A philosophical arc extends from Willard Richardson, who purchased The Daily News shortly after it first appeared on April 11, 1842, through his successor, Alfred Belo, who led the paper into the 20th century, to Carmage Walls, the publishing entrepreneur who bought it in 1967, and whose daughter runs it today.
The newspaper in those 175 years has rigorously promoted Galveston and its eponymous county — and those who call the region home.
Richardson early on vowed that The Daily News would advocate for those it served, and history has borne out his commitment and, too, that of his successors.
He had not long owned the paper when he wrote the first known promotion of the elixir that lay off the island’s shore and, in so doing, began to make Galveston the communal attraction it is today.
“Persons immersed in the waters for a reasonable time do not lose the luster of the eye and the ruddiness of the cheek as they do in pure water,” he waxed holistic, “but feel refreshed and invigorated on coming out, and this tonic effect lasts for 48 hours, during which time a pleasant sense of exhilaration is experienced.”
Richardson also advocated for the expansion of railroads and the deepening of the Galveston harbor and the luring of the hardy pioneers who built up the state and prospered.
Richardson, working with the unrelated David Richardson, an English-born marketing man the publisher had hired to promote both the paper and the region, launched the Texas Almanac, a compendium of the state’s attributes.
The almanac first appeared in January 1857 and was distributed widely to promote immigration to the state.
“Those who have money to purchase lands can buy the very best already improved or unimproved at prices so low every acre will pay for itself twice over by the crop it produces the first year,” Richardson wrote of the state’s vast, available acreage. “If a man wishes to make stock raising his business, he can have the pasturage of as many thousand acres as he pleases without money and without price.
“Those who are not able to or do not desire to purchase lands for cultivation can lease the best farm lands in this or any other county and if he desires it he can almost everywhere get the necessary provisions furnished him the first year on credit at the lowest market prices.”
The pitch proved effective as newcomers flocked to the county and farther west into the state. The Texas population, in the first quarter century after the Texas Almanac first appeared, soared by more than 1 million residents, the nation’s decennial census found in 1880 — from fewer than 600,000 people to more than 1.5 million.
The Texas Almanac is still published more than a century and a half later, now by the Texas State Historical Association.
The push for railways
Yet, as productive as the land Richardson promoted proved to be, farmers had to have ways to get their crops to market in a cost-effective fashion.
Richardson here, too, took the lead, pushing the state to get into the railroad business.
By 1856, he had conceived of a state-owned rail system and took his proposal to Austin for legislative approval, which proved not to be forthcoming. Still, his well-argued and equally well-advertised plan spurred private development of railways.
Richardson’s editorial push also changed the course of other railroaders’ plans, including those behind the Southern Pacific, who envisioned a continuous sweep of track continuing from the western bank of the Mighty Mississippi to the Pacific shore — albeit running well north of Texas.
Richardson set to work on convincing the Southern Pacific’s leaders to redraw their proposed route.
“The great value of this road to Texas induces us to notice some of the manifest advantages over all others proposed to be extended to the Pacific coast region,” he wrote. “The more northern routes pass through barren and uninhabited regions, while this passes through regions partially settled and often inviting dense settlement, on account of the extensive prairies or fine pasturage, rich valleys, and valuable minerals.
“This road would do an immense business in transporting the products of mines and in carrying the thousands who are constantly going to and returning from those regions. In fact, this road would so expedite the settlement of the vast region to the Pacific that the trade would in a very few years exceed the capacity of the road to carry it.”
Twenty-two years later, The Daily News — too late by five years for Richardson, who had died in 1875, to read it — ran on its front page an article announced the opening of Southern Pacific service through Texas along the transcontinental system.
An arduous fight
By 1868, Richardson through his pages began a push for federal support to deepen the Galveston harbor, a sea link to the railroad system that had unified the state and crossed from the mainland onto the island, where crops and cattle and goods of all manner were loaded aboard ships for export.
Shipbuilders had begun launching ever-larger ships, with deeper drafts, and shoaling in and around Galveston’s harbor rendered the port less than sufficient.
Arriving ships had to drop anchor outside the port and transfer their cargoes to smaller boats, so-called lighters. The same, albeit opposite, process was required for lading outgoing ships.
By then, Richardson had taken on as a full partner a former Confederate colonel named Alfred Belo, an intuitive and persistent man who, in the years after the longtime publisher’s death, continued the ultimately successful push for Congress to finance the harbor’s expansion; on Sept. 19, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed into law a bill funding the project.
Belo — by then the paper’s sole owner — acknowledged his mentor’s efforts and saluted the paper’s and the business community’s accomplishment.
“For almost a quarter of a century, The News … has contended for the establishment of a deepwater entrance to Galveston harbor. For almost a quarter of a century it has waged a continuous campaign for this cause without wearying or wavering, without relaxing or relenting,” an editorial noted the following day. “The struggle has been long and severe, but at length The News has the proud satisfaction that its efforts have been crowned with final success.”
Uplifting the populace
While the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay provided immense opportunities for the island city and the surrounding area, so, too, did the water bring disaster, no more so than on Sept. 8, 1900, when a storm that had been born just off the African coast and had steadily made its fateful way across the Atlantic, shredding Caribbean islands, traversed the Gulf and crashed into Galveston.
By the time it had passed over the island and continued its murderous run across the mainland, no fewer than 6,000 people lay dead in and around Galveston.
The battered island had no greater advocate than The Daily News in the days and weeks and months following the brutal storm, still the worst natural disaster in the nation’s history in terms of lives lost.
Many surveying the desolation advocated abandoning the island altogether. The paper railed against such naysayers.
Galveston would build a seawall to prevent a repeat; it would rebuild its wharves and remain a principal port; it would repair what could be repaired and rebuild the rest, the paper vowed.
“Tears and grief must not make us forget our present duties,” an editorial somberly advised. “The blight and ruin which have desolated Galveston are not beyond repair. We must not for a moment think Galveston is to be abandoned because of one disaster, however terrible that disaster has been. …
“It is time for courage of the highest order.”
In no small part due to such insistence, little more than a year after the storm’s unannounced arrival, The Daily News on Jan. 1, 1902, published a special edition, heralding the city’s “rising from the ruins.”
That had been made possible, the paper wrote, because of those who, “first forgetting all else except the caring for the sick and wounded, the destitute and the homeless, and putting away their dead, had then worked in rehabilitating their homes and city and opening up its avenues of industry and commerce.”
An enduring philosophy
Over the ensuing decades, the paper changed ownership three times, first in 1923 and most recently in 1967, when Carmage Walls took over and put in writing — echoing Richardson — his belief that newspapers must, editorially and financially, support those who support them.
“My conception of a newspaper is that it is the greatest force for good or evil in a community,” he wrote. “It is a semipublic utility. We who are fortunate to hold stock in a newspaper I consider but temporary custodians of this service vehicle in the community. By our ownership of the stock we also assume tremendous responsibilities, first to the public that we service.”
Walls and his wife to that end, among other deeds of generosity, established the Carmage and Martha Ann Walls Distinguished Chair of Tropical Diseases at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
Walls died on Nov. 22, 1998; his wife, better known as Molly, died 10 years later. Today, their daughter Lissa Walls is the sole shareholder of both Southern Newspapers Inc. and Galveston Newspapers Inc., the latter of which operates The Daily News.
“The newspaper should be a leader in the community,” current Publisher Leonard Woolsey said. “My role as a publisher is to get out and about. It’s not just Rotary meetings and chamber of commerce meetings, it’s getting out and meeting people and getting to know them, getting a feel for the pulse of the community.”
It all amounts to connected arcs in a continuum of supporting the community the paper serves, Woolsey said and offered an ongoing example.
“Ever since Ike washed across the island, the paper has gotten behind building some kind of spinal protection, not just for Galveston, not just for Texas City, but for the entire region,” he said. “This isn’t just about property loss, it’s about what’s important for this region’s economy.
“We’ve written about it extensively, advocated for it, and, now, George P. Bush, the Texas Land Commissioner, has put it at the top of his agenda.”
Most recently, The Daily News editorial staff conceived and executed a multipart series — Bullied to the Brink — that delved into a pressing and all-too-often fatal phenomenon that has only gotten worse with the spread of social media.
“The series has generated a lot of conversation, and not just talk around the water cooler, but in the schools,” Woolsey said. “They’ve asked us for multiple copies of those articles to share in their classrooms to generate discussion: ‘Where do we have a problem? Where can we move forward?’”
Moreover, he said, “We invest a lot of cash money in this community. It’s our duty, and it’s the right thing to do.”
Dolph Tillotson, who served as publisher of The Daily News for a quarter century beginning in 1987, noted the paper’s support for a litany of projects that have bolstered Galveston, from supporting the port’s ongoing development to backing the birth of the Galveston Island Convention Center and the Galveston Economic Development Partnership.
“I think it’s safe to say The Daily News was involved in virtually every major community decision made over the last 175 years,” Tillotson, now a member of Galveston Newspapers’ board of directors, said. “I can say with confidence that our intent always was what we saw as best for the people of Galveston.
“If there was a big issue in Galveston, the paper took a stand. Sometimes we were right, sometimes not.
“But when all is said and done, The Daily News throughout its history has an incredibly good record of taking positions on the issues that have been instrumental to the betterment of our community.”