W.L. Jones launched Leader in 1889; one of many Port Townsend papers

Scott Wilson Oct 16, 2015

When W.L. Jones launched the Morning Leader in Port Townsend on Oct. 2, 1889, the streets of the city were already crowded with newspapers.

The first came in 1859, followed by several others: The Northwest, the Message, the Argus, the Democratic Press, on and on. Most papers were sponsored by political parties.

The history of newspapers in Jefferson County is generally rambunctious, but the story of one editor, Henry L. Sutton, takes the cake.

In 1867 Al Pettygrove, son of pioneer Francis Pettygrove, founded The Message, a Republican newspaper. In 1869 Enoch S. Fowler purchased the paper and installed Sutton as editor.

That was a mistake.

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Fowler's building; Jones' newspaper Town's first masonry building played role in PT and Seattle history

Relentlessly beaten by 140 years of saltwater winds. Pounded through 98 years of deadline-driven footsteps of newspaper reporters, printers and publishers. The Fowler Building in downtown Port Townsend looks its age.

But for 15 years after its 1874 construction, the two-story sandstone building at 226 Adams Street was the uncontested queen of the young city. It was the first substantial stone building amidst a clapboard town, the community's gathering place, and just one creation of the busiest of the new town's entrepreneurs.

His name was Enoch S. Fowler. He hailed from Lubec, Maine, coming to California during Gold Rush days as shrewd, sharp-eyed skipper. While not listed among Port Townsend's founders, he was first mate on the ship that brought founders Alfred Plummer and Charles Bachelder here from San Francisco in 1850. According to some reports, he talked the men into staking claims at Port Townsend instead of their original target, Olympia. They wintered over in Steilacoom and, in the spring of 1851, arrived on the Port Townsend beach.

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The Leader at 120 years: A brief history

The Leader was not Port Townsend’s first newspaper. In 1859 the fewer than 200 literate souls in Port Townsend read the Port Townsend Register. As the town grew so did the papers: The North West, The Message, Puget Sound Argus, Puget Sound Express, Democratic Press, Cyclops, Port of Entry Times, Port Townsend Call and my personal favorite, The Evening Incident. Only the Call lasted until 1910.

On October 2, 1889 W.L. Jones published The Morning Leader, a daily of eight pages. Earlier Jones had spent three years with the Argus, then departed for Hillsboro, Oregon where he was on the city council. He returned to a seaside town of 6,000 people, brimming with confidence about future growth. Stories about Port Townsend’s vast resources and potential for industry dominated that first edition, along with tales of Yukon miners dying of scurvy, and the arrival of ships from all over the world. The largest advertisement? Ward, Harper and Hill, Real Estate Brokers. The Leader was a daily until 1908 when it went weekly.

After W.L. Jones, the next sure hand at The Leader’s helm was Winslow McCurdy. He became editor in 1917 and in time bought out W.B. Jessup. (Jessup would move to Bremerton and start the Bremerton Sun.) McCurdy was named Port Townsend postmaster in 1923. That’s when he leased The Leader to Fred Willoughby. Upon McCurdy’s death, control of The Leader fell to Willoughby and Ray O. Scott. The cigar-smoking, roly-poly but frugal Scott ran the business. He hand-delivered subscription bills to save a penny on postage. He was a wizard on Linotypes, the car-sized typesetting machines that turned molten lead into lines of type. “Don’t bother proof-reading that,” he would tell his printers. “I set it.”

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Newspapers in Education

The Port Townsend and Jefferson County Leader supplies free newspapers to classrooms all over Jefferson County so teachers can use the paper to engage students on a wide range of topics. Current events, citizenship and how democracy works are just a few of the areas where newspapers can be an invaluable resource in the classroom.

Our Newspapers in Education program is supported by generous sponsors and individuals throughout the community who agree newspapers can play an important role by connecting students to the issues and events taking place in their community.

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