This is a cause for celebration: the Golden Transcript has just reached its 155th anniversary. In this era when local newspapers are disappearing at an alarming rate, Golden is unbelievably lucky to still have ours.
The City and the Transcript have been together since the very beginning. The Transcript’s founder, George West, arrived with the gold rush in 1859 and began his first newspaper—the Western Mountaineer—in December of that same year. After taking time out to serve in the Civil War, he returned to Golden and resumed his newspaper business—this time calling it the Colorado Transcript.
The City and the Transcript have seen good times and bad together, and both have certainly had times when their continued existence was in question. Four years after the Transcript was founded, Golden’s population had dipped to 587 souls. A newspaper needs both subscribers and advertisers to survive, and that 1870 census was discouraging on both counts; however, George West had boundless faith in the City he helped found. He also knew something that was going to turn the tide of fortune—the railroad was coming!
The arrival of the Colorado Central Railroad in 1870 rescued Golden from threatened oblivion, and by 1880 our population had rocketed to 2,730. The railroad put Golden in a central position between Denver and the mountain mining towns. Because of the railroad, the small city became an industrial and commercial hub, with smelters, grain mills, a paper mill, a pottery, brickworks and one very significant brewery. Washington Avenue became the place to shop for residents of both the City itself and the farms and ranches in the surrounding area.
The Transcript didn’t just report on the City’s growth: it was a tireless booster, endlessly extolling the excellent climate, water, scenery, and boundless natural resources of this location.
In the manner of 19th century newspapers, it didn’t hesitate to stretch a fact when describing the City’s perfections. The very first issue of the paper (December 19, 1866) assured readers that Clear Creek had tremendous water power and could power an infinite number of mills along its banks. (That may have been an overstatement for our rather small creek.)
The Transcript played an active role in attracting the Colorado School of Mines, and in keeping it, when other cities tried to entice it away. The paper has enthusiastically covered 150 years of academic and athletic triumphs.
The Transcript wrote editorials endorsing new schools, paving the streets, improving our water supply, and building a sewer system, all the while keeping a close watch on City and County expenditures. For many years, the Transcript listed every bill and every salary that the City paid.
George West ran the Transcript from its founding in 1866 until his death in 1906, but he didn’t do it alone. According to his grandson, Neil West Kimball, “he wished the newspaper to be ‘a family affair;’ and he realized his wish, for his two sons, his daughter, his son-in-law, daughter-in-law and grandson all held executive positions on the publication.”
When George died, his wife Eliza became the president of the company and his son Harley became the editor. When Harley died in 1927, his wife Vera became the President. She later installed her second husband—Fleet Parsons—as editor, while she retained ownership until her own death in 1954. Fleet continued to run the paper until his death in 1959.
The West family had taken Golden from its founding in the gold rush era into the atomic age. They wrote about new industries, new businesses and new schools. They reported when women got the vote, when Prohibition went into effect and then when it ended. They covered the Great Depression and both World Wars. They wrote about club meetings and church meetings, birth and death notices and wedding announcements. In short, they left a wonderful record of Golden’s first century.
After Fleet Parsons’ death in 1959, the Transcript was sold. Subsequent owners made a few changes. In 1966, it became bi-weekly (Mondays and Thursdays) and in 1968 it was issued tri-weekly (Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday). In 1969, the owners went to five days a week, Monday through Friday. At this point, the name changed to the Golden Daily Transcript.
That transition wasn’t entirely successful. The owners at that time wanted to expand the paper’s role beyond local news. They included many stories from the wire services and covered national and international news. There were fewer and fewer articles about local people, companies, schools, and events.
Readers soon let them know that they expected their local paper to cover local news, and the Transcript slowly regained its local focus. It went from five days a week back to two, then returned to the original weekly schedule. It cycled through a few different names in this era, going from the Golden Daily Transcript to the Daily Transcript, even reverting to the Colorado Transcript for several years. In 1983, it was settled as the Golden Transcript, the name that it retains to this day.
In 1970, after more than a century on Washington Avenue, the Transcript moved its offices to a new location on 10th Street, directly across from City Hall. The new, larger building allowed the owners to buy a new press, and the paper went to a larger format.
And so, the Transcript and the City of Golden entered their second century together. The newspaper still kept a close eye on local government and still announced births, weddings and deaths. They covered school sports and the occasional crime or fire. They continued to chronicle Golden’s history as it happened.
To this day, the Transcript remains an indispensable part of the Golden community, and they continue to win awards for journalistic excellence. But the task grows harder and harder as time goes by.
Recent years have been hard on the news business. Readers have grown accustomed to getting their news online. Advertisers too are less likely to put their marketing dollars into a print product. With the loss of both subscribers and advertisers, it’s hard for a newspaper to remain a viable business. Less revenue means fewer reporters, and that in turn means that fewer meetings and events are covered.
That’s a problem. As a society, we still need journalists! We need people watching government and powerful institutions. We still need people to watch for signs of unreasonable spending or unethical behavior. Without journalists, who will keep the powerful in check?
Fortunately, there is cause for hope. The Colorado Sun and the National Trust for Local News recently acquired the Golden Transcript, along with 23 other Colorado newspapers, operating as a public benefit corporation. That status allows them to seek local and national grants and donations from people and entities that want to support local journalism.
If this approach works, hopefully we can look forward to another 155 years of Golden Transcript coverage of life in Golden Colorado!
Barb Warden writes a daily blog at GoldenToday.com. She has written an article about Golden history every day since the start of the pandemic, and has spent most of the past two years reading historic Colorado Transcripts.
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