Online Edition
Monday, December 22, 2014

History

We bring you today’s news — plus a little perspective along with it.

The newspaper which arrives on your driveway every weekday afternoon carries today’s news, but its own story stretches deep into Oxford’s history.

It was from the ashes of Civil War destruction that The Oxford EAGLE was born in 1865. Founded not far from where its offices presently stand, the newspaper has persevered into its third century today. While it’s had its ups and downs — from out-of-town to local ownership, through peaks and dives in its strength and success — the consistent theme remains the paper’s long-term commitment to the community it serves.

As Publisher Emeritus Jesse Phillips has said: “We were entrusted with ownership for a brief period of time. We dedicated the paper to the community, and the paper belongs to the people.”

The Oxford EAGLE timeline

The Oxford Falcon, 1872

1865 — Civil War veteran and former Holmes County newspaperman Samuel Moore Thompson founds The Oxford Falcon with the motto “Truth is a weapon with which we fight” blazing across its masthead.

1876 — The Falcon is sold to Patton B. Murray, who was elected mayor of Oxford four years later. Thompson launches a new paper to compete with The Falcon, called The Oxford EAGLE, beginning it as a four-page weekly newspaper on Feb. 11, 1876. Subscriptions were $2 a year. As The EAGLE established itself as Oxford’s newspaper, The Falcon suffered and folded by the late 1880s.

The Oxford EAGLE, 1888

1883 — Thompson’s wife, Eliza, takes over the publication after her husband’s sudden death. (He was shot and killed by a town marshall while he was apparently intoxicated and under arrest.) In an age when female publishers were quite rare, Mrs. Thompson went on to lead the newspaper for 35 years.

1915 — Mrs. Thompson sells the paper to George W. Price, who consolidates The EAGLE and The Lafayette County Press. One of the major concerns during his tenure was a proposal to move the University of Mississippi to Jackson.

1916 — The EAGLE gets its first linotype machine, and Price proposes making the paper an afternoon daily. He announced the shift would take place when the paper reached 500 subscribers — but he couldn’t find enough support to make it happen.

1924 — G.W. Williams of Houston buys the paper from Price and increases its size from four to eight pages.

1928 — J.B. Snider Jr., who owns several newspapers in north Mississippi and Tennessee, buys The EAGLE and adds it to his syndicate.

1933 — During the Great Depression, Curtis H. Mullen comes from Kansas to buy The EAGLE, bringing with him a desire to concentrate on local news coverage. In his 17-year tenure, The EAGLE increased in size, at times to 16 pages, and also ran a front-page story written by Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner.

1936 — The EAGLE wins an award for the best local coverage from the Mississippi Press Association.

1950 — Mullen sells the paper to Col. Eldon J. Hoar, an experienced journalist, who made it his goal to reach every family in the area and sponsored circulation contests to promote growth.

1955 — The EAGLE is purchased by L.P. Likely, a newspaper broker in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Glen Jones, owner of The Troy Messenger in Troy, Ala. The same year, The EAGLE splits from Rebel Press and Office Supply and moves into its current location on Jackson Avenue.

Goss offset press debuts, 1968

1961 — The EAGLE returns to local ownership when it is purchased by a new partnership: Jesse Phillips, Nina Goolsby and Walter S. Featherston. All three had worked at The EAGLE previously. Phillips had started as a linotype operator, Goolsby as a bookkeeper and Featherston as shop foreman.

1962 — The EAGLE covers major national events in its own back yard, with the death of Faulkner and the riots over James Meredith’s integration of Ole Miss occurring in the same year.

1968 — The EAGLE prints its first edition on a new three-unit Goss offset press, becoming the sixth newspaper in Mississippi to make the transition from letterpress to offset printing.

1971 — The EAGLE transitions from a weekly to a daily newspaper, publishing Monday through Friday.

Nina Goolsby & Jesse Phillips

1972 — Featherston retires from The EAGLE and Phillips and Goolsby buy out his share in ownership, setting up the two-family partnership that exists to this day. Goolsby’s daughter, Rita Vasilyev, joins the staff as office manager.

1975 — The LafaShopper News is established as a total-market-coverage product, distributed to every mailbox in Lafayette County with a focus on rural-community news.

1983 — Phillips’ eldest son, Dan, joins The EAGLE as assistant publisher. His son Tim also joins the paper full-time.

1985 — The EAGLE begins home delivery in Water Valley.

1986 — The monthly Home Market Guide debuts.

1990 — Vasilyev steps up to assume her mother’s interest in the newspaper.

1993Oxford Town is established as a free weekly arts-and-entertainment guide geared to reach younger readers.

1994 — A rare, dramatic ice storm shuts down The EAGLE’s press operation — along with virtually all of the Oxford-Lafayette-University community — on Feb. 10. Power was restored to the Square area the following day, and The EAGLE was able to publish on Feb. 11. Still, it was several days before some subscribers were able to receive their newspapers, as roadways had to be cleared before carriers could safely navigate their routes.

1996 — The EAGLE begins regularly running photographs in color, as digital photography and the addition of new press units made that upgrade possible.

2002 — The EAGLE partners with Oxford High School to sponsor The Oxford EAGLE Invitational, a spring track-and-field meet held each year at Bobby Holcomb Field. The title sponsorship has continued through the years, and the meet is usually held in the second half of March.

2005 — The sudden loss of Dan Phillips triggers changes at the family-owned newspaper. Tim Phillips and Rita Vasilyev become co-publishers, and sports editor Don Whitten takes on the of title editor. Jesse Phillips and Nina Goolsby take on the titles of publisher emeritus and editor emeritus, respectively.

Sources: “A History of The Oxford EAGLE,” Benjy Bailey, 1984; “Early History of Oxford, Mississippi,” Anne Percy, 2008.

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