Looking back at the early day of Spencer Co. newspapers

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Looking back at the early day of Spencer Co. newspapers

By Tom Watson, historian
Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Two weeks ago, a history of the newspaper in Spencer County began with reference to Katie Beauchamp. Now, we switch to a chronological tracing of the history of journalism in Taylorsville.

Katie came along years after W.T. Burton and the first known paper in Taylorsville - the Spencer Journal. As noted, the first edition of the Spencer Journal was published in May, 1869. It later became the Spencer Courier and in the late 1940s, the Spencer Magnet. At some point, a weekly known as the "Index" was published in Taylorsville.

In an 1895 letter to the Spencer Courier, Thomas A. Branham of Louisville said he entered the office of the Spencer Journal in 1869 as an apprentice. He said in the letter, "I do not remember when it was printed under the name of the 'Index.'" That would indicate that the "Index" was not a separate paper, but at one time was in the mix of the Spencer Journal and Spencer Courier. It apparently was published long before the Spencer Magnet. Branham confirmed in his letter that the Journal began in May, 1869.

Branham added the following, which has never been clarified:

"The paper was first published in a one-story brick building situated on the public square, south of the courthouse. As I recall it, a Scotsman, by the name of Brown, was the first editor of the paper. It was afterwards published by W.T. Burton in a building on Main Street, a half block west of the courthouse, It was at this time that I worked upon the paper with my brother John, Charles Burton and Joseph Lemmons."

Tom Branham's recollection that a Scotsman named Brown was Spencer County's first newspaper editor and ran the Spencer Journal leaves some questions. Branham wrote to the paper in 1895. Had his memory failed him and was he thinking of Lew Brown, who came along after Burton? Or was there another man named Brown who introduced journalism to Spencer County? Branham's father was Rev. Benjamin O. Branham, who came to Taylorsville in 1868 from Owenton to serve as pastor of the First Baptist Church, succeeding Rev. Joseph M. Weaver, who became pastor of a Louisville church. Rev. Branham is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery at the end of Hardin Street in Taylorsville.

It was always my understanding that Katie Beauchamp, a school teacher and former school superintendent, ran the local paper on behalf of the school board during a brief period when otherwise it would not have been published.

Claude A. Brock wrote in a 1974 publication called "Spencer County Salutes the Sesquicentennial" that there was, in fact, an earlier period when the local paper was not published during its days as the Journal. Editor-owner W.T. Burton had to let the paper go dark for a time while he took care of "other business," as Claude wrote, but Burton soon returned to crank up the press again.

That being the case, the honor of Spencer County's longest continuously operated business would go to the W.T. Froman Drug Co. in a close race with J.A. Bennett's.

Katie Beauchamp was credited with changing the name of the paper from the Spencer Courier to the Spencer Magnet. Her family ran the Beauchamp Mill on Brashears Creek in Taylorsville.

The Lew Brown story is especially meaningful to my family because Brown worked with two of my great uncles at the Courier-Journal - Charlie and Ben Watson. They were brothers of my grandfather Emmett Watson. I have worked in the Courier-Journal building for 35 years, but not for the newspaper. I'm Kentucky broadcast editor and a newsman for the Associated Press, which leases space in the newspaper building.

In 1960, Llewellyn Buford "Lew" Brown's grandaughter, Marion Zaiser of St. Petersburg, Fla., wrote "The Beneficient Blaze." The book traced the career of Brown from a newspaper in Arkansas when he was a teenager, through his years in Louisville, Taylorsville and Florida.

Brown's father operated a newspaper and print shop in Arkansas, but became unable to work due to physical problems and young Lew had to take over. The experience helped him land a job as a journeyman printer at the Courier-Journal. That was when "Marse Henry," Henry Watterson, was editor of the paper. It was at the C-J that Brown met 18-year-old Charlie Watson of Taylorsville and the two became friends. On one occasion, Charlie defended Lew when Lew had a disagreement with the composing room foreman and the friendship between Lew and Charlie became life-long. The composing room foreman was identified only as "Mr. Henry" in the Zaiser book.

Charlie Watson succeeded "Mr. Henry" as composing room foreman of the C-J in the early 1880s and promptly made Lew his assistant. About a year later, Charlie told Lew that Ben Ridgely was starting a new Sunday paper in Louisville to be called the "Mirror." Charlie accepted an offer to be composing room foreman for the "Mirror," on the condition that Lew succeed him at the C-J. It was an effort to keep Watterson reasonably happy. Lew was 18 when he succeeded Charlie Watson.

City Editor George Jones took notice of Brown's writing. Poetry by Lew B. Brown started appearing in the C-J and Louisville Times. Brown also specailized in interviews, and one was with Mary Anderson, Henry Watterson's famous prot/g/ and for whom a Louisville theater was named.

Lew was at the C-J for several years and while working on a story about deplorable working conditions at a Louisville plow company, met the love of his life, Emma Julia Struby. She worked at the plow company and when her boss saw Lew giving her the eye, he figured she was the informant about the working conditions and fired her. Julia's boss complained to C-J owner Walter Haldeman about the story, but Haldeman defended Lew and the story. The plow factory owner had ambitions to run for mayor, but Haldeman told him if he fired Julia, there would be something else for Lew to write about. Lew arrived as Julia was cleaning out her desk and told her not to worry about it because she wasn't being fired after all.

Lew was invited to dinner at Julia's home and met her father, noted architect Henry Struby, designer of Louisville's City Hall, the Masonic Home and other buildings.

On Feb. 11, 1885, Lew Brown and Julia Struby were married. Charlie Watson was the best man. Next week, Lew Brown arrives in Taylorsville.

If you have information or pictures related to the history of newspapers in Spencer County, or any other historical subject, email Tom Watson at or write to Tom Watson, 5225 Little Union Road, Taylorsville, Ky., 40071. You may phone 502 252-9991 before 7 p.m. is the website of

©2005 The Spencer Magnet

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