By 1852, Boonville and the surrounding communities were bustling.
The Black River Canal was in construction, the area dairy industry was thriving, and proprietor Ela Kent thought that a busy place like Boonville needed a newspaper. He entered a partnership with printer J.H. Norton, and together they raised $200 to begin publishing the Boonville Ledger. They started with 100 subscribers. Six months into the venture, Norton withdrew and his interest was bought out by Kent, who continued publishing the Boonville Ledger for another three years.
Kent was an early abolitionist and took great pride in publishing the speeches of Gerrit (sometimes spelled Gerritt) Smith, a wealthy social reformer from Utica.
1855 was a busy year in Boonville. The village was incorporated, the Utica-Black River Railroad was completed from Utica, the Black River Canal was fully operational, and the Boonville Ledger was sold and the name changed to the Black River Herald.
Records indicate the venture was purchased by a group of men associated with the construction of the Black River Canal: Oscar Wetmore, William Ward, Charles Grant, and John Wilson. The group of investors disagreed politically (this was during a heated time nationally of pro-slavery versus anti-slavery movements) and ownership was transferred to publisher L.C. Childs. The group of investors reportedly lost a sum of $2,000 in the venture.
L.C. Childs operated the Black River Herald from an upstairs office of the Buck Block, behind Norton Jenks photography studio. He sold the newspaper to Harvey Willard in 1862. L.C. Childs moved south to Utica and went on to have a successful career in printing. Later, the Buck Block, and the adjacent Owens Block, burned to the ground in 1887.
Before purchasing the Black River Herald, Harvey Willard led a proprietary school on Main Street in Boonville, and served as an educator in Lowville, New York, and in the state of Kentucky. When he purchased the newspaper, he renamed it the Boonville Herald, a name that has stuck ever since. Willard first published from his Post Street office before relocating the Boonville Herald to a new building on Main Street, which was dubbed the Herald Building. (Unfortunately, this is one of the buildings destroyed by fire on Jan. 7 2020.)
The Willard Press published the Boonville Herald from office space located behind the Boonville Herald. The first linotype machine for the press was purchased in 1896, and a second one was added in 1914. Before the linotype machine, compositors had to cast type by hand for every issue of the newspaper.
Around the year 1892, a rival newspaper was founded in Boonville by J.W. Donnelly, called the Boonville Record. While the Boonville Herald slanted Republican, the newer Boonville Record was a Democratic-leaning publication.
The Willard family held ownership of the Boonville Herald for nearly a century. When Harvey Willard died in 1887, his son Garry Willard, a staunch Republican, took the helm. In addition to serving as publisher of the Boonville Herald, Willard also held numerous local and county political offices, including being elected State Senator in 1900. Not only was Willard active politically, but he was also very active in his community. He was president of the Board of Education for 24 years, director and president of the Boonville Fair Association, and president of the Boonville Light Commission. He died in 1933 at the age of 73 and his daughter Gladys Willard Musser then became publisher of the Boonville Herald.
She led the newspaper until her death in 1954, at which point her husband, Clayton Musser, took over until his death four years later. Musser, a Princeton University alum, invested in modernized equipment to continue developing the Willard Press, publishers of the Boonville Herald.
He, like his father-in-law, was an active member of society. Musser served as postmaster, president of the Boonville Fair Association, and president and founder of Boonville Kiwanis Club.
After Musser’s death, his daughters and their husbands continued operation of the Willard Press and Boonville Herald as executors of the Estate of Clayton Musser.
In 1960 they sold the press and paper to brothers William Frey and Russell Frey of the state of Ohio, who were well-known newspaper publishers in the journalism industry.
The Frey brothers sold the Boonville Herald to James and Gladys Tindall sometime in the 1960’s, who continued to publish the newspaper from Main Street, until they sold it to Livingston Lansing in 1972.
Lansing moved the newspaper’s operations from Main Street to Schuyler Street, into the former headquarters for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the same building the Boonville Herald still operates from. The building is now the Boonville Professional Building, owned by Financial Advisor Andrew M. Weimer. In addition to the Boonville Herald, the building hosts Weimer’s Northwestern Mutual office and other businesses.
Like publishers before him, Lansing was an active member of Boonville society. He was a founding member of the Tug Hill Commission and served as a Commissioner from 1973 to 1991. He was involved in the erection of the WBRV radio station and kept detailed records of North Country weather. When Lansing died in 1992 at age 81, the Boonville Herald was purchased by his daughter-in-law Kathy Lansing. She led the newspaper into the next millennium, and then sold the Herald to Joe Kelly in 2001.
Kelly brought to the Herald an abundance of experience from his career in journalism with the Utica Observer Dispatch. He owned the newspaper until it was purchased by the Waters family, owners of Rome Daily Sentinel company, in 2019.
The Boonville Herald continues its operation under the ownership of the Sentinel, with publisher Brad Waters at the helm, and Sandra Hrim as editor. Waters is the sixth generation of Waters to lead the Rome Daily Sentinel, which is the seventh oldest family-owned newspaper in the United States.
One of the strengths of the Boonville Herald is its strong network of contributors and community correspondents. One of the Herald’s contributors, photographer Nichole Kent Moore, has a special connection to the newspaper. Her great-great-grandfather was Ela Kent, the man who first started the newspaper in 1852. While doing genealogy research, Nichole came across Ela’s obituary, where it stated that he started the first newspaper in Boonville, the Boonville Ledger. She didn’t realize at the time that the Ledger later became the Boonville Herald, which she coincidently now works for. She said her great-aunt, Bertha Ernst Dulak, was also involved with the newspaper business, working for the Rome Sentinel, now owners of the Boonville Herald, for over 20 years in photography and sales.
Nichole said she is proud to provide her time and photos to the newspaper that started with her family generations ago. Her content, along with news and articles from the rest of the area’s contributors, will hopefully be enjoyed by readers for generations to come.
The Kents of West Leyden
The book, “From the Files of the Town Historian” by Boonville Town Historian James Pitcher, published in 1995 by the Adirondack Communities Advisory League, contains information about the Kent family of West Leyden, with an emphasis on Ela Kent.
A chapter in the book, “The Kents of West Leyden,” states: “The West Leyden Kent family should not be confused with the Kent family that settled very early in the Town of Remsen. Although there are many parallels to be drawn between these two families, and circumstantial evidence suggesting a kinship, no firm link has been established. Each branch of the name Kent arrived in the North Country early in the opening and settlement of this once vast wilderness.”
Ela Kent was born in the Town of Lewis, Lewis County, near the village of West Leyden, on July 31, 1815. His paternal grandfather was Benjamin Kent and his grandfather on his mother’s side was Nathan Pelton. Both came with their families from Connecticut soon after the close of the Revolutionary War. Ela was a son of Enos Kent, and was one of a family of 14 children. Most of his life was spent in West Leyden and Boonville. He took an active interest in the affairs of Boonville in his earlier days, and was associated with Robert Bamber and Samuel Bateman in building the first school house in that village.
He had also been connected with the newspaper business, being the proprietor of the first paper ever published in Boonville, having established the Boonville Ledger in 1851/52. (See related story above.)
Ela Kent passed away in 1907 at age 91 at the home of his son, Remember Kent, on Point Rock Road, north of Lee Center. He was predeceased by his wife Ana Eliza Wheeler Kent. He was survived by his children, Mrs. John Lewis, Perry Kent, and Remember Kent, great-grandfather of current Boonville Herald photographer Nichole Kent Moore, who coincidently was born and still resides in the Town of Lewis. Nichole is the daughter of Larry Kent, son of Verena (Ernst) and Reuben Kent (Remember’s son).
Kent homestead: The home of Enos Kent (father of Ela Kent) was one of the first frame houses built in Lewis County. It was located one half mile east of Rt. 26 on what is now called the Golden Road. Early relatives of Trainors and Kents were posing in front of the ancestral home. (Photo from the book, “From the Files of the Town Historian” by Boonville Town Historian James Pitcher.)