Newspaper has been shining light on Winchester area for 115 years
Born on the Fourth of July.
It was on that date in 1896, 115 years ago, that 23-year-old John I. Sloat started The Star.
It was the second daily newspaper he started in his hometown. It’s the one that has lasted — through three name changes and four generations of the Byrd family as publisher.
Sloat named his new six-afternoon-a-week daily The Star. It became The Evening Star around 1900, and Winchester Evening Star 14 years later (Dec. 22, 1914). The current name, The Winchester Star, appeared on the masthead for the first time on April 5, 1980. That was also the day the Saturday afternoon edition became a Saturday morning product. Twenty years later, April 3, 2000, the Monday-Friday editions became morning editions as well.
From type set by hand, a flatbed press, and a circulation of 400 at the end of its first year, the newspaper today is produced on a 64-page offset Goss Urbanite press with color photo capability. Nearly 20,000 people receive the paper each weekday and about 24,000 do every Saturday. Some read it without touching any newsprint, instead seeing it in a digital format on personal computers, tablets and mobile devices.
Stories are created in a newsroom filled with computer terminals, not typewriters. Pictures, once drawings, are now digital images instead of photographs developed from film.
Today, printed papers are delivered by adults in automobiles before the sun rises. In years gone by, a child’s first job may have been tossing papers from a bicycle in the afternoon.
Times change. The Star remains.
John Sloat and the birth of The Star
The first edition consisted of four pages and was little larger than a hand bill.
It cost 1 cent.
Two other newsmen, John Hoover and Vernon B. Garton, helped Sloat launch the fledgling paper.
The Star’s future was at best uncertain in 1896.
Sloat had created his own daily competition 18 months earlier, when he started The Item. Several weekly newspapers also vied for readers in the town of 5,000.
Today, 115 years later, The Star has more than 60,000 readers and is the only daily newspaper published in Winchester and the surrounding areas of Frederick and Clarke counties, an area home to nearly 120,000 people.
Sloat was born in Winchester in 1873. He died in 1949. His obituary in The Star said he attended local schools until he was old enough to learn the printing trade on the Winchester Leader, Howard Gosorn’s weekly Republican publication that operated from 1884 to 1899.
Sloat was 21 years old when he decided Winchester was large enough to support a daily newspaper. He issued the first edition of The Item on Jan. 12, 1895. The four-page newspaper was printed on a job press on the second floor of a building at 14 W. Boscawen St. He would launch The Star across the street in the same block 18 months later.
But first, Sloat sold the Item to Bernard Wade, editor of the Winchester Weekly News, 15 months after he started it.
Sloat and his associates may well have been glancing over their shoulders as they produced that first edition of The Star. News — local news — was breaking all around them.
A huge Fourth of July celebration to observe the nation’s 120th birthday was unfolding. Flags and bunting were everywhere downtown. Charles Broadway Rouss, one of Winchester’s benefactors — a fire company and the city hall bear his name — was in town for the event, as were crowds of Confederate veterans. A parade wound through downtown ending at Stonewall Cemetery, in part of Mount Hebron Cemetery, where the monument to fallen Louisiana veterans of the Civil War was dedicated.
The Winchester Times, where Jennie Rivers Byrd then held the reins, estimated the crowd at 10,000 people, twice the size of Winchester’s population. A number of those in the crowd were brought to town by Baltimore & Ohio and Cumberland Valley Railroad trains.
In the same edition of the weekly Times, July 8, 1896, the newspaper welcomed the new daily paper to town: “The Star is the name of another daily paper just started in Winchester, with Mr. John I. Sloat as editor. We have an idea that The Star will have rather an up-hill business at first, but if perseverance counts anything, Mr. Sloat will certainly bring it to the front.”
The Winchester Leader speculated bluntly about the new undertaking: “We learn a new daily newspaper has started in this city — [The Star] — edited by Mr. John Sloat. We wish it success, but we believe this town cannot support but one daily, and, as one fish eats up another, so it may be the survival of the fittest. Will The Evening Star eclipse The Item’s sun?”
The answer to the Leader’s question was “yes,” but no one knew it then, especially Sloat. For The Leader had underlined the formidable task facing him.
Those early Stars carried a regular front page item titled “City Brevities.” This column consisted of short paragraphs, often only a sentence or two, about happenings around town.
A few of the items:
“A pedestrian had the misfortune to fall through one of Mr. Thomas Keating’s show windows last night with not much injury to himself but considerable to the window.
“Her many friends will be pleased to know Miss Etta Kremer continues to improve, and that prospects for her complete recovery are very encouraging.
“Mr. George Hillyard has cleaned the large dam at his place near this city. A number of fish and turtles were caught.
“Mr. Letch Boehm is in town.”
“Whortleberries are on the market.”
Whortleberries? Webster’s New World Dictionary defines them as (1) either of two European blueberries. . . and (2) any of various American plants, as the huckleberry.
The local items from The Star’s first week appear in a Star editorial when it turned 95. That editorial also listed some things that occurred the year the newspaper was founded: Cy Young won 29 games pitching for Cleveland, and, Utah became the 45th state admitted to the union.
Additionally, 1896 was the year William McKinley was elected president. In the autumn, crowds in New York City flocked to moving picture shows, or “flickers,” as they were called. Across the Atlantic, Britain’s Queen Victoria was thinking about her Diamond Jubilee to mark her 60-year reign, which would occur the next year.
In the first editions of The Star, Sloat was listed as local editor and business manager. Headlines were small. Ads were few. A single copy of the paper cost a penny. The pages were only about one-fourth the size of today’s.
As Sloat’s tenure with The Item lasted just 15 months, so did his time with The Star.
On Oct. 1, 1897, Sloat sold The Star — to a Byrd.
The Byrds swoop into the picture
The history of The Star is necessarily intertwined with four Byrds.
Richard Evelyn Byrd was the first.
The strongest weekly in town the day The Star was born was The Winchester Times. Richard Evelyn Byrd was an owner of the Times. He and his law partner, Thomas W. Harrison, had purchased the The Times in 1893. Harrison, who later became a judge and a congressman, sold his interest a few years later.
Richard and his parents, Jennie Rivers Byrd and Col. William Byrd, shared occupational interests.
Jennie was editor and publisher of the Times during the last part of the 19th century.
His parents met in Virginia and married in 1859.
The newlyweds moved to Texas shortly after that. Col. Byrd, a graduate of Virginia Military Institute and the University of Virginia Law School, become a newspaper editor, ran for the Texas legislature and was adjuntant general of the Confederate state’s military forces early in the Civil War.
Richard was born in Austin, Texas, in 1860.
Col. Byrd returned to Virginia with his family after the war “broken in health and ruined in fortune,” his obituary said.
Richard followed his father into print, the law, and politics.
Richard was Commonwealth’s Attorney for Frederick County from 1886-1906. He was elected to represent Winchester and Frederick County in the Virginia House of Delegates, serving from 1906-1914.
He was elected speaker of the House of Delegates in 1908, after only two years in that body, thus establishing a record that has not been duplicated. In 1912, he was the Virginia campaign manager for Woodrow Wilson who was elected president of the United States that year.
He retired from the legislature to become U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia and later opened a law office in Richmond.
Through most of his political and law careers — between 1897 and 1913 — he was editor of The Star.
Richard Byrd purchased The Star at a time when Sloat was falling short on funds.
“The expense of getting out a small sheet like The Star was considerable even in those days,” Sloat later said. “I soon found my limited capital evaporating. An installment of $400 was due on the press. I had about half of the necessary amount and was at my wit’s end.
“A friend, Michael Lillis, loaned me $50 without security, but I was still short of the required amount. One day, just when things looked blackest, Richard E. Byrd walked into my office and said, ‘Do you need some money?’ To this day that query remains one of the brightest memories of my life. He wrote me a check for $200.”
That day began the warm personal friendship with the brilliant lawyer that endured as long as he lived. Thus to Mike Lillis and Dick Byrd belong the honors of rescuing The Star from possible oblivion.”
Richard E. Byrd’s principal interest in publishing The Star was in editorial writing.
“I had been a student of (Charles) Dana, (Horace) Greeley, (Henry) Watterson and Charles Emory Smith, but Dick Byrd’s articles, always brief and to the point, completely captivated me,” Sloat said. “When he spoke it was with the tongue of a Demosthenes, but when he wrote it was with the style and grace and pungent power of an Addison. He could say more in a few words than any man I knew.”
Despite Dick Byrd’s way with words, The Star’s “possible oblivion” in the fall of 1897 was matched and nearly exceeded in the summer of 1903.
The Son Saves The Star
Dick Byrd was regarded as a brilliant lawyer and a writer with power and style — but he was not a businessman. He didn’t like to dun his friends and neighbors for advertising bills. Friends and neighbors are what they were. The city wasn’t large, just over 5,000 at the turn of the century. Many, especially those like Byrd in a high visibility profession, knew almost everyone else. Walking along Loudoun or Boscawen streets, you didn’t meet too many strangers.
The crisis reached its climax when the Antietam Paper Company of Hagerstown, Md. ended The Star’s credit for newsprint, the paper upon which the newspaper is printed.
It was at this point that Dick’s 15-year-old son, Harry Flood Byrd, persuaded his parents to let him quit high school at the Shenandoah Valley Academy on West Amherst Street to try and salvage the newspaper.
The young boy’s first move was to take the Cumberland Valley Railroad train to Hagerstown to meet the executives of the Antietam Paper Company. He said The Star could not pay its newsprint bill and he was not seeking additional credit. He said that if Antietam would send him just enough newsprint each day for that day’s press run he would pay cash, thus not adding to the amount already owed. As The Star progressed he would pay the original debt. Antietam agreed.
Young Harry Byrd would meet the Cumberland Valley Railroad train with cash in hand each day at the station on West Boscawen Street, now the site of the Winchester Little Theatre.
By instituting the “pay as you go” method, for which he later would become famous as governor of Virginia, young Harry Byrd brought The Star back to solvency and ultimately paid all debts.
He had the paper in the black in about two years.
Even in 1904, The Star was solvent enough and the young manager astute enough to offer a promotion to encourage readership and subscriptions. In the first of at least two promotions, the paper on Jan. 1, 1904, offered a trip to the St. Louis World’s Fair for 10 days to a person and a companion.
By The Star’s eighth birthday, July 4, 1904, circulation had doubled and Harry Flood Byrd was listed as business manager. He was 17.
The Star’s masthead at the beginning of 1907 shows Harry Flood Byrd as president and general manager of the Evening Star Publishing Company. But he was involved in much more than just the newspaper business.
It was about this time that he became manager in Winchester of the Southern Bell Telephone Company. By 1908 he was president of the Valley Turnpike Company, which owned the road between Winchester and Staunton, now U.S. 11. That was the same year, before he was old enough to vote, he was appointed to Winchester City Council and began his political career. He later lost an election bid for the seat. It was the only election he lost.
In between, he went into the apple business in 1907 by buying crops on the trees, then reselling the fruit. One of his first such purchases was from an orchard in the area now known as Hawthorne Drive in Winchester.
It was in 1907, too, that Byrd founded the Martinsburg, (W.Va.) Journal. He sold it in 1912 to buy an apple orchard, Rosemont, near Berryville in Clarke County.
His son, Harry F. Byrd Jr. chuckles that he would have done just the opposite. “I would have sold an apple orchard to buy a newspaper.”
While life was widening for Harry Byrd, so it was for the newspaper he managed.
Winchester had three publications at the turn of the century:
The Star, with Richard E. Byrd as editor and publisher.
The Winchester Times, edited and published since the mid- 1890s by Byrd’s mother, Jennie Rivers Byrd. By this point, The Times had also taken over the Winchester Sentinel
The News-Item, a daily published by George Norton. The News-Item resulted from the consolidation of The Evening Item and the weekly Winchester News.
The Star purchased the Winchester Times, on June 15, 1905, for $350. The Times’ last issue was published July 5, of that year. Subscribers were urged to turn to The Star.
The News-Item and weekly Winchester News were purchased Nov. 30, 1906, for $2,500.
As The Star grew it began a march eastward along Boscawen Street. It was first at 17 W. Water St. (Boscawen Street was once called Water Street.)
The Thanksgiving and Trade edition of The Star, published Nov. 24, 1914, said “The Star was first published in the small brick building opposite Woodward’s barber shop, on West Water Street, the building then owned by the Faulkner estate.”
The Winchester city directory for 1898-99 in the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives at Handley Regional Library agrees with the 17 W. Water St. (Boscawen) address. The same directory also places the News-Item and News at 4 N. Main St. (Loudoun Street), and The Times at 17 E. Water St.
The Star’s first move was to the same address as the Times.
The Star’s editorial page masthead for Dec. 10, 1898, lists the 17 W. Water St. address. The masthead for Jan. 2, 1899, gives 17 E. Water St. as the location.
Annual subscription rates listed in The Star on Jan. 6, 1899, are: Times, $1.50; Star, $2; both $3. A single copy of The Star cost 2 cents. By comparison, today’s annual subscription rate, 115 years later, is $95 and the single-copy price is 50 cents.
The directory for 1903-04 has The Star and Times at 17-19 E. Boscawen (Water) St. R.E. Byrd is listed as the Times’ editor. The News-Item and Winchester News is listed at 33 E. Boscawen St., which would be The Star’s next stop.
The 1914-15 city directory lists The Star at 33-35 E. Boscawen St. Harry F. Byrd is listed as president. The Star’s telephone number was 33, and the width of its building was 33 feet.
A plaque on the building at 33 East Boscawen St. today says The Star was published from that building and address from 1913 to 1946.
But when Harry Byrd purchased the building in 1922 the deed refers to a lease on the property made by C.S. Baker, April 1, 1910, to Harry’s mother, E. Bolling Byrd. It was “for a period of five years from date for a monthly rental of Thirty Eight Dollars and Twenty Cents ($38.20)”
When Richard Byrd bought The Star in 1897, he titled it to his wife, Eleanor Bolling Flood, and it remained in her name for 60 years until her death in 1957.
So, it appears the plaque on 33 E. Boscawen St. is in error with the correct date being 1910, not 1913.
The Star featured, on an inside page, a full page presentation with the heading, “A New Era for The Evening Star.”
Here’s how the newspaper phrased its opening sentences in what amounted to an announcement:
“The Evening Star today is presented to its readers combined with The Morning News-Item — the form under which it will hereafter be published. The News-Item and The Evening Star were today merged into one, and the combined paper is conducted by The Star management.” It added that the editorial, reportorial, and mechanical forces of the two papers had been combined.
An editorial in that day’s paper said the old way of setting type by hand “has given way to the Mergenthaler typesetting machines.” These were known as Linotype machines and produced just that — a line of type.
An operator worked the machine sitting at a keyboard. Pressing a key released a matrix. A matrix is a die or mold used for casting or chaping, in this case letters or the alphabet and numbers. Each key pressed released a matrix holding the letter or figure corresponding to the key pressed.
When a line of matrices is set, the operator would push a lever putting the line in contact with molten lead from the machine’s melting pot. A line of type is cast and put into place in front of the machine. Each such line is part of a metal slug. A number of them went together to make a story. Lines of type were then placed into the page form.
The Duplex press was called the “pride of the establishment.” In operation, paper was taken from two rolls and carried over the inked page forms and printed first on one side, turned over, and printed on the other before being cut and run through the folder. The press was operated by electricity, with a gasoline engine backup.
The 1907 announcement said Richard Byrd “formulates its (The Star’s) policy upon public questions and writes most of the editorials that appear.” “These editorials,” the Star said, “have given The Star a distinctive and distinguished place in the press of Virginia and are widely quoted. . .”
The story, which explained the entire operation of the newspaper, said, “Mr. Thomas B. Byrd, as the manager, has general supervisory authority over the business and mechanical operations of the paper.” This refers to Thomas Bolling Byrd, Harry Byrd’s brother, who later became part of the Byrd apple operation.
D.B. Conrad is identified as head of the local staff as city editor, “who has for several years written most of the news gathered in Winchester for The Star.” That lengthy account of May 6, 1907, said that John Hoover, “long city editor of The News-Item, is added today to the local staff and will assist Mr. Conrad in this most essential work.”
His obituary in The Star in the spring of 1950 said Hoover had been news editor of the newspaper for 50 years. And it has long been accepted that he was one of those helping Sloat when he started The Star.
At the time of the consolidation and press announcement in 1907, The Star had 50 county correspondents in Frederick, Clarke, and Warren counties, with special facilities for reporting news from Berryville, Boyce, and Front Royal neighborhoods. It also had a telegraphic service for non-local news and a special correspondent in Washington “who may be queried for important telegrams whenever the news justifies.”
The Star’s 12th anniversary editorial on July 4, 1908, said that daily circulation during the past year had been 3,826. This claim is larger than several years later. The first audited circulation figure was 3,365 on March 31, 1915. That anniversary editorial also said a recent improvement was the installation of the Hearst News Service, which provided 1,000 words a day from Pittsburgh.
Harry Byrd was identified as editor of The Star in mid-’10s. The paper featured a seven-column format, which it had since 1902. It sold for 2 cents a copy.
As 1911 began, the banner across the front page said “The Evening Star,” and below that, “and Morning News-Item Consolidated.” This would continue for some years.
The Jan. 1, 1912, issue of The Star contains an editorial cartoon of “Ma Winchester” on the front page. The drawing was a product of Neil Woods. “Ma Winchester” later became a fixture at the bottom left of the paper’s front page. A few paragraphs of copy appeared below a drawing of a woman who appeared mature enough to fill the bill of age and wisdom.
It was a folksy daily feature, containing comments on happenings around town. “Ma” made suggestions about a number of things, too. One entry, for Sept. 3, 1935, read: “Both Pa Frederick and I were pleased to read in the paper a few days ago that county school officials are going to insist more strenuously that children under the compulsory school age attend schools regularly.”
“Ma Winchester” became a casualty of World War II, not appearing afterward.
One of the familiar and popular features of The Star during those early years and almost until her death in 1920 was the column written under the byline, “Nemo,” in Latin meaning “no one.” This was Kate McVicar of Winchester. Her breezy comments and features appeared often on Saturdays in The Star.
History was the topic for many of her columns, happenings around Winchester. A feature in The Star a few years ago said that during the Civil War, “her house was near the battlefields, and although she was a staunch Confederate, she tended to wounded on both sides. Throughout her life she corresponded with some of the Union soldiers she cared for.”
The feature said she was Miss Manners, Dear Abby, Ellen Goodman and a local Rona Barrett rolled into one. She wrote hundreds of poems, according to her obituary.
“Nemo” was protective about the city’s image, according to the feature. It said that “When the Baltimore Sunday Sun said Winchester had a reputation for being fast, ‘Nemo’ said, “We waited for some other pen than ours to defend our city. . . it is the fault of girls, known as ‘peaches’, who are silly enough to flirt with strangers. . . when a town is called fast.’ ”
The “Morning News-Item Consolidated” line under the front page banner name had disappeared by Dec. 12, 1914. Two days later, only The Evening Star name appeared.
But on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 1914, the name became Winchester Evening Star. It would remain that way for nearly eight decades. Meanwhile, under the editorial page masthead, readers were reminded that The Star was “Consolidated with the Morning News- Item, Weekly News, Weekly Times, Weekly Mirror.” This would remain on the editorial page for a number of years.
In 1913, Harry Byrd began being listed as publisher on the editorial page masthead. Byrd, 26, married Anne Douglas Beverley of Winchester on Oct. 7 of that year.
In the mid-’20s, the man who ran The Star moved to Richmond for four years. Harry Flood Byrd was elected governor of Virginia in November 1925 and served from 1926-1930.
Richard Byrd, who had campaigned strenuously for Harry, did not live to see his son elected. Richard died the night of Oct. 23, 1925, less than two weeks before Virginians went to the polls.
Byrd’s move to the Governor’s Mansion meant more pressure back in Winchester on Ralph S. Fansler. He was The Star’s business manager for 38 years until his retirement in 1957.
Fansler had lived in Winchester since childhood and started delivering The Star in 1907.
Fansler, a World War I veteran, was named The Star’s business manager in 1919.
During World War II, he ran The Star on a day-to-day basis while Harry F. Byrd Jr. was in the Navy.
Fansler died in 1961.
The Star announced in a front page box Sept. 21, 1929, that it would go from a seven-column format on each page to eight columns. It was a “look” the paper would have for many years. Front page design, meanwhile, had been changing, with larger headlines and a move away from many single column headlines side by side as in the early days. Discarded was the “cemetery look” in newsroom parlance.
Then, major changes and progress were slowed. The main headline on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1929, said, “Wild Selling Wave on Stock Market.” It was the overture to what still is called “The Great Depression.”
In for the Long Haul
Winchester’s population had jumped from 6,883 in 1920 to 10,995 in 1930.
That helped keep circulation growing at a slow, but steady, rate during the depressed business conditions.
“Individuals were buying a paper on a daily basis,” Harry F. Byrd Jr. remembers.
It was good they were reading, because businesses weren’t advertising.
Byrd recalled that 1931 was the best year to date for advertising before “the advertising went down and down and down.” It was not until 1945 — 14 years later — that advertising came back to its 1931 level.
Four of those years were during World War II. Newsprint was rationed for three of them.
Harry F. Byrd Jr. would be the publisher to see The Star through the depression and through nearly a half century. He became editor of The Star on July 1, 1935, and subsequently editor and publisher for 46 years.
Harry Byrd Jr. spent much of his time as publisher outside of Winchester either at war in the Pacific or in Richmond and Washington during a 36-year career in politics.
Less than a year after his August 1941 marriage to Gretchen Thomson of New Orleans, the 1937 Shenandoah Apple Blossom Queen he escorted, Byrd entered military service. He joined in February 1942 and served as executive officer of a naval patrol bombing squadron in the Pacific.
Byrd was elected to the Virginia Senate in 1947, where he served 18 years. He then took over his father’s seat in the U.S. Senate in 1965 and served until retiring in 1983.
The Star, on its 40th birthday in 1936, recalled for its readers that in those four decades, the paper only once failed to publish a scheduled edition. That was on March 7, 1932, when a “terrific snowstorm broke the power wires and we were unable to secure electric current.”
The Star published an Extra edition September 1, 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland to ignite World War II.
The next Extra is the one that almost wasn’t published. It was Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941. Editor Harry F. Byrd Jr. remembers he was having lunch with his family. The Associated Press called with the news of the Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Did he want to put out an Extra, was the query.
“No, I don’t think so,” Byrd replied.
He went back to the table and told his family the news. As he heard himself saying the words he then fully realized their impact. He said it was so inconceivable he couldn’t believe it.
“Of course we’ve got to put out an Extra,” he said. He went to the phone and called the AP.
“And then I called Ralph Fansler, and he rounded up as many of the staff as he could locate. By the time we got them all together it was 6 o’clock.” That is, 6 in the evening.
Page mats were taken by car to Harrisonburg.and printed at the Byrd-owned Daily News-Record. After the News-Record completed its early-morning run, The Star Extra was printed. The lead AP war story was the same for both papers. The only difference was in local news.
Only two other Extra editions of The Star have been printed, the morning after President Kennedy was assassinated and in the hours following terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The Star’s relationship with The Associated Press has been a long one. The newspaper became a member of the AP on May 7, 1919. Harry F. Byrd Jr. was a director of the world-wide news gathering organization in the 1950s and early 1960s, and served as vice president.
The Star for years had delivery routes by carrier only in Winchester. It was mainly distributed by mail out of town.
Byrd started four motor delivery routes in rural areas in the late 1930s. One ran north on the Martinsburg Pike and eastward.
The second was on U. S. 522 and covered Gainesboro and Whitacre, returning via the Gore area and U.S. 50.
The next one took in the Cedar Creek Grade, the Middle Road, and Stephens City and along U.S. 11. The fourth covered eastern Frederick County and Clarke County.
Today, there are 67 routes for delivering The Star. There are 12 porch delivery routes in the city and 55 motor routes. The Star has five vans to deliver papers to city carriers, vendors, and stores. The circulation team covers nearly 2,300 miles each day.
All of the carriers are adults today. The change to a morning edition in 2000 would mean the end of youth carriers.
It was in May 1945 that Byrd purchased the present site of The Star from C.R. Anderson. The original lot fronted 67 feet on Kent Street and 137 feet on East Boscawen Street.
A new, two-story brick building was constructed on the site of the old Kent Street Presbyterian Church.
Operations were moved from 33 E. Boscawen St. to the new building at the corner of Boscawen and Kent streets in January 1947. The Star continued to be produced, not missing an issue. Linotype machines were simply carted along Boscawen Street to the new location at 2 N. Kent St.
The operation settled in with the business office and classified advertising sections just inside the front door, the news room to the right along Boscawen Street, and display advertising to the left, or north of the business office.
Immediately behind these facilities was the composing room with its Linotype machines and page forms, and behind that the press room and newsprint storage. Carriers came to the Boscawen Street door each afternoon to collect their papers. Motor route carriers left from there.
The press was new, a 20-page Goss rotary, replacing the press used for a number of years.
The second floor contained offices. One suite was leased for some years to Gulf Oil. Members of the Byrd family, including Sen. Harry Flood Byrd Sr., used the other offices.
Today, Classified has grown rapidly and since 1971 has been a department of its own. It is located along Boscawen Street in the first newsroom.
As the war ended and The Star moved to a new location, a new period of growth arrived. Circulation grew to 6,994 as of September 30, 1947.
Harry F. Byrd Jr.’s 1945 decision to locate at Kent and Boscawen was a move that has positioned The Star in a favorable geographic location today. Frederick County’s government complex is across North Kent Street, as is the Frederick-Winchester Judicial Center. Rouss City Hall, is actually farther away than before, but still just a block from the front door at 2 N. Kent St.
The Kent-Boscawen location has also allowed The Star room to grow.
As of 1995, The Star became owner of the entire block bounded by Boscawen Street, North Kent Street, Philpot Street and the CSX railroad that runs along East Lane. This property has been acquired over a period of 50 years. Much of the block is currently used for parking.
During the years since World War II ended and restrictions to development were swept away, much effort has been devoted to keeping up with publishing technology. That technology advanced rapidly.
In all, the original Kent Street building has undergone five additions since its construction in 1946.
A practice that slowly declined in the post-war years with the onset of television and growing radio coverage was that of local officials gathering at The Star on election night to learn who had won and who had lost. They would begin showing up a half hour or so after the polls closed. Election judges had been asked in advance to call the results in to The Star when the counting was complete.
The visitors were non-candidates as well as candidates. They mostly were far more numerous than reporters. They leaned over reporters’ shoulders to see the figures, even as the results were coming in by telephone.
Finally, one editor began making extra election charts to help the visitors keep track of things. They wanted information, but it was almost a social event.
In 1961 Harry F. Byrd Jr. brought to Winchester, Jack F. Davis, a professional newsman with management experience that included being head of The Associated Press Promotion Department in New York, news editor of the AP’s Baltimore Bureau and chief of its West Virginia bureau.
Davis was a leader, a mover. He got things done and there was not an ounce of arrogance or stand-offishness in his personality. He was friendly and outgoing. He quickly became a part of the community and became involved in its affairs, even as sparks flew occasionally.
The major thing, though, was that Davis and Harry F. Byrd Jr. were always on the same page. During the latter part of Byrd’s service in the U.S. Senate, Davis became his administrative assistant.
Davis arrived at The Star with the title of executive editor. Three years later he was general manager and executive editor, a job description that might have fitted Ralph “Fuzzy” Fansler a few decades earlier.
Time was moving onward. Winchester’s population had reached 12,095 in 1940, 13,841 in 1950, and 15,110 in 1960. The Star’s circulation reached 8,774 by 1956 and soon was to hit 13,603 in 1966. One of Ralph Fansler’s goals in the 1950s had been to see the paper’s circulation reach 10,000.
Then Byrd made a move that broke with the past.
Leading the Way into Print’s Future
Offset printing was beginning to be talked about around the industry early in the 1960s.
Offset is a process that involved photographing type and photos pasted onto a page form, burning the page image onto aluminum alloy plates from a page negative, and putting the plates onto press rolls for printing.
Pictures were clearer and type sharper, making the product far easier to read and quicker to produce.
A name for the process then was “cold type,” as opposed to “hot type” with Linotype machines and melting pots of lead that had been used for so long.
Byrd signed a contract for a new offset press in 1963, and in early 1964 Byrd gave Davis a “go.”
The Star went to the offset printing process Feb. 17, 1964, the first six-day-a-week Virginia newspaper to do so.
The change to offset involved a new press with six units able to produce a 40-page paper. This capability was later increased to 48 pages. The new press was installed in the first addition to the original building, jutting out from the north side (the massive glass siding is visible along North Kent Street).
Davis had the ability to get people to do practically anything for him without leaving any bruised egos or feelings. It was a good thing he had this talent. The transition from “hot” to “cold” type was not without problems. They were expected, and those who expected them were not disappointed.
The Star, during the first week of offset publishing, was just barely readable in a strong light. Before things got much better what became known as “Black Thursday” around the newspaper came along.
The paper called for 40 pages that particular Thursday, a maximum effort for the press then. The bottom line is that the papers would not come off the press properly. That meant it wasn’t possible to produce a finished newspaper. Time went on and the telephone calls from disappointed subscribers began to get rather shrill.
Then at 10:40 p.m. it was found the press folder was not synchronized with the six printing units. They were put back in phase and, at 10:52 p.m., normal papers began to come off.
Davis and all of those on the printing end of the operation had a short night’s sleep. When Davis walked into his office the next morning he found a scribbled note. It was from a local attorney, William A. (Pete) Johnston, and it read:
“Star light, Star bright,
“I used to read The Star at night:
“But now I find, much to my horror,
“I’m reading today’s news tomorrow.”
It broke the ice. It was funny and it became funnier as time went by, especially to those who were there at the time. But nothing was funny on “Black Thursday.” The frustration level then must have approached 15 on a scale of one to 10. But problems were solved, things smoothed out, and the operation became almost routine. Then it became routine, hard but routine.
Offset is the method most newspapers use today. The Star led the way in Virginia.
Davis went on to become senior executive assistant to Virginia Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. in 1974 and director of the Department of Corrections. Later he became administrative aide to Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. in Washington, D.C. He previously participated in several of Byrd’s statewide campaigns.
A story from one of those campaigns that Jack Davis liked to tell:
It was the Friday before Election Day. Byrd began at 6 o’clock that morning campaigning in the City of Richmond and the adjoining counties of Henrico and Chesterfield. His final campaign stop that evening was a 10 p.m. reception given him by the Greek-American community of Richmond which lasted until midnight. With Davis driving, the two headed for Winchester for a 7 a.m. breakfast being given for Byrd by his hometown friends.
Traveling Interstate 95, Byrd spotted a large truckstop between Richmond and Fredericksburg and asked Davis to pull into the truck terminal saying “Tuesday’s election is a tough one and could be decided by one vote. I want to shake hands with every trucker in this place.” This he did until 1:30 a.m.
But, when Byrd and Davis discussed it in route to Winchester the two concluded there were only one or two Virginians in the entire group, the rest being from states as far north as New Jersey and as far south as Florida. Byrd said “no more truck stops.”
Another story from one of those campaigns survives in the mind of a few. It had to do with a musical (vocal) campaign ad and is at least two-thirds true.
The piece was written by Nancy Friant of Berryville. One of The Star’s editors heard about it and picked up a copy from her. After running over it a few times on the piano, the editor and a close friend literally performed it for Davis over the phone. This was done two or three times. Then, the story goes, Davis sang it to Byrd while they were on the campaign trail.
The first line of the commercial ran: “Harry Byrd is for Virginia.” The ad was used during the campaign.
Davis ultimately retired to Stephens City where he served on the Town Council for a time. He died in February 1992.
Before the move in November 1969, the last time The Star had used six columns per page was in the early months of 1902.
Winchester’s population grew to 19,429 in 1970. The Star’s circulation daily in the city, Frederick and Clarke counties and fringe areas reached 14,726. This was paid circulation. The figure grew to 17,945 in 1976. This was the beginning of a spurt in growth in the area.
The Star office also grew. In 1975 the area beside the new offset press was expanded for newsprint and circulation use. It was the second expansion of the 1946 building.
Meanwhile, the Display Advertising Department had to be expanded on the first floor of The Star. Advertising went into the old composing area behind the business office, composing moved a notch back and the newsroom went to the rear of the building along Boscawen Street. Later it moved to the second floor along Boscawen, where partitions separating offices were removed. That area is a conference room today.
Display advertising today is in the original composing room spot.
Composing no longer exists since pages are created (or paginated) on computers. That process began in 1998 and eliminated the need to print out stories and photos, cut them, and paste them on board that would be photographed and turned into a plate for the press.
Part of the addition built to house the first offset press was later used by the page camera room and light tables where page negatives were stripped before going on to be burned onto a plate.
The page camera disappeared when the composing room merged into the newsroom and computer pages were sent directly to a negative. By 2009, images went directly from a newsroom computer screen to a plate for the press.
Thomas T. Byrd, the youngest son of Harry F. Byrd Jr., became publisher of The Winchester Star on March 5, 1981. He succeeded his father and become the fourth generation of his family to publish The Star. Including Jennie Rivers Byrd, his great, great-grandmonther, Thomas is the fifth generation Byrd to publish a newspaper in Winchester.
Tom Byrd’s first association with The Star came when he was a substitute home delivery carrier. His supervisor, Carle Germelman, later served as judge of the Juvenile Domestic Relations Court.
As a teenager, Tom Byrd worked in a number of departments (press, production, advertising, and circulation) of the newspaper.
He was a sergeant in the Marine Corps from 1966-68 and served in Vietnam in 1967-68. After graduating from Lynchburg College with a joint degree in History and Political Science in 1971, he began full time at The Star on June 15 of that year. He was business manager and later general manager before becoming publisher.
He is married to the former Sharon Moore.
The newspaper industry has changed dramatically during Tom Byrd’s three decades as publisher. So, too, has The Star.
The first real change under Tom Byrd came at his urging prior to becoming publisher.
The Saturday edition of the paper began to grow in acceptance in the late 1970s. And on April 5, 1980, the Saturday product became a morning one.
The name also changed that day, becoming simply, The Winchester Star, the name the paper has today.
The five-afternoon/Saturday-morning structure stayed in place until the paper’s most significant shift came 20 years later.
On April 3, 2000, The Winchster Star converted its Monday-Friday publishing cycle to a morning edition to better serve readers’ changing habits and advertisers needs.
In 1981, the 32-page offset press of 1964 was replaced by the present 64-page Goss Urbanite offset model. The Star’s third addition was built onto the building’s north side to house the new press.
Circulation in 1980 reached 18,962 for all six days per week of publication. By 1990, reflecting in part heavy population growth, the figure climbed to 21,032 for Monday through Friday and 25,493 on Saturday.
The growing circulation meant a growing staff and the fourth addition to The Star building. A two-story brick addition was built onto the rear of the original building in 1989 along the Boscawen Street side.
The addition’s first floor contains a large area for ad composition and business office space on the street side. The second floor houses the news department.
A fifth addition to the newspaper’s offices was completed in 1999 for the circulation department.
As the paper moved into the 21st century changes focused less on newsprint and ink and more on digital technology.
The Winchester Star entered the Internet age in 1999 when winchesterstar.com was born. It was offered as a free website until Aug. 1, 2009, when winchesterstar.com became Virginia’s first subscription-based newspaper website.
Print subscriptions to The Star include access to the website and a digital replica of the print product. The replica, which allows a person to view the printed product on a personal computer, began in 2008.
That technology also continues to change and now the paper can be viewed on mobile phones and digital tablets. The paper’s first mobile app, of the digital replica, became available in April 2011.
People such as John Sloat, Richard E. Byrd, Ralph Fansler, John Hoover — and maybe even Jack Davis — would have much to take in if they walked through the newspaper today.
One person they’d talk to about the paper’s history and changes is Adrian O’Connor, The Star’s editorial page editor since 1992. O’Connor is the longest serving editorial writer at the paper without the last name Byrd. He has also written more than 750 “Valley Pike” columns about the area’s history and its people and published a book from them.
The Star in 2011 looks far different from the product Sloat first published, as well as the paper for some decades afterward. Headlines are larger, the news type more readable, and more and better photos are used. Color photos and graphics make for a more attractive paper.
The phone lines that were used to bring in news from wire services in the 19th century and much of the 20th, gave way to satellite service and now to the Internet in the 21st.
News is compartmentalized in that categories such as state, national and international news have their own pages.
Sports, once evolving slowly into a single page daily, now is a section of several pages. What was called the Social Page with the kicker, News for Women, became the Living Section and now is called simply, Life.
There are separate pages for comics and a Spectator page. Local news not on the front page is displayed on the Local page and others behind it.
Classified advertisements long ago ran on the front page of the paper. Later they went to an inside page. Now, classifieds have graduated to a section of their own.
Tom Byrd now heads the board of directors of Winchester Evening Star Inc., which incorporated in 1960. The company owns and publishes The Winchester Star and a weekly paper, The Warren Sentinel, in Front Royal.
Tom Byrd is joined on the board by former U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr.; Harry F. Byrd III; Beverley B. Byrd; Thomas W. Byrd; Harry F. Byrd IV; Thomas B. Stimpson; Langdon B. Greenhalgh; John O. Marsh Jr., a former congressman and Secretary of the Army; and Harry F. Stimpson III of Boyce.
The newspaper’s 111/2 decades hold momentous events. There were two world wars and a crop of regional or hemispheric scraps, including the Spanish-American War that introduced the United States to world power status.
The Great Depression bore down in the grim 1930s and beyond until there was war again and another kind of suffering. Then quickly came what was called the Cold War with the Soviet Union. There were decades of military buildups, threats, and spying, all against a background of the nuclear age. It cost Americans — and their descendants — a bundle to keep their powder dry before the Soviet Union and its puppet communist states collapsed from within.
Since the start of the 21st century, we’ve seen the face of a new global threat — terrorism — which hit closest to home with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. We’ve also faced an economic downturn closer to the Great Depression of the 1930s than any other since.
The 115 years also saw the coming of the automobile, the airplane, the space age with man’s first landing on the moon, the ability to link people from around the world with the touch of a button and countless other technological and scientific advances that, taken together and sometimes separately, are mind-numbing.
All of these things and more The Star has reported as it tried to mirror the world for its readers. The emphasis, however, has been, and continues to be placed on local news. Readers in Winchester, Frederick, Clarke, and adjacent areas get the news about their neighbors down the street or across the road as well as major events on the state, national, and international scene.
Except for the 1923-25 period when the Daily Independent operated, The Star has been the only Winchester-based daily newspaper since late 1906.
Although The Star is now into its third century as part of the local landscape, it cannot really grow old. Faces will change, but it will continue to be curious and do its best to present the news, accurately, fairly, and swiftly. It will mirror the people and events that citizens need to know about to keep intelligently informed.
As the competition has expanded from radio to television to the Internet and mobile devices, The Star’s print and Internet editions continue to meet the challenges as America celebrates its 235th birthday.
As the community has grown in population, the primary service area of The Star — the City of Winchester (26,203, from 2010 Census figures) and Frederick (78,305) and Clarke (14,034) counties — has remained the same.
Thus, even as our entire community experiences change, and when the technology is refined, when the competition mix changes, when the reader/advertiser influences change, The Star will be there — to change when necessary and to serve. Always to serve.
Douglas B. O’Connell, a longtime Star reporter and editor, originally wrote this history of the newspaper for The Star’s 100th anniversary in 1996. Additions and changes have been made to bring The Star’s story up to date by Adrian O’Connor, The Star’s editorial editor since 1992, and Bobby Ford, a former editor who started in 1993 and is currently responsible for the paper’s digital offerings.