OF THE ISLAND NEWSPAPERS
By Harvey T. Hill
We of Oak Harbor along in the spring of 1911 noticed a tall
gentleman wearing a black felt hat, long Prince Albert coat and gray trousers
walking up and down our main thoroughfare very much interested in the business
houses. As in all small communities, we all wondered what was in
his mind, and in a short time all kinds of rumors about the man were afloat.
Not long before night Jerome Ely entered my place of business accompanied
by this strange gentleman. Introductions were in order, and our strange
visitor was a H. L. Bowmer of Skagit county, a newspaper man by trade,
who had started several papers throughout the Northwest and was looking
for a new venture in the newspaper business. Learning of the progressive
little city of Oak Harbor, he had decided to look the field over.
At that time we were keeping ourselves posted on local news through the
Island County Times published at Coupeville, and when Mr. Bowmer offered
to start a paper in Oak Harbor we business men thought it would be a grand
thing to boost the city and surrounding country. Johnny Rodgers,
Jerome Ely, and I talked it over with Bowmer who was very frank and said
he would require backing for his venture at the start. We talked
with his business associates in Skagit county, and they reported him okay.
Bowmer had expressed himself as needing $500 to start with, so the three
of us made the loan. Johnny Rodgers donated a room free of rent in
what was then the Rodgers building.
In a few days the Bowmer clan arrived (H. L. Bowmer, Dad; Mrs. Bowmer,
Ma; Charles Bowmer and wife, Flo; and Harry and Johnny Bowmer) bringing
with them an old hand press, a few fonts of type, a bottle of printers
ink, and a few reams of newsprint. They moved into the Eerkes house
in East Oak Harbor, starting at once to set up their presses and old type
table. Each one of the family had his allotted job to do. Dad
did most of the outside work such as news finding, getting advertisements,
and meeting the public in general. Ma Bowmer helped set type, kept
the home fires burning, and prepared a snack for the bunch when they had
time to come and get it. Charles and Flo were the editorial staff,
and Johnny was the press boy when they could catch him and get him away
from his playmates.
The first edition of the Oak Harbor News, a five column paper, finally
appeared on the streets, a very snappy little sheet with all the news and
ads from most of the merchants in town. From then on, the Oak Harbor
News appeared regularly each week giving the subscribers all the events
of the day. One week it looked like we would miss our looked for
weekly news bas the purchaser of materials overlooked the fact that his
paper supply had given out until time to go press. Dad Bowmer, being
resourceful, called on our local butcher and purchased a supply of his
brown wrapping paper for the news sheet of the week, and nobody was disappointed.
Besides giving us a newsy little paper each week, the Bowmers were good
mixers in society. Dad and Ma Bowmer soon became leaders in the M.
E. Church, Ladies' Aid, and other social bodies. Charles and Flo
were good musical entertainers, taking part in all the young folk' doings,
and singing regularly in church services and at other functions.
They had splendid voices. Johnny was a leader in all school sports.
home of Whidbey Press. Employees now total 35 in three Island towns.
Three seperate editors cover news for Langley, Coupeville and Oak Harbor.
Printing is done in Oak Harbor.
Island County || ALHN
In time the Rodgers' building had to come down to make room for the new
Co-Operative store. The Bowmers moved their print shop to Bank Street
in one of Jerome Ely's buildings (see photo) and continued to give the
public the best they had in the way of a newsy little sheet. After
several years, however, the Bowmers began to look for new fields to conquer.
The paper was sold to a graduate of the University of Washington, Al Whitney,
and his young wife. Whitney added new machinery from time to time
and eventually moved to a new building on West Barrington Avenue.
He also changed the name of the paper to the Farm Bureau News. In
1931 the paper changed hands again, being taken over by George Astel.
Within a few years Astel took over the Coupeville and Langley papers to
form the present three paper chain on the island.
In 1939 Astel sold the group to the present publishers, Glenn and Phyllis
Smith. The Smiths have blueprints for ultra modern building to be
erected within the year. Such has been the growth of the Oak Harbor
paper during its 38 years of life with the growing community it serves.