Yesteryears: James H. Lindsay - The Daily Progress: Lifestyles

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Yesteryears: James H. Lindsay

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Posted: Sunday, January 29, 2012 6:00 am | Updated: 10:48 am, Wed Jan 23, 2013.


The young newspaper publisher, a few months shy of his 30th birthday, never forgot where he was at that precise moment in time.

It was Sept. 14, 1892, and James Hubert Lindsay and his brother Frank were hard at work in a room above a carriage shop at 112 Fourth St. NE. in Charlottesville. Frank Lindsay, unable to hear or speak, likely smiled as he felt the floor began to vibrate through the soles of his work boots.

As the secondhand Campbell flatbed press rattled and clanged to life, the brothers knew it was a pivotal moment in their lives. As the grease warmed and the press reached printing speed, the first issue of The Daily Progress came into existence.

It didn’t take long to churn out enough copies for the 200 subscribers who had signed up. James Lindsay, founder and publisher of the newspaper, had gone personally house to house, business to business seeking subscribers.

Most people gave the enterprise no chance of becoming anything other than a failure. Charlottesville already had two longstanding weekly newspapers, the Chronicle and the Jeffersonian Republican.

One of the weekly publishers gave the new daily “six weeks” of life and the other “three months at the most.” The veteran newspapermen obviously didn’t know Lindsay, but they would.

In 1894 the “foreign-produced” daily, as one publisher called The Daily Progress, absorbed the Jeffersonian Republican. Three years later, it took over the Chronicle as well.

Lindsay might have been perceived by his detractors as a young upstart when he founded The Daily Progress. If they had known his history, they wouldn’t have been so dismissive.

Lindsay was born near Warrenton on Dec. 29, 1862, to Stephen Clark and Annie Morgan Lindsay. His father was a lieutenant in the Warrenton Rifles during the Civil War and went on to distinguish himself as a teacher.

Lindsay’s formal education was provided almost entirely by his father. It was so thorough that, at the age of 15, he was hired to teach grade-school students in Staunton.

The future publisher did so well that after a year he was given a classroom of his own and 60 students to educate. After teaching for two years, Lindsay left the job to study for a year at the University of Virginia.

In 1880 Lindsay moved to Kernersville, N.C., where he started the Kernersville News. It wasn’t long before the weekly newspaper had earned respect and was having a telling impact on the political affairs of the state.

Annie Sieg, an attractive young lady living in Kernersville, made a lasting impact on Lindsay. They married, and, on Oct. 4, 1886, celebrated the birth of their first child, Norma.

The joy of starting their family soon was overshadowed when Lindsay became seriously ill. Bedridden, he was forced to sell the newspaper.

When Lindsay was well enough to travel, he moved his family back to Staunton. With his health restored, he landed a job teaching at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind.

But Lindsay had discovered two loves in North Carolina — one for a woman and the other for newspaper work. In 1890 he left his teaching job to start the Basic City Advance in Basic City.

Basic City has since become a part of Waynesboro, but back then it was an entity unto itself. Lindsay showed his publishing courage and loyalty toward the local citizens when he wrote about the shortcomings of a city magistrate.

The story made the local politician spitting mad, and he sued Lindsay for libel. Lindsay won the case, but lawyer fees had burned through what little financial cushioning he had.

Once again, Lindsay experienced the anguish of having to shutter a weekly newspaper through no fault of his own. His answer was to start a daily newspaper.

In August 1892, Lindsay, along with his family and brother Frank, left Basic City for a fresh start in Charlottesville. He knew the city was vibrant, growing and ripe for a daily newspaper.

With less than $600 in working capital, Lindsay bought the small press, a case of type and a few other necessities. Brother Frank was key to success, having become an expert typesetter, press operator and page designer at the Basic City Advance.

In the first edition, Lindsay spelled out the main objective for The Daily Progress, which hasn’t changed in nearly 120 years. The newspaper would cover state, national and international news, but that wouldn’t be its focus.

The newspaper’s main mission would be to provide the “local daily happenings of Charlottesville, the University, the County of Albemarle and the Seventh Congressional District.”

Continually growing circulation numbers proved Lindsay right in believing the city was ready for a daily newspaper. That alone did not ensure its success.

What ultimately kept the newspaper in business during the early years was Lindsay’s remarkable work ethic. He sold ads, wrote editorials and stories, made up pages and even collected the three pennies when people dropped by his office for a copy of the news of the day.

Somehow Lindsay found the energy and time to serve as a member of the State Constitutional Convention in 1901-2. He also served on the board for the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind for the rest of his life.

Lindsay was an active member of the local Presbyterian church, Rotary Club, Red Land Club, Farmington Country Club, Young Men’s Business Club and Elks and was a Knight Templar Mason and Shriner. In addition to his newspaper duties, he was a director of the National Bank and Trust Company and also served on the city council and the city school board.

As accomplished as Lindsay was in business and civic matters, these weren’t the only things that defined him. The father of four would be remembered for qualities many would see as vastly more important than monetary success or business savvy.

Lindsay died unexpectedly on Feb. 7, 1933, at his winter home in Orlando, Fla., from complications brought on by a bout with the flu. Only then did the full breadth of his character start to be realized by the local citizenry.

As one person put it, “Mr. Lindsay’s gentility was innate, natural and unassumed. In all the relations of life, he bore himself with dignity, forbearance and gentleness.

“When it came to a generous act or good deed, he never counted the cost, and many are his good deeds that are unknown and unsung.”

On Feb. 9, 1933, a simple funeral service was held for Lindsay in the church where he and his family worshipped. The turnout was so large that many people couldn’t get into the church.

Perhaps even more telling of the esteem and love Lindsay had earned during his time in Charlottesville was what occurred after the brief church service. With the recited words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” fresh in their minds, hundreds of people followed the funeral cortege to Monticello Memorial Park.

A brutal cold front, carried by near gale-force winds, had slammed into the area overnight. It was 12 degrees on the morning of the funeral, and the mercury hardly budged from there.

Lindsay no doubt would have been deeply touched by the number of people who braved the numbing cold to be by his graveside. And he certainly would have been proud to know that a very sad, shocked and subdued work force made sure the afternoon edition of his beloved newspaper got published as usual.

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