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120 Years Under Our Belt
Written by Larry Roeder, Publisher/Editor
2020-03-25

            The Town and Country newspaper has just completed 120 years of service to the community and it has been quite a ride.

The Town and Country newspaper began publishing from

a small building near the railroad station on Fourth St. in 

Pennsburg using a Washington Iron Hand Press that is on

display at the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center.

            The first publication hit the streets on April 1st, 1899 and it is appropriate that we take a look back over the years at the important service a local newspaper brings to a community and a look at some of the people who made it happen for 120 years.

           A well-known and respected dentist by the name of Dr. Charles Quinton Hillegass started the Town and Country newspaper in 1899, and for the next 30 years he echoed his love of the community in his newspaper.

            Hillegass was born on June 29, 1870 in Upper Hanover Township and educated in the in a humble school 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,

In the early 1900's the Town and Country newspaper

used linotype machines to replace the labor-intensive

task of setting type by hand.  The operator would type

in a line of text; the machine would drop each matrix

with its mold into place, assembling the matrices into

a line of text that was needed. Hot lead alloy was then

forced into the molds of matrices, creating the fresh

line of type.

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 of 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 Hillegass, who assumed general management of the operation for the first few months until the first issue was released. 

            The Town and Country newspaper began publishing from a small building near the railroad station on Fourth Street in Pennsburg. The original printing press used was a Washington Iron Hand Press, now on display at the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center in Pennsburg.

            By the fifth edition of the newspaper 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.

            In the beginning years of the paper, subscriptions grew steadily.  Hillegass

In 1914, on a triangular lot betweern Fourth St. and Pottstown

Ave. in Pennsburg, Hilligass had built the new home of the 

Town and Country Newspaper.  The building was designed in 

the image of the New York Herald building.

bought out Singers 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.

            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 Herald building in Manhattan's Herald (later Times) square.  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 Town and Country 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 in 1908, and Perkiomen School in 1911.  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 Foster C. Hillegass 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. 

            Among those who helped to guide the paper throughout the years were Edward Hocker, Rev. George Lutz, Virginia Gaskill, Paul Styer, Elmer and Vic Stahl, Janice McCourt, Vic Attardo, and so many others.  The talents of all of them allowed the paper to continue to serve the community.

            Many employees were long-time and loyal.  Clarence Welker started as an apprentice printer and worked his way to managing editor during his 53-year career at the paper.  Composing room workers William Huber and E. Wayne Weil worked at the paper for 41 and 38 years respectively.  G. Calvin Christman started as a linotype operator immediately after graduating from East Greenville High School in 1918, became associate editor in 1929, and was serving as editor at the time of his death in 1960.

            Paul Yerger was employed as a composing room worker and later became business manager.  Kathryn Kline was in charge of the business office from 1912 to 1951.  Both served for 39 years.

            Earl Bitting was associated with the Town and Country from 1916 to 1963 but his service was interrupted twice; the first during WWI and again from 1921 to 1927 when he was employed in Philadelphia.

            Lamar Mumbauer was a photographer and pressman in the job printing department from 1921 through 1943.  Later, in 1960, he returned as a photographer.

            The Town and Country 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 immediately rumors started to spread in the community that the demise of The Town and Country was imminent.  During Gannett's ownership, Larry Corvi, and Suzanne Bush served as publishers.

            Shortly after being purchased by the Equitable Publishing Company, the Town and Country had its' printing operation moved from Pennsburg to Lansdale where it continued to be printed into the early 1990's. 

            The Town and Country building was sold in the late 1980's and the office was moved across the street to the basement of the former Pennsburg Vest Co., at Pottstown Avenue and Dotts Street.  The building was home to Kulp Financial Services, located on the first floor, at the time the newspaper moved in.

            With the future of the Town and Country newspaper in question, Roderick and Wendy Wood started a newspaper in 1995 to try and keep hometown news reporting 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 their home, and the business was moved to the basement of the Goshenhoppen Mutual Insurance building at the corner of Quakertown Avenue and Penn Street in Pennsburg.

            On May 2, 1997, wishing to relinquish itself from the local, 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.

            With the purchase of the Town and Country, the Woods moved their offices into a portion of the former Red Hill Elementary School at Fifth Street and Graber Ally in Red Hill.

            The printing operation was done at McAleer Printing in Quakertown at that time and continued there into 2012.

            This writer purchased the publishing rights for The Hearthstone Town and Country and Town and Country on January 1, 2006.    On April 1, 2007 the name on the masthead was changed back to The Town and Country.  A website, www.UPVNews.com, was also added, providing online access to top stories that were also published in print. 

            The Town and Country expanded its' coverage area to include municipalities that border the Upper Perkiomen Valley. The idea was simply to report on happenings there that could affect a wider region.

            Since that time the print and photo journalists of the paper have gathered more than 30 prestigious "Keystone" awards for journalism excellence in Pennsylvania.

            Being in a rural area and conscious of our responsibility to the environment Town and Country recycles their returns in a way suggested by a Penn State University program developed back in the early 1990's.

            Since soy-based ink and recycled newsprint are used to print the newspaper, the returns are delivered to a nearby farm where the overruns are run through a shredder and used, along with straw, as bedding for the cattle.  The used shreds are then put in the manure spreader and returned to the earth, to be plowed under in the spring.  This allows the farmer to use his land in a more productive manner for food crops.

            We've seen the demise of many daily newspapers, as they've merged publications, cut and slashed reporting to trim the cost of newsprint and increase the space for paid advertising.  The first and most heavy casualty of these cutbacks was usually the local news. 

            The Town and Country remains committed to reporting the news, as a Pennsylvania Newspaper of Record, from the Upper Perkiomen Valley and nearby communities and providing a product that is informative and entertaining to readers and profitable to our advertisers.


 

 

 

 

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