The Rise And Fall of the DelCo Press

Today is the last day of this blog’s first year. As stated in the first post, the hope was to provide local information that isn’t found elsewhere. This year the DelCo Times published lengthy articles on the county races with a mention of the Chester City council race, but little beyond that. There wasn’t much about local candidates in the run-up to the election either (outside of opinion pieces). Eddystone’s mayor’s race was a squeaker, tied for a long time. Folcroft’s mayor’s race saw a surge of write-ins. Some towns flipped from one party’s control to the other. Others, like Parkside were split. The results indicate there were stories out there. But they weren’t covered so we don’t know those stories. It wasn’t always this way.

Results of the 1877 elections from the Nov. 7th edition

The oldest municipal election newspaper in the online archives is the 1877 Chester Daily Times. In those days the paper was only four pages, with ads. There were no pictures, so it was columns of text. Even then, there wasn’t much space for local election news – just enough for state and federal news as well as local society happenings. I’m not sure what the Director of the Poor did, but in those days (when mostly only white men could vote, despite the 14th amendment passed in 1868), Nether Providence cast a total of 122 votes in this race in its single precinct. Media had been created in 1850, but Brookhaven, Parkside and Rose Valley wouldn’t exist until the 20th century. The first Chester Times reporting in 1883 was largely similar, though the paper expanded to six pages.

I had hoped to find the election results from 1921, but those newspapers seem to be missing from the archive, so instead I looked at 1923. In that year’s November newspapers, it was being reported that Berlin had its first anti-Jewish riots and a certain Adolf Hitler escaped arrest for the part he played in a “monarchist uprising” (what is now called the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler was arrested two days later). By this time, Chester was a proper city with 11 wards and 39 precincts. Like modern times, results took several days to be tabulated, so the stories rolled out over multiple days in the paper. About 450 people voted in Nether Providence’s two precincts (the 19th amendment was passed in 1920 granting women the right to vote). One of my favorite stories is from the front page of the Nov. 8th paper,

Rutledge Was Scene Of Spirited Contest
“Joe” Sapp, Private Constable for Yorkes, the “Fining Squire” Defeated

The people of Rutledge borough for the second time within two months, decided that they did not propose to elect Joseph A. Sapp constable, in order that he might serve as the private officer for D. Martin Yorkes, the “fining” squire of Millbourne.

At the primary election in September, Sapp was defeated by Albert Hansen by a large majority. Not satisfied with his defeat, Sapp ran on an independent ticket, having the sole support of his “boss.” Hansen won by a vote of 115 to 53.

Sapp’s tenure in office will end on December 31 this year.

Hansen is a member of the Keystone Automobile Club, and he came out as a candidate, not because he wanted the office of constable, but because he wanted to defeat Sapp.

A few days before election, Yorkes, in a full page advertisement in a county newspaper, assailed J. Borton Works, president of the Keystone Automobile Club, and the club itself, and lauded Sapp as a man who was endeavoring to uphold the law.

It is evident by the large vote which Hansen received that the people of Rutledge still have confidence in J. Borton Works, who was reared in that borough and who commands the respect and admiration of the townspeople.

Some of the results from the 1923 election from the Nov. 8th edition

In 1923, the paper had started reporting on some of the municipal elections of interest with short pieces. At this time though, the newspaper had an entire page of “Daily Happenings of Interesting Character From Upper Tier Towns” and another page for the “Lower Tier Towns”. Two pages entirely dedicated to local news items. I’m not sure how the differentiation between Upper and Lower was made – possibly geographical. There’s no mention of Wallingford or Nether Providence, but articles about “South Media” seem to refer to parts of Nether Providence. “Media Town Talk” is a regular column here, and sometimes – probably in slow news days – contained pieces such as the item about the couple that just had their home in Media repainted.

Election results from the Nov. 3rd edition of the 1971 DelCo Times

By 1971, the now Delaware County Times provided extensive coverage of elections at all levels of government, including the election of controversial Philly Mayor Frank Rizzo. The front page of the Nov. 3rd edition promises, “Election stories and pictures on Pages 2, 4, 16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 31 and Section 2.” not to mention several articles on the front page itself. I didn’t see vote tallies as in previous newspapers – probably because there were then too many precincts to print individual results for. In other papers I’ve looked at from the era, there was at least brief mention of the local contested races. This was probably the height of the newsroom, from this point coverage of local races and events starts to fall, to the present day.

As a rough estimate, it would take an average of about 2 hours/week to cover township meetings, and probably about the same for school boards. There are 49 municipalities in Delaware County and 15 school districts. That’s about 128 hours/week of time – at least 3 staff members, to cover all of the local news in Delaware County – and that’s without paying close attention to any of the secondary committee meetings where much of the business happens. The county itself would take another staff member, so it’d probably need to be a team of about 4 journalists to cover just politics for all of Delaware County. In 1971, they must have had that kind of staff, but we’re a long way from there today.

Categories: Government