The present-day Lodi News-Sentinel began in a small Elm Street office when the first newspaper sheets were pulled off an old hand-operated press 120 years ago on July 9, 1881.
The first newspaper was filled with plain black type, with huge type across the top of page one that read: The Sentinel.
Huddled around the press that day were the newspaper’s founders Ralph Ellis, his 22-year-old son Wilson R. Ellis and Jack W. McQuaid.
Ralph Ellis, a native of New York who traveled to California during the gold rush, had a colorful past that would not seem to lead to newspaper publishing. He transported bags of gold dust for a Downieville bank during the unsettled mining days. He then served as sheriff of Napa County where he farmed and built the state’s first grist mill. He moved to Stockton, then Lodi where he operated a flour mill. Then he decided to launch into the entirely different field of publishing and go into business with his son.
Ellis sold the flour mill in early 1881 and put up the money to buy the Washington hand press and set up the business.
It was not the first newspaper in Lodi, but is the one that has survived 120 years, remained independent and is one of the few local family-owned newspapers in the state.
The Lodi News-Sentinel is one of 21 known newspapers to have published in the Lodi and northern San Joaquin County area since 1865. The Lodi News-Sentinel and the Lockeford-Clements News, founded in 1948, are the only newspapers in the region still publishing.
In July 1881, the newspaper office was located at 11 W. Elm St. It was a weekly newspaper, distributed each Saturday. Subscribers paid $2.50 per year for the Sentinel in advance.
From the beginning, the Sentinel was independent and bold in its support of the community of 800 people and continually urged for town improvements. In the first issue, editor Wilson Ellis took issue with Lodi’s notoriety for drunkenness, and he berated men who beat their families and animals.
Early issues of the newspaper often urged town leaders to adopt fire protection procedures to protect “the wooden range” of buildings along Sacramento Street.
The April 28, 1883 Lodi Sentinel announced that Wilson Ellis purchased McQuaid’s interest in the newspaper. McQuaid stayed on to operate the printing equipment. Wilson Ellis was listed as editor and proprietor in the paper.
Around the early to mid-1880s, Ralph Ellis went to Woodland and bought the Morning Mail newspaper. At various times, Ralph Ellis and his three sons, Wilson, Frank and Henry, were all involved in editing and publishing the Woodland newspaper and the Lodi Sentinel.
In July 1883, Ralph Ellis was listed as the Lodi Sentinel editor and business manager. In that issue, he commented on the business. “The Lodi Sentinel is entering upon its third year with renewed hope and courage. Our aim is to continue to respect the law, fight the saloons, tell the truth and make a little money. But how can we do it with so many of our readers insisting on paying us with stove wood and watermelons?”
By the turn of the century, the Lodi Sentinel had moved its office five times and began using water-powered presses. On April 30, 1901, the Lodi Sentinel began publishing three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
On July 1, 1901, the Lodi Sentinel announced that Samuel B. Axtell bought the newspaper from the Ellis family. Axtell began as manager of the newspaper in 1893. He was the most controversial owner of the newspaper. On June 16, 1911, Axtell calmly walked into a downtown garage, then shot and killed businessman Charles Sollars. Axtell suspected Sollars of leaking information to the Stockton Mail about Axtell’s car, occupied by unmarried female schoolteachers, being involved in an accident. Axtell was convicted of murder in a highly sensational trial. He was sentenced to Folsom Prison.
Axtell sold the Lodi Sentinel to his employees Fordyce P. Roper and George H. Moore on Sept. 5, 1911, for $25,000.
Throughout these early years there were several different newspapers, which competed with the Lodi Sentinel. Among them was the Lodi News, which began in 1916. M.Z. Ramsburgin started the Northern San Joaquin County News, which later was shortened to the Lodi News by its new owner Fred DeMille in 1918. Delmar B. Rinfret, 24, became DeMille’s partner in 1918.
The News began daily publication in 1923. In response to the competition, the Lodi Sentinel began daily publication, Monday through Saturday, in March 1924. On July 24, 1935, the Lodi Sentinel, then owned solely by Roper, merged with the competing Lodi News, owned by Clyde C. Church. This merger was reportedly at the request of local merchants who signed a petition.
The first edition of the merged Lodi News-Sentinel appeared on this date. Church was named publisher, and Roper was named editor. Roper’s son-in-law Arthur Marquardt joined the News-Sentinel as a sports editor in 1935. Marquardt was the writer of the hugely popular local column, “Over the Morning Coffee,” for years in the News-Sentinel. In 1944, Marquardt became a part owner of the Lodi News-Sentinel with Church.
The April 1, 1959, edition of the Lodi News-Sentinel announced that Fred Weybret, previously owner of the Paso Robles Daily Press, purchased the newspaper from Church and Marquardt.
In November 1968, the Lodi News-Sentinel moved for the eighth time in its history. Weybret moved the offices from 212 W. Pine St. to the newspaper’s present 15,000-square-foot building at the southwest corner of Church and Locust streets.
Weybret, who has owned the newspaper longer than any previous owner, today shares ownership of the Lodi News-Sentinel with his sons, Marty and Jim Weybret.
Marty Weybret assumed position as the editor and publisher on July 1, 1998, and Fred Weybret is chairman of the family-owned corporation.