The Kalamazoo Telegraph

Kalamazoo’s “Other” Newspaper: 1844-1916

In the days when new state and local governments were still forming, politics and government were even more important to people than they are now. Even fairly small towns supported rival newspapers of opposite political persuasions. What is now the Kalamazoo Gazette, which started publishing here in 1835 as a Democratic paper, was joined in 1844 by the Michigan Telegraph which advocated for the Whig party.

The Telegraph was founded by Henry B. Miller in a tiny Greek Revival building on Portage Street, just south of Main Street (now Michigan Avenue). Miller, described in one source as a “really able man, and first-class journalist and born leader of men” (Press of Kalamazoo), was born in Pennsylvania and had run papers in Niles and Paw Paw before coming to Kalamazoo. Although he was here only a short time, he established an influential paper that would endure for almost three-quarters of a century.

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George A. Fitch
Source: History Room Photo File

Miller was shortly joined by George Torrey, Sr., who remained as editor and publisher for several years in conjunction with a series of partners. It was Torrey who changed the name of the paper to the Kalamazoo Telegraph in 1847. About 1850 the paper was purchased by George A. Fitch, the youngest son of Kalamazoo pioneer Asa Fitch. Fitch remained as publisher for sixteen years and is credited with suggesting the name “Republican” for the new party that was formed in 1854 after the Whigs were trounced in the 1852 election. Although that claim has been disputed, it is clear that Fitch was influential in the party’s formation “under the oaks” in Jackson, Michigan . The Telegraph retained a Republican point of view throughout its long life.

Opposing papers sniped at each other in a way that would not be considered acceptable journalism today, but the rivalry was probably intended, in part, to help sell papers. That it was actually fairly good natured is illustrated by the fact that on several occasions, the two papers were actually published out of the same office. Among other instances, when the Telegraph offices were twice badly damaged by fire, the Gazette offered the Telegraph the use of its offices and printing equipment until the necessary repairs could be made.

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Telegraph Building, S. Burdick Street, 1881
Source: History Room Photo File P-480

About 1862 the influential Stone family of Kalamazoo became connected with the Telegraph. James A. B. Stone had been president of Kalamazoo College for almost twenty years but was embroiled in a controversy that would end in his resignation in 1863. He contracted with George Fitch to edit the Telegraph except the local department. His wife, Lucinda Hinsdale Stone, assisted in the editing and contributed as a writer both while she was at home and during her extensive travels in Europe. The paper was purchased by Dr. Stone and his sons Clement and Horatio in July 1866. After having been housed in several different locations in town, in April 1867 it was moved “over the post office,” which was located in Firemen’s Hall on Burdick Street just south of West Main. It remained there for nearly twenty years.

Although the paper had occasionally been issued as a daily during the Civil War, it was the Stones who converted it permanently to a daily publication in April 1868, thus becoming the first daily paper in the area, preceding the Gazette by four years. Dr. Stone continued as editor until at least 1870, at which time his son James H. Stone replaced Horatio Stone, who died in the spring of that year. With several partners, James H. Stone continued until 1874 when he disposed of his interest to Lucius Kendall and Lyman Gates.

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Telegraph Building, South Street, about 1920
Source: Made for You in Kalamazoo, 26

At that point, the proprietorship was known first as the Kalamazoo Telegraph Company, and a few months later as the Kalamazoo Publishing Company. Its financial position was strengthened by its consolidation with Ihling Brothers, a firm which bound books, did job printing, and published the Free Mason. In August 1888 the paper was sold to Nelson Dingley, Jr., a member of Congress from Maine, and his son, Edward N. Dingley, who acted as editor and manager until 1910.

The younger Dingley moved the paper a block down the street to a building near South Street. Under his leadership, the paper flourished to the point that its new quarters were soon inadequate, so he built a new five-story building around the corner. In June 1904 “…the entire Telegraph plant and building is now one of the sights of Kalamazoo. The building has electric elevators, nineteen suites of offices, a mammoth steam heating plant and a newspaper plant second to none in the state outside of Detroit.” (Compendium) Later known as the Pythian Building, and later still as the Park Building, it was actively occupied until 2006, when it was demolished to make way for the present Miller, Canfield Building.

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Edward N. Dingley
Source: Men of Progress, 216

Unfortunately, Dingley’s elaborate building project and political ambitions began to take a toll on the paper. His problems were not helped by the purchase of the Kalamazoo Gazette a few years earlier by Ford Rowe. Rowe took the then-struggling Gazette, installed new equipment, changed the focus of the paper to local news and improved the writing style. The two papers engaged in a serious war over circulation statistics.  Sensing the decline of the Telegraph, several local businessmen purchased it and forced Dingley to step down from its management. He retaliated by starting The Press on the ground floor of his own building, but after only a year, he admitted defeat and sold it back to the Telegraph, which was published as the Telegraph-Press until it finally lost the circulation war entirely and was bought out by the Kalamazoo Gazette in 1916. Dingley published the short-lived Progressive Herald for a year or two, but before the outbreak of World War I moved east to become an editorial writer for the New York Herald.

Although there have been a number of small weekly papers published in Kalamazoo since the demise of the Telegraph, the city has never again supported two rival dailies. In its heyday, however, it was a successful and influential paper in southwestern Michigan.

Sources

Books

Holland’s Kalamazoo directory, 1876

  • H 917.7417 K14 1876, pages 40-41

History of Kalamazoo County, Michigan

  • Durant, Samuel W.
  • D. W. Ensign & Col., 1880 (reprinted by Unigraphic, 1976).
  • H 977.417 H67u, pages 264-265

“The press of Kalamazoo”

  • Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections
  • H 977.4 M62, volume 17, pages 369-391

Compendium of history and biography of Kalamazoo County, Michigan

  • Fisher, David
  • Chicago: A. W. Bowen & Co., [1906]
  • H 977.417 F53, pages 78-80

 

Articles

E. N. Dingley, former local editor, dies

  • Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 March, 1930, page 1, column 1.
  • Also a copy in History Room Name File: Dingley, Edward N.

Kalamazoo Telegraph crew readies another edition

  • Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 December 1997, page F2, column 2, includes a 1915 interior photograph of the backshop.

Telegraph Press was a strong Kalamazoo Gazette rival

  • Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 June 2001, City Life section, page 2, column 2, includes a 1915 interior photograph of the backshop.

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