John P. Herrick was a pioneer newspaper publisher and oil producer. In this excerpt from his book, "Founding a Country Newspaper Fifty Years Ago", Herrick writes about his experiences in founding the Bolivar Breeze newspaper.
Establishing a Newspaper in the Allegany Oil Field
In the spring of 1801, the Oswayo Valley Mail was on the road to moderate prosperity. The village of Bolivar, 7 miles north of Ceres, in the Allegany County oil field, had been without a local newspaper for many months. For some time I had visited Bolivar each week, soliciting job printing and writing weekly news letters for the Mail, which had a long list of Bolivar subscribers. At the peak of the oil boom in 1882, Bolivar had 4,500 population. It had dwindled to about 1,100 by 1891. Bolivar business men urged me to establish a local newspaper. Oil country folks were friendly and hospitable and I liked them. I felt the need of a more extended field, now that I had proved my ability to edit and publish a country weekly.
After a canvass of the business men to learn the amount of advertising that could be counted on for the first year, I rented a location, ordered a new plant, and named the new venture the Bolivar Breeze, It was a five-column, eight-page newspaper, four pages ready print and printed four pages at a time on a Washington handpress.
The motto (elected was "All Things Come to Him Who Hustles." Patent medicine advertisements and advertising agents were barred. Bolivar people, without a newspaper for a year, welcomed the Breeze, and I worked long hours to merit their goodwill and approval.
ADVICE I DID NOT FOLLOW
Some months after the Bolivar Breeze was launched, I discovered that one Bolivar business man took delight in opposing any plan suggested by my newspaper for the improvement of the village. He sent his job printing out of town and took advantage of every opportunity offered to disparage the Breeze and the quality of printing turned out by the job department. After wondering for a year why this man should act as he did, when the Breeze had always treated him courteously, I called on him and asked him just why he did not like me and my newspaper.
"I am glad you came," he said, "for I have wanted to tell you. When you visited Bolivar to look the field over and decide whether it was a promising one for a newspaper, you came and talked with me.
"I told you the town was dead; that older and smarter men than you appeared to be had published a newspaper here for nine years, found out that the town would not support one, and retired from the field. I also told you that if you came you would waste your time and lose your money—if you had any to lose. Yet, in spite of my advice, which you asked for, you came and started the Breeze, and, damn it. you are making a go of it."
I told him that when I first visited Bolivar I bad two kinds of advice, pessimistic and optimistic, and I followed nobody's advice in particular. What I did was to interview the business men of Bolivar. When I had been guaranteed, in writing, ten columns of advertising for one year, I telegraphed a Chicago type foundry to send a salesman to sell me a complete plant for a new weekly newspaper.
This explanation soothed his pride of opinion. From that day on ho sent his orders for printing to the Breeze office, came in with news items that he ran across, ordered a copy of the paper sent regularly to a sister living in Ohio, and in every way was a regular fellow.
ONE MAN WHO STOPPED HIS PAPER
One of the disputes in Bolivar that ran on for four or five years was over the question of a water system to furnish fire protection and water for domestic purposes. Fire insurance rates were $60 per thousand on Main Street. The water supply was limited and for fire protection only. There were two excellent hose companies, and whenever an alarm of fire sounded, there was keen rivalry between the companies, to see who would be the first to answer the alarm. The water supply and the number of hydrants were inadequate, however.
I visited several villages the size of Bolivar that had highly satisfactory, efficiently run municipally owned water systems that sold water service at a nominal cost, with the result that fire insurance rates were much lower than in Bolivar. Investigation proved that an artesian well and springs within a radius of 2 miles would provide an ample supply of pure water. The elevation of the spring was 200 feet above the village. These findings resulted in my becoming enthusiastic for a gravity water system, and I filled many columns of the Breeze with arguments favoring a water plant for Bolivar.
The citizens were about evenly divided on the question, and three elections were held. Each time the plan to have the village own and control a gravity system was voted down. One of the amusing incidents of the campaign was a call one day from a wealthy retired farmer, who was bitterly opposed to a municipal water system. He argued that it would increase his taxes so much that he would have to move back to his farm. He said other retired farmers would have to do the same.
"If you are going to keep this agitation up, John," ho said, "I will have to stop the Breeze."
"What you mean is," I said, "that you wish your copy discontinued."
"That's it," he said, "I can't approve of your actions any longer."
So his name was struck from the list.
The day following the next issue of the paper, his w|fe stopped in the office and asked me why their copy of the Breeze was not in the post office.
"Your husband doesn't like me any more and ordered it stopped," I said, "because I am advocating a water system so we can have fire protection, hot and cold water, bath rooms, toilets, and water for our lawns and gardens."
"Well, John, I am with you, and you can send the paper to me," she replied. "Here is a year's subscription. If that husband of mine had to work the old pitcher pump as hard as I do every Monday to get water to wash with, he would be in favor of a water system."
Shortly after the third defeat of the plan, a group of eight enterprising citizens organized a water company and brought pure water from the springs in the hills to the homes and business places of Bolivar. More hydrants were installed, fire protection improved, and insurance rates reduced.
Some months after the plant was in operation, I walked past tho home of my former subscriber and found him spraying water on his front lawn. "Not so bad after all, is it, Uncle John?" I remarked to him.
He smiled and said, "That was once I was wrong. My wife would leave me if I even suggested that we shut off the water in the house."
His wife was evidently listening to tho conversation, for suddenly she appeared on the porch and said, "That is just what I would do. Some men never have a lick of sense about easing a woman's work."
Uncle John and Aunt Clarissa long ago passed to their reward, and voices of another generation are heard in the old home.
WHEN HEALTH WAS A HANDICAP
During the early days of my soliciting advertising for the Breeze, in Bolivar, I called on a middle-aged, kindly man, who smoked a pipe during all his waking hours to quiet nervousness. He conducted a furniture and undertaking establishment and did not appear to be interested in newspaper advertising. He had been in business in the busy days, of the oil boom. The population had steadily decreased, and he did not like the outlook for the future.
"This town," he said, "seems to be a poor place for my business, They have epidemics of scarlet fever in Olean and Angelica, diphtheria in Wellsville and Hornellsville, and smallpox in Bradford, But nothing ever happens here to liven up business for me."
So we agreed on n 5-inch double-column advertisement for furniture and let it go at that.