The Clayton Tribune began in 1897 when J.A. Reynolds of Demorest, armed with a simple hand press, began publishing a newspaper in Rabun County. A surveyor and engineer by trade, Reynolds was forced several times to buy wrapping paper from local merchants to use as newsprint to prevent missing a publication.
Reynolds arrived in Clayton to find only two stores, and no bank or railroad. But just 23 years later, Reynolds would proudly write that Clayton not only had a bank and a railroad but long distance and local telephone service, 14 hotels and boarding houses, electric lights, a city-owned water plant and two of the finest automobile dealerships in upper Georgia.
Reynolds operated The Tribune until about 1914, when he sold the newspaper to Frank D. Singleton. The new owner built a concrete building on Depot Street, which became known as the Tribune building. He also purchased and installed a more modern press run by electricity.
Singleton consolidated The Clayton Tribune with the Clarkesville Advertiser and changed the name to the Tri-County Advertiser, which became the official organ of Rabun, Towns and Habersham counties.
In 1924, Singleton leased the Tribune plant to L.P. Cross of Rochelle. He and his son, Edwin, put out their first issue of The Clayton Tribune on Jan. 10, 1924. The lease continued for three years until Cross purchased the plant and the newspaper.
Cross brought the first typesetting machine into the county in 1928. In 1940, Cross built a new building on Main Street to house the paper's office and printing press. Subscriptions broke the 1,000 mark around 1950.
Cross continued as publisher until Eddie Barker, a daily newspaperman from Atlanta who had married a Rabun County native, purchased the newspaper in 1953. Barker announced that he would hold the newspaper's subscription rates to $2.50 a year. Barker and his wife, Shirley, published the newspaper for 10 years.
R.E. Cross, son of former owner L.P. Cross and owner of Cross Printing, took over publication of The Clayton Tribune in 1963. He published the newspaper until selling to Community Newspapers Inc., of Spartanburg, S.C. CNI announced that the newspaper would be printed by the new offset method, which allowed for maximum use of photos and improved design. Jim Wallace of Franklin, N.C., was named publisher, serving until his retirement in 1990.
Veteran newspaperman Phil Hudgins of Gainesville was named publisher in 1990. Hudgins had been an editor at The Gainesville Times for many years. In July 1996, Russell Majors was named Tribune publisher, replacing Hudgins who stepped down to take the post of senior editor of all CNI newspapers. Majors previously held various positions at the newspaper.
As the newspaper began its second century, circulation had grown to more than 7,500. During the 1990s, the newspaper won many Georgia Press Association and Community Newspapers Inc., awards of excellence, including best editorial page, best sports page, and best layout and design. Staff members have also won state and community awards for photography, news writing, and editorial writing. In 1997 and 1998, The Clayton Tribune was named The Best of CNI, having been judged the best overall product in the 30-newspaper company.
Since 2004, The Clayton Tribune has been named the best weekly newspaper in Georgia six times by the Georgia Press Association, and has twice won the top award in The Best of CNI competition. The newspaper and its staff can also boast more than 170 editorial and advertising awards during that eight-year period.
That's quite a difference from the days when J.A. Reynolds published the newspaper on wrapping paper with a hand press.
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