south side of what is now Savant Learning.

Note: Robert Nanney is currently Chair of the Communications Department at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Published in The WCP 1.15.13

 Psalms 66:3 (KJV)
Say unto God, How terrible [art thou in] thy works! through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee.
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