Polk County News Publisher Cheryl Buehler has announced the paper is set to stop print publication until further notice. Buehler said the heartbreaking decision was made quickly, but methodically. She hopes a new owner or change in circumstance will bring the news back soon. While the Polk County News has been on the market for six months or so, news received over Christmas hastened the need for Buehler’s departure from the news game. During the holidays it came to light that Buehler’s spouse and only full-time employee, Rich Clayton, had cancer.
It was cancer that landed Buehler at the helm of the Polk County News four years ago. Buehler’s mother, long-time Editor Ingrid Buehler, passed away following a 6-month battle with lung cancer in September of 2012. Cheryl worked side by side with Ingrid until Ingrid became unable to continue. “I did everything in my power to continue bringing the news through my mom’s cancer battle. I just don’t have it in me to do that again this time,” Buehler said. Buehler said the idea of scheduling doctor visits for Clayton around the sometimes taxing schedule of the newspaper was just not feasible.
“We just can’t put cancer off to make a deadline,” Buehler said. Buehler said she remains optimistic that someone will come along and take over publication of the newspaper. She said weekly news has always been important to locals, and she expected that would continue. “Maybe being without it for a little while will inspire someone to take my place,” Buehler said, pointing out that the county had a long history of newspapering.
The Polk County News was established in 1883 with Virgil Clemmer and James Howard Hood as co-Editors. It has been published at Benton, Ducktown, and Cleveland, returning to Benton in 1898. On Oct. 12 of 1883, the first issue of the Polk County News was published in Benton (population 183).Its editors were sons of pioneer Polk County families. The paper initially had a circulation of 600 copies and sold for 5¢ a copy. Advertisers included a Mercantile Store, a blacksmith and a shoemaker. Benton’s first corn show was held in the front office of the Polk County News in 1884, with a year’s subscription offered for the best dozen ears.
The Polk County News was the first newspaper on the west side of Polk County, which is divided into two sections by the mountainous area that is now home to the Cherokee National Forest. The county’s first newspaper, The Ducktown Eagle, had been published for a brief period of time in the Copper Basin area (East Polk) in 1858. It was published at Hiwassee Mines and existed for about a year with W.P. Collins Editor and Publisher.
Through the years, the Polk County News has had a variety of owners and locations, including a brief time in Cleveland, Tennessee when it was combined with the Cleveland Banner and was known as The Banner-News. The paper returned to Polk County in 1898. Copies of the newspaper from the 1920’s to date show the changes that have taken place in weekly newspapers. The front pages of early copies of the Polk County News are filled with national stories and news briefs from around the nation. Local news on the inside pages consisted primarily of social columns, school and church news, and occasional government stories.
Many of the early advertisements are for patent medicines like Fletcher’s Castoria (“to relieve infants in arms of constipation, flatulency, wind colic and diarrhea) and Gold Medal Harlem Oil (“a worldwide remedy for kidney, liver and bladder disorders, rheumatism, lumbago and uric acid conditions.”)
As daily newspapers and television took over the role of providing national news, the Polk County News put more emphasis on local news in addition to social notes and community activities. Today, national news items are rare unless there is a local angle. Local history has also been a consistent topic. Back issues of the newspaper are often the only source of information, not only about the events of the day but also about decades earlier. This once-sporadic publication of local history articles or pictures became a popular weekly staple, and has included everything from copies of old newspaper articles, to family stories from our county historians, to pictures brought in by readers. Special tabloids of historic interest have also been published and many have been turned into booklets. Community histories, old photos and genealogical items have also been reproduced.
Other Polk County newspapers included: The Ducktown Reporter, 1890, J.B. Craigmiles, Editor; School Times, 1892, devoted to the cause of education in addition to general news; Teachers’ Headlight, 1893, may have been a change in name of School Times as it stated the same purpose. I.J. Woods, editor;
The Benton Weekly News, 1894; The News Gazette, 1895; The Ducktown Gazette, 1895. J.D. and W.F. Russell, editors. Reported to be non-political at that time. In 1900, a Republican publication with N.B. Graham as editor. By 1905, George W. Gates was editor of a non-political paper; The Benton News, 1901, formerly published at Ducktown under the name of the Polk County News. J.W. Rogers, editor; The Polk County News Gazette, 1901. W.F. Russell, editor; The Comet, 1912, a monthly publication. John S. Shamblin and Dan Hicks, editors; The Dingbat, 1913, published in the Copper Basin. F.P. James, editor; The Polk County Republican, 1914-1918. F.P. James, editor; Copper Hill News, 1924-1931; Copper City Advance, 1931. The Edward A. Middleton family acquired this newspaper in the mid-1930s; Polk County Citizen, 1928. Luther Osment, editor; Citizen-Advance, 1973.Edward A. Middleton, editor; Polk County Observer, 1981. Dan Hicks Jr., editor.
Buehler said she wished there had been time to plan for a proper “farewell” edition of the paper.
“The tremendous support I have gotten over the years is not something I will ever forget,” Buehler said. “I will miss the kind words from subscribers, friends, and subscribers who have become friends.”