Carpenter carves out newspaper legacy with the Dakota County Tribune

Dakota County Tribune started in 1884 with a few cases of type and a hand press

Screen shot 2013-03-14 at 10.19.57 AMReaders of this newspaper will notice a new name at the top of the front page.

Although it may be new to some, the Dakota County Tribune is 129 years old, having been established by Clarence P. Carpenter in 1884.

DCT logo c 2-14-2013Carpenter is an elusive man in Dakota County’s history.

The first two years of Carpenter’s work and his most significant contribution to the county don’t exist.

On March 6, 1884, Carpenter began printing the Dakota County Tribune in Farmington, but the first two years of those editions had been lost by 1934 when the newspaper celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Carpenter employed a former student of his in the Haynes School District, C.O. Wescott, to run off the first editions of the Tribune.

“He started on a very small scale, just a few cases of type and Washington hand press,” Wescott wrote in 1934.

Ham Clay Sr., the paper’s fifth editor, said of the first edition of the Tribune he was able to find (Jan. 6, 1886): “It had four pages of eight columns each and was well patronized with advertising, a number of which were two columns in width.”

Carpenter sold the operation in 1892 to Louis F. Farmer and J.B. Squires, according to Clay’s history piece of 1934.

In his farewell, Carpenter said of the Tribune: “During this time it has come to seem to us almost like one of the family – like a living sentient being. And now, with malice toward none, with charity for all, we lay off the editorial harness with feelings of both relief and regret, and bid adieu to the readers of the Tribune.”

In the next 11 years, the newspaper changed hands four times when Squires (who became sole owner in 1893) sold to Arthur I.A. Herrick (1896) for $2,400 who sold to John S. Hammaker (1898) who sold it back to Herrick in 1903.

After living out East for a time, Herrick returned “with a wife and daughter and an enduring love for Dakota County,” he wrote in 1934.

Herrick brought the newspaper to prominence during his tenure when he strongly advocated for moving the county seat from Hastings to Farmington.

Though the effort ended unsuccessfully in 1906, his campaign “made him popular, and as a result the Tribune’s columns filled to overflow with advertising and his presses were kept running almost night and day,” Clay wrote in the 1934 history piece.

In 1906, Clay started a competing newspaper, the Farmington Herald, when he moved it from Lakeville.

“As was unusual, Mr. Herrick and I never engaged in a newspaper quarrel,” Clay wrote. “While neither of us was particularly fond of the other, we never mussed up our columns by slinging mud at each other.”

From 1907-11, the newspaper changed hands four times when Herrick sold to W.E. Schei (1907); Schei sold in 1910 to “a man named Swanson” who a few days later sold to William Nixon; and Nixon sold the operation to Guy Martin in April 1911.

A short time later, Martin purchased the Herald from Clay and operated them jointly as the Dakota County Tribune and Farmington Herald.

A few months later, Clay bought the Tribune and Herald from Martin in August 1911.

Clay operated the Tribune until Dec. 1, 1923, when he leased it to Ham Clay Jr., who purchased the Tribune on April 5, 1925.

Clay Sr. retired from active newspaper work in 1931 but continued to contribute a weekly column called “Knocks, Boosts and Just Belony.”

Clay Jr. operated the Tribune until a succession plan handed it off to brothers, Roger and Eugene.

The Clay brothers ran the newspaper until Roger’s sons, Dan and Joe, took the reins.

The Tribune, once the dominant paid-subscription newspaper in Dakota County, faced declining readership as the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press increased their presence in the county.

In reaction to the daily newspapers’ reach and the 1975 launch of a free weekly in Burnsville, The Current, the Clays countered in 1979 by creating Thisweek – a 50,000 circulation free newspaper covering most of Dakota County and portions of Scott County.

The Tribune continued as a paid-subscription option alongside Thisweek, which was divided into separate city editions in 1982.

In 1984, after 100 years of having an office in Farmington, the Tribune and Thisweek moved to Burnsville at 1525 E. Highway 13.

Coon Rapids-based ECM Publishers Inc., then overseen by its CEO and former Minnesota Gov. Elmer L. Andersen and President Jeff Athmann, purchased the Tribune, Thisweek and the Lakeville Life & Times in 1999. Andersen’s son, Julian Andersen is the company’s current publisher and CEO, and Marge Winkelman is its COO and president.

The Tribune and Thisweek moved to a new location at 12190 County Road 11 in Burnsville in 2001 and closed its Lakeville office at 20790 Holyoke Avenue in 2008.

In 2009, the Tribune was converted to the Business Weekly. It was credited as a reader success, having published hundreds of business stories, columns and other information to show how diverse and important the business community is in Dakota County.

The Tribune and Thisweek operation relocated to Apple Valley in the Shops on Galaxie in March 2012, the same month ECM and Sun Newspapers officially merged Thisweek and Sun Current newspapers in Dakota County to form Sun Thisweek. ECM had purchased the Minnesota Sun Media Group in December 2011. For the past several months, staff members have been developing a concept to return the Tribune to its community journalism roots.

Today, the Tribune will turn its focus to covering city, school, sports, arts, business and much more in the cities of Farmington, Rosemount and beyond in much the same way that Sun Thisweek has.

One could say that today the Dakota County Tribune has come full circle back to the communities founder Clarence P. Carpenter found so intriguing and compelled him to document with a few cases of type and a hand-operated press.

See this column by Tad Johnson for more about the new Dakota County Tribune.