Community newspapers have been very valuable to the residents of South Lake County for many decades, serving the business needs and social activities of the area. The first newspaper published in Lowell was the Lowell Star, a weekly from May 1872 to May, 26, 1877. The editor, Edward R. Beebe, then moved his business to Crown Point, where he entered into partnership with C.W. Ainsworth. Their Lake County Star was sold to John J. Wheeler in 1880.
The Lowell Enterprise was another early newspaper connected with the early life of Lowell, edited by Rae and Hewgill in the 1870's. Some of its last editorials bore the name Robert Rae, Jr.
Our story this month is about another early Lowell publication, The Lowell Tribune, a newspaper that has been loyally serving the community for over one hundred years!
The paper was founded in 1885 by Yates C. Vosburg (1842-1918) and just a few months later H.H. Ragon and his partner, A.A. Winslow, purchased the business from Horace Beebe. The news was printed out of town for some time, until Winslow's share was purchased in 1890 by Ragon's eldest son, Elmer E. (1862-1939), and the printing was brought home to Lowell. [NOTE: An early cemetery record, since proven incorrect, said that Mr. Vosberg died in 1913; he actually died in 1918.]
Later, Leonard Ragon, the second son, took his brother's place as a partner with his father. In 1912 Cordie and Len bought out their father's interests and were partners until 1941, when Len sold his part to Charles Surprise, grandson of H.H. Ragon. Charles became the sole owner of the paper at the close of 1948.
The old Farmer's Home Tavern and Restaurant operated by Frank Ruple was located in the town parking lot across from The Lowell Tribune office. At the north edge of the lot was a buggy shelter and John Klein's Blacksmith Shop. Bordering the west edge of the parking lot was Amos Wagin's saloon, with his home next door. Frank Ruple later sold the 'Farmers Home' to Charles Stephens, according to information taken from an 1890 photo.
In the early days, type was set by the light of kerosene wall lamps, and the paper was printed on a lever-operated Foster printer, typical of the Ben Franklin model. Then came the Vaughn Ideal, a small cylinder hand operated printer, with Cordie Ragon as the "printer's devil."
Gasoline powered machinery came into use, and The Tribune was quick to realize its value with the purchase of a Country Campbell printer. When electric lines were run to Lowell, the Ragons bought a drum cylinder Babcock printer. Used until the 1950's, it was replaced by the automatic Miehle Printer. In 1922 the typesetting was speeded up with the purchase of a linotype machine, and soon a second one was installed along with more modern equipment for the production of the increased commercial printing. H.H. Ragon's daughter, Myrtle Ragon Buckley, was the first linotype operator.
H.H. Ragon (1837-1918), the third son of John and Elizabeth Ragon, was born in Wyandotte County, Ohio, Mar. 8, 1837, and spent his young years assisting his father on the family farm. Sept, 25, 1860, he married Lefee C. Stevens, and their children were Elmer E.; Allen and Almon, twins who died as infants; and Minnie (Collins).
In September 1861, the first year of the Civil War, he enlisted in Company H, 55th Ohio Vol. Infantry, and was promoted to second lieutenant the following March. He retired from the service due to a disability, then served in the Government Secret Service for fourteen months.
Returning home, he organized Co. C, 144th Ohio Vol. Inf., was made captain, and served until the Company was mustered out at the close of the Civil War. Soon after the war, he began to teach in the Lowell area, and taught in six schools: Lowell, Orchard Grove, Robinson Prairie, Bailey, Jones, and Buckley.
In 1871 he married for the second time to Jennie (Jane) A. Smith (1847-1933) of Lowell, and their children were: Leonard W., Lola (Surprise), Myrtle (Buckley), John and George, who died in infancy, and Cordie U. His obituary reads "Henry H. Ragon," though sometimes he is listed as "Howard Harrison Ragon." He was active in politics and was elected a state representative and a township trustee. He also took an active interest in the local Burnham Grand Army of the Republic Post, of which he was a charter member.
As president of the Monument Association, he led the conscription of funds to build the fine monument on Lowell's town square, now Senior Citizens Park. The monument was dedicated in 1905. He was always ready to advance the interests of this part of the county, where he made his home for so many years.
The cornerstone at the old Lowell grade school on Main St. was opened two years ago, and inside the copper box was found many decayed documents and artifacts. One of the items saved was "The history of Lowell, 1896, by H.H. Ragon" -- about seventeen pages written longhand on lined paper. It was copied and recorded by the Three Creeks Historical Assn., and is now at the Lowell Library. A copy of The Lowell Tribune of 1896 was also saved.
Elmer E. Ragon, eldest son of H.H. Ragon, was born in Ohio in 1862 and came to Lake County with his father. He was a partner in the newpaper office from 1890 to 1897, then sold his share to his brother, Leonard. Elmer married Henrietta Palmer in June 1890, and their two sons were Forrest and Chandos. Elmer's wife was the daughter of Adelbert and Marietta Palmer, early settlers.
His brother, Leonard W. Ragon, worked at The Tribune as a young man, became a partner in 1897, and continued on to 1942, when he sold his interest to his nephew, Charles Surprise, son of Lola Ragon Surprise and Ernest A. Surprise, of a pioneer family. Leonard was born Jan. 7, 1874, at North Liberty, where the family lived for three years.
Adelia Ragon (1880-1953), author of several books and numerous magazine articles, was known to her readers as Hurley Lee, and was the founder of the Lowell Garden Club and the Lake County Poetry Club. Leonard was active in the community as clerk-treasurer of Lowell for several years and served as the first secretary of the Lowell Vol. Fire Dept., an office he retained for more than two decades. His many trips to Indianapolis helped to bring the Carnegie Library to Lowell in the 1920's. He passed away in 1953, when his death was caused by an explosion of an oil stove.
When Len became a partner in the paper, his brother Cordie U. Ragon was learning the printing business in the back shop of the plant, and he too became a partner in the firm in 1912. Cordie was dedicated to the service of his community and was very interested in preserving the history of the Lowell area. He married Myrtle Hale in 1916 and lived on Clark St. for over four decades. Their children were John, Howard, Larry and Laura Jane (Belshaw). Cordie passed away at the age of 79. His son John Ragon, now of Arizona, worked at The Tribune office from 1938 to 1948.
Charles Lincoln Surprise, grandson of The Tribune founder and descendent of an 1833 pioneer family, was born near Lowell in 1911. He married a high school classmate, Lucille Searle, in 1931.
They had one son, Charles L. Surprise, Jr. Charles purchased Len's partnership in 1941 and became sole owner of the family paper when Cordie retired in 1949. He was very active in the Lowell communtiy and carried on the tradition of the Ragon family until he sold in 1961. In 1967 he purchased a paper in Florida, the Seminole Courier, which he sold in 1973 when he moved to Dunedin, Fla., where he worked at the Dunedin Printing Co. until 1986. He passed away in March 1987, at the age of 76.
In 1950 The Tribune acquired from the Wood estate a building 26-by-70-feet that was attached to its south wall. The two buildings were extensively remodeled into one, doubling the work area. The addition had been Lowell's first garage and was built by Merriman Castle in 1908.
The current owner of The Lowell Tribune is the president of Pilcher Publishing Co., Lyle H. Pilcher, who began his career in radio and moved into the newspaper business in his native Illinois. He served as publisher of the Woodstock Daily Sentinel in Woodstock, Ill,. before purchasing The Lowell Tribune in 1961 and moving to Lowell with his family, including his wife, Mary Jeanette Woods Pilcher, and the couple's three children, Gary, Janice and Craig.
At one time or another, all of the members of the family worked at the newspaper office, and the younger son, Craig Pilcher, is curretly in charge of the pressroom for the company. Mary Jeanette Pilcher compiles the 'By Gone Years' column, a weekly feature of The Lowell Tribune. Gary Pilcher, a former news editor of The Lowell Tribune and later manager of the company's Cedar Lake Journal, is now an account executive with The Times in Hammond.
In the 1960's, Pilcher Publishing Co. established The Cedar Lake Journal and The Southlake Advertiser to cover the market areas both north and south of Lowell with a weekly publication. Pilcher also purchased The Northern Star, a weekly newspaper serving Lake Village in adjacent Newton County in 1978.
Perhaps the biggest and most expensive innovation by Pilcher Publishing Co. came in 1967, when the company converted from letter press to offset printing and became one of very few newspapers of its size to own their own offset newspaper press. This conversion involved the purchase of an adjacent house and lot north of the offices, and the construction of a new, attached building, as well as the purchase and installation of a new Goss Community offset press that offers color capabilities along with regular black-and-white printing, combining speed with quality.
All-new offset equipment was purchased for the pressroom and composing room, and the office complex was remodeled and updated. Later, another new addition provided storage room for newsprint and other supplies.
The latest addition to Pilcher Publishing Co. was the rcent purchase of a former Indiana Bell Telephone switching station which is immediately south of the Pilcher Publiching Co. plant. This building will accommodate future expansion for The Lowell Tribune and Pilcher Publishing Co. as the newspapers and the community continue to grow.
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