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Sale of newspaper building marks end of a century of community journalism history

The Kentucky Standard building, home to journalism for more than 100 years, was recently listed for sale.

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette

Thursday, July 29, 2021 — A historic property with more than 100 years of journalism tradition recently went on the real estate market in Bardstown.

The Kentucky Standard building, 110 West Stephen Foster Ave., was recently listed for sale by its owners, a unit of what used to be Landmark Community Newspapers Inc.

While the Paducah-based Paxton Group purchased what was left of the LCNI newspaper chain in May, they apparently did not purchase the real estate, at least here in Bardstown. So now, for the first time in more than 100 years, the building known by locals as “the Standard office” will eventually no longer be home to a community newspaper.

According to local historian Dixie Hibbs, the Kentucky Standard was first published on Dec. 15, 1900.

By early 1901, Wallace Brown — a man who was a local mover and shaker — was owner of the newspaper. Wallace Brown served stints as county judge, circuit clerk and even state senator. According to Hibbs, Brown was the newspaper’s president and business manager.

I don’t know where the original newspaper’s office was located, but Brown purchased what we now know as “the Standard office” with a deed dated May 1, 1906.

Brown purchased the 210 x 52-1/2 foot lot from John W. Sisco and wife Laura, and W.A. Rosenham and his wife Nellie Sisco Rosenham.

Early in the newspaper’s history, a local young man named Alfred S. Wathen Sr. was a newspaper employee; by 1919, he had a gained controlling interest in the paper. According to local deed records, Wathen purchased the Standard office property on Sept. 15, 1925.

Wathen was owner and publisher of the newspaper until his death in 1958. On the death of Wathen’s wife, Teresa C. Wathen, her will bequeathed the newspaper operation and property to three of her children — her daughter, Elizabeth Spalding, and two sons, Alfred Wathen Jr. and B.J. Wathen. The deed executed in July 1960 gave each heir an equal share.

The Wathen family continued to own and operate the newspaper until it was sold to the E.W. Scripps Co. in 1979. According to a mortgage record on file at the Nelson County Clerk’s office dated Dec. 6, 1979, Scripps agreed to pay each of the Wathen siblings $651,510.

Scripps’ ownership of the newspaper was relatively short lived. After eight years, Scripps sold the newspaper and the building to Landmark Community Newspapers on March 31, 1987.

YEARS OF CHANGE. According to the local PVA office, the building now has 7,376 square feet of space. If you’ve ever been inside the building, you’ve likely noticed the evidence of how the interior of the building evolved as needed to support the operation.

For example, the newspaper for many years was printed on presses that were located in the back half of the building. In those days — up until Scripps bought the paper — you could stop by the front door on Wednesday evenings and pick up Thursday’s newspaper, hot off the press. In my youth, I rode my bike downtown numerous times to wait on a freshly printed, cut and folded issue of the newspaper.

During Scripps’ ownership, the presses were moved to Shepherdsville, and the back half of the building eventually became advertising offices, graphic design areas and areas for layout and editing of the newspaper, and later, a series of travel magazines the newspaper published in the 1990s.

Eventually, the newspaper purchased PLG-TV and provided room for a small studio and office space — initially on the second floor, and later, at rear of the building.

From my earliest memories, the newsroom was located in the very front of the building, with the floor-to-ceiling windows offering the staff a clear view of West Stephen Foster, a half block in either direction. The building’s second floor included a conference room that served later as office for the publisher. The second floor also included a couple of small offices and a bathroom.

TWO TOURS OF DUTY. I was a newspaper employee twice during my career and was there to help chronicle local events big and small.

At about 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, 1996, I was back in the newspaper’s layout area with my police scanner when I heard the Bardstown Fire Department dispatched for a possible fire at a Heaven Hill warehouse.

This was the Thursday after a busy (and late) November General Election night on the previous Tuesday, and we were on course to finish the paper early that afternoon.

Or so we thought.

Reporters Rebecca Ray and Beth Dolezol rushed out to the scene as the first warehouse became fully engulfed in flames. The fire, whipped by the high winds, eventually spread to other warehouses and consumed the actually distillery downhill from the warehouses.

Editor Teresa Rice trashed the entire front page at that time; Publisher Steve Lowery added pages to the paper and bumped up the press run. Those who went out to Heaven Hill fire scene returned smelling strongly of smoke and alcohol.

I worked late into the night to help get the paper to the printer that night. When I left the building after midnight, I drove out Gilkey Run Road to see what was left of the Heaven Hill warehouse complex.

Where each warehouse stood were massive piles of glowing, red hot barrel hoops. The heat was still substantial coming from the mostly destroyed warehouse. Much of the metal sheeting had been consumed by the flames. It was a sight I’ll never forget.

THE PAST, THE FUTURE. Every journalist who has worked at the Standard office over the past century probably has his or her favorite memories of their time there. I am honored to have been one of them.

The eventual sale of the Standard office may mean the end of a chapter of more than a 100 years of the building’s history, but it also represents a tremendous oppportunity to begin a new chapter in downtown Bardstown’s history.

Demaree & Hubbard is the listing Realtor agency, and the listing can be found by clicking here.

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