With this weekend edition, the Lodi News-Sentinel is marking its 125th year of publication.
The present-day Lodi News-Sentinel began on July 9, 1881 in a small office at 11 West Elm Street. It was called the Lodi Sentinel then. The name was changed to the Lodi News-Sentinel when the newspaper acquired the Lodi News in 1935.
It was not the first newspaper in Lodi, but it is the one that has survived 125 years and continues to publish as one of the few local family owned newspapers in the state. The Lodi News-Sentinel is one of about 12 known newspapers published in Lodi since the pioneer settlement was established with the railroad depot in 1869. The Lodi News-Sentinel is the oldest newspaper and likely the oldest continually operated business in San Joaquin County.
The first edition of the Lodi Sentinel that hot July day in 1881 was printed on four pages. The newspaper's founders - Ralph Ellis, his 22-year-old son Wilson R. Ellis and Jack W. McQuaid - likely were huddled around the press as they pulled off the first pages.
Ralph Ellis had a colorful past. A New York native who came to California during the Gold Rush, Ellis had been a miner, a Wells Fargo agent and a stage guard, flour mill owner, farmer and Napa County Sheriff. Ellis was 52 when he advanced the funds to start the Lodi Sentinel with his son Wilson as editor and McQuaid as printer.
In the first issue, Wilson Ellis wrote an article that took issue with the town's notoriety for drunkenness. He also fearlessly berated men who beat their families and animals, referring to those individuals as "scoundrels and inhuman beasts."
The Lodi Sentinel at first was a weekly, published every Saturday. Subscribers paid $2.50 per year, in advance.
Pleas go unanswered
From the beginning, the Sentinel was independent in politics and bold in its support of the community of 800 people. The Sentinel consistently editorialized for town improvements. Early issues often pushed for a library and pleaded with town leaders to take fire prevention measures to protect "the wooden range" of buildings along Sacramento Street. The newspaper's pleas went unanswered, and a disastrous fire in 1887 destroyed most of the business district.
The Lodi Sentinel also boldly took on rival newspapers. Its youthful founder Wilson Ellis zealously criticized the Valley Review for grammatical errors and even had a contest, with prizes, for schoolchildren who found errors in the rival newspaper.
The April 28, 1883 Lodi Sentinel announced that Wilson Ellis bought McQuaid's interest in the paper. McQuaid stayed on as printer, and Wilson Ellis was editor and proprietor. In the early 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 and Lodi newspapers.
In July 1883, Ralph Ellis was listed as 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?"
In September 1887, Thomas W. Boalt bought half of the Lodi Sentinel from Frank Ellis. For the next five months, the newspaper was published daily. By February 1888, the owners abandoned this ambitious effort and returned to a weekly schedule.
Colorful, fearless - and violent
By the turn of the century, the Lodi Sentinel had moved its offices five times and began using water-powered presses. On April 30, 1901, the Lodi Sentinel changed from a weekly and 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, a native of Woodbridge, had been working as manager of the Lodi Sentinel since 1893. Axtell was a colorful, fearless writer and the most controversial owner of the newspaper.
At 10 a.m. on June 16, 1911, Axtell followed businessman Charles Sollars into the Lodi Garage on Pine Street. As Sollars was working on his automobile, Axtell shot Sollars two times. Sollars died the next day, and Axtell was charged with murder. While Axtell was jailed, the newspaper continued publishing with employees Fordyce P. Roper and George H. Moore working on Axtell's behalf.
On Sept. 5, 1911, Roper and Moore bought the Lodi Sentinel from Axtell for $25,000. Two months later, Axtell was found guilty and sentenced to life in Folsom Prison. About that time Roper and Moore bought the assets of the defunct Lodi Post, and within six years, they had paid off their obligation.
In June 1914, the Lodi Sentinel moved to 11 North School Street. This was the paper's sixth location and its home for the next 33 years.
Throughout the early years, the Lodi Sentinel competed against several different newspapers. Among them was the Lodi News. M. Z. Ramsburgin started the Northern San Joaquin County News in 1916. Its new owner, Fred DeMille, shortened the name to Lodi News in 1918. That year Delmar B. Rinfret, 24, became DeMille's partner.
The News started publishing daily in 1923. In response, the Sentinel began daily publication, Monday through Saturday, in March 1924. The two newspapers kept at their head-to-head competition for readers and advertisers for the next 11 years.
On July 24, 1935, the Lodi Sentinel merged with the competing Lodi News, and the new masthead of Lodi News-Sentinel appeared at the top of the single newspaper. This merger was reportedly at the request of local businessmen who circulated a petition. Roper, who acquired total ownership of the Sentinel one month earlier when Moore left to become state printer, was named editor. Clyde C. Church, owner of the News since 1933, was named publisher. Circulation of the new combined newspaper was listed at 4,627.
Arthur Marquardt, Roper's son-in-law, joined the News-Sentinel as a sports editor in 1935. The next year he started his daily column, "Over the Morning Coffee." With the exception of a time in 1942 when he was called to National Guard duty in World War II, Marquardt's column appeared in the News-Sentinel until his retirement in 1959.
On May 30, 1947, the News-Sentinel moved to its seventh location at 212 West Pine Street. Marquardt, who became Church's partner in 1944 when he purchased the Roper interest, was editor, and Church continued as publisher.
Weybret family expands, modernizes
The April 1, 1959, edition announced that Fred Weybret, previously owner of the Paso Robles Daily Press, bought the Lodi News-Sentinel from Marquardt and Church. Weybret, owner for the last 47 years, has operated the newspaper longer than any other previous individual. Today, Weybret shares ownership of the newspaper with his two sons, Marty and Jim Weybret.
In November 1968, the Lodi News-Sentinel moved for the eighth time. Weybret built a new building on the former site of the Bethel Open Bible Church on the southwest corner of Church and Locust streets. A 32-page Duplex Unitubular press was installed in the basement, which allowed more ground level space for employee parking, warehouse storage, offices and production rooms.
In 1979, the Lodi News-Sentinel removed the "hot type" letterpress and replaced it with the "cold type" offset press system that uses computers and a photographic process to print newspapers.
On May 4, 1998, the News-Sentinel entered the age of electronic publication with the debut of its Web site http://www.lodinews.com.
In 125 years, the Lodi News-Sentinel has kept pace with the community from its population of 800 to today's more than 62,000 citizens. When the newspaper was born, type was set and papers printed by hand-operated press. Today, the Lodi News-Sentinel is printed on the 12-unit Goss Community press capable of churning out 18,000 newspapers an hour.
In 1881, the newspaper had one editor and one printer. Today, the Lodi News-Sentinel will embark on its 126th year with 90 full and part-time employees, and 190 carriers to deliver the newspaper to 16,533 subscribers.
Information for this article was obtained from numerous sources including Lodi News-Sentinel articles, the Lodi Historian and research by Fred Weybret.
First published: Saturday, July 8, 2006