ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL)- News Channel 11 is celebrating 70 years of broadcasting in the region, marking a television news milestone. But long before television, Tennessee’s first newspaper was printed in Rogersville.
“It’s almost a lost art, a few individuals or some hobbyists who still print things,” said George E. Webb, Jr., the historian for Hawkins County.
The art of printing got its start in Tennessee on November 5, 1791. William Blount, the territorial governor, promised all the printing jobs in the territory to George Raulstone and Robert Ferguson if they would set up shop in Rogersville.
“The way to communicate was through the printed word, and he encouraged or talked to pressman printers from North Carolina to come to East Tennessee,” Webb said.
The Knoxville Gazette was first printed in Rogersville. That start gave birth to a haven for the printing industry when native George L. Berry created Pressman’s Home and convinced the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants Union to relocate to the area.
“They had a school for printers, a trade school,” Webb said. “They had a sanatorium because tuberculosis was very prevalent in the printing industry for a number of reasons. [It] had a hotel, a full little community, had their own post office, their own electric system, the water system.”
Newspapers weren’t the only things printed in Rogersville; International Playing Card and Label also set up shop.
“They tried to print playing cards, started and realized it was a bust, and started printing labels for tobacco, cigarettes, syrup packages for cans, vegetable cans, all sorts of things,” Webb said.
The Rogersville Heritage Association is working to preserve the history of print in the area. The association runs the Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum.
“Seeing that the printing industry is going the way it is, especially when you come to this museum and see some of the antique equipment we have in here to see how it used to be,” said Stephen Nelson, a Heritage Association board member. “And then, of course, you’re going to see pretty much the end of it because printing is getting to be so outdated.”
It’s where people can come to experience the art of printing and see a copy or replica of most newspapers and items printed in Rogersville.
“It started out with just blocks of wood and then having to put those together for further printing Then they went to light lettering after that, then linotype after that,” said Nelson. “Of course, now it’s all digital.”
The Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum is located at 415 South Depot Street. It is currently undergoing renovations, so appointments are recommended. You can find more information here.