One of the most rewarding aspects of writing this column is the opportunity to continually learn more about both the history of this area and the fascinating people who live here today. I recently learned about the work of Andy Anders and his River Oaks Press, a small, handset letterpress operation in Russellville. Anders hand sets all his type on the one hundred year old machine, feeding in all the paper individually to create his letterpress publications. Each printing is one of a kind and filled with beautiful typography.
Anders learned this craft from John Horn of Shooting Star Press in Little Rock, “a champion of letterpress preservation,” writes Anders in the conclusion to one of his letterpress publications, Dardanelle, Ola and the Southern Railroad written by Clifton E. Hull (more on this book in future columns). Horn regularity opens his print shop to teach others who are interested in keeping the craft alive. Some years ago my husband, Bryan Moats, had the opportunity to study with Horn, thanks to the encouragement of Mike Luster at the Arkansas Folklife Program. Anders now keeps this skill alive at his small press in Pope County.
One of Anders’ publications is a short pamphlet about the history of newspapers in Yell County entitled, Mt. Magazine Rural Record and Yell County Record. Anders originally became interested in the historic paper when he discovered an acquaintance had access to the gas engine that once powered the press. Anders sought out of the knowledge of residents connected to the paper’s past and present—Lynn Crabill and David Fisher—who were able to help flesh out the history of the publication.
According to Anders, during the 1920s the Mt. Magazine Rural Record was published once a week by Samuel J. Barber on a dirt road near Havana. The press never had electricity and all the type setting was done by hand. Here’s how Anders describes the operation. “A cylinder press, recollected to have been a Babcock, was run off a line shaft. The shaft traversed the twenty by thirty foot building to a hole in the back wall. A belt through the hole was driven outside by an Ottawa single cylinder hit and miss gas engine. Family members were enlisted to assist. Daughter Charlotte set type and young grandson Lynn served as the printer’s devil.”
In 1945 Samuel Barber purchased the Danville Democrat and subsequently merged the two papers, keeping the name Mt. Magazine Rural Record. In 1946 he sold the paper to R. L. Fisher who changed the name to its current moniker, Yell County Record. In 1968 the paper was sold to David Fisher. You can find copies of the Mt. Magazine Rural Record from 1930-1945 and the Mt. Magazine Rural Record/Danville Democrat from 1945-1947 on file at the Arkansas History Commission in Little Rock.
Do you remember the days of the Mt. Magazine Rural Record or other small presses in the region? Are you a letterpress printer or someone who wants to learn more about this craft? Thanks so much to Andy Anders for sharing his publication and knowledge with us! We’ll have more on the aforementioned Cliffton Hull’s railroad publication in upcoming columns. To order copies of Andy Ander’s books call 479-567-2582.
The Seed and the Story is a partnership with the Courier and Post Dispatch newspapers in Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, and Community Action and humbly attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.