The Beginning of a Tradition
As you read one of the thirty thousand plus newspapers ever printed in Laurens County, have you ever wondered when the first periodical came off the press? This is the story of the premiere edition of "The Student," a student newspaper published by the students and teachers of a Dublin Academy in the middle of the 1870s.
To get news from the outside world, a Laurens Countian used to have to subscribe by mail to newspapers from Milledgeville, Macon, Sandersville, or as far away as Augusta and Savannah. Since there were no trains coming into the county until 1886, delivery of newspapers was expensive. Papers were generally read by the elite business and professional men of the day. Many of them came preprinted on one side with news of national and world events. On the blank side publishers would print local news and advertisements. The first traditional paper in Dublin was known to be the Dublin Gazette, which was published by Col. John M. Stubbs in 1876. Issues of the Dublin Post hit the streets in 1878. The Post evolved into the Dublin Courier Herald, which is in its ninety third year of operation.
But the first newspaper ever printed in Dublin was not your traditional daily or weekly paper. It was published by the students of Lee Academy and its headmaster, Richard "Dick" Lowery Hicks. Hicks was a son of James Hicks, who wrote a Geometry textbook and furnished the first academy in Wrightsville. Richard Hicks was born in 1848 and came into manhood just as the Civil War ended. He attended Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. The president of the university during those years was none other than General Robert E. Lee.
Hicks returned to Georgia and moved to Dublin with his brothers, Henry and Charles, both of whom were doctors. The Hicks were ingrained by their parents to believe that education and public service were paramount. In the early 1870s, Dick Hicks decided to open an academy in Dublin for boys. Public schools were considered inadequate for the needs of the sons of the town's most prominent and erudite families. The school, a meager two-room building, was known to have been located on Bellevue Avenue, about where the radio station offices are now located. Hicks promoted his school where the courses were composed of thorough philosophical instruction.
Volume 1, Issue 1 of "The Student" was published in February 1875. The monthly paper carried a subscription price of fifty cents per session, payable in advance. The editors were C.J. Hicks and J.R. Fuqua. All articles were solicited from the students and friends of the academy and could not be submitted under any anonymous or pen names. The smallest ad cost five dollars per inch per session, while an entire column cost the advertiser a healthy sum of fifty dollars. Under the banner on the front page was the phrase "Excelsior" a reference to higher education. Gymnastics and music were also an integral part of school day activities.
The front page of the premier issue carried articles entitled "Desultory Reading" from The Saturday Review, "The Follies of Great Men," "Early Rising" from Hall's Journal of Health and "Reflections in Westminister Abbey," from Addison.
In greeting their readers for the first time, editors Hicks and Fuqua acknowledged their youthful faith and enthusiasm but promised to afford the students of Lee Academy with pleasant and profitable recreation. The editors saw the venture as a way of giving the students an opportunity to write a newspaper of their own. They believed that writing a single article for the paper would encompass more thinking power than an entire session of regular school writing assignments. The primary goal of the paper was to encourage the establishment of an adequate library.
The paper's editors realized that they were publishing the only newspaper in the county, but vowed to maintain the paper as a student paper, though items of local interest would be highlighted. The first edition carried the news that the road in front of Captain Smith's (Gaines Street) had been put in good condition and requested that the same be done for the other streets in the city. The river was up and the time for boating was right. Rounding out the items of local interest was the tidbit that Col. Stubbs' ram was the only sheep in Dublin.
Advertising was and still is essential for the profitable operation of any newspaper. The editors praised their main advertisers. L.C. Perry & Company was saluted as one of the best establishments outside of Georgia's main cities. The same was said of dry goods merchant M.L. Burch. Other advertisers were Dr. R.H. Hightower, Lawyer J.A. King, buggy dealer R.M. Arnau, liquor dealer O.J. Beale, and Richard A. Odom, the proprietor of the Troup House, the town's only hotel.
The paper carried the news that Dr. J.T. Chappel, Laurens County's representative in the Georgia legislature, had introduced a bill to abolish the County Court. The editorial praised the act which would rid the county of a court which was established only in the interest of a few office seekers and pettifoggers.
Of utmost importance to the county in the 1870s was the rejuvenation of steamboat traffic along the Oconee River. With no railroads even in the planning stages, river transportation was essential to the future of the local economy. It was reported that Capt. Day had raised his boat "The Clyde" from her watery grave along the coast line between Darien and Savannah and had her rebuilt so that she could continue to serve the needs of Dubliners.
There were greetings to old students and news of their life after leaving the academy. J.G. Wright, Jr. had "gone west." Weaver, the medalist of the class of '73, was studying medicine, while Jack was shooting rabbits in Texas and Holmes was fiddling and farming. "Toob" was selling goods. "Little Peacock" had no particular employment, but it was reported that he intended to return to school soon. J.H. Hightower was teaching the "young ideas how to shoot," and W.J. Hightower was teaching "the shoots how to idea."
After the closing of Lee Academy, Richard Hicks joined the firm of H. Hicks & C0mpany, which operated a drug store on the southwest corner of the courthouse square and maintained a profitable river boat company. Dick joined forces with J.W. Peacock & Company in 1878 to publish the Dublin Post, which in 1887 was absorbed by the Dublin Courier, which evolved into the Dublin Courier Herald and which is today published by Dubose Porter, Dick Hicks' great-great-great-nephew. And the stories, they go on and on.