About The Advance-Monticellonian
Arkansas Business magazine's list of the oldest companies in the state ranks The Advance-Monticellonian as the 15th oldest. Officially, the Advance-Monticellonian can trace its history of service to Drew Countians as far back as 1870.
An article written by local historian Sheilla Lampkin for a 2009 special edition recalls the roots of the Advance-Monticellonian, as well as the publications that preceded it.
The first recorded publication can be dated back to at least 1857, Lampkin's article notes. That paper was called the Sage of Monticello. This was appropriate, Lampkin writes, since Monticello allegedly was named for the home of the U.S.'s fourth president, Thomas Jefferson - Monticello. Jefferson was often referred to as the "sage of Monticello" because he was known for his profound wisdom.
The Sage was set by hand using metal type. When the Drew County Historical Museum had open houses and pioneer events during early Rough and Ready Days festivals, copies of a front page from the Sage were printed on the museum's old Washington handfed press and distributed to visitors. If the Sage is the parent of the Advance- Monticellonian, the Advance celebrated its 154th birthday in 2011.
The Sage is acknowledged as being edited by Dr. W.H. Barry. Beyond that, Lampkin said, she could find no other record of the newspaper.
There was also a newspaper called The Monticello Guardian for a time in 1866, Lampkin reports. A single copy cost a quarter. It had the custmary four pages with the outer two pages "preprinted elsewhere" and the inside two pages printed locally, with local news. The copy of the Guardian that is available for viewing was printed on Saturday, July 7, 1866.
"One curious fact that ties the Guardian to our Advance is the fact that the same Dr. W.H. Barry and a man named Stinson Little are acknowledged as editors and proprietors," Lampkin noted.
However, the Advance-Monticellonian can definitely trace its recognized beginnings to 1870 when it was published by the same Dr. W.H. Barry. Dr. Barry is thought to have changed the name from the Sage of Monticello to The Monticello Guardian, and then The Monticellonian, but there is no official record if, and why, he made such a change.
Dr. Barry published The Monticellonian until 1874 from its office on South Main. In 1874, Dr. Barry sold the paper to J.R. Cotham.
In 1905, J.R. Cotham printed an "Industrial and Souvenir Edition" of The Advance. This edition contained great historical accounts and descriptions of Drew County, Monticello and Wilmar.
J.R. Cotham kept The Monticellonian from 1874 until 1919, when he sold it to Wilson Publishing Co., managed by siblings Brice and Cora Wilson.
The Advance's other "parent" paper, The Drew County Advance, began publication in 1892 under the ownership of U.P. Burks and J.D. Welch. It was located in a large two-story building that occupied the space where Monticello's city hall now sits and faced Church Street.
The Archives of the Drew County Museum has a December 31, 1895, issue of The Drew County Advance. It is a souvenir edition for the New Year, 1896, measuring approximately 5 1/2 inches by 7 1/2 inches and proclaiming it "A Paper for the People Now on Earth." There is a picture of two gentlemen on the front cover who, Lampkin says she assumes are Burks and Welch. It is a combination of ads, legals, society and local news bits, with political opinions thrown in, she reports. "It was vastly unlike papers today, especially in that there was no 'headline' news - just snippets and ads intermingled. However, it is strangely interesting. Subscriptions were $1 per year and James C. Knox was the editor."
Ernest G. Hammock bought The Drew County Advance from Burks and Welch in 1901 and in 1902 gained a partner, Frank Walker. Hammock sold his interest in the paper to Walker in 1905. Soon Walker sold The Drew County Advance to Walter A. Moffatt Sr.
C.C. Whittington bought a half-interest from Moffatt in 1910 and purchased the other half in 1916.
Thus, the year 1919 found Monticello with two weekly newspapers, but that was only temporary.
In 1920, C.C. Whittington merged The Monticellonian and The Drew County Advance into one paper, The Advance-Monticellonian. Mr. Whittington served as editor and publisher for many years.
In 1927, the Advance moved its offices to South Main. A 1937 move placed the Advance on the south side of the town square.
C.C. Whittington died in 1938, but the family kept the paper and pitched in to operate it. Francis Schaefer Jaggers, Francis Whittington Klein, Mary Cordell Whittington Steele, Mamie Whittington and Shannon Jaggers were family members who worked at the Advance during those years.
By 1954, some of the Advance's advertising listed Mrs. Mamie Whittington as the publisher. It stated the paper was published every Thursday at Monticello, located on the famous Monticello Ridge, unequalled for growing tomatoes, peaches, beans and other truck crops. Monticello was further recognized as home of Arkansas A&M College and Charm Tred Mills. Subscriptions cost $2 per year, $3 out of state.
Sometime in the late 1950s, a representative from the Arkansas State Archives/Arkansas History Commission came to Monticello and persuaded the Whittingtons to allow all back issues of the Advance to be taken to their Little Rock offices to be microfilmed for posterity. The Whittingtons agreed and the papers were removed, microfilmed and returned to Monticello. Little did the Whittingtons realize what a fortuitous project this was, Lampkin points out.
In January 1964, a fire broke out on the south side of the town square. By the time it was extinguished, the building then housing Monticello Drug was destroyed and several other buildings severely damaged by smoke and water. The Advance had lost its roof and suffered extensive damage, including the loss of all prior copies of the paper to the flames.
(Due to the foresight of Mrs. Whittington and the Arkansas History Commission, the only remaining "copies" available to the public of most of the Advance's earlier editions are safe in the State Archives in Little Rock where they may be viewed on modern microfilm equipment and copied.)
A few months later, in August, Times Publishing Co. of McGehee bought the Advance from the Whittington family. Frank and Mary Emily Jackson were the new owners and they moved to Monticello soon thereafter, with Frank Jackson serving as editor, general manager and publisher of the paper.
For a time, the Advance Monticellonian was printed in McGehee because of the damage the fire had caused to the equipment. The Jacksons spent this time making plans to become part of a coming revolutionary change in the printing industry.
The year 1969 ushered in a major modernization to the Advance and other papers in the area. Times Printing Co. and the Jacksons replaced the old hot metal type, type cases, linotype machines, manual typewriters, etc., with new offset presses and high-speed web presses, four-color presswork and all the amenities.
The Advance also moved to the old Safeway building on North Main after a major remodeling. In essence, from a local newspaper business, the Advance transformed into an offset newspaper printing plant, printing 10 other local papers in Southeast Arkansas and producing other custom commercial printing jobs onsite. (An office supply shop was added next door. It was sold to the late James Hancock in 1975, then operated as a hobby shop for a time in the late 1990s-early 2000s by Frank Jackson after his retirement.)
In addition to the printing of 10 area newspapers and shoppers, Burlington Industries was a major client for many years.
A rival newspaper emerged in the 1970s, but never proved a great threat and finally dissolved.
For 30-plus years, the Jacksons not only owned the paper, but also made it an active, integral part of the community.
The year 1996 saw another major change in Monticello's local newspaper. For health reasons, and following the national trends, the Jacksons sold the Advance Monticellonian. Most of the plant machinery was 30 years old, new equipment was costly and rumors abounded about Burlington's eventual closure. An era had passed.
The new owners were a family newspaper group, Smith Newspapers Inc., of Fort Payne, Ala. They formed Drew County Newspapers, Inc., and Tom White, former publisher of the nearby McGehee Times, became the president and manager of the corporation.
White has ceased most commercial onsite job printing, but Drew County Newspapers still prints the several other weekly newspapers in Southeast Arkansas.
A website was added for online readers a few years back, and in 2008 and again in 2016, the Advance updated the site, creating a high-tech, interactive format with all the latest features.
The Advance staff is dedicated to putting out a top-quality print edition each week chronicling the events and activities in Monticello and Drew County, just like their predecessors have done for more than 140 years.