Different people take different routes to their jobs. One guy who ended up being a long-time publisher of the small Homer, Ga., Banks County Journal at the turn of the 19th Century became a newspaperman because his bicycle broke down in Homer. He was from Buffalo, N.Y., and previously he rode his bike through the countryside peddling eyeglasses. It’s not the way most newspapermen evolve.
That old newspaper shop in Homer is to now become the Georgia Weekly Newspaper Museum, thanks to the efforts of the newspaper publishing family in Jefferson, in neighboring Jackson County. Scott and Mike Buffington are co-publishers, having followed their parents into the business and expanded the operations tremendously. They now publish six newspapers out of their office in Jefferson under the banner of MainStreet Newspapers, Inc.
The evolution to a newspaper museum began in 2011 when MainStreet bought the old building where the former Homer newspaper was once published. The Homer paper printed at the shop until 1969 when the owner died. The Commerce News continued to operate the Banks County Journal after that, but that paper was closed in 1987 when The Herald purchased the News. When The Commerce News operated the paper, however, it was printed offsite by offset printing.
Editor Mike Buffington of The Jackson Herald is the person with a love for old letterpress machinery, such as he found at the former Banks County Journal building.
He explains: “When Commerce operated the Banks County Journal in 1970, they inherited the use of the building in Homer but only had a small office and didn’t use the equipment. The former newspaper owners, A.J. Hilton and his son, Pat, had been publishing the newspaper by the letterpress method in the building, which had all the old equipment. When Pat died, the old equipment was abandoned, even leaving ink in the fountain of the old newspaper press.”
The old building sat empty after 1987, but was maintained by the local Garrison family who owned the property. Last year, the Garrisons” and MainStreet swapped some property in the town so the old building could be remodeled, the equipment cleaned and a museum established.
Since then, Mike and his family have worked painstakingly to restore the printing equipment to working order. That didn’t come easy. “We had to clean out the junk, then scrape and dig the ink out of the presses. Much of the equipment had rusted, so we worked to restore that. And the floor was rotted in two-thirds of the building.”
The building itself was erected about 1900, specifically to house a newspaper. About that time, a “Campbell Country” press was installed, a unit which slowly prints two pages at a time by pressing the paper onto the reverse type which had been set by hand. After the newspaperman completed his run of printing two pages, he then had to flip the pages over, and restart the press to print the back sides of the paper from two new pages. Most newspapers printed in this manner were four page newspapers. Once the newspaper was printed, all the type had to be cleaned, then returned letter-by-letter to the cases prior to starting the next week’s newspaper.
We visited the Homer site the other day, as finishing touches are being completed. Later this month, the Buffingtons are inviting newspaper people across Georgia to come visit the museum. Many present-day publishers have never seen the way newspapers were once painstakingly produced by letterpress. The museum will be open to others visiting, especially school groups.