Joel Reese

Tuesday, May 10, 2022 struck me as a rather sad day in the history of Statesville. It was on May 10 that the last of the furniture and other packed items was moved out of the Statesville Record & Landmark building at 222 E. Broad St. The Record & Landmark had occupied the building near downtown Statesville since October 1956. Iredell The county’s first newspaper was the Iredell Express, started by Eugene B. Drake in December 1857. For the first time in 164 years, there is no municipal newspaper office in Statesville.

During the COVID pandemic, the Record & Landmark office had been closed to the public, as had many businesses across the country. The newspaper was still published, but editors, reporters, and other staff worked from home to create the paper electronically before it and the Mooresville Tribune were printed on the Winston-Salem Journal site.

Having proven that the newspaper could be published more efficiently and at lower cost, Lee Enterprises decided to continue to have the newspaper published with much of the staff working from home. Lee Enterprises owns the Statesville Record & Landmark, Mooresville Tribune, Hickory Daily Record, Morganton News Herald, Marion McDowell News, Concord Independent Tribune, Winston-Salem Journal, and Greensboro News & Record.

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The Record & Landmark Building on East Broad Street was once the location of the Second Presbyterian Church, an African-American church built by the Reverend Amos D. Billingsley in the 1880s. The Record & Landmark Building was constructed in 1956 when Joseph P. “Jay” Huskins was above the newspaper. The building has now been sold to the American Renaissance School.

On Thursday, local history librarian Shellie Taylor will present a program on “Using Newspapers for Genealogy” at 6 p.m. at the Iredell County Public Library in Statesville. The Iredell County Public Library has back issues of Statesville Record & Landmark available online, in print, and on microfilm. Genealogy and local history researchers regularly use the records to research marriages, obituaries, and Iredell County history.

There were several historic items in the Record & Landmark office that were transferred to the Statesville Library where they remain on loan for public display. The oldest and perhaps the most historically significant item is the desk used by JP Caldwell when he was owner and editor of The Landmark from 1880 to 1892.

Caldwell purchased The Landmark from JS Ramsey in January 1880. The first issue of The Landmark under J.P. Caldwell lists him as “JOS P. CALDWELL, Editor and Proprietor” and was published January 9, 1880. In his first editorial, Caldwell aligns itself and The Landmark with the Democratic Conservative Party. During this period, newspapers were political instruments and the Republican Party was considered the party of the North or Lincoln’s party while the Democratic Party was considered the conservative party of the old South.

“Politics aside, I will seek to make The LANDMARK a newspaper of interest to all categories of subscribers. He will always have an eye on the material well-being of Statesville, Iredell, and all the counties that make up what is called “the northwest corner.” Caldwell ends by saying, “With a proper sense of the solemn responsibility that rests with me…. I present to the public my first issue of The Landmark.

Joseph (JP) Pearson Caldwell (6/16/1853 – 11/22/1911) was the son of Joseph Pearson Caldwell Sr., a former Iredell County state legislator in 1833 and 1834 and a member of the House of Representatives of the United States, from 1849-50 and 1851-52. JP was just 2 weeks old when his father passed away, and at age 14 he entered the publishing world working at Statesville American for Eugene B. Drake and his son William P. Drake. The Statesville American was formerly the Iredell Express, but changed its name in 1865 after the end of the Civil War.

Caldwell left the Iredell Express when Drake aligned the paper with Lincoln’s Republican Party in 1872 and went to work at the Statesville Intelligencer, a Conservative (Democrat) party newspaper. The Intelligencer was launched under Charles R. Jones in 1872 and was the precursor to The Landmark. In January 1874 Jones moved to Charlotte after purchasing the Charlotte Observer. Caldwell also left to work for newspapers in Charlotte and Raleigh.

On June 19, 1874, the first issue of The Landmark was published by owner John B. Hussey, a Statesville attorney. The Landmark was a Democratic Party newspaper published by Hussey and his brothers-in-law, EG Mallard and James Mallard. In 1877 Hussey sold The Landmark to JS Ramsey, who in January 1880 sold the newspaper to JP Caldwell who returned to Statesville.

Over the next 12 years, Caldwell redefined what a small-town weekly could be. Many of Caldwell’s contemporaries called The Landmark “North Carolina’s finest newspaper, weekly or daily.” In January 1892, Caldwell and Daniel Augustus Tompkins purchased the Charlotte Chronicle, the successor to the Charlotte Observer, and sold a half interest in The Landmark to Rufus Reid Clark who took over as editor of The Landmark.

Caldwell changed the name of the Chronicle to the Charlotte Observer and, as the newspaper’s editor, transformed the Charlotte Observer into NC’s largest newspaper and one of the largest in the South. In 1900, he would help revolutionize newspaper editorials when he broke with the Democratic Party in North Carolina and refused to endorse William Jennings Bryan for president. In doing so, Caldwell made the Charlotte Observer an independent newspaper free from political party control.

The Charlotte Observer under JP Caldwell became an “official journal”, a newspaper whose editorials and news were accurate and authoritative with credible sources. Caldwell sold his half ownership of The Landmark to Rufus Clark in 1907. On March 8, 1909, Caldwell suffered a paralytic stroke and was unable to continue as editor of the Observer. During his life he had been a proponent of medical care for the mentally ill and had for a time been director of the public hospital in Morganton. He was cared for there at his request until his death on November 22, 1911. JP Caldwell is buried in his hometown of Statesville in Oakwood Cemetery.

Above JP Caldwell’s desk was another piece of furniture built by John Elam Cochrane (8/29/1858-12/26/1920) who we believe also made the desk in the 1880s.

Cochrane was a master wood craftsman who ran an art gallery in Statesville selling easels, moldings, display cases, curtain rods and light fixtures. In the July 26, 1895, issue of The Landmark, an advertisement for Cockrane stated: “I will make any piece of furniture from original designs.” If you could describe it and it could be made of wood, Cockrane could build it.

The piece on top of Caldwell’s desk was a vertical piece of furniture made with small holes to separate and store items such as mail, bills, or business papers. A metal tag on the front identifies it as having been built by “John E. Cochrane, Statesville, NC” Cochrane would later move to Charlotte, where he built storefronts before moving to Lincolnton where he founded Cochrane Hardwood Mfg. Co. in 1905 with his wife, Emma McCoy Cochrane. Cochrane Furniture operated for over 100 years before closing in 2009.

JP Caldwell’s growth as a journalist began while he was at the Landmark in Statesville. When he took over The Landmark in 1880, he was strongly opposed to any government spending involving new taxes. For example, he opposed the creation of public schools because it would involve taxpayers’ money and more government, but he gradually changed his position and became a supporter of public schools.

During JP’s day, the newspaper office was a meeting place for local officials, businessmen, and virtually anyone who came to town and wanted to hear the latest news or talk politics. JP called them “the boys” and reported on what “the boys” thought of a local news item. The offices of Landmark – and later Statesville Record & Landmark – were prominent features in Statesville and part of the city’s identity.

J.P. Caldwell’s desk along with other historical articles from the newspaper are now on display in the Local History Room of the Iredell County Public Library in Statesville.

Joel Reese is the local history librarian at the Iredell County Public Library.