A short history of the Gazette’s printing operation in Northampton

  • Bud Messier, a compositor at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, is shown at work in 1948. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • In background on right, John Raymer, former Gazette pressroom manager, looks on while papers come off the newspaper’s former offset press in the early 2000s. STAFF PHOTO

  • George Chandler works on the press at the Daily Hampshire Gazette circa 1966. STAFF PHOTO

  • Former Gazette co-publisher Peter DeRose reaches for a paper as new copies off the former Goss Urbanite offset press in the early 2000s. STAFF PHOTO

  • In the pressroom at the Gazette, circa September, 1966. STAFF PHOTO

  • Peter and Charlie DeRose, former co-publishers of the Gazette, look at a paper after it comes off the Goss Urbanite offset press, October 1975. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Jim O’Connor, a former pressroom foreman for the Gazette, checks a paper as it comes off the Goss Urbanite offset press in 1979. STAFF PHOTO

  • A group of Gazette employees stand in front of the Goss offset press for the paper’s first Saturday morning edition, printed in April 1972. STAFF PHOTO

  • A group of Gazette employees stand in front of the Goss offset press for the paper’s first Saturday morning edition, printed in April 1972. STAFF PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/26/2020 6:50:03 PM

In 1786, parts of western Massachusetts were in the grip of what came to be known as Shays’ Rebellion, the uprising by farmers and other rural citizens against what they saw as unfair taxes and money lending practices, all of it dictated by wealthy merchants and state officials who farmers said ignored their pleas for relief.

Bands of armed men, which included Revolutionary War veterans like Daniel Shays of Pelham, responded by surrounding courthouses in Northampton and other towns to prevent hearings against people facing the loss of their land and goods because of unpaid debts.

In Northampton, shopkeepers, pastors and other upstanding men “in the prime of their manhood,” as the Gazette put it in an 1886 special edition, wanted some means to speak to others in the community against these “insurrections.” They invited a young Connecticut printer, William Butler, to come north and start a newspaper in town.

On Sept. 6, 1786, the 22-year-old Butler did just that, producing a four-page Hampshire Gazette that essentially was an anti-Shays broadsheet, printed by hand in a house on the corner of Main and Pleasant streets “a few rods east of the courthouse,” as the paper’s masthead stated. It was the first edition of a newspaper that, for 234 years, has always — until now — been printed in Northampton.

Over the years, the Gazette has changed its style, size, news content and its name, moved from a weekly paper to a daily one, and been produced in a number of mostly downtown buildings and facilities. It has used a variety of presses during that time, from wooden, hand-operated machines to early versions of mechanized presses driven by steam power, to the current 32-unit Cerutti S-4 press (known as a flexographic model), which can print multiple pages in color and also has been used in commercial printing jobs.

According to a number of sources, including a special centennial issue of the Gazette from 1886, Butler at first printed the paper in a borrowed room in the home of resident Benjamin Prescott. Before long, he constructed his own building on “the northeasterly corner” of Pleasant Street, printing the weekly Gazette on the second floor; William’s brother, Daniel, ran a variety store on the first floor.

Barbara Blumenthal, a bookbinder and a former rare book archivist with Smith College, says William Butler handled many other printing jobs — posters, announcements, books — and that his family played an important role in Northampton’s early publishing business. “His cousin Simeon Butler was a bookbinder, and he opened a bookstore and a bindery in 1792,” she said. Simeon was a book publisher as well, as was one of his sons, Jonathan Hunt Butler, Blumenthal notes.

William Butler, who also built a mill in what is now the Bay State section of town to produce raw paper for the Gazette, published the newspaper for nearly 30 years, with apprentices often handling the printing. The 1886 Gazette called Butler’s version of the paper “solid and substantial. He wasted no space on light reading.” There wasn’t much in the way of local news, either; the focus was on foreign and national news.

A Gazette from early September 1804, for instance, included information on Napoleon Bonaparte’s movements in France and the French-English conflict in Europe, as well as smaller news stories from South Carolina and Connecticut about, respectively, a murder and a drunken man who fell off his horse. Local news was confined to items such as small business advertisements, want ads and a notice about a stray cow in Easthampton.

Butler sold the Gazette in 1815 to the first of a succession of publishers and owners, including a law firm, which between then and the 1850s moved the office and printing operations around a variety of downtown locations. Until the early 1840s, it continued to be printed on hand presses, but a secondhand “power press” was introduced in 1841 and a steam-powered press in 1853, increasing the size and production of the newspaper.

Other significant changes came in the late 1850s, when the Gazette merged with another newspaper, the Northampton Courier, published by James Trumbull. Trumbull and the Gazette’s editor of that time, Henry S. Gere, became long-term partners in the business and also began to put much more emphasis on local news.

As the late Northampton journalist and historian Richard C. Garvey wrote in “The Northampton Book,” a 1954 history of the town, the Gazette’s increased local coverage had area residents “avidly scanning the columns to see their own names in print.”

At the end of the Civil War, the Gazette moved from a Main Street office to what Garvey described as “an old school building” on Gothic Street — and the formerly somewhat peripatetic paper would stay there until 1927. After a few failed attempts to convert the weekly paper to a daily, the Gazette in late 1890, by then published solely by Henry Gere, became a daily newspaper for good.

The ‘modern age’

The 20th century saw the introduction of bigger and more powerful presses and the expansion of the size and circulation of the Gazette, with a corresponding increase in the number of copies of the paper that could be printed — from under 5,000 per hour to as many as 50,000 per hour in recent years.

The presses in the earlier part of the of 20th century used “hot type,” in which typesetters created lines of text by injecting molten lead into molds shaped like letters; the text would then be arranged on heavy plates that were used to print onto rolls of newspaper. Jim O’Connor of Northampton, a longtime Gazette press operator and foreman who retired in 2008, remembers working one of the last of the paper’s presses to use this method, in the early 1960s.

“You always got burned at some point,” he said. “I’ve still got some scars.”

According to a Gazette article from 1948, the newspaper had such a press, weighing 40 tons, that came along when the paper moved in 1927 to a building on Armory Street. Two years later, the paper’s ownership changed again when Harriet Williams DeRose, the Gazette’s former business manager, bought the paper from the Gere family; she became one of the first female newspaper publishers in the country. Three generations of the DeRose family published the Gazette until current owners Newspapers of New England bought the paper in 2005.

Harriet DeRose oversaw the installation of another press, the 45,000-ton Hoe Simplex model, in 1948, the last of the “hot type” units. In 1966, the Gazette replaced that with a Goss Urbanite offset press, giving the paper the ability to print in color — the first daily paper in western Massachusetts to do so.

In late 1975, the Gazette moved to its current home on Conz Street, taking the offset press with it. As former Gazette publisher and editor Jim Foudy notes, by 2007 the Goss press, though still serviceable, was showing its age, leading to the installation of the Cerutti S-4 press, a large Italian design that, combined with an expansion of the Conz Street building to house it, cost the Gazette over $10 million (the Gazette was the first U.S. newspaper to install the Cerutti model).

The new press provided better quality printing for the Gazette and its “sister” publications, including the Greenfield Recorder and Amherst Bulletin, Foudy says, and it also was initially used for many outside printing projects. Current publisher Michael Moses says the Cerutti S-4, up until 2015, was printing as many as 85 commercial jobs a month. But most of that business has now dried up, Moses says, a result both of the pandemic and increased costs associated with flexographic presses.

In an email, Foudy said he’s saddened by the Gazette’s decision to outsource its printing, both because of the job losses it brings and because of the sense of purpose he believes an in-house press provides to a local newspaper in particular.

“The press is a big, loud physical manifestation of the power the newspaper has to deliver news to a mass audience and keep people informed about their community, nation and world,” he said. “News media serves as a watchdog on public agencies. In places where there are no news media — so-called news deserts — fraud and corruption flourish and scoundrels thrive.”

And John Raymer of Belchertown, a former Gazette press room manager, says the newspaper business seems radically different from the days when he became part of it the 1960s.

“All the papers I worked at were family-run businesses that did their own printing,” said Raymer, who retired a few years ago after 30 years at the Gazette. “It’s just a very different time now — a different world.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.
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