Birth of the News

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society
 Sausalito on a Sunday morning in 1885. Bell tower of Christ Church at lower left.  Painting by Norton Bush, courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Sausalito on a Sunday morning in 1885. Bell tower of Christ Church at lower left.

Painting by Norton Bush, courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Lately it has been my pleasure to browse back issues of The Sausalito News, the local weekly newspaper from 1885 to 1960. It’s chock full of historic tidbits and was also written in a dated yet very quaint style that’s quite entertaining.

According to the 1887 Rowell's American Newspaper Directory, the paper positioned itself as "spicy, newsy, saucy and bold" and featured articles on "literary, sporting, society, fashion, scientific and telegraphic" topics. Jas. A. Wilkins, Editor and Proprietor, was a former mayor of San Rafael. And since none of the articles carry by-lines, I assume that he wrote all the original material in the debut issue.

That premier issue appeared on February 12, 1885, but it was not the first local paper, as an introductory article makes clear:

“Journalism has been attempted at Sausalito on more occasions than one. It cannot be said that previous efforts have met with very gratifying success. After brief and harrowing struggles, all have succumbed to the stringency of the money market, and sleep the sleep that knows no waking. Undeterred by their fate, The Sausalito News enters the abandoned field hopeful of success. How far our anticipations may be realized, the future alone can tell. The paper, in any event, will continue to be published for at least a year, even though the proprietor is its only reader. We have already received much encouragement. Business men, land owners and residents have shown a most gratifying desire to give the little enterprise a helping hand. If they continue their kind offices, we have no fears.

“The News is here to stay, if possible, and while our eye will naturally be open to the selfish business of making a living, it shall be our effort always to do everything that lies in the power of a country journal to boom the interests of Sausalito and bring its many advantages to the notice they deserve. Local papers are more useful in this direction than they are commonly credited with. They are free advertisers wherever they go for their places of publication, and without their aid it is almost impossible for any locality to gain an audience before the great public and secure a general recognition of what it is. We hope that the News will do effective work in heralding the merits of Sausalito Township to the world, and that it will more than earn any compensation it may receive from its patrons.”

 “We hope that the News will do effective work in heralding the merits of Sausalito Township to the world, and that it will more than earn any compensation it may receive from its patrons.”

And then, donning his Proprietor’s hat, Wilkins crafted this dire warning: “To the numerous subscribers for the Sausalito News, we are pained to say that subscriptions are payable in advance. We have been at a very considerable outlay in this enterprise. Besides, we must have a working capital, for types do not set themselves, nor are rent or paper bills deferrable. Next Saturday an able bodied and remorseless collector will make the rounds and we hope that his labors will not be disappointed.”

Sausalito News is part of California Digital Newspaper Collection, a searchable online database containing more than 600,000 pages from historic newspapers of California. The database is free and open to the public at https://cdnc.ucr.edu.