By Mike Steely
The very first story of mine I saw in print outside of my duties as a Coast Guard journalist was printed in an Alexandria, Va., newspaper. I remember visiting the paper back then and seeing the first letterpress printing I ever saw. I prize the line of backward metal letters spelling out my name that my son gave me on one of my birthdays.
I went on to various newspapers that used the more modern offset printing and it was years later, while I ran the news bureau for the Kingsport-Times News, that I came across one of the most historic and functioning letterpress newspapers. The Rogersville Review’s owner and publisher, Eleanor Sheets, became a friend and colleague during my years reporting news for Hawkins, Greene, Hancock and Hamblin counties.
Mrs. Sheets was a very traditional journalist and ran a very impressive and well-done weekly newspaper. I often dropped by there to watch the typesetters do a job that almost all of us could not do. They pick out each individual metal letter and place them backwards and reversed into a tray line by line and place the completed tray into the press once it is full.
The Rogersville Review ended using its linotype machine in 1982 and went to offset layout and printing. Even that method of composing a newspaper has changed again with most being assembled now on computer.
I didn’t know until years later that the first newspaper ever published in our state was in Rogersville where George Roulstone printed the Knoxville Gazette beginning in 1791.
Today much of the history of newspapers in the Volunteer State is housed in the former railroad depot in Rogersville. The Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum houses a replica of Roulstone’s printing press. Other print shop necessities are on display there along with a newspaper cutter, type cabinets, worktables, wire stitches, a proof press and much more.
The centerpiece is the last linotype machine, used by The Rogersville Review, plus exhibits on many newspapers from the town’s history, some in original copies. Admission is free and the museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Donations are happily accepted
You can find the Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum on the internet or call 423-272-1961 for more information. The museum is located just a couple blocks behind the Hawkins County Courthouse at 415 South Depot Street.
The little town of Historic Rugby also has a letterpress print shop where you can see a press in operation.
If you head toward Rogersville you might also want to swing by Bulls Gap and visit the Archie Campbell boyhood home and museum there. If you’re passing through Morristown, why not stop by the Davy Crockett Tavern there?
There is so much to do in our area of the nation that, within a day’s drive, you can visit all the adjoining states and thousands of attractions, parks, and historic sites. Take the family, get out of the house, and be safe.