By Jan Sparkman
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — My plan for these columns to reflect the (more or less) sequential history of Laurel County’s early days brings us to an event that surely changed the dynamics of the community in much the same way that television did almost a century later.
While the story of London’s first newspaper may be familiar to many old-timers around the county I’m sure not everyone who reads this column will know it. In writing about it I will rely heavily on Russell Dyche’s “Laurel County History” (1954). After all, who knew more about this paper’s history than Dyche?
It was started as The Mountain Echo in Barbourville (Knox County) in 1873 by W.E. Word and J.H. Wilson. Dyche calls it “a panic baby” since the country was in one of its most severe money panics at the time. The paper did not thrive. Wilson bought Word’s interest in 1875 and took on as partner London’s Vincent Boreing. The newspaper was soon moved to London, where it was purchased by Russell Dyche’s father, A. R. Dyche, in 1878.
Dyche writes: “At that time there were no papers published in Kentucky south and east of Richmond and Stanford except The Mountain Echo and a newly established paper in Somerset.”
The Mountain Echo represented the outlying counties of Bell, Breathitt, Casey, Clay, Clinton, Garrard, Harlan, Knott, Knox, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Pike, Rockcastle and Wayne by publishing news releases from these counties in The Mountain Echo. These old columns make for interesting reading but, of course, as other counties established newspapers of their own, these columns were phased out and replaced by news about who had been born, who had died, or who had married in various small communities within Laurel County.
Dyche goes on to say: “A.R. Dyche made frequent trips in the interest of the Echo to many counties in Eastern Kentucky and was a familiar figure in court day crowds in the county seats.” The Mountain Echo had a wide circulation, according to Dyche, along with a great amount of influence on politics and community advancement.
Dyche describes the equipment purchased by A.R. Dyche in 1878 as ancient. “The paper was printed one page at a time on the same kind of a press as was used in Colonial times, commonly called the Washington hand press, though as I remember it, it carried some other name. The paper cutter was a most crude affair, and the two job presses were less crude only in degree.” Dyche tells of the upgrading of equipment undertaken by his father, saying that by 1893 the plant was “completely modernized.”
A.R. Dyche sold The Mountain Echo to his son, Russell, in 1903. Russell and his brother, Will H. Dyche, ran it for nine months and sold it to E.C. Linney, ending a 26-year ownership of the paper by the Dyche family. But that was not the end of the Dyche Dynasty as we shall see in next week’s column.
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I’ve had an inquiry about whether or not Jarvis Jackson, founder of London, left papers of any kind that may have been deposited with some institution or organization after his death. If any of his descendants reading this article have an answer to this question, please let me know.
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The historical society is still seeking interviews with Laurel Countians who are over the age of 80 who would be willing to leave a record of their life in the society’s archives. Subjects are only asked to answer a few questions about their childhood and youth and their connection to Laurel County.
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The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 W. 3rd St., London, (formerly the Laurel County Health Department). The library is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 12 noon. For further information, contact 606-864-0607 during library hours, or 606-224-3767 at other times. Email the society at email@example.com or Jan Sparkman at firstname.lastname@example.org.