Argus-Courier celebrates 160 years of chronicling Petaluma’s history
On Aug. 18, 1855, the first edition of what would later become the Petaluma Argus-Courier hit the streets. The Petaluma Weekly Journal and Sonoma County Advertiser made its debut with an apology from publisher Thomas L. Thompson.
“Our apology for the dearth of general news, etc.,” he wrote “It is for the want of exchange papers to select from. Next week we hope to do better.”
These words from the first copy indicate the challenges facing journalists of the era. There was no telephone or telegraph, no Internet or social media, no radio or television, automobile or airplane. A computer would have been a person who added numbers.
It’s no wonder that the first publisher apologized for the lack of news. That he hoped to do better the following week shows that he had faith in the boats and horse-drawn vehicles which he counted on to bring him information.
That first edition of the Journal and Advertiser was a far cry from the paper of today. Featured on the front page were two poems, entitled “The Birds of Petaluma” and “The Spinner’s Stint,” a narration by a woman on the ways of her husband and a description of a fresco newly installed in the nation’s capital.
The rest of the paper was taken up by agricultural statistics, state news, vital statistics, editorials, advertisements and a farmer’s page, which included recipes, an article on how to make good cheese and a geology item reprinted from the Scientific American.
Appearing also was a “Prospectus,” which stated, in part, “The Journal will be entirely independent of and unconnected with any of the political parties, but it will exercise the privilege of discussing freely and fearlessly the official acts of public officers, and of scrutinizing such measure of public policy as affect directly the interests of the people. Its columns will also be open to a fair and legitimate discussion of all subjects of a general or local interest connected with political questions of the day.
“Its primary object, however, will be the development of the great Agricultural and Commercial resources of the immediate section of country in which it is located. The valleys of Sonoma, Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Napa, and the regions of Bodega and Russian River, offer inducements to the Agriculturists and Capitalists, unsurpassed by any other portion of California, and we shall endeavor, by a fair presentation of its natural and local advantages, to attract the public attention to this section of the state.”
Despite his enthusiasm for the area, Thompson could not make the paper prosper and on April 26, 1856, sold to Henry L. Weston. Considering the title “too cumbersome,” Weston shortened it to the Sonoma County Journal. He published the paper until August 1860, when he took in I.S. Church as a partner. Church dropped out a year later, and Weston published alone until November 1862, when he acquired another partner, T.W. Abraham. On Feb. 25, 1864, the Journal was merged with the Petaluma Argus, following the sale by Weston and Abraham to Jas. A. McNabb and Samuel Cassiday, owners of the Argus.
The Petaluma Argus had made its appearance in the fall of 1859 under the proprietorship of J.J. Pennypacker, but due to financial difficulties, he was forced to sell the equipment and close the paper the following May. Cassiday bought the equipment and began printing the Petaluma Republican. Six issues appeared before Pennypacker raised enough money to repossess his equipment and the Argus reappeared on Aug. 25, 1860.
In December 1860, Pennypacker sold out to A. Drouillard, who formed a partnership with McNabb. When Drouillard retired, Cassiday became McNabb’s partner. They operated the Argus until 1864, when they merged with the Journal and became the Petaluma Journal and Argus.
Late in June 1866, McNabb dropped out of the partnership and in February of 1869 Cassiday sold to Weston, who had retained a part interest in the paper.
The Journal and Argus
In February, 1870, J.E. Guild bought a part interest and became business manager and the following month, they changed the name to the Journal and Argus, dropping the word Petaluma.
In May of 1871, Guild sold out to McNabb and N.W. Scudder, but shortly after McNabb left, after being appointed deputy collector for the Port of San Francisco.
In 1870 the Petaluma Daily Crescent, the first daily in the county, began, offering Democratic competition to the Republican-leaning Journal and Argus. It lasted until the fall of 1872.
On Feb. 7, 1873, the last remnant of the old Journal disappeared when the paper’s name was changed to the Petaluma Weekly Argus. Starting in the first week of August 1872 and for a year thereafter, the Argus put out a daily in addition to the weekly, but it was not successful.