The Weston Democrat Shares Rich History With Area

With the end of the Civil War, an era of reconstruction began, where the Democratic party of the time were opposed to the Republican’s plans to expand federal power by funding the transcontinental railroad, the state university system, and settlement of the West. Democrats were sympathetic to the south, much more than the Republican party at that time.
Although the first owners of The Weston Democrat, George Cozad and James W. Woffindin, were Union veterans, they bought the Weston Expositor, with the first issue under dated Nov. 31, 1868 as The Democrat, according to the Library of Congress.
Cozad stressed his support for the Democratic Party when he introduced the newspaper to Lewis County residents.
At the time, the masthead carried the quote, “That government is best which governs least.”
It wasn’t until 1875, however, that the newspaper changed its name to The Weston Democrat. The newspaper office at the time was located across from the courthouse on Center Street.
At the time, The Weston Democrat could be purchased at a rate of $.50 for three months, $1 for six months, and $2 for one year. The newspaper was published on Mondays.
Woffindin stated that his was the only paper in the state bold enough to openly avow its principles.
“Now we have a baker’s dozen of papers, who come before the public with the name of Democrat,” Woffindin stated in an 1875 edition.
Loyalties can change quickly, as was evidenced with Woffindin exiting the party in 1876.
In October of that same year, Woffindin sold the Weston Democrat to Thomas A. Edwards, who was a legislator, judge, and politician. Edwards returned the newspaper to its Democratic roots.
During this time, a rival newspaper titled The Weston Republican appeared, which was a precursor to The Weston
In 1891, former employees Robert L. Bland and Richard H. Harrison were transferred ownership of The Weston Democrat.
In 1899, Harrison and Bland acquired The Weston Sentinel and The Weston Democrat under the Weston Democrat Publishing Company.
James Hoffman Edwards, the son of former owner Thomas A. Edwards, bought the newspaper in 1904.
Charles P. Darlinton became the manager of the newspaper at the same time Edwards took over.
Next in line came Fred Steel Schuster in 1911, who became the managing editor.
The Lewis County Publishing Company was formed in 1913, with the Weston Democrat managed by Major Charles D. Vassar until 1914.
Following Vassar, Darlinton took over as the newspaper’s next editor.
According to some historic records, after Darlinton took over, the Lewis County Publishing Company dissolved, and the Weston Democrat Publishing Company replaced it.
However, a 1919 edition of The Weston Democrat listed the publishing company as Lewis County Publishing Company, with Darlinton as editor.
The U.S. entered WWI in 1918, and with the labor market depleted, Darlinton sold the Weston Democrat in 1921 to R.H. Pritchard and Andrew Edmiston.
Prior to owning the Weston Democrat, Pritchard taught at Weston High School and served in WWI. Pritchard was responsible for promoting journalism on a local, state, and national basis, earning him recognition as the Weston Democrat’s first “true editor.”
While Pritchard was at the helm of all things journalism in Lewis County, his partner,
Edmiston, had political goals.
Edmiston was elected mayor of Weston first and then became a member of the U.S. Congress in 1932. He was also a veteran of WWI, and was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross. It’s believed he sold his share of the newspaper to Pritchard in the late 1920s.
From 1926 to 1927, Pritchard served as president of the West Virginia Council of Journalism, and was the force behind the inaugural newspaper outing at Jackson’s Mill in 1927. He served as vice-president of the National Editorial Association in 1934, and became president of the organization in 1935.
Pritchard served as editor of The Weston Democrat until 1946, when Robert S. Earle took over. In 1949, Earle and George I. Davisson took over joint ownership of the newspaper. Earle remained managing editor until 1992, when he and co-owners Ira Ketcham and Bruce Randolph sold the newspaper to Robert Billeter.
Billeter is a West Virginia
resident, but spent most of his career out of state. In 1991, Billeter retired from Pittsburgh and bought a home in downtown Weston. His wife, Eileen, remained in Pittsburgh for five years to finish her teaching career.
Billeter’s neighbors told him about the possible sale of The Weston Democrat, and he jumped at the opportunity. He was 66 years old, and had spent 40 years in journalism. His intention was not to work full time for The Weston Democrat, but come in occasionally and write periodically.
When Billeter bought the newspaper, times were changing rapidly with the rise of the digital world. The Flood of 1985, which hit West Virginia especially hard, had a direct impact on how newspapers were published.
Newspapers began adopting computerized production after the flood. Billeter took The Weston Democrat into the 21st Century by introducing the newspaper’s website in Aug. 1999, but was still building the paper for print in the traditional cut and paste style.
The Billeters recalled how they sent the newspaper to press, and it was sent back to be processed electronically.
“We still got the paper out on time,” Eileen Billetter said.
By 2002, there were only 25 presses printing all the newspapers operating in the state, and some newspapers from out of state.
George Whelan was the editor, and Julia Spelsburg was the ad manager under the Billeters.
“I pretty much let them run it. If I felt like doing something, I did it,” he said.
When Whelan left in 2002, Billeter took over as the
editor, which he thought would be temporary. Instead, he remained editor until 2016, when he sold The Weston Democrat to Weston Publishing, LLC. At 90 years of age, he retired.
With this change, the newspaper inherited Group Publisher Tammy Lyons and its newest editor, Melissa Toothman.
Through all the changes in buildings, publishers, and staff, the Weston Democrat is still the only newspaper in operation in Lewis County.
People across the state and the nation subscribe, and it is also on the internet.

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