Woodworking again: The Locals

By Dave Wood
Posted 5/22/24

Pierce County residents are very blessed to have a hyperactive local historical association. As relative newcomers to the neighborhood (only 25 years!), Ruth and I have been helped to know our new …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Woodworking again: The Locals


Pierce County residents are very blessed to have a hyperactive local historical association. As relative newcomers to the neighborhood (only 25 years!), Ruth and I have been helped to know our new neighborhood through reading some of their historical documents, like the book-sized history of Beldenville, where we discovered that this small city was once a thriving boomtown with a hotel, factories and a railroad! Or the wonderful pamphlet about the county’s multitudinous creameries and cheese factories.

Recently I was perusing some histories of little communities like Olivet, which refreshed my memory about a tradition of rural weekly journalism, known colloquially as “Locals,” which simply meant that a rural reader would be given a free subscription for sending the editor newsy items from their locale, if it was too small to have its own newspaper.

In reading the Pierce County Historical Association’s Volume 3, I discovered that a subscriber to the River Falls Journal on October 12, 1875 would learn in the Olivet local the following:

“Mr. H. S. Tousley is putting up a new barn; S.P. Harris is putting up a new house. It looks rather suspicious [I suspect the correspondent meant auspicious!]. All adds to the improvement of Olivet—which is getting to be quite a wheat market. Mr. H.F. Tousley is principal buyer. Good No. 1 winter wheat is today 95 cents. Oats 25 cents; G. R. Taylor has just received his fall stock of clothing: hats, caps, gloves, boots, mittens, notions, etc. He sells pay only; wheat, oats, beef and pork at market price taken in exchange for goods. Mike McCardle lost his best cow last week.”

All this reminded me of the fun I’ve had reading the locals in my home town’s Whitehall Times and Mrs. Albert Torgerson’s local from the tiny town of Pigeon Falls, who wrote exclusively news about her relatives. Sample:

“Mr. and Mrs. Sven Torgerson motored to Minneapolis last Sunday to visit their son Cervensel, who has recently been offered a clerk’s position at SuperValu grocery stores when he completes his course at Minnesota School of Business. The party enjoyed a Sunday dinner at The Criterion Cafeteria.”

Obviously, the “local “system had its problems if an editor hired too many correspondents like Mrs. Torgerson (not her real name)!

I’m not alone in savoring local news, so when Whitehall made the national news by announcing that a prominent newsman, Edwin Goodpaster, Bureau Chief of Time Magazine in Washington D.C., had purchased the Whitehall Times and was moving his family to Whitehall (pop. 1,456), the citizenry anxiously expected there’d be some changes made. And there were. Eddie printed big sports stories on the front pages and he actually insisted that his reporter be allowed to attend ALL school board meetings. What cheek! And he hired me to be a weekly columnist at $5 per week.  

Thinking then that he was okay with “locals,” I invited him to Augsburg to lecture to my journalism class. He was immediately bombarded by a small-town kid who asked him when he was “going to get rid of those awful locals.”

“Never,” replied Goodpaster. “Didn’t Woody teach you that names make news? I’m reasonably certain that if the New York Times had the space, the money and the wherewithal, it too, would run locals.

I recently read in the Star-tribune that eight Minnesota local newspapers were going out of print. Seems they had all been purchased by a speculator who figured they’d be better off “dead” than non-profitable. So he closed them all!

If you’re like me—and you are like me because you’re reading this paper—you’d like your local newspaper to not only stay in print, but to keep printing stuff that’s about the place where you live and the people you live among—that’s also good for reminding you of your local history and the stock you come from.

The Locals, newspapers, journalists, news, Woodworking again, Dave Wood, column