As the 19th century retreated into the history books and a new one stretched ahead, the average Waltonian had not the faintest inkling of the promise and excitement to which he had fallen heir.
In 1900, not one citizen owned an automobile, not one home boasted central heating or plumbing or electricity. And the nearest thing to a municipal water system was the well on the courthouse square into which an irate member of the earliest Board of Commissioners had dumped the august body’s minute book in a fit of pique.
President William McKinley, who himself abhorred violence, soon would fall victim of an anarchist terrorist’s bullet. Occupancy of the White House by the little-inhibited Theodore Roosevelt family soon would come to pass.
Marconi hailed the new era by signaling the letter “S” across the Atlantic from Cornwall, England, to Newfoundland.
It was a time of progress, and in the town of Monroe a group of farsighted businessmen gathered to discuss the practicality of establishing a new newspaper.
Walton’s first paper, the Walton Journal, had come into being in Social Circle, first published Nov. 6, 1869, by Postmaster Abram M. Colton. Hot on its heels in January 1870 came Monroe’s first, and the county’s second, newspaper, the Southern Witness. Soon thereafter came Rough Rice’s Ready Reporter, published by A.M. Rice, and the following year saw the Monroe Advocate and the Walton Casket appear at the county seat.
The Walton Vidette was established at Social Circle in 1877, then moved to Monroe, and in 1880 was joined by the Walton News.
Considerable rivalry resulted, and eventually the papers merged as the Walton News & Vidette. Later the News resumed its former name.
Attempts had been made to establish newspapers at Walnut Grove and Good Hope but met with failure. The Social Circle Sentry, the Jug Tavern Progress, the Monroe Messenger and the Walton News & Messenger made their appearances during the 1890s.
Turn-of-the-century conditions warranted a new newspaper, a group of businessmen meeting in Monroe decided, and they requested that a charter be issued in the name of The Tribune Publishing Co. This was granted Feb. 19, 1900.
Stockholders were W.J. Bennett, James M. Bradley, W.H. Broach, J.C. Broadnax, H.T. Chick, Joseph Cook, Ben C. Dickinson, R.S. Harris, John J. Nunnally, J.P. Rockmore, Boykin G. Smith and P.A. Whitworth. President of the company was George M. Napier, who later became attorney general of Georgia. John J. Nunnally was vice president; Lee S. Radford, treasurer; and Clifford M. Walker, secretary. Mr. Walker would become governor of Georgia in 1923.
In addition to these officers, The Tribune’s original board of directors included W.B. Barrett, J.M. Bradley, W.G. McNelley and J.B. Shelnutt.
Volume 1, No. 1, was published on Jan. 1, 1900, and it began with a modest introduction: “This morning, The Tribune makes its polite bow to the public. With a brand new suit, we may appear a little vain, but we assure our friend and readers that we are not at all ‘stuck up.’”
That front page included coverage of the shooting death of Good Hope Constable Reese Hogan, a piece promoting the city of Monroe and its new administration including Mayor Hal Nowell, and stories about the city telephone exchange and Monroe Guano Co.
The newspaper’s first editor was McNelley. He was succeeded by J.T. Fain, who was in turn succeeded by Eugene M. Smith from Lawrenceville. The 36-year-old Smith’s health declined and it was necessary for him to seek a drier climate. His wife and their three children remained in Monroe and she carried on his duties at The Tribune. On Dec. 31, 1905, the day his lease expired, Smith died.
Ernest Camp, a 25-year-old journalist from Swainsboro, brought his wife and baby son to Monroe and took over as editor on Jan. 1, 1906. He had received valuable experience in his hometown, at Dublin and Brunswick, and The Tribune fell into competent hands.
Camp began buying the company stock by 1907 was owner of the paper. The Industrial Edition of the paper published Aug. 16, 1907, weighed in at 48 pages and was believed to be the largest issue of a weekly newspaper printed in Georgia to that date.
At some point — there are conflicting accounts on whether it was 1912, 1916 or circa 1921 — the Tribune office was moved from a narrow brick building on East Spring Street to 124 N. Broad St., a building previously known as the Arnold Buggy & Wagon Store. Its neighbors for many years were the post office and the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Expanding and extending in all possible directions, The Tribune maintained an office in this location until 2015, when it moved to 121 S. Broad St.
By 1914, five newspapers vied for news and advertising in Walton County. In the summer of 1919, the Georgia Press Association convened at the county seat and the town was festively draped with bunting, contributed by local merchants, an old account relates, “without a holler.”
One by one, the news media disappeared until only the Walton News and The Tribune remained. The later acquired the former in 1948 and the two papers merged in 1951.
Ernest Camp’s death Oct. 22, 1957, concluded a career of distinguished service. Early in 1962 he was accorded a place in the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady School of Journalism Hall of Fame.
During Camp’s career at The Tribune, he oversaw the change from a hand press to an electric-powered one, from a hand compositor to the Linotype, hot lead, typesetting machine. Following his death, Camp’s torch was picked up by a new generation of Camps, primarily Ernest Camp Jr. and Sanders Camp, who carried the paper for another 20 years.
Ernest Camp Sr. served as the president of the GPA in 1925-26, while Sanders Camp held the same position in 1964-65.
For several years, the Camp family also published The Oconee Enterprise. Sanders Camp agreed to sell it and the first edition published by local shareholders was dated Jan. 26, 1972.
The Camp family sold the paper to San Antonio-based Harte-Hanks Communications Inc. in a deal completed Jan. 10, 1977. John Ginn, publisher of the Anderson Daily Mail and Independent in South Carolina, was given oversight of the paper as Editor Sanders Camp remained with a residual printing firm, Walton Press, and Co-Publisher Ernest Camp Jr. became a consultant and contributing editor to Harte-Hanks.
Walton Press remains in operation today in Monroe under different ownership.
Houston-based Southern Newspapers Inc., owned by the family of Carmage Walls, purchased the paper on July 28, 1983, and formed Monroe Newspapers Inc. Publishers in the SNI era included Larry A. Nash, Don Smith, Russell E. Maroney, Robert O. “Bob” Hale, Patrick Graham, David Clemons, Brian Arrington and Kristy Daniel.
Graham, who was in Monroe from 2003-09, purchased The Tribune and its related products from Southern effective Aug. 1, 2014.
“Walton County is a tremendous place to live, work and play,” Graham said at the time.
“It was home for me and my family when I became a publisher for the first time in my newspaper career, and I can’t tell you how excited I am that it will once again be our home as I become a newspaper owner for the first time in my career.”
Within a year, the paper made the move it its new home on South Broad Street, next door to the Historic Walton County Courthouse.
Graham purchased The Covington News in 2017 and three papers SNI owned in Alabama — The Sand Mountain Reporter in Albertville, Times-Journal in Fort Payne and Jackson County Sentinel in Scottsboro — in 2019.
Clemons returned as the editor and publisher of The Tribune in 2018. Graham’s oldest daughter, Madison Graham, is the editor and publisher of The Covington News after serving as advertising director in Monroe from 2018-19.
The Tribune has a longstanding tradition of serving the community well. The newspaper has placed in the Georgia Press Association’s prestigious General Excellence category for nine of the last 11 years, including first place finishes in 2011-13 and 2017-19. Graham is a member of the GPA board of directors.
In 2018, The Tribune was a part of the county’s Bicentennial celebration. In the Dec. 15-16, 2018, newspaper, The Tribune published a 204-page magazine about the history of Walton County.
In the first issue back in 1900, readers were invited to visit: “Come around, get acquainted with the editor, subscribe for the paper, chat and talk, warm your toes and make yourself at home,” the editor’s note read.
The same invitation is extended today.