Early Polk County Newspapers

The production of newspapers in the 1800’s rapidly increased, particularly in the 1830’s and 40’s, with the advent of penny papers. Previously newspapers were exclusive to subscribers in political and mercantile circles, costing an average of 6 cents and catering to literate men with leisure time and an interest in business and government affairs. The first penny paper, The Sun, was founded in 1833 and was bipartisan, relying on advertising for revenue instead of support from a political party—although each newspaper would continue to reflect its editor’s opinions and personality. These papers tended to focus more on entertainment and opened circulation to a more diverse segment of the population.

While penny papers were mostly produced in larger cities in the northeastern United States, they had an influence on country newspapers, such as the ones prominent in early Georgia: Southern Banner (Athens), The Georgia Constitutionalist (Augusta), The Federal Union (Milledgeville), and The Georgian (Savannah). Under the franking privilege, editors could send one another their papers without a fee, thus extending their reach and readership. Layouts and content were copied, sometimes without the expected attribution and dated foreign news was commonly printed verbatim. After 1845, the telegraph was utilized as a means of sharing fresh information from afar, the result being little focus on local, mundane news.

The first newspaper in Polk County, Georgia was found mentioned in the newspaper, Southern Recorder, on June 6, 1854. It is a reprinted article on the prospects of the planting season, listing its source as Cedartown Republican. There are various other mentions of this newspaper through 1855. Another early paper that garnered a mention is from an 1857 article in The Standard (Cassville) citing a new publication, Georgia Patriot, issued by J. and J. A. Borden. This paper had a political slant as it was quipped by the editor of The Standard, “our friends will have quite a task if they keep the Knownothing banner afloat, even in Polk county.” Research points the proprietorship of Georgia Patriot to father and son, John A. Borden and Joel Elias Borden of Calhoun County, Alabama, the latter listed as a newspaper editor in various sources. An ad in Cartersville’s, The Weekly Courier, states that the short-lived Georgia Patriot consolidated with The Courier in 1858. An unnamed Cedartown newspaper existed in 1859, as a letter from W. H. C. Prior to his sister said, “I will have forwarded you a paper published weekly at this place for which you must enclose the proprietor two dollars.” No physical copies remain of these early local newspapers.

Newspapers during this time were often the efforts of a single owner who acted as reporter, editor and printer, leaving little time for quality, original content. They borrowed editorials, poetry, serials, and other fillers from mass produced newspapers and sometimes more localized pieces from neighboring cities (such as the planting article mentioned above). The earliest Rockmart newspaper in the Polk County Historical Society’s archives is The Reporter, 1872-1874. A weekly publishing by J. T. Gibson, it contained several sheets following the expected formula—repurposed information and heavy advertisements on the repetitive sheets, and timely or localized news on the back pages. Because word-of-mouth was quicker on local matters than a weekly newspaper, society news was not prevalent in Polk County newspapers until the turn of the century.

Four Cedartown newspapers evolved from the late 1860’s onward, with the current Polk County Standard Journal still in print today. The Cedartown Record began in 1869 by W. S. D. Wikle, followed by The Cedartown Express in 1874 by Thomas Gibson, possibly the same editor or related to the Gibson editor of The Reporter (Rockmart). Cedartown Advertiser was started in 1878 by Dr. William Bradford and later renamed Cedartown Standard by its subsequent owners, E. B. Russell and W. S. Coleman. It is the oldest continuously published newspaper in the county.

Rockmart also went through its share of various and renamed publications, from The Reporter (1872) to The Rockmart Slate (1885), The Rockmart Courier (listed as sold in 1908), The Rockmart News (1909), and The Rockmart Journal (1930). In addition to these city newspapers, Professor Lewis Emory Hall, principal of the Cedartown Colored Public School (later named Cedar Hill High School), began a weekly newspaper in 1895, Cedartown Watchman. Its heading read, “A weekly newspaper published for the moral, intellectual and material elevation of the Negro in general, and those of Cedartown and Polk county, Ga., in particular.” PCHS archives contain a single partial copy of this paper, with an introductory article, news about the school, and a society piece.

The Polk County Historical Society’s Genealogical Research Library at 205 South College Street, located in the basement of the Hawkes Children’s Library building, contains a newspaper research room with bound newspaper books from 1870 to 1991. Some of this material is too fragile to handle but has fortunately been digitalized by the Digital Library of Georgia. The current count for Polk County newspapers online at https://gahistoricnewspapers.galileo.usg.edu includes 139 issues of The Cedartown Record (1874-1879), 37 issues of The Cedartown Express (1874-1879), 199 issues of Cedartown Advertiser (1878-1889), and 937 issues of The Cedartown Standard (1889-1946). Owing to copyright laws, the latest date scanned of The Cedartown Standard available for online viewing is 1922, making PCHS’s newspaper archives from 1923 to 1991 a valuable resource for the community. The PCHS Library is open Wednesdays from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Thursdays & Fridays during the same hours if we have staff volunteers available, and by appointment.