By Ann Marie Linnabery
Union-Sun & Journal
In less than two years, the Union-Sun & Journal will celebrate the merger of the two Lockport newspapers that now comprise the current publication. The Union-Sun and the Daily Journal both had long and complicated histories before coming together to create one newspaper.
Lockport’s newspaper business actually began in 1821, in the village of Lewiston. At that time several locations in Niagara County were vying for the designation of the new county seat (prior to this the county seat was at Buffalo, but when Erie County was established, Niagara County needed a new county seat). Lewiston and Lockport, the two most populous villages in the county, were the leading contenders for this honor. — but one thing Lewiston had that Lockport did not was a newspaper.
The Niagara Democrat, a weekly paper published by Bartemus Ferguson, was begun in late 1821. It did not have a long life in Lewiston. In early 1822, Ferguson and his press were induced to move to Lockport to assist in boosting land sales in an effort to increase the population.
With the prospect of the Erie Canal cutting through the village and now an official newspaper, Lockport was a shoo-in to win the county seat.
The Niagara Democrat did not have a very long life in Lockport either. It was soon replaced by the Lockport Observatory, which was the first newspaper in the United States to use a composition ink roller. At this time in history, advertisements for good and services, as well as “personal” ads, (lost cow, etc.) dominated the front page of the paper. Very little news was recorded unless it was local or a major national story.
In the late 1820s, the Morgan Affair was the lead story in most New York state newspapers. By 1827 a second paper, the Lockport Sentinel (formerly the Niagara Sentinel, also originally from Lewiston), was competing with the Observatory for readers. These two papers merged in 1828 to form the Democrat and Sentinel. A year later the name was changed to the Lockport Balance.
A very short-lived Lockport Gazette appeared in 1833 and joined the Balance in 1834. To complicate this newspaper family tree, a new Niagara Democrat was started in 1835. That paper merged with the Balance in 1838 to form the Niagara Democrat and Lockport Balance, published by Oramus Turner. A fire in 1843 destroyed that office and when publication was resumed, the paper was called only the Niagara Democrat.
Two other short-lived newspapers, the Lockport Daily Courier and the Lockport Daily Dispatch existed between 1845 and 1847.
Another fire in 1849 damaged the Democrat offices.
In the meantime, another publisher from Niagara Falls started the Niagara Cataract, a Free Soil paper which he later renamed the Lockport Daily Journal. The Democrat moved into offices at Niagara and Canal streets — and was promptly destroyed again in the Great Fire of 1854.
That same year, the Lockport Daily Advertiser began publication. In 1858, it in turn merged with the Democrat to become the Lockport Daily Advertiser and Democrat.
With the issue of slavery and the election of 1860, yet another newspaper appeared in Lockport. The Daily Union supported the Democratic candidate Stephen Douglas. Two years later, the Daily Union bought out the Advertiser and Democrat, and continued it as a semi-weekly.
In 1876 the Daily Union and the Democrat were located in the Hodge Opera House. Once again a fire destroyed the newspaper offices when the Hodge burned down in 1881. A year later the offices reopened in the new Hodge Opera House.
Fast forward ten years and yet another paper is started. The Lockport Sun debuted in 1891, and four years later merged with the Daily Union to form the Union-Sun. In 1915, the final consolidation took place when the Union-Sun bought out the Daily Journal to become the Lockport Union-Sun and Journal.
In the Charles Rand Penney Collection at the Erie Canal Discovery Center, there are examples of the name tags that newsboys wore that were issued by the Lockport Board of Education.
The winter hours for the Discovery Center are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Historical Society is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Stop in and see local history up close and personal.