What’s New: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Getting a clear answer to this question is much more difficult than it used to be. In the past, most Faulkner County residents could pretty much get their local news by reading the Log Cabin Democrat or listening to the local radio stations. And when the Log Cabin Weekly edition was published, you could find out what was going on in the various communities too.

State and national news were a little more difficult to obtain but by reading both the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette, one could usually come up with a pretty clear picture of events. The three local television stations also assisted.

But today there are so many options it’s hard to decide which media option to use. Do you check email? Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? the website? Do you watch CNN or Fox News or one of the local commercial television channels? And what if the news you want or need is not on the media you choose?

One hundred and forty-five years ago, when people were just settling in this area, it was quite a different story. Getting the news out was the challenge. Most people relied on visitors to tell them what was happening elsewhere. Those coming through would share news from other places. Neighbors would then share with neighbors.

One of the earliest local newspapers was actually a secret venture. In 1876, Jo Frauenthal, more well known for Frauenthal & Schwarz, his west Conway mansion and his civic activities, secretly started a newspaper, The Spyglass. He and Mr. Petway, the Conway Station railroad depot agent, were the editors and publishers. Harry C. Warner, publisher of the Arkansas Traveler, allowed them to use his type and hand press.

Frauenthal, when he finally admitted to the activity, related that the office was in a dense forest and had to be reached by a not too well trodden trail. Each week, they managed to publish about several hundred copies overnight. A dim candle lit the room where the type was set. Heads of horseshoe nails were often used for “I” and “l” which were more frequently used.

The Spyglass “catered” to the “cultured moderns” of the town. It “fed upon the foibles of the 329 people who ventured here from civilization.” Wood cuts of various locals illustrated the paper. Some resented the caricatures and were constantly trying to find out who was responsible for the publication.

When the newspaper appeared, not always on the same day of the week, at the refreshment stands on the four corners of the only block in town, everyone in town had to have one. “Butchers” also sold it on the train that went through town. It lasted for about a year.

Another early newspaper was the Arkansas Traveler, mentioned earlier. The newspaper moved from Clarksville in 1875. Opie Read was the editor and wrote the serious news but C.W. Cox and Jo Frauenthal contributed feature articles. Opie Read and P.B. Benham would later establish another Arkansas Traveler in Little Rock.

The current Log Cabin Democrat was actually created by the merger of two local papers. The Conway Log Cabin was founded in 1879 by Able F. Livingston, a Whig who chose the Whig symbol—the log cabin—as the name of his new paper. When he died in 1883, his brothers-in-law, Zol and T.M. Woods, took over the paper. Two years later, J.E. Underhill became a partner and editor of the paper.

Underhill became the sole owner in 1888 but sold it to J.W. Robins in 1894. The story goes that Underhill and Robins, a sawmill operator, were sitting and talking by a creek bank one day and decided to swap businesses. It was said Robins wanted his 13-year-old son, Frank, to experience the educational atmosphere of a newspaper office.

After Robins died only a few months later, the newspaper changed hands several times before returning to Minnie Freeman Robins, his widow. She and J.E. Underhill, who had gone on to publish another local newspaper, the Democrat, married in 1899.

Both papers were published in the same office until June 1900 when the newspaper office burned. The newspapers were published in the Conway opera house until new equipment could be bought in St. Louis and new building completed.

Fifteen months later, the two papers were consolidated into the Log Cabin Democrat, Frank Robins subsequently became editor and bought his step-father’s interest when Underhill passed away in 1906. The Log Cabin Democrat was published by the Robins family until the mid-1990s.

Note: Information for this article was obtained from a 1922 book, History of the Arkansas Press by Fred W. Allsopp. Thanks to Rick Wilbanks for lending it to me.

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