Millions of words and thousands of photographs have graced its pages since the Henderson Daily Dispatch published its first edition on Aug. 12, 1914.
Today, the long-lived newspaper marks its 100th year.
It was two weeks after Germany invaded Belgium, at the beginning of World War I.
The Dispatch was started by P.T. Way, its president and editor, to give Vance County up-to-date news of the war. The four-page, 16-column daily shared its masthead with “The Gold Leaf,” a semi-weekly paper that soon reverted to a weekly.
The company changed its name to the Henderson Daily Dispatch in 1915 after the young daily paper became popular. Early in the same year, Henry A. Dennis joined the staff as news editor.
There were some challenges early on. The Dispatch editors relied on a handbill issue created by Jones-Stone Printing Co. on a gasoline press to get out the news on April 1, 1915, after an 18-inch snowfall.
The storm stopped train traffic and cut off telephone and telegraph service to Henderson.
Three years later, on Nov. 11, Dennis received a 2 a.m. call from The Associated Press, announcing an armistice to end World War I. The Dispatch staff worked all day on Sunday and early Monday morning to publish an “extra” edition that quickly ran out of copies.
There were changes at the newspaper in 1920 — first when Way died and then when Dennis bought into the company. Two years later, Dennis, M.L. Finch and S.A. Jones bought all the stock in the Henderson Daily Dispatch.
Dennis was president and editor. Finch was business manager and secretary-treasurer. Jones later left the company. Finch and Dennis operated the paper into the 1970s.
Compiling the history of this newspaper, at least from its archives, can be difficult. That’s because those archives — and the sister semi-weekly in its entirety — were ravaged by fire in 1946.
On Dec. 4 of that year, a soldering iron left on overnight in a radio shop next-door to the newspaper office caused a fire that destroyed the two-story Dispatch building on Young Street. The disaster put the daily paper out of operation for a week. It silenced The Gold Leaf forever.
The Dispatch set up a temporary headquarters in a warehouse on what later became the Rose’s parking lot off Chestnut and Breckenridge streets. The newspaper’s building was rebuilt and occupied in 1947.
Shortly thereafter, Henry A. Dennis’ son, William B. “Big Bill” Dennis, began work at The Dispatch. “Big Bill” was deeply involved in the daily edition from 1949 to 1994, and served in myriad roles, from photographer, to obituary writer, to court and cops reporter.
He would become editor when his father died in 1979.
The newspaper moved into its present building at 304 S. Chestnut St. in late 1957. The first edition from that location was printed on the company’s new 32-page rotary press on Dec. 2, 1957. The staff put out a paper with a “hot type” process that used molten lead and Linotypes.
The same printing method was still in use in the summer of 1972, when Dennis Tharrington went to work for his grandfather at the newspaper.
“We had six Linotypes, and if everything ran perfectly, we could produce 36 lines per minute,” Tharrington said. “Of course, that (perfection) never happened.”
Tharrington had planned on returning to graduate school, but stayed instead at The Dispatch.
“I persuaded my grandfather to borrow money to put in an offset printing press and computer equipment to print the newspaper in 1972,” Tharrington said.
On May 28, 1973, the newspaper’s staff printed the first edition on a new offset press at 2 o’clock that afternoon.
“That was the earliest we had ever gone to press unless something earth-shaking happened,” Tharrington said.
“From 1973 until we sold the paper in 1994, we continued to update our technology,” he added. “By 1989, we were the most automated daily newspaper in the world.”
“Big Bill” Dennis died in September of 2002.
His widow, Louise, remembers what it was like being in a newspaper family.
“My father-in-law and my husband always said they were not so much interested in how much money they made, as being a service to the community,” she recalled.
“Mr. Henry worked every day until three weeks before his death at age 88,” she added.
“Big Bill” also put in long hours, she said. “He covered courts, wrecks and fires, but one of his greatest loves was high school football at Veteran’s Field.”
The Dennis family didn’t do it alone, of course, said Louise.
“They were fortunate to have loyal employees who helped get out the paper every day. They couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.
The Dispatch was a huge part of their lives, Louise said.
“We will always support it, as we believe so strongly in a hometown newspaper,” she said. “Our grown children — Bill, Steve and Jane — are so proud of what was accomplished by their father and grandfather, as all the family is.”
Her son, Dr. Bill Dennis, worked at the Dispatch from 1975 until 1994. He worked in the sports department for a while and was managing editor for 15 years.
“I enjoyed the people we came in contact with,” Bill said. “We had a string of characters. They included those we covered for news and those we worked with at the office.”
When the Dennis family sold the newspaper to Paxton Media Group in 1994, “Little Bill” decided to make a change in career and pursue his dream to be a doctor. He graduated from medical school, served a residency in South Carolina, and then moved back home to Henderson to establish his practice.
Dennis said he didn’t miss the job as much as the people with whom he worked.
“I think about the camaraderie among the staff members,” he said. “People who work at a newspaper are sort of different from anyone else in the world. They are creative with not always conventional personalities. They are fun to work with and to respect just for the talent they have.”
Dennis said he doesn’t think people realize how much goes into putting a newspaper out day after day.
“You never get caught up. You’re always under deadline pressure,” he said. “You always felt at the end of the day you could have done it a little better. I always felt that way. It was never boring, that’s for sure.”
When the ownership of the paper changed in 1994, Rick Bean took over as publisher for the Paxton Media Group. Shortly after that, the name changed to The Daily Dispatch.
Not long thereafter, the newspaper’s publication cycle was switched from afternoon editions to morning print times, to bringing the daily news and sports to each subscriber’s doorstep in time for breakfast.
Bean left the newspaper in May of 2004 to become publisher of the High Point Enterprise, which is owned by the same company. He is also publisher of the Durham Herald-Sun and president of the North Carolina division for Paxton, which is headquartered in Paducah, Kentucky.
Bean called Henderson a great newspaper community. He said The Daily Dispatch is in a position to play a huge role in the city’s future.
“Henderson has tremendous potential,” Bean said. A lot of what a newspaper does is reflecting both the good and the bad of a community, he added.
“I really think that while Henderson has some challenges, it has so much going for it,” Bean said. “What a newspaper can do is build on the good and shine a light on the challenges so we can address them and become better.”
Bean said the staff of The Daily Dispatch has been devoted to the community, and it has made a positive difference.
Throughout the years, regardless of who owned or managed the newspaper, its mission — to be the best local newspaper it can be — hasn’t wavered.
The Dispatch’s role in the community was described by George T. Blackburn, from historical research by Charles F. Blackburn and R.G.S. Davis Jr. that appeared in “The Heritage Of Vance County, Volume I.” It was printed by the Vance County Historical Society in 1984.
Blackburn wrote: “The single institution, aside from the fine schools and churches of Vance County, which has long been responsible for directing public thought and opinion along intelligent and constructive channels is our free press, the Henderson Daily Dispatch.”
Blackburn’s son, G. Templeton Blackburn II, has been with Vance County Historical Society and the Historical Museum for years.
“The Dispatch has had central influence on all aspects of Henderson community life throughout the 20th century,” Blackburn said. “This includes such matters as commercial and industrial development, race relations, the general social fabric of the community, education and development of community facilities and political affairs.”
James Edwards served as publisher from 2004-2014 and was followed by Alan Wooten, who had come to the newspaper as editor in 2012. Both have advocated for the newspaper to remain a strong presence in the community.
Working in the newsroom for the Dennis family during the 1980s, Edwards experienced the paper in multiple stints.
“The future for The Daily Dispatch is as exciting as it is for this local community we serve,” Edwards said. “There are just too many good things going on in this area to think that we will one day just roll up the sidewalks.
“As our local businesses and industries come and grow, I believe we will see our newspaper grow.