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The Town and Country - Proudly Beginning Our 119th Year
Written by Staff Report
2018-04-11

Local News for Local Readers Since 1899

    

Seated; Publisher/Editor Larry Roeder. Standing, (left) Graphics Editor/Photographer Bob Esposito and Staff Writer Bradley Schlegel.

 

        With the Town and Country newspaper entering the 119th year of publication, staff members were again honored by the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association during the annual Keystone Press Awards. The Awards reinforces excellence by individuals in the news media profession by recognizing journalism that consistently provides relevance, integrity and initiative in serving readers, and faithfully fulfills its First Amendment rights/responsibilities.   

Town and Country's first broad-sheet press.

.               Further, the Keystone Press Awards stimulate journalists to improve their craft and ultimately improve their community. 

            Publisher and Editor Larry Roeder was honored for the second year in a row for excellence in Editorial writing for his series of opinions reinforcing Pennsylvania's Sunshine and Right-to-Know laws. 

            Graphics Editor and Photographer Bob Esposito received honors for his

front-page photo featuring silhouettes of festival-goers enjoying fireworks at the annual Fourth of July celebration at New Goshenhoppen Park in East Greenville. 

            Journalist Bradley Schlegel receive honors for his series of stories reporting on the local controversies surrounding the new Upper Perkiomen School District's Middle School project.

            Schlegel was also honored for his sports story about an Upper Perkiomen High School cheerleader's determination as she battles cancer.

            The ongoing dedication to the Town and Country newspaper is a continuance of excellence envisioned over the years by former staff members, and started by a local man with a unique love for his community.

            This is a good time to take a look at the publication's history, and more important, remember the remarkable man who founded it.

On April 1, 1899 a well-known and respected man by the name of Dr. Charles Quinton Hillegass distributed the first edition of the Town and Country newspaper.  He was a man with a sense of humor who deliberately selected "April Fools Day" for the newspaper's startup.

Hillegass was born on June 29, 1870 in Upper Hanover Township and educated in the humble schools there.  He was a graduate of the Perkiomen Seminary, and graduated from the Philadelphia Dental College in 1889.

After completing his education, he began a successful dental practice that grew to include offices in Pennsburg, Harleysville, Schwenksville, and Telford. 

He married Ella H. Siegfried of near Monteray, Berks County.  They had a son, Foster C., and an adopted daughter, Ethel D. Hillegass.

While he was a young dentist, Charles took a keen interest in journalism.  From time to time, he would write short stories for local newspapers.  His interest in the printed media was helped by the influence of his brother Howard, who was chief editorial writer for the New York Herald.  Howard was referred to as "a splendidly equipped newspaper man … a genius in journalism."

In the late 1890's, Dr. Hillegass studied the possibility of starting a newspaper.  At the time, three other weekly newspapers were being published in Pennsburg and East Greenville.  Hillegass' intent was to purchase The Perkiomen Press, which was published in Pennsburg, and the Perkiomen Ledger, which was published in East Greenville.

When he found the price of the newspapers cost prohibited, he persuaded Pennsburg pharmacist Robert Singer to form a partnership in publishing a new newspaper.  Singer also had a little experience in writing for the local papers.

They enlisted the help of Howard, who assumed general management of the operation for the first few months until the first issue was published.  The paper was named the Town and Country

By the fifth edition of the Town and Country the masthead boldly proclaimed that it was "the only illustrated, local weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania!"  Remarkably drawn images of local sites and people began appearing in each issue.

The Town and Country newspaper began publishing from a small building on Fourth Street in Pennsburg.  In the beginning years of the paper, subscriptions grew steadily.  Hillegass bought out Singer's share of the business in 1902, and shortly after that he left his dental practice in order to devote all of his time to the publication.

As the newspaper continued to grow, Hillegass expanded his interest within the fourth estate.  He helped organize the Press League of Bucks and Montgomery Counties, and the Weekly Newspaper Association of Montgomery County.

In 1913, Hillegass bought a triangular lot between Fourth Street and Pottstown Avenue.  On that lot he built a modern publishing plant, designed in the image of the New York Times building in Manhattan.  This would be the home of the newspaper for the next 73 years. 

Dr. Charles Q. Hillegass died in 1929, but the Hillegass spirit in the local newspaper lived on through his son.

Foster Hillegass was also a graduate of the Perkiomen School.  He received his college education at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster.  As a boy, he worked as an apprentice at his father's newspaper, and after graduating from college he became editor of the publication.

Like his father, Foster was a newspaperman, businessman, and civil servant.  In addition to his many local responsibilities, he served as a Montgomery County Commissioner for 20 years. 

Foster served the newspaper for more than 50 years.  Even with all his other commitments, he kept the newspaper close to his heart and maintained the journalistic intent, purpose, and integrity that his father did.

After his death, the newspaper continued to be published by the Foster C. Hillegass Estate.  At the helm was Foster's wife of 46 years, Florence Moll Hillegass.  She was described as a "warm and gracious lady" who "maintained a devoted interest in the pages that make up each issue."

Florence was born in Palm, where her father ran the general store.  She graduated from East Greenville High School and Perkiomen School.  She was a graduate of the National School of Elocution and Oratory in Philadelphia. 

During much of the time that the newspaper was published by the Estate, the day-to-day operation was left to an able staff that continued to help the newspaper live up to the expectations of the Hillegass vision.

The local newspaper was sold to the Equitable Publishing Company in 1977.  In time, large corporate ownership of the small-town ledger would lead to some uncertainties and a questionable future.

Ricky Coyne-Smith served as publisher until 1987, with a break in 1984-85 when William KcKinney was calling the shots.  Christoper Dix who was the publisher until 1989 followed her.  Gannett Publishing obtained the Town and Country in 1990, and rumors started to spread in the community that the demise of local newspaper was imminent.  During Gannett's ownership, Larry Corvi, and Suzanne Bush served as publishers.

In 1995, Roderick and Wendy Wood started a newspaper to try and keep hometown communications on a local level.  They operated out of their home in Upper Hanover Township and called the newspaper The Hearthstone Press.  They worked hard, and the paper grew.  The Hearthstone Press eventually out-grew its' home, and the business was moved to Pennsburg and later to Red Hill...

In 1997, wishing to disband itself from the weekly newspaper, Gannett sold the publishing rights for The Town and Country to the Woods.  By 1998, Rod and Wendy had combined the two newspapers into one under the masthead The Hearthstone Town and Country newspaper with Rod serving as publisher and Wendy as editor.

The Town and Country was sold to Upper Perkiomen Valley native and Pennsburg resident Larry Roeder in 2006.  Roeder was a 15-year administrative veteran at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.

In April of 2007, the 109th anniversary of the publication, the name was changed back to the Town and Country.  A year later the offices were moved to Upper Hanover Township.

The newspaper is a proud member of the Newspaper Association of America, Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, Upper Perkiomen Valley Chamber of Commerce, and the Upper Bucks County Chamber of Commerce.

            This year's Keystone Award winners will be honored at the Keystone Press Awards Banquet during the Pennsylvania Press Conference on Saturday, June 2, 2018, at the Wyndham Gettysburg. 


 

 

 

 

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