In 1915, my great-grandfather, George E. (Edmund) Bowers, purchased a weekly newspaper called The Alton Democrat. The paper remained in the Bowers family for about 56 years.
Alton is a town in Sioux County in northwest Iowa; its 2010 census count was 1,216. It is somewhat overshadowed by its more colorful neighbor, Orange City, home of the annual Tulip Festival.
The masthead of The Democrat contained a radiant rendering of Lady Liberty along with the motto “When tongue and pen alike are free, safe from all foes dwells liberty.”
My grandfather George E. (Emmet) Bowers and his sister, Mary L. Bowers, had active roles in operating the newspaper for most of their lives. Grandfather George (1893-1978) wrote a column for the paper for 60 years with the title “It Seems To Us.” His column ran under the pen name “Floyd River Philosopher” and whenever he referred to himself in the column, he used the abbreviation “FRPh.” The FRPh also wrote a crossword puzzle for the paper.
My first publication was a guest item in “It Seems To Us” of December 3, 1964, where I wrote a paragraph about the winter birds in Alton, including nuthatches and downy woodpeckers. Grandfather helpfully added that “Johnny is seven and in the second grade” and with some amount of pride noted that I typed my own copy.
I remember The Democrat’s office was an intimidating place full of heavy machinery, including a linotype machine, printing press, and folding machine. The newspaper archives, going back to the paper’s founding in 1885, were in bound volumes along one wall.
My uncle Frank Bowers took over publishing and editing the paper, along with his wife Jan, and in 1971 the Democrat was named Iowa Newspaper of the Year by the Iowa Press Association. Sadly, Jan didn’t stay, and ultimately Frank felt he had to sell the paper. He wrote about it in his “Our Views” column of October 26, 1972:
“When things looked bleakest, some of Orange City’s most important businessmen chose to rebel against our independent and irreverent treatment of what they regarded as ‘their’ community. After a tongue-in-cheek parody introducing new Northwestern college students to Orange City, the local furniture magnate withdrew all support.”
A depressing list followed, of other businesses who stopped advertising in the paper, and Frank’s column ended with the words “I’m sorry, grandfather.”
The Democrat continued under new ownership, but stopped publishing for good in 1982.