hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News May 2021


Filling the paper with stories large and (often) small

Maury Thompson


Newsrooms of the 19th century could turn into community gathering places when there was breaking news.

“After mail time last evening there was an anxious group around the Star’s telephone in this village to learn the particulars of the death of Vice President Hendricks, the first news of which was received from the Star office,” The Morning Star of Glens Falls reported on Nov. 26, 1885, the day after the 21st vice president, Thomas A. Hendricks, died in his sleep on a visit to his home state of Indiana.

Reporters ordinarily did not sit around the newsroom waiting for the telephone to ring, however.
“A Star reporter in search of news on Saturday sauntered into a business place where several venerable citizens had congregated to talk on the subject of taxes, water works, the horse railroad and other matters of interest,” the Star reported a few days later, on Nov. 30. “The appearance of the newspaper man seemed to start one of the patriarchs off on a new train of thought.”

Reporters for the daily paper routinely checked in at the police station.
“Police business is very quiet at present,” the Star reported on Dec. 17, 1885. “Yesterday a reporter found the several justices deeply engrossed in their law books amid a cloud of cigar smoke, but the lock-up and docket were both empty.”

The Mile Track, a long-ago harness racing track off Upper Coolidge Avenue, was another routine stop for reporters making their rounds, though they probably didn’t visit it as often as the police station.

News could be found among the horsemen, even in winter.
“Few people are aware of the fact that the sleighing on the Glens Falls driving park is excellent,” the Star reported on Dec. 18, 1885. “Yesterday a Star reporter found half-a-dozen or more members of the Gentlemen’s Driving Association speeding their nags on the course and enjoying the bracing atmosphere.”

The lobbies of downtown hotels were another place to gather news, as this opening of another story made clear:
“A Star reporter strolled into a leading hotel last evening and noticed, comfortably ensconced in an armchair beside the heater, a fine-arts connoisseur of fragrant Havanas and local politics, a gentleman whose conservatism and breadth of observation entitle his utterances to consideration.”

Even inactivity could be newsworthy if reported by a skilled storyteller such as The Morning Star reporter who traveled north to check out Lake George in late January 1886.
“Lake George is slumbering beneath its mantle of snow and crystal ice,” the reporter wrote in the Jan. 26 issue, going on to muse about how the mirth and gaiety of the summer season were similarly in a suspended state amid winter’s cold.

The writer found the Hamilton House and Central House were the only hotels open.
“At the latter, Uncle George Brown, the veteran boldface, greets the visitor with his wanted vigor,” the paper reported. “Although his hair has become silvered by the march of years, he still gives his personal attention to the details of the business and makes his guests feel thoroughly at home.”

The local news business of the era was particularly competitive in the community of Sandy Hill, now Hudson Falls.

“Sandy Hill can produce a larger crop of newspaper reporters than any other town in the state,” The Morning Star reported on Dec. 4, 1885. “They may be found dodging about on all sides at all hours, and the individual who has not had his name in print is a scarce article.”

Dozens of weekly and daily newspapers in Warren and Washington counties and beyond had correspondents beating the streets of Sandy Hill.

“Sandy Hill seems to be provided with more newspaper reporters to the square inch than any town in Christendom,” the Star reported on Aug. 26, 1885. “Four or five of them may be seen scouring the streets almost any afternoon.”

One Sandy Hill reporter came across a novel story when he stopped at a local market.
“Your correspondent was shown yesterday at Bombard’s grocery establishment a curiosity in the form of a corn cob so closely resembling the human hand that had it been ensconced in a kid glove it would have passed as such,” The Morning Star reported on Nov. 2, 1885. “The thumb and first fingers are fully developed and the wrist and arm are as perfect as that of a human.”
Newspaper editors in the 19th century, like their counterparts today, worked long hours for modest pay.
“Papers are discussing the meaning of the word editor,” The Morning Star reported on Dec. 3, 1885. “It’s very simple: a man who labors twenty-five hours out of twenty-four and gets a square meal once in a week of Sundays.”

Deadline reporting was common, even for social gatherings such as the weekly tournaments of the card game whist and meetings of The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle.

Changing weather conditions could be updated until 3 a.m. and still make the morning paper.


Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.