Tompkinsville News believed to be Monroe County’s oldest business still using original name
The Tompkinsville News is believed to be the oldest business in Monroe County operating continuously under the same name.
The very first issue of the Tompkinsville News was published in June of 1903, with the date of that issue believed to be June 20. John Emerson Leslie, of Tompkinsville, began his new paper after purchasing equipment from the Tompkinsville Enterprise, a publication that apparently evolved from the county’s very first locally published newspaper, which had ceased publication a short time before Leslie’s purchase. Leslie named his new publication The Tompkinsville News.
Although some sources mention a newspaper in Monroe County as early as the 1850s, the first newspaper in the county for which documentation has been found was called the Banner, initiated in 1885 by Bert Rogers. This paper was sold in 1888 to W.S. Smith and W.S. Emmert. J.D. Emberton later purchased Smith’s interest in the paper and the name was changed to the Enterprise.
Leslie was a Tompkinsville native who had just completed a term in the state legislature, representing Monroe and Metcalfe Counties, when he became a newspaper publisher. The son of Emerson and Jemima (Harlan) Leslie, he went on to be admitted to the Kentucky Bar in 1905 and, in 1914, was elected mayor of Tompkinsville.
The first issue of The Tompkinsville News, according to historical accounts, was a four-page paper, which included two pages that had been printed outside of Tompkinsville and contained only national news. The other two pages were printed in Tompkinsville but still contained only a minimum amount of news. No copies of that first issue are known to exist.
Within a few years, all of the paper was printed locally, but until the mid-1940s, four pages continued to be the norm for the weekly paper in Tompkinsville.
In 1931, L.M. Hopper of Crawfordsville, Ind., a former teacher, purchased The Tompkinsville News from Leslie and assumed the responsibilities of publisher and editor. His wife, Cleon, was the daughter of W.W. and Eva (Abshire) Headrick, both of whom were raised in the Forkton area of Monroe County. Mrs. Hopper became a teacher at Tompkinsville High School and also served as a principal at one time.
For many years, the office of The Tompkinsville News was located in the basement of Hopper’s home on the corner of Second and Magnolia Streets, where the State Farm Insurance office now stands, across the street from the Tompkinsville Police Department (old post office building). Although the front of the house faced Second Street, the basement opened onto Magnolia. It was there that the newspaper was put together — with type hand-set, one letter at a time — and printed.
The next owner/editor, Clarence Martin, began to work for Hopper during his junior year of high school in 1933 as a “printer’s devil.”
In 1943, after returning to this area from serving in World War II, Martin purchased equipment and began to do commercial printing in the “Susie Leslie building” on the northwest corner of Third and Main Streets. He later moved his operation, which he called the Monroe County Press, to his home.
On May 22, 1947, Martin (who was the son of James T. and Lizzie [Ray] Martin), and his wife, the former Ree Hale, both Monroe County natives, published their first edition as owners of The Tompkinsville News. Martin had previously managed both the Macon County Times in Lafayette, Tenn. and the Bugle in Celina, Tenn.
Combining the newspaper and printing operations, Martin moved his new business to North Main Street, locating in the building which now houses the screen-printing operations of the Tompkinsville News-Monroe County Press, Inc.
He introduced mechanized type-setting to the county when he purchased a linotype machine shortly before he acquired ownership of the Tompkinsville newspaper. The linotype was used for the composition work of the paper, replacing the old handset method of ‘setting type.’
In the early 1970s, Martin was a pioneer in this area in electronic typesetting, using a machine to set type that was similar in operation to early computers, and changing from the old letterpress (hot-type) method of printing to the more modern offset method still used by most newspapers.
The newspaper was printed at the local news office until Martin converted to offset. He then took the newspaper to Franklin (Ky.) to be printed and later had the paper printed at the Macon County Times in Lafayette, Tenn. Starting in the early 1990s, the newspaper was printed at the Adair Progress in Columbia, Ky., and for three years, has been printed at Quality Web Printing in Elkton, Ky.
On Dec. 31, 1976, Martin sold his printing business and newspaper to Joe and Blanche (Bushong) Trimble. They were joint publishers of the newspaper, with him as general manager of the business and her as editor of the newspaper until his death in 1991.
He was a native of Lexington and she is Monroe County native (daughter of Ronald and Grace [Marshall] Bushong), and both graduated from the University of Kentucky. Before coming back home to Monroe County, she had worked almost 18 years as a news writer/photographer with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service in Lexington, and he was in the insurance business.
Coincidentally, both she and J.E. Leslie, the newspaper’s first editor, share a common ancestor. Leslie’s grandmother, Margaret (Hagan) Harlan, was Trimble’s great–great -grandmother.
She continues as publisher of the newspaper.
Her niece, Ronda Jordan-Elam (daughter of John and Carolyn [Bushong] Jordan of Tompkinsville), is the current editor of the Tompkinsville News. A graduate of Western Kentucky University, she is also employed by the Monroe County Board of Education. Ronda’s husband, Mark Elam, a native of Middlesboro and a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, is general manager of the Monroe County Press/Tompkinsville News and also manages AAA Outdoors.
The other staff members of the Tompkinsville News / Monroe County Press, Inc. are: Brenda Bradstreet, Ledeana Creech, Talmadge Slaughter, Larry Gramlin, Beth Simpson, Cortney Austin, Carolyn and John Jordan, Benny Bartley, Lawrence Scott, Allison Thompson, and Gail Spear.
Commercial printing continues to be an important part of the services available at offices of the Tompkinsville News/Monroe County Press, Inc. since 1947. In recent years, screen printing and trophies and awards department have been added.