By Staff Reports
ELKTON — The Valley Banner first rolled off the press in 1966, more than a half-century ago. On Thursday, June 7, its final issue will hit readers’ homes.
New ownership of the community, weekly newspaper have decided to focus coverage of Rockingham County, including the Town of Elkton, into the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg.
On April 1, Ogden Newspapers of Virginia, LLC purchased six newspapers covering the Northern Shenandoah Valley from Byrd Newspapers, including the Daily News-Record, The Winchester Star, Page News and Courier, The Shenandoah Valley-Herald, The Warren Sentinel and The Valley Banner.
Ogden’s regional management made the announcement of the Elkton closure this week.
“We are doubling down on our efforts for Rockingham County coverage in the Daily News-Record,” said Cameron Williams, Regional Publisher. “It is an unfortunate reality that we cannot continue to operate publications that don’t have an audience capable of supporting them. We are committed to making the Daily News-Record and Page News-Courier excellent publications. We’ll do that better and with more focus now.”
Banner subscribers were mailed special subscription offers recently for the Daily News-Record and the Page News and Courier.
The first issue of The Valley Banner, published Sept. 15, 1966, by Carl and Joyce Schumacher, included 10 pages of community news, civic and club events and sports. The front page included an editorial from editor and owner Carl Schumacher, which read (in part): “This, our first issue, may appear somewhat disorganized, but as we meet more people and acquire more sources of information, we will be able to offer a better newspaper. However, for a local paper to truly perform its duty it must have the cooperation of its readers. They, too, have a duty to help provide information as well as state criticism when needed.”
The Banner has tried to live up to its original goal each week.
“It has been a pleasure to work with the readers, town officials and staff, school personnel, coaches and business owners alike, to relay the stories and photos that make the greater Elkton community special,” said editor Travis Long, who has served in that capacity since July of 2001.
“No matter how big the issue, such as town council happenings, or small, such as a prized pick from the garden, we have enjoyed sharing just a small portion of what makes area unique,” added Long. “We’d like to thank everyone who played a part in making the Banner, hopefully, a true source of community news over the years.”
The Banner follows in a long tradition of newspapers in Elkton, that, although intermittent in nature, has been active in Elkton for more than a century. The list of papers covering the area was chronicled by local history buff Casey Billhimer, whose “Fading Images” column was a fixture in the Banner for many years.
The community’s first newspaper, called The Elkton Index, began publishing on Jan. 16, 1891, with S.C. Spencer as its editor. Spencer’s newspaper venture, however, ended in 1982 — just 18 months after its birth — for reasons that are unknown today.
In August 1893, a second publication, called The Elkton News, was launched. It, however, proved to be as short-lived as its predecessor and ceased operation in 1894 after only a year.
It would be a decade and a half before Elkton’s next newspaper surfaced. The Valley Tribune first rolled off the presses in April 1910. The twice-a-week publication charged $1 a year for subscriptions. As with its forerunners, the Tribune also did not last long, ceasing publication after just a few short years.
After several unsuccessful ventures between 1890 and the early 1920s, newspapers disappeared from Elkton shortly before World War I and failed to reappear during the Great Depression and World War II. However, on Dec. 12, 1947, The Elkton Sun, with Eugene Beard as editor, published the first newspaper in town in more than 35 years.
Beard published the Sun for five-and-a-half years — the longest run of any newspaper until that time – before folding in 1953.
The void, though, was soon filled. On Jan. 12, 1956, The Valley Gazette, Elkton’s fifth newspaper in six decades, was founded with W.S. Allen as editor and publisher. The Gazette, which was published on Friday mornings, was sold to Danville native John Lair in September 1957, just 21 months after its founding.
Lair sold The Valley Gazette in May 1959 to Shenandoah businessman Lloyd Gochenour, who became the flourishing newspaper’s third owner in a half-dozen years. When Lair sold the paper, the new owner immediately changed the publication’s name to The Family Gazette and moved the paper’s operation to the old Eaton store building.
Meanwhile, Lair was in the process of organizing another paper, dubbed The Elkton Banner and printed by the Page Press in Shenandoah. The Banner became Elkton’s seventh newspaper in as many decades, marking the first time in the community’s history that two newspapers were being simultaneously published in Elkton.
Strangely, both The Family Gazette and The Elkton Banner were using the same volume and edition number, as both attempted to lay claim to the original publication date of The Valley Gazette.
Lair’s paper, the Banner, was printed in tabloid size — 10×13 inches — and sported a slogan which read, “This paper is an old friend with a new face.”
Both papers, however, fell by the wayside in the early 1960s — once again leaving Elkton without a local publication. That was until the Schumachers began publishing The Valley Banner in September of 1966.
In a few weeks, the Banner will end its 52-year run with its June 7 edition, which will include photos of the graduating seniors from East Rockingham, Page County and Spotswood high schools. The actual graduation ceremonies from each school will be covered fully, as always, by the Daily News-Record and the Page News and Courier.
Until that final issue, the Banner will continue to offer local news and sports, as well as the community events that make small towns so special.