North Georgia over the years produced a bumper crop of entertaining and sometimes controversial newspaper editors.
W.B. Townsend, who edited the Dahlonega Nugget in the early 20th century, perhaps is among the best known. But there have been others who attracted national attention with their folksy witticisms and wry comments on affairs of the day, whether they be local, state, national or world.
The Cleveland, Ga., Courier didn't attain as much notoriety, but nevertheless became an influential sheet that continually urged the little mountain town out of the shadows of Yonah Mountain and into a more progressive mode. "Sheet" is an accurate term because when Alex Davidson edited the Courier in the early 1900s, it looked similar to a newsletter, usually printed on a manual press with pages about 8x10 inches in size.
Alex was postmaster, editor and publisher, operating out of a building on the Cleveland square. His father, Peter, had been a learned author who came from Scotland in the 1880s, according to Judy Davidson Lovell, Alex's granddaughter. The Davidson homeplace near Long Mountain still stands after restoration.
Alex Davidson, as many editors of that era, wasn't shy about preaching to his readers. Apparently referring to friends who had taken to drinking too much, he admonished: "Last week as we looked in the face of men that we never dreamed touched the accursed drink, saw their face flushed with drink, a shudder passed over our form. Men whose future lies out before them as bright and beautiful as the rising sun on a new-born day. That future besmeared and blackened by the demon drink, taking away their manhood, honor and integrity, leaving them a mass of corruptible humanity. Men who profess to be followers of Christ, who stand high in the church and Sunday school, sapping their lives, killing their influence and usefulness in the world.
"Yes, hell has opened her mouth without mercy and down her throat is flowing a continual stream of our young men thrust there by demon drink."
The Courier kept its eye on those who imbibed and wasn't bashful about proclaiming their guilt: "Mr. John Doe (fictional name) was arraigned before Mayor Kytle last Friday night and fined $20 and cost for misbehavior within the town limits. Doubtless John had a little too much booze and lost his temper at the home of Mrs. Carrie Barrett where a few young people had congregated to enjoy the evening."
On another occasion, the editor took aim at some other churchgoers whom he accused of hypocrisy: "The Bible says, ‘Train up a child in the way it should go, and when it gets old it will not depart from it.' It looks like some of the brethren that does some loud praying at church would do some of it at home."
But mostly the Courier reported the comings and goings of White Countians: "Mrs. Maggie Castleberry is working at the post office at present." "Mr. J.M. Glover made a trip to the railroad first of the week." "Mr. J. Clark visited Lula Monday."
Among all that though, Davidson's wit suddenly sneak out from among the grey columns of type without warning: "If you have lost your pants and have any further use for them, perhaps you can find them in the possession of Mr. A.G. Quinn. He has a pair he found near his shop a few days ago."
The Courier really found its feet when one of Alex's sons, Jim, took it over at age 23 in 1920. Printer's ink surely coursed through the veins of all the Davidson family, and their lives practically revolved around the print shop and newspaper, which eventually moved into a white frame building on Main Street just off the Cleveland downtown square.
Judy Lovell began helping her father get the newspaper out about age 10. Jim Davidson taught her and her six siblings how to set type by hand. In those days, each letter in a line of newspaper type had to be set painstakingly by hand in a "shooting stick," and just as tediously on Mondays after the paper came out she had to redistribute the type back to their alphabetical cases so the letters could be more easily found and set for the next edition.
More about Jim Davidson and the Cleveland Courier next week.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.