The Herald-Palladium has a long and sometimes complex history that traces back to the very early days of Benton Harbor.
Local journalistic tradition actually predates the 1868 founding of this company. In what was then called Brunson Harbor, that town’s first weekly was first published in 1861. This paper, the Peach Orchard, did not last. St. Joseph, the older of the two Twin Cites, had a weekly newspaper in operation as early as 1836.
Leonard J. Merchant started the Benton Harbor Palladium as a weekly in 1868, having moved here that fall from the East Coast.
Merchant has a colorful history. He was born in South Farms, Conn., in 1845, one of 11 children, according to a 1955 News-Palladium article about his life. He learned the printing trade working after school at a paper in Waterbury, Conn. Merchant enlisted in the Union Army in 1862, eventually fighting in the bloody campaigns at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, where he was wounded. Soon after he received an honorable discharge, returning to work at the New Haven Palladium as a mailer. “It was there he met the girl (Carrie) who was to become his wife. She was a type setter by trade,” the 1955 article stated.
The young couple, one child in tow, eventually moved west. They visited towns in Wisconsin and Iowa, living for a time in Chicago, before settling in Benton Harbor and starting the newspaper. They named it after the New Haven, Conn., newspaper where they had met. Leonard Merchant died in 1935.
Merchant’s 1868 founding of the Palladium was chronicled in a 1904 article: “At that time the ship canal had just been built and the need of a newspaper was very apparent and the enterprising people of the young place gave Mr. Merchant a bonus to print them a paper. The paper had a precarious existence, for the surrounding county was underdeveloped and there were only few people who cared to read a paper published in so small a village.”
The article continued: “The paper changed hands very frequently and not until 1885, when F.R. Gilson came here from Clinton (Iowa) and bought the paper did it really become a fixed institution.”
Frank R. Gilson turned the Palladium into a daily enterprise in 1886. The May 1, 1886, edition includes an introduction to the community, presumably written by Gilson: “The Daily Palladium herewith makes its salutation, in the hope that it may find favor with the public, and be welcomed by the newspaper patrons of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph ... and that these twin thriving towns will appreciate and sustain that modern necessity in all progressive communities, a daily newspaper.”
A Palladium retrospective in 1903 captures the early spirit of Gilson’s publication: “In those days (1886) the editor knew everybody in town and attended all the dances and church socials regularly, also the citizens’ meetings held to boom the village. He wrote columns of rosy prophecies for the town and the people loyally sent out marked copies to their distant friends.”
Merchant, the company’s founder, had operated the Palladium for less than a year, selling it to J.P. Thresher in 1869. But Merchant wasn’t done with the newspaper business. By 1877, Merchant had moved to St. Joseph, then the larger of the two communities, and purchased a weekly publication (The Traveler and Herald) which he renamed the St. Joseph Herald. Shortly after the turn of the century, Merchant and his son, Leonard E., sold their property to Ephriam W. Moore, who published the paper as The Evening Herald.
Competing dailies moved into both cities around the turn of the century.
John Nellis Klock, J. Stanley Morton and Humphrey S. Gray established The Evening News in Benton Harbor in 1895, rivaling Gilson’s Palladium.
In 1905, Willard Brewer, a nephew of Ephriam Moore, bought The St. Joseph Press, a weekly publication, and changed it to a daily publication under the same name.
By 1904, The Evening News had displaced The Daily Palladium as the dominant paper in Benton Harbor. Gilson that year sold his publication to Klock and his associates, who consolidated the two publications into The News-Palladium.
Gilson died soon after, on July 4, 1904. As he neared death Gilson was honored in a Feb. 29, 1904, front-page tribute: “One of the men who have made much to do with the making of Benton Harbor is F.R. Gilson. ... A few weeks ago the editor was attacked with disease and was confined to his house, but he was able to edit his paper. ... The last business that the sick man was able to transact was attach his signature to the bill of sale of the newspaper property, and from that he became exhausted.”
More local newspaper mergers and acquisitions soon followed.
Klock and Gray, in 1910, sold the newspaper to Moore. In 1916, Brewer and Moore merged their St. Joseph publications into The Herald-Press.
A 1916 article in the St. Joseph Daily Press spoke to the upheaval in the newspaper industry around this period in America, as the Daily Press was consolidating with two other St. Joseph publications. “For many papers the high cost of production meant either a stiff raise in subscription and advertising rates, suspension or consolidation. ... A burden will be lifted from merchants who have advertised in both papers heretofore, and duplicate subscriptions will be avoided,” the newspaper explained, regarding the consolidation.
The trend continued locally for another decade. In 1919, Ephriam Moore retired and sold The News-Palladium to the Palladium Publishing Co., incorporated that year by Klock, Stanley R. Banyon and attorney Willard J. Banyon Sr.
In 1928, Palladium Publishing Co. bought out The Herald-Press Co., which from a business point of view effectively ended the Twin Cities newspaper wars. The companies eventually fully merged operations in 1970.
The arrival of the Banyon brothers in January 1919 was significant, as it would mark the beginning of a nearly eight-decade association of the Banyon family with the newspaper company.
Stanley R. Banyon assumed partial ownership and management after fighting on the battlefields of France in World War I and narrowly escaping with his life. According to the 1919 introductory article, “(Banyon) was gassed three times before his division, the First, was thrown into the second Battle of the Marne. ... On the second morning of the battle Lieut. Banyon fell wounded, being shot in three places.”
Banyon’s return to the States also marked his homecoming to the newspaper industry. In 1907, as a young man, Banyon had worked his way up from “cub reporter” at The News-Palladium to managing editor, before leaving in 1915 for another newspaper position in Kalamazoo, and later enlisting in the war effort.
Banyon would go on to oversee newspaper operations for decades until turning over most operations to nephew Williard J. Banyon Jr. in 1963. Stanley R. Banyon, who also had started local radio station WHFB in 1947, died in 1967 at age 80. A host of community leaders mourned his passing, and the flags at Benton Harbor City Hall flew at half-staff for the man known for years as “Mr. Benton Harbor.”
Although in 1928 Palladium Publishing Co. had bought out The Herald-Press Co, the two companies after 1928 continued to publish The Herald-Press and The News-Palladium in their own plants, under distinctive formats and with separate staffs and circulation promotion. A new plant for The News-Palladium was built in Benton Harbor in 1955.
In 1965, the company shifted production of The Herald-Press into The News-Palladium’s plant and adopted a common advertising rate schedule. The papers kept their own mastheads but the news content was the same. That changed in 1975, when The Herald-Press and The News-Palladium became The Herald-Palladium.
In 1970, a wing was added to the Benton Harbor plant to house engraving and circulation. In 1972, the paper changed over from the old hot metal system to the cold or photo printing type.
But printing problems remained. The printing speed of the press in Benton Harbor could not be increased and spare parts for its electrical control panel were no longer being made. The solution was to build a new plant in St. Joseph Township, just off Interstate 94, to house the entire newspaper operation. The new plant opened in 1978 on Palladium Drive, where it remains.
In February 1985, Palladium Publishing sold the newspaper to Thomson Inc., a newspaper chain. Thomson operated the paper until December 1996, when it sold The Herald-Palladium to the Community Newspapers Division of Hollinger International. Hollinger sold the newspaper in 2000 to its current owner, Paxton Media Group Inc. of Paducah, Ky.
Paxton Media Group traces it roots to 1896, when a group of investors headed by W.P. Paxton launched The Paducah Sun. Today, Paxton Media Group is a diversified media company with interests in newspapers, printing and broadcasting and is still owned and managed by fourth- and fifth-generation members of the Paxton family.
Former HP Staff Writer William F. Ast III contributed to this story.