The Houston Home Journal History
The Houston Home Journal began as a
weekly newspaper for a small farming community in Middle Georgia. Perry
was a village with fewer than 500 residents, and Houston County’s
population was only a few thousand people. 1870 was not a good year for
the tiny town. The recent past had been painful. The future was
unpredictable. Southerners everywhere were still recovering –
economically and emotionally – from the Civil War. Federal
Reconstruction policies under the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant had
the South in a state of ongoing political upheaval.
And that was the year that a young
man named John Thomas Waterman took a big risk, and started Houston
County’s first newspaper.
It wasn’t an easy beginning.
Waterman, a native of Clinton, planned to have his first issue out in
November, but the printing press he had ordered from New York City was
destroyed in a fire at the Fort Valley Depot on the night of Nov. 12,
1870, and he had to order another. He published his first issue a month
later – on Dec. 17, 1870.
At the outset, the paper included
national and state news – made possible by the recent invention of the
telegraph. It also included local items, most often brief social notes,
notices of marriages and deaths, and short comments on local business,
farming and politics. Advertising in the beginning mainly came from
Macon merchants intent on attracting the business of Houston Countians,
but as the years passed a steady increase of ads from Fort Valley
(which was part of Houston County until the 1920s) and Perry gives
testimony to the county’s economic growth.
The name of the paper was changed
from The Home Journal to The Houston Home Journal twice prior to 1925.
The name was chosen to imply that it is a wholesome newspaper suitable
for family reading in the home; also that its primary purpose is to
promote the progress and best interests of Houston County.
Waterman was owner and editor until
1873, when he sold the paper to Edwin Martin, a young Perry lawyer.
Martin published and edited The Home Journal until April 1880, when he
sold the paper to John Hicks Hodges, a native of Perry who was editor
of a newspaper in Irwinton at the time.
When Hodges was appointed
postmaster of Perry in 1915, his son, John Lorenzo Hodges became
associate editor and business manager of The Home Journal. In May 1924,
John L. Hodges succeeded his father as owner and editor, and his wife,
Ruby C. Hodges, became associate editor. In 1931, John L. Hodges was
elected judge of the Court of Ordinary of Houston County, and was
succeeded as editor of The Houston Home Journal by his wife while he
continued as publisher.
For nearly 66 years, this
publication was owned and edited by a member of the Hodges family.
After bringing the newspaper through the Great Depression of the 1930s
and the war period of the 1940s, John L. and Ruby C. Hodges sought to
enlarge and expand The Home Journal to better serve the needs of the
growing Perry community. With this in mind, they chose Charles Cooper
Etheridge of Perry, an experienced and trained newspaper man, to
succeed them as publisher and editor of the Houston Home Journal in
During a period of 18 months in
1951 and 1952, Cooper Etheridge was joined by his brother, James P.
Etheridge Jr. of Tampa, Fla., as associate editor. On Sept. 1, 1952,
Cooper Etheridge sold an interest in The Home Journal to William Bryon
Maxwell, who came to Perry from Ocilla, where he had been editor of The
Ocilla Star from 1946 until 1952. Maxwell was the production manager of
The Home Journal.
In 1965, Etheridge and Maxwell
acquired Allen Robert Branch as a partner. Better known as Bobby,
Branch came here from Hinesville, where he was managing editor of The
Hinesville Sentinel. He was associate editor and advertising manager of
The Home Journal.
For 69 years the newspaper plant
was housed in a frame building on the corner lot at Carroll Street and
Washington Avenue. In 1939, John L. Hodges had erected a brick building
adjacent to the lot on which the old building had stood, and the two
had the address of 934-936 Carroll Street. Cooper Etheridge built the
next building of The Houston Home Journal in 1955, in Carroll Street
Alley, and sold it with the newspaper in 1969.
In October of that year, Etheridge
and Maxwell sold The Houston Home Journal to Perry Newspapers Inc.,
which was made up of Bobby Branch, Lewis M. Meeks and G. Ogden Persons.
Branch became editor-publisher and general manager of the business.
Meeks was vice president of The Bank of Perry in 1969, and Persons, a
resident of Brunswick, was vice-chairman of the bank’s board of
directors. Wofford Sinyard, an employee since 1965, was put in charge
of the commercial printing plant. Maxwell continued as an employee in
the production department.
In September 1970, Sinyard and
Maxwell purchased the commercial printing and office supply departments
from the owners of The Houston Home Journal. In 1975, Branch and his
wife Becky bought out Meeks and Persons. The Branches sold the paper to
Grimes Publications of Georgia in 1978.
The Houston Home Journal was sold
to the Ithaca, N.Y.-based multimedia corporation Park Communications
Inc. in February 1980. Owner Roy H. Park had purchased The (Warner
Robins) Daily Sun in 1972 from its founder Foy S. Evans. Branch
continued on as editor-publisher of The Home Journal until September
1980, when he departed to pursue a career in public relations. Branch,
who was killed in a 1987 automobile crash in Hinesville, remains to
this day one of the most-beloved editors The Houston Home Journal has
Two months later, R.F. (Bob) Jones
was named editor and manager of The Houston Home Journal. He was
succeeded in 1981 by James B. Kerce, who spearheaded the newspaper
through a time of growth and new challenges, first as editor and later
as general manager.
Daniel F. Evans, son of The Warner
Robins Daily Sun founder Foy Evans, founded The Warner Robins Times in
July 1985. He later added a Perry edition, called The Perry Times, and
folded the Warner Robins edition. In the face of new, homegrown
competition, The Houston Home Journal expanded to a twice-a-week
publication frequency in February 1987, and became a morning newspaper.
The Perry Times followed suit in January 1989, increasing its frequency
to twice a week. After several years of intense competition between the
two newspapers, Evans sold The Perry Times to its production manager,
Billy Lacey, in 1992. But less than a year later, Evans’ company, Evans
Newspapers Inc., regained ownership of The Perry Times. At this time,
Foy S. Evans resumed the column he formerly wrote for every edition of
The Daily Sun until his departure in the mid-1970s.
After the death of Roy H. Park, The
Houston Home Journal was sold to American Publishing Co. of West
Frankfort, Ill. In February 1994, Houston Publications, Inc., a
newly-formed corporation made up of partners Daniel F. Evans, Julie B.
Evans and Robert E. Tribble, owner of Manchester-based Trib
Publications Inc., purchased both The Perry Times and The Houston Home
Journal and merged them into one newspaper, dubbed The Houston
Kerce departed after the merger and
managing editor Brigette Loudermilk was promoted to editor and general
manager of the new newspaper. The newspaper continued its twice-weekly
frequency. Kerce returned that July after Loudermilk departed to pursue
other interests. The next month, The Houston Times-Journal returned to
a weekly publication schedule. In September 1994, Tribble bought out
the Evanses to become sole owner. The newspaper and the community were
shocked in December 1994 by Kerce’s untimely death, and Loudermilk was
named interim editor. By the end of the month, former Perry Times
managing editor James A. “Jj” Johnson was named managing editor of The
After a tumultuous 1994, the
newspaper enjoyed a period of relative stability … until April 1999,
when competition came, again in the form of Daniel F. and Julie B.
Evans. The Evanses returned to Perry with The Town Crier, a weekly
tabloid newspaper that quickly established itself as a challenger to
the venerable legal organ. The Houston Times-Journal returned to its
former name on May 5, 1999. A mere 11 months later, Tribble sold The
Houston Home Journal to Evans Newspapers Inc. Daniel F. Evans had
finally succeeded in obtaining Houston County’s oldest newspaper, a
longtime ambition of his. He folded The Town Crier, and assumed
ownership (and editorship) of The Houston Home Journal on April 6,
2000. Evans moved the newspaper into his plant at 1210 Washington
Street and added a 7-unit Goss Community press in that location.
In July 2001, the newspaper resumed
a twice-weekly publication frequency. A year later, Evans expanded The
Home Journal’s news coverage of the north end of the county, and opened
a branch office on Watson Boulevard in Warner Robins. At the end of
2002, Evans learned that the newspaper chain Knight Ridder, which owns
The Macon Telegraph, intended to cease publishing The Daily Sun, the
Warner Robins newspaper his father had founded in 1949. Evans saw the
chance to expand his readership further by transforming what had once
been a newspaper that primarily served Perry and the south end of
Houston County into a true community newspaper for all of Houston
County. At the same time, he decided to expand The Home Journal’s
frequency to five days a week. He hired Rex Gambill, a former Macon
Telegraph bureau editor, as managing editor of the new daily newspaper.
The newspaper joined The Associated Press, to bolster its local
coverage with state and sports news. A number of new columns and
features were lined up, and the staff grew to better meet the challenge
of producing a daily newspaper.
The final edition of The Daily Sun
was distributed on Feb. 2, 2003. The first edition of the daily Houston
Home Journal came out the next day. Response to the daily Houston Home
Journal was overwhelmingly positive – over 2,000 new subscribers signed
on in the first month. Despite some initial delivery problems, the new
daily was quickly embraced by new readers hungry for local news.
The Houston Home Journal has always
been the official legal organ of the City of Perry and of Houston
County. With the demise of The Daily Sun, The Home Journal has now
become the legal organ for the City of Warner Robins and the City of
Centerville as well.
As Houston County continued to grow
so did The Journal. On March 15th 2006 Don Moncrief, who had been the
Sports Editor of The Daily Sun was appointed by Evans to replace
Gambill as Managing Editor of The Journal.
Evans and Moncrief immediately
started a redesign of the newspaper to reflect a growing Perry and
Houston County. A process that continues today.
As the newspaper grew, so did the
demand for color pages. Evans added added 5 units and an upper former
to the Goss Press to to meet the customer's needs. The press now
consists of 12 Goss units and a upper former. The upper former allows
the press to print two sections at one time allowing The Journal to
meet shorter deadline times.
In June of 2006, with out any
fanfare, The Houston Home Journal’s name plate was changed to the
Houston Daily Journal to reflect The Journal's place as Houston's only
daily newspaper. The Journal has had several name plate changes over
the past hundred years, but will all ways be affectionately considered
The Home Journal by Perry's towns people. A name that will still be
used through out the paper.
Today, the Houston Daily Journal is
the oldest continuously-operating business in Houston County. John T.
Waterman may have started his risky venture in hard times, but he
started – and named The Journal– a newspaper that has lasted through
good times and bad for over 130 years.
Compiled by Danny Evans, Rex
Gambill, with contributions by Ruby C. Hodges and Charlotte Perkins.
Our thanks to Carolyn Etheridge and Claire Beckham for their