Monday, January 18, 2016

Charles Redfield: Newspaper Ink Ran Through His Veins

MaloneTelBldgThe Malone Telegram, recently passing the 110th anniversary of its founding (December 9), was the brainchild of Charles M. Redfield, who was cautioned back in 1905 that starting a daily newspaper in a small city with two established weeklies (the Palladium and the Farmer) was foolhardy. But Redfield forged ahead, confident that the response received in advance from advertisers would support the venture — and he was right.

For those who probe newspaper archives while researching historical topics, people like Charles Redfield are important and much appreciated. In that regard, Redfield’s efforts were vital in a number of communities prior to his tenure in Malone.

Redfield was born in December 1859 in Woodville, about 20 miles southwest of Watertown in Jefferson County. The family lived in different locations, and at age 12, Charles became a newspaper delivery boy for the Watertown Times. While still in his teens, he joined the Times as a “printer’s devil,” an apprentice, which meant helper, trainee, and all-round go-fer.

In January 1881, at the tender age of 21, he purchased the Copenhagen Independent, which had been in business for eight months. He also won election as president of Copenhagen township by a single vote. In November 1882 he sold the Independent, and in 1883 was a reporter and the official representative of the Watertown Times and Reformer.

A little over a year later, Redfield founded the Frankfort Star, and in 1885 he bought the St. Johnsville Times (Montgomery County). He next worked as foreman for three years at the Antwerp Gazette before moving on in the final days of 1888 to the Malone Gazette, where he served as local editor and foreman.

He then moved to his wife’s hometown of St. Johnsville, about 30 miles southeast of Utica, and established himself as a clothing retailer for several years. But newspapers were in his blood, and in late 1898 he launched the Herkimer Evening Telegram, a daily.

The climactic move of his career came in 1905 when Redfield sold the clothing business, moved to northern Franklin County, and established the Malone Evening Telegram, which was an instant success. Two years later, Charles purchased a city lot for the future, three-story home of the newspaper.

Under Redfield and his reliable editor, Harvey Kane, the paper flourished. In 1915, Charles was elected president of a forty-member body, the Northern New York Press Association. The following year, he hosted the association, providing great advertising for Malone by treating all members to a sightseeing tour, a movie matinee, and dinner at the luxurious Flanagan Hotel.

In 1918, then-Senator Warren Harding, who would become the first newspaperman elected to the presidency, paid a visit to northern New York. Stopping in at the Malone Evening Telegram office, he challenged Redfield to see who could set up a “stickful of type” the fastest. Harding won.

Although Redfield was a Republican, his newspaper took an independent political stance from the start. In 1926, he published a signed editorial addressing comments by a Methodist bishop, Adna Leonard, who made disparaging remarks about Al Smith, the Catholic governor of New York who appeared destined as a Democratic presidential candidate in 1928. Said Leonard, “No Governor can kiss the Papal ring and get within gunshot of the White House.”

Redfield was no fan of the governor, but spoke out against the bishop: “Those of us who live in this North Country, and come in daily contact with the Catholic priesthood and laity, and have learned to love, respect, and admire them, resent comments of this character and sincerely trust that Bishop Leonard has been misquoted. I am not a Smith man and never was, but I hope my opposition to him is based on something better than religious intolerance. Charles M. Redfield.”

He remained a leading figure in the North Country for decades, and retained control of the Malone Evening Telegram until 1929, when, at age 60, he sold a controlling interest to Frank Gannett of Rochester. It was the seventeenth purchased by Gannett, who headed the third-largest collection of daily newspapers in the country.

Redfield, already considered comfortable financially, received an estimated $200,000 in the exchange ($2.7 million in 2016). He retired from the business and spent winters with his wife in Florida. In 1936 they celebrated their golden anniversary. Shortly after, Charles began experiencing health issues, and passed away in November 1941 at age 82.

From carrier boy to printer, reporter, editor, and publisher, he had done it all, working for eight different newspapers. Two that he founded, in Herkimer in 1898 and Malone in 1905, are now known respectively as the Times Telegram (from a 2015 merger of the Little Falls Times and the Herkimer Telegram) and the Malone Telegram. They have undergone many changes, but are still operating today, both having lasted more than a century—a remarkable legacy by any measure.

Photo: Malone Telegram building

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

3 Responses

  1. Terry says:

    Good story, Larry! We’re fortunate to have you as our Adirondack-based historian and writer!!

  2. Tim-Brunswick says:

    This is a great story and brings back fond memories of my first job as a “Messenger Boy” in the Newsroom. This was followed by “Galley Boy” with the Printers/Sterotypers and ultimately News Reporter covering primary beats for a major Capitol District Newspaper during the mid sixties and seventies.

    Unfortunately a young growing family required more financial support than a Reporter’s salary could provide and I left for a more lucrative calling.

    Both my City Editor and parents were upset, but as I told them many times “they will not accept story by-lines at the grocery counter……..”.

    Nice job Mr. Gooley!

  3. Larry says:

    Terry and Tim … thank you for the very kind words. They are deeply appreciated.

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