Friday, January 13, 2017

D. Crosby Baxter: 
The Little Acorn
D. Crosby Baxter was a jack of many trades, but the one he may have been least adept at has had the most lasting effect on Ridgefield. In 1875, Baxter founded the town’s only newspaper. 
He admitted that he wasn’t very good at newspapering, but he knew Ridgefield needed a newspaper. So in the basement of his home on Main Street on Jan. 13, 1875, he started “Baxter’s

Monthly.” Within two months, the journal was a weekly named The Ridgefield Press.
Baxter was, as his obituary said in 1923,  “a unique character whose individuality stood apart from others.”
 Darius Crosby Baxter was born in Somers, N.Y.,  in 1842, and moved to Ridgefield with his parents when he was 11. He started out as a shoemaker, but turned to storekeeping for a livelihood after he lost his left hand in a blasting accident. 
In 1865, Baxter married  Flora E. Farvor of Washington, Conn. They lived for a while on West Lane, later on Catoonah Street, and then in a house he bought on Main Street just north of the building where Planet Pizza is. 
It was perhaps because of his dealings with fellow local merchants that Baxter realized a need for businesses to get their messages out. In 1875 at the age of 32, with no experience in either printing or journalism, he founded Baxter’s Monthly to do just that. He bought a printing press and began work in his basement. 
In the early days the paper was full of ads for local businesses but carried little “news.” Issues contained a few local social news items, usually reported in a light-hearted vein, as well as jokes, stories and poems.
An example of Baxter’s sense of humor appears on the third page of the first issue, under the headline, “Found”: “On the side walk, in front of the town house [hall], a piece of thin steel about too (sic) inches long, said to belonged (sic) to a ladies wardrobe and supposed to have been broken by making too low a bow to our curly-haired country clerk; the same can be had by calling at this office and paying for this ad.”
News items were often terse. In his “About Town” column one week in 1875, Baxter reported: “Warm. Potato bugs.” 
“The succinct quality of some of the writing may have been occasioned by the fact that every letter of type had to be picked up by hand, and Baxter had not been trained as a printer,” said Karl Nash in a history of The Press. And, of course, he had only one hand to work with.
Subscriptions were initially 75 cents a year, but once the paper went weekly, rose to $1.25 — about $27 in today’s money. That’s a lot, and apparently Baxter had trouble getting enough subscribers for a while. In 1877, he printed a notice saying he’d take produce to pay for a subscription “if the party has no cash.”
Incidentally, the first subscriber was William W. Seymour, great-great grandfather of future publisher Karl Nash and great-great-great grandfather of the next publisher, Thomas B. Nash. (In more small-town connections, Karl Nash’s first wife was Dorothy Baxter, granddaughter of D. Crosby, and Karl’s sister, Elizabeth, longtime treasurer of The Press, was married to Frank Baxter, D. Crosby’s grandson.)
Twenty five years after he founded the paper, Baxter reflected on the early days. “The first paper was printed on a Kelsey press made at Meriden, Conn.,” he wrote in 1900. “It was just large enough to print one page at a time; in fact, I did not have type to print only one page at a time. 
“Hon. R. J. Walsh of Greenwich, Conn., was a great friend of the little paper from the start, and done a great deal for it. We used to be up late at night after many had gone to their slumber, thinking what we could fill up the paper with, as we did not know anything about paper work.”
He said it “took all our spare time (a month) to get the paper out on time, for I did not know anything about setting type and sometimes I would make a mistake and have to set it all over again.”
He got help with the editorial content from folks like Hubert Main, the hymn composer (also profiled in Who Was Who), who would write humorous pieces; Dr. W.S. Todd, a local physician; and Henry Mead, a Main Street businessman.
Baxter’s motto for the paper was “Tall oaks from little acorns grow.” “It took hard work to have it grow,” Baxter said. “I got discouraged a lot of times, but I made up my mind it should grow to be a large tree, and it has, to a large and healthy tree. Many spoke discouraging words of the little sheet, but others encouraged me to keep it growing for perhaps if I had not started the little paper, Ridgefield would never had had a paper.”
His motto remained in place through the 20th Century, and when the Nash brothers, Karl and John, bought the operation in 1937, they named their company Acorn Press. The newspaper, now part of the multimedia, 12-newspaper Hersam Acorn Network, still has an image of an acorn in the nameplate at the top of the front page.
Five years after he began, Baxter moved the operations to the Masonic Hall. (The building next to town hall burned down in the great first of 1895 — but The Press did not miss that week’s issue, which carried extensive coverage of the blaze. A new Masonic Hall was quickly built, and The Press resumed work there, remaining until 1938 when the Nash brothers moved it to its present location in an old automobile garage on Bailey Avenue.
By the time Baxter sold the operation in 1880 to Charles W. Lee, The Press was running eight broadsheet pages. Only two of those pages were local news and advertising, however; the rest was “boilerplate” news, features and ads that had been prepared by a company in New York City.
Baxter next opened what was to be the town’s first livery stable. There he sold and rented horses, and performed taxi services, such as bringing people from and taking them to the train station on Prospect Street. Twenty five years later, the town had three livery stables.
After that, he ran a country market, called the Lakeview Store, on North Salem Road in the Scotland district. Around 1920, when he was in his late 70s, failing health forced him to retire. He died in 1923 at the age of 80.

“Mr. Baxter was gifted with good business senses and a sense of humor,” said his obituary, tersely adding, “He had many terse sayings.”

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