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The Muncy Luminary; History of a Small Town American Newspaper

The Luminary - 170 Years of Serving Eastern Lycoming County

March 21, 2009
by Vivian Daily and Bernard A. Oravec

Lycoming County has a long and glorious tradition of newspaper publishing. The Williamsport Sun-Gazette has been published daily since 1801 in various forms and is now, at 210 years old, the 4th oldest daily paper in Pennsylvania and the 12th oldest in America. The Luminary, the weekly newspaper that serves the Muncy, Montgomery and Hughesville area in eastern Lycoming County, turned 170 years old on April 10, 2011.

"The will of the people is the legitimate source, and the happiness of the people, the true end of government." This is the motto adopted by owners William P.I. and George L. I. Painter which appeared in the debut issue of The Muncy Luminary on Saturday, April 10, 1841.

The Painters were continuing the eight-year tradition begun when The Muncy Telegraph, Muncy's first local paper began operation in 1833 under the ownership of J. Potter Patterson. Purchased by J. Kidd Shoemaker in 1835 following Patterson's death, The Telegraph was published until March 1841. The publication changed hands and name in April of that year and The Muncy Luminary was born.

In addition to running the local newspapers, the Painter brothers owned a drug store and were very active in community affairs. George played trumpet in the Muncy Band, served as postmaster for 12 years, was president of the Muncy Cemetery Association, and ran a book and stationery store. William, finding the drug store business consuming all of his time, withdrew from his partnership in the newspaper in 1846. As George's other business interests prospered and grew, he brought his two sons into the business, training them to run the paper. Thomas B. and William P. Painter operated The Muncy Luminary together until 1887 when William entered the Episcopal Divinity School in Philadelphia. Thomas continued publication until April, 1935 when he died at the age of 74. His death brought an end to the oldest continuously operated family business in Muncy, lasting 94 years.

Wesley L. Mann, Painter's editor, took over the business and maintained control until November, 1939, when he sold it to Joseph Banks Jr., of Harrisburg. Banks subsequently sold it to the Lincoln Publishing Company of Montgomery, a transition which nearly caused the demise of the publication. Patsy Henderson, owner of Lincoln Publishing, published papers in Hughesville, Montgomery and Muncy. He was very successful and managed to purchase some highly sophisticated printing equipment to print fake bonds which convinced many people, including bankers, lawyers and local citizens, with their authenticity. It was not until investors tried to redeem them that the forgery was discovered. By October 1944 Henderson found himself in Rockview Prison, all his equipment sold to pay creditors and a discontinuation of his publications, including The Muncy Luminary.

Mrs. Henry G. Brock purchased the newspaper from Henderson in 1945, hiring Robert N. Wilt, just returned from World War II duties in the Army. Mrs. Brock asked him to "print a paper" in the building she rented on West Water Street. The first edition was printed in October 1946. In 1960, Wilt and his wife, Lorraine, purchased the newspaper which was now called The Luminary, from the ailing Mrs. Brock. He continued as editor/publisher until March 1983.

April 14, 1983 was the first edition published by Eugene and Eileen Winter, publisher and editor respectively, discontinuing with the July 31, 1986 issue.

T. W. Shoemaker, publisher of the Sullivan Review, purchased the business and moved it to offices at 41 South Main Street. The first publication of The Luminary under Mr. Shoemaker's ownership was on August 19, 1987.

In 1991, The Sun Gazette Company, present owners, purchased The Luminary.

The Luminary was not published during only two years of its 170 year history. It continues to be one of the oldest weekly newspapers in the country and one of only two that has ever borne the name Luminary.

Since its inception in 1841, The Luminary has had several homes. The building where George Painter turned out the first edition by hand was located on the lot adjacent to the Muncy Post Office. In 1935, the newspaper office was moved to the POS of A building on West Water Street by Wesley Mann. During the early 1940s, while owned by the Lincoln Printing Company, only an office at 5 North Main Street was maintained while the actual printing was done in Montgomery. When purchased by Mrs. Brock in 1945, the office was located on West Water Street, the present site of Heckman's Barber Shop while the printing was done in the rear of Stein's Garage.

In 1947 Robert Wilt convinced Publisher Brock to rent and then purchase the building at 113 South Main Street, one lot south of its original location, where the office and print shop could both be located. It remained in that location until August, 1987 when the office was moved to 41 South Main Street. In April 2009, Williamsport Sun-Gazette publisher, Bernard A. Oravec, moved the Luminary to its present location at 1025 Route 405 Highway in Hughesville, where it shares offices with The East Lycoming Shopper & News.

The printing is done by the Sun Gazette Company. The Luminary has 1,200 weekly home subscribers.

While much has changed in Muncy, Montgomery and Hughesville over the past 170 years, it is interesting how The Luminary has managed to remain a part of classic small town Americana. In 1841, in Volume I, number I, of The Muncy Luminary, the "terms" were set as follows: "$2.00 per annum if paid half yearly in advance, or $2.50 at the expiration of the year. Advertisements inserted at $1.00 per square, for three times, and 25 cents for every subsequent insertion." By comparison, in 2010, an annual subscription rate is only $20.00 and the advertising rate per column inch is only $4.00.

Also in 1841, a statement of purpose by the Painter brothers was presented, excerpts of which follow: "To the public. We this day present to its patrons, and the public, the first number of the Muncy Luminary, which is a specimen of the mechanical execution and appearance that shall govern it while under our supervision. In accordance with the long established custom, on entering upon the duty of catering to for the public taste and information, we beg to offer a few remarks in regard to the course which we intend to pursue and the manner in which we shall endeavor to conduct the affairs of a public press. "'Principles are eternal.' and as our Prospectus fully designated our political predilections, it is only necessary to add that we shall ever be found maintaining the rights of the people, zealously supporting the principals and measures of the great Democratic Whig party, and stand opposed to the profligate systems of legislation, practiced by the late administration of our general government.... "Aside from politics, it shall be our constant aim and greatest solicitude to merit and obtain the kind indulgence of the erudite, the good, and the virtuous, and give such items of foreign and local news, as will, in our judgement, conduce to the welfare and prosperity of every scientific, historical, and miscellaneous branch of information. "With these few remarks, briefly setting forth the principals by which we shall be governed, we cater upon our varied duties, with the hope that a generous and intelligent public will duly appreciate our exertions and render us a reasonable remuneration for our labors."

According to publisher Bernard A. Oravec, "The Luminary has played an important part in the lives of generations of eastern Lycoming county residents. After nearly 170 years, I am extremely proud that we still publish The Luminary and continue the tradition of small town newspapers in America."

"As the world changes around us, it is comforting to know that our readers can still enjoy local news and local sports written by and for the residents of Muncy, Montgomery and Hughesville." Added Oravec.

(Vivian Daily served as editor of The Luminary from 1989-2005. Bernard A. Oravec has served as publisher of The Williamsport Sun-Gazette, East Lycoming Shopper & News and The Luminary since January 2009. )

 
 

 

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