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The Rockbridge County paper, founded in 1869, traces its origins to the Union, a weekly Democratic paper founded in 1832. Three years later, the Union became the Lexington Gazette , which under the editorship of Cornelius C. Baldwin quickly became known as a paper with “no sympathy whatever with the ‘States Rights party.’” By 1840 the Gazette was renamed the Lexington Gazette and Rockbridge Farmer, deftly targeting the township as well as the county’s considerable agricultural population. In 1853, with Alphonso Smith as editor, the title reverted to the more straightforward Gazette. The paper supported the American, or Know-Nothing, Party, a short-lived political movement intent on stemming the tide of Irish Catholic immigrants. In the South, party members were often far more anxious about both the pro-slavery extremism of the Democrats and rapid growth of the anti-slavery Republicans and concerned by the speed with which events were whirling out of control.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, the Gazette weathered paper shortages, worn type, and economic hardship. It was reduced to quarto size, the number of pages went from four to two, and it appeared just twice monthly. In June 1864, the Gazette suspended publication altogether, as Union troops then occupying Lexington scattered the paper’s type into the street. Later resurrected as the Gazette and Banner, the weekly was edited by former Confederate colonel Samuel H. Letcher.
In 1871, publisher Major John J. Lafferty restored the title Lexington Gazette. Robert E. Lee had appointed Lafferty the first head of the school of journalism at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University), and, as part of his new academic responsibilities, Lafferty provided additional instruction at the Lexington Gazette for his journalism students. Elihu H. Barclay, a farmer and the founder of the Virginia Press Association, edited the Gazette from 1874 until his death in 1902. During the 1870s, the four-page paper was issued each Friday, with subscriptions set at two dollars per year. Its weekly circulation by then was 980. Content focused mainly on local news, followed by state updates. There was also a good bit of marvelously outrageous humor--with orations by “Furiosus Bombasticus” and the “Reverend Theodore Swellhead.” By 1880, the Gazette's circulation had reached approximately 1,500--out of a total county population of 16,058. The front page was capped by an expansive and highly decorative banner, and content was divided evenly between news and advertisements for local businesses. Printed in a 20-by-26-inch format, the Gazette featured articles on local real estate, agriculture, events at both Washington and Lee University and at the Virginia Military Institute, anecdotes and poetry, household hints, travel accounts, and a range of national news adapted from larger papers. Like many other newspapers in Virginia, the Gazette was also often filled with articles on Civil War campaigns and leaders, by then a well-honed genre familiarly known as “fighting them over.”
By 1900, circulation of the Gazette had dropped to 1,375. The decline can be attributed to competition from the Rockbridge County News , first established in 1884 by Samuel J. Graham and Matthew W. Paxton. In 1889, Paxton purchased his partner’s interest in the News, and in 1962 the Paxton family merged the paper with the Lexington Gazette, forming the Lexington News-Gazette.
Provided by: Library of Virginia; Richmond, VA