About the Colony

Small-town journalism vital to a community

Special to The TribuneJanuary 20, 2014 

Lon Allan

THE TRIBUNE

I’ve always believed that a community needs a newspaper to hold it together.

I’ve practiced small-town journalism most of my adult life, first writing for weekly newspapers in the San Joaquin Valley and 35 years here in Atascadero. Even now, as I contribute weekly columns to The Tribune, I believe that in some small way I help create a sense of community.

Tomorrow is the 98th anniversary of The Atascadero News. The paper made its debut on Jan. 22, 1916, and for most of its almost 100-year history was a privately owned newspaper. The first editor was L.D. Beckwith. The ownership with the longest tenure was the Porter family, starting with the late George Porter, and then his three sons, Jud, Jim and Jack. The newspaper is now owned by a corporation with approximately 50 newspapers under its control.

By the way, the day before the newspaper made its debut, it rained 3.75 inches, according to the new publication.

Just this week I became aware of copies of two newspapers in Santa Margarita published by, of all people, L.D. Beckwith. Cheri Roe, the spark plug behind the Santa Margarita Historical Society, said an entire year of the little papers has recently been discovered and already photographed into a digital record.

The newly discovered papers, Our California Home and Santa Margarita Index, are for the year 1913, the very year E.G. Lewis was developing the Atascadero Rancho into a model community. Beckwith proclaimed that Our California Home “will be the local newspaper of the colony.” He added that the Santa Margarita Index, for the present, “Will be the local paper for Santa Margarita.” Both mastheads appear on the same front page of each edition, which is what we call a tabloid format.

Much of the news in Beckwith’s paper is about the development plans by E.G. Lewis for a project which, he tells readers, “is only a mile and a half outside the great Atascadero Colony of the Woman’s Republic.”

It would be three more years until Atascadero had its own newspaper. Did Lewis befriend Beckwith somewhere and send him ahead to establish the paper in Santa Margarita with a promise he’d become the Atascadero News’ first editor?

This whole year of Santa Margarita newspapers will be available to the public as a fundraiser for the Santa Margarita Historical Society and to help cover the cost of putting the 50 editions into an electronic file.

I can hardly wait to read them all. Cheri whetted my appetite with just these three issues. I always told my journalists that what they write today is news, but tomorrow it is invaluable history.

This is a wonderful find for Santa Margarita and readers of small-town journalism.

Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades, and his column is published every week. Reach him at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.

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