The first newspaper printed locally in Stuart was founded by Will Hawley Stevens, April 18, 1913.
Stevens dropped out of school after completing the sixth grade and went to work as an apprentice printer for his father, who owned The Joilet (III.) Record in Joilet, Ill.
He learned the business, then moved to Florida in 1884 to take a job as a journeyman printer for The Halifax Journal in Daytona Beach. A few years later he moved to Virginia, where he went into the land sales business and in 1897 launched The Claremont (Va.) Herald. The paper prospered but an effort to sell 10-acre tracts for small farms failed. Stevens was bankrupt.
He hitchhiked to Florida in 1904, leaving his wife, son and daughter in Virginia while he attempted to improve his financial condition. He was hired by The Evening Appeal in Jacksonville, and later moved over to the Jacksonville Times-Union.
Stevens lived in Fort Pierce briefly, working as a printer for The Fort Pierce News Tribune. In 1913, he borrowed $5 from the editor of The News Tribune and used it to found The Stuart Times.
The newspaper was located in a building that had housed Stuart’s first church. This building was west of the railroad tracks near First Street and the Stuart Hotel. (This historical building is still standing: 311 SW 3rd St., Stuart, FL 34994)
On April 18, 1913, Volume One, Number One of The Stuart Times appeared on the streets. Stevens published 300 papers and had about 30 advertisers.
The paper was immediately profitable. The merchants and financial interests gave the new paper the support it needed to get started and keep going. Things went so well, and two months after the first issue Stevens was able to bring his family to Stuart.
Stevens fired the first gun in a campaign to incorporate Stuart. It was a one-paragraph editorial. He tied his campaign to the Prohibitionist sentiment pushed by the women of the community, including Stuart resident Cynthia S.B. Haney, one of the nation’s leading Prohibitionists.
By the way, the “Community Christmas Tree” was the idea of Stevens. He adopted the idea from other cities of the 1900s.
The first editions were printed in Fort Pierce, but Stevens was able to borrow more money to buy equipment from America Type Founders. He set type by hand. The paper was printed on a Cranston cylinder press. At first, the press was driven by hand-turning a large flywheel. Later, a small gasoline motor powered the press.
Will Steven, generously gave the Woman’s Club free space each week for the club news in his publication.
In 1916, he moved on again. This time he joined the Navy. The Stuart Times was sold to the owners of The Fort Pierce Tribune in 1917. After World War I, Stevens returned to Florida and founded a small newspaper in Moor Haven. He sold it after a few years and bought a weekly in Lake Worth.
In article published in 1964, Wallace Stevens – Will H. Steven’s son – remembered that his father of ten acted on impulse. Said Wallace Stevens, “His most embarrassing mistake was when he came out with a defense of John Ashley who was sought by the law for killing an Indian for his furs. The next week John robbed the bank.”
The new owners dropped the name, The Stuart Times, and merged with The Stuart Messenger, founded in 1915. For 16 months before the merger, Stuart had two competing newspapers. A.K. Wilson was proprietor and C.S. Miley was the editor of The Stuart Messenger.
The Stuart Times was the first paper printed in the area. It was followed by the Stuart Messenger, South Florida Developer, The Stuart Daily News and finally the present day The Stuart News.
Sources: The Stuart News, Sunday, April 17, 1988; The Stuart News, Thursday, January 09, 1964; The Miami Herald, 07 May 1989; The Miami Herald, 24 Dec 1982
By Greg & Alice Luckhardt
The Stuart Times, which began publication in 1913 by Will Stevens, is credited as being Stuart’s first newspaper, but in actuality it was not. J.P. Lees, a railroad engineer who would establish the J.P. Lees Publishing Company of Stuart in 1907 for a weekly paper, unfortunately suffered tragedy the year prior to arriving in the little town.
Lees’ wife had died in 1906, leaving a young son in father’s care. In early ’07, the family house caught fire and the child died in the blaze while home alone.
Soon after as a new resident in Stuart, by May 1907, having evidently created a publishing company, J.P.s first issue of the Stuart Enterprise newspaper had been printed.
The final printing process was actually done in Atlanta, Georgia each week, but Lees Publishing hoped to have a printing office in Stuart.
Probably due to stress and the devastating tragedies, J.P.’s mental condition would worsen in 1908, no doubt aggravated by the failure of the newspaper, causing the man to be a maniac, bent on suicide.
In August 1908 he was committed to the Florida State Asylum in Chattahoochee for long-term treatment.
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