Read All About It: The “Willow Dale Press,” January 1879

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Today’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is certainly an unusual one: the first of twelve issues of the “Willow Dale Press,” an amateur newspaper published by Annetta Florence Carter and her brother, Arthur Nathaniel Carter.  The enterprising siblings were all of 13 and 10 years old.

Florence (as she was commonly known) and Arthur were the children of Annetta Pierce and Nathaniel Coburn Carter, who migrated from Lowell, Massachusetts, about twenty miles from Reading, the ancestral home of the Temple family, to the San Gabriel Valley for a common reason in the last quarter of the 19th century: health.

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The family of Nathaniel C., Annetta, Florence, Arthur and Julia Carter at Willow Dale in modern San Marino, but then known as the San Gabriel Township in the 1880 federal census.

Namely, Nathaniel Carter, who was dealer in sewing machines, was suffering from pulmonary problems and found the temperate climate of the area to be much better than conditions in the Northeast.  In 1874, Carter acquired 17 acres adjacent to the orange orchard of former Union Army General and future California governor, George Stoneman, and established his “Willow Dale” estate, named for a well-known park in Lowell.

Willow Dale became well-known for its beautiful location, comfortable home, and other aspects and famed photographer Carleton Watkins took several stereoscopic photographs of the estate in the late 1870s.  The site is now in the city of San Marino very close to the Huntington Library.

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Los Angeles Herald, 25 December 1878.

Lesser known is the production of this amateur juvenile newspaper by Florence and Arthur Carter, whose father supplied them with a Colombian platen job press, manufactured by Curtis and Mitchell of Boston.  The small apparatus was just over four feet in height and was operated by a foot treadle.

It used a self-inking action and produced a dual column, mainly 8-point font sheet of 6 by 9 inches.  According to a 1975 book about the press by Carey Bliss and published by Dawson’s Book Shop in Los Angeles, hundreds of similar papers were published by young people across America as literacy grew by leaps and bounds.  Notably, the Carter siblings advertised in their paper for the sale of a table-top Colombian press, which may have been the intended device before they obtained the larger machine.

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The Homestead collection includes the first issue of the Willow Dale Press, which came with a 1975 book on the publication, written by Carey Bliss and published by Dawson’s Book Shop.  Bliss received the original issues from Arthur Carter’s daughter.

The publishers put out their first issue, for January 1879, the month prior, as recorded in the Los Angeles Herald of Christmas Day 1878: “We are indebted to our editorial confreres [colleagues] of the Willow Dale Press for a handsome chromo of the ‘Village Mill.'”  In fact, Florence and Arthur advertised that, with a subscription of 20 cents per year, they would include a chromolithograph produced on their press.

Yet, the audience was not to be the professional newspapers.  Rather the enterprising entrepreneurs introduced their paper by stating:

In presenting this, the first number of the WILLOW DALE PRESS, as we make out editorial bow to our young friends perhaps it were well to introduce ourselves.

One of us has hardly reached, while the other has just entered our teens, and so our readers as they look over the paper will please pass judgment accordingly.

We aim to present each month, a good selection of reading matter, with articles which will be written expressly for this paper.  We hope that our little paper will meet with the approbation of all . . . we hope to get a large list of subscribers.

The editors added “we will be glad to receive communications from any of the young folks, also, charades, enigmas or conundrums which are original” and also stated they’d be happy to exchange with our amateur papers.  As a nod to the practice of the professional trade, they added “as many of the papers devote a portion to THE YOUNG FOLKS, we will return the compliment and each month present for THE OLD FOLKS a column which we hope they will find interesting and profitable, as we find it the most profitable to us.”

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They also asked for a “Chance to work,” by advertising that the person sending the largest list of subscribers would receive 500 cards with over 200 types to choose from and allowing for up to three names.  Those sending the next highest amount would receive 300 cards and the person with the third largest would get 100.  They also advertised separately for the “latest styles” in New Year’s cards for 1879.

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A few conundrums, or riddles, were included, along with a couple of poems, including “A New England Idyl,” a humorous piece of verse about a man trying to control his wayward horse Emma before the two tumbled into a large hole in the street.  Much of the little four-page issue, not surprisingly, was devoted to humor, including this sample:

A small store about ten feet by twelve in East Los Angeles [later renamed Lincoln Heights] has three large signs —MARKET— upon it, which nearly cover the building.  F. [Florence] said as we rode along, she did not think they need Mark-It any more.

There was one reprinted piece from the popular juvenile magazine, Youth’s Companion, which was published in Boston from 1827 to 1929, and concerning Mrs. Smith who had unexplained chills merely from sitting on a rock until she was told it was a block of ice covered with carpets to delay its melting.

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As for that “Old Folks Column,” it consisted in this inaugural issue of advertisements for Dr. T.D. Kellogg, an Alhambra resident who kept offices in El Monte and San Gabriel; the San Gabriel Semi Tropical Nursery, owned by J.C. Wallace; and Cogswell’s Sierra Madre Villa, a well-known hotel not far from Willow Dale and which is now the site of a housing tract in northeast Pasadena.

The Willow Dale Press lasted but a year, though a larger size (9 1/4 x 7 1/4) with three columns and a new masthead with an increase to 25 cents per year was introduced in July.  In June, the Herald reported that “we have received No. 6 of the Willow Dale Press.  Although it has not grown any in size [patience, dear editors!] in its six months of life, it is still a spicy, readable sheet.”

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Herald, 4 June 1879.

The reason for the closure of the press was attributed to “school work, baseball and archery.”  Two issues were actually produced by their father (who stated his occupation in the following year’s federal census as “newspaper publisher”) because the children went on a two months’ visit to see their maternal grandmother in Northern California.  There was just too much to do in their young lives!

Bliss’ book pointed out that there wasn’t a newspaper in the western San Gabriel Valley before the Willow Dale Press had its brief run and it was four years before another was launched in Pasadena.  He found several other amateur papers, but none before 1897, so the Carters were truly journalistic pioneers.

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Florence Carter Mead in the 1900 census with her family in Los Angeles.

In 1881, their father purchased over 1000 acres from Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin at the northern edge of the Rancho Santa Anita and developed the town of Sierra Madre, selling Willow Dale and moving the family to a 103-acre tract he called “Carterhia.”  Nathaniel Carter died in 1904 at age 64 and his widow lived until 1937, dying at age 91.

Florence married William Meade, secretary of the Los Angeles Y.M.C.A. and a musician and music teacher, and raised a family.  After she was widowed, she was a librarian and a “practitioner” for the Church of Christian Science, to which the Carters belonged for many years.  She died in 1953, two weeks before her 88th birthday.

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Arthur Carter was proprietor of Carter’s Camp in Big Santa Anita Canyon above Sierra Madre in the 1910 census.

Arthur remained in the Sierra Madre area the remainder of his life, working as a forest ranger in the newly created national forest in the mountains and then operating for a period Carter’s Camp in the mountains above the town in Big Santa Anita Canyon before returning to the foothills to be an orange grower.  He married Mary Crandall and the couple had three children.  Long widowed, Arthur died in northern California in 1945, eight days prior to his 77th birthday.

Florence and Arthur are interred with their parents and other siblings in the Sierra Madre Pioneer Center, not far from where their short careers as newspaper publishers took place.  The Homestead has one other issue of the Willow Dale Press, so that will be the subject of a future post on the blog.

 

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