Fort Mill History

If there is one thing that's constant at the Fort Mill Times, it's that nothing is constant. In the last few years, the award-winning weekly newspaper has been changing almost as fast as each week's news.

Founded in 1892 by William Bradford Sr., the paper has since changed hands eight times. Most recently, McClatchy Newspapers, based in Sacramento, Calif. bought the Fort Mill Times in October 1997, and since then has experienced rapid growth.

William Bradford Sr. started the Fort Mill Times when he was 17. Publication of the letterhead-size paper was erratic at first, with no regular publishing day. Over the years, it became a regular weekly publication. For 31 years, the paper was hand-set, on a job press at first and later on a Ben Franklin-type hand press.

The newspaper was somewhat of a part-time endeavor for Bradford Sr., whose real interest was politics. He served as the mayor of Fort Mill, York County clerk of court and as a state representative for 14 terms. While he was out serving the public interest, his brother, B.W. Bradford, helped put out the paper. The two brothers ran the newspaper for 50 years, with William Bradford Sr. as editor and publisher.

 

During part of this time, the Fort Mill Times subscribed to the Western Newspaper Union out of Atlanta, which furnished the paper with four broadsheet pages. The two outside pages contained national news and were preprinted in Atlanta, with two blank inside pages that the Bradfords filled with local news and printed at their office in downtown Fort Mill.

The paper's next publisher grew up working in the Fort Mill Times office. Though he had vowed not to follow in his father's footsteps, William "Bill" Bradford Jr. ended up a journalist after all. He worked as a reporter for The Lancaster News and The Forest City (N.C.) Courier before returning to his hometown in 1943 to buy the Fort Mill Times from his father. When he bought the paper, his father was printing about 300 copies a week; 75 of those were paid subscriptions.

Under Bradford Jr., the newspaper's focus shifted from national news to local news. He and his wife Helen both worked at the paper. Helen Bradford wrote the society news. Bradford Jr. wrote a popular front-page column titled "No Foolin'." Like his father, Bradford Jr. also had a political bent-he served 17 years on the Fort Mill School Board and several terms as chairman of Fort Mill's Democratic Party.

Bradford Jr. edited and published the paper until 1965, when he sold it to Tri-County Publishing Co. of Lancaster, a subsidiary of the Springs Co. Tri-County also owned the Lancaster and Chester newspapers. Julian Starr Jr. and Paul League were the publishers during this time, while Bradford Jr. stayed on as editor of the Fort Mill Times.

In 1970, Bradford Jr. bought the paper back from Tri-County and hired Jerry McGuire. Bradford Jr. was the paper's editor and publisher until he sold the paper to the Camden Co. in 1979 and retired from newspapering. By then the paper's circulation had grown to about 2,500.

Fred Sheheen, owner of the Camden Co., became the paper's publisher, while Jerry McGuire moved up to editor. Sheheen's company also owned weekly papers in Irmo and Pineville, N.C. A former Charlotte Observer reporter, he had also managed a group of non-dailies in the Carolinas before starting his own company. Based in Camden, Sheheen was an absentee owner. He was a member of the State Commission on Higher Education and later served as its chairman and executive director.

Sheheen sold the Fort Mill Times to Linda and Mike O'Hara in 1986. Both had experience in public relations and journalism; she had been a newspaper reporter and he had worked in television news. Linda O'Hara was the paper's publisher, while her husband contributed a weekly column as well as helping with the writing and photography.

They sold the paper to John and Carol Mantle in 1988. John Mantle, a native of England, became the paper's publisher. He had previously published the daily Alexandria (Va.) Gazette near Washington, D.C., and had also been a photographer and executive with United Press International. Carol Mantle served as the paper's advertising director while working full time as a flight attendant with American Air.

Under the Mantles' ownership, the circulation of the Fort Mill Times doubled to about 6,000. In the nine years they owned the paper, it won the two national awards and the S.C. Press Association's General Excellence Award for weekly papers seven times. It also won 47 first-place awards and 60 second- and third- place awards from the state press association.

The Mantles also brought high-tech to the Fort Mill Times. In 1995 the paper expanded its use of full-color photography when it set up a digital darkroom and began pagination. In fact, John Mantle's interest in and commitment to photography helped the paper win many of its press association awards.

When the Mantles decided to sell the paper in 1997, its award winning quality, as well as its popularity in a fast-growing community, made it attractive to several large media companies, including McClatchy Newspapers. The Mantles accepted McClatchy's offer in October, which meant more change for the Fort Mill Times.

Jerry McGuire, who had been editor since 1979, retired after 27 years with the paper. Jane Alford, who'd been with the paper for six years, stayed on as managing editor. And Nancy Chapman, editor of a weekly paper in Virginia for Landmark Communications, was brought in as editor/publisher. Chapman returned to Virginia in 1998 and Patricia Larson, publisher of the The Herald Independent in Winnsboro, came aboard as editor/publisher.

Today, with the support of corporate resources, the paper's new editorial leadership is committed to continuing the strong community focus sustained for over a century. And if the past is any indication, it's the one thing at the Fort Mill Times that won't change.