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A 100-year history of the Charleston Daily Mail

The origins of the Charleston Daily Mail date to the 1880’s, when a number of daily and weekly publications were vying for position in the city. Various precursors included The Evening Call, The State Tribune, The Evening Mail and The Star Tribune. Most of these papers were unabashed political mouthpieces for various parties and candidates.

The oldest publication in the city was the Evening Call, established in June 1881 by F.R. Swann and George Warren. The first Charleston publication to use the Mail name was The Evening Mail, which Swann began publishing in 1893. At that time, there were three daily and six weekly papers in Charleston.

The Evening Mail became a morning paper in 1894 after Warren sold his interest to John B. Floyd and John W. Jarrett, who changed the name of the newspaper to the Charleston Mail. Floyd and Jarrett explained to readers that morning trains offered faster service through the state, thereby enabling the newspaper to give more timely news coverage.

The Mail name disappeared briefly from the Charleston scene in 1896 because of a purchase and consolidation. It reappeared in 1899 when Moses Donnally, the owner of The Charleston Gazette, purchased the Star-Tribune newspaper and renamed it the Charleston Mail. Donnally published the Mail as a morning newspaper and the Gazette as an afternoon paper. In 1900, he sold the Gazette, and a year later, he returned the Mail to afternoon publication. As such, it appeared consistently until 1910, when it was sold because of financial difficulty.

On April 2, 1914, the Mail was put on the auction block again. Four days

later, on April 6, 1914, it was purchased by 45-year-old Walter Eli Clark, who had been a teacher, reporter, Washington correspondent, gold prospector and governor of Alaska. It was Clark who gave the Daily Mail stable ownership, established its identity as an independent Republican newspaper, and brought it into the modern era.

On April 4, 1920, the Charleston Mail inaugurated a Sunday edition, and became the Charleston Daily Mail. By 1927, the Daily Mail was doing well enough that on April 17 it was moved across Virginia Street from its old quarters (now the site of W.Va. Junior College) to a new steel, brick and Indiana limestone building at 1001 Virginia St. E. It was the most modern newspaper plant in the state at that time, and it still is. Expanded several times, it has been the home of both Charleston newspapers since 1960.

After Clark’s death in 1950, the leadership of the Daily Mail passed to

Frederick M. Staunton, a brother-in-law of Gov. Clark, who served as

publisher. Lyell B. Clay, one of Gov. Clark’s stepsons, joined the newspaper in 1956. A lawyer and former city solicitor, he succeeded Staunton as publisher of the Daily Mail.

In the ‘50s and ‘60s there were three editions of the paper with press starts at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

On Aug. 11, 1958, the quipping cartoon everyman Charley West appeared for the first time on the front page of the Daily Mail.

In 1961, the Daily Mail entered into a joint operating agreement with The

Charleston Gazette, which enabled the newspapers to share circulation,

advertising, accounting and production responsibilities.

On Jan. 1, 1970, Clay tapped John F. McGee, a former executive with Knight

Newspapers and before that with newspapers in Charleston and Columbia, S.C., to share executive burdens. He became president of the Daily Mail Publishing Co. and Buckner Clay, Lyell’s brother, became vice-president.

In 1987, the Clay family sold the newspaper to Thomson Newspapers. McGee

served as publisher of the newspaper until 1990, when he was succeeded by Terry Horne.

In 1995, David Greenfield was promoted from editor to publisher to replace

Horne.

On Jan. 1, 1997, Sam Hindman, a Thomson executive who served as Daily Mail

editor in the 1980s, took over from Greenfield as publisher.

Hindman continued to lead the paper after Thomson sold it on July 9, 1998, to MediaNews Group Inc.

In May 2004, the Daily Gazette Co., which publishes The Charleston Gazette, bought the controlling interest in the joint operating agreement from MediaNews Group. MediaNews, now operating as Digital First Media, is paid a fee to manage the editorial operations of the Daily Mail.

At the time of the sale, Nanya Friend, who had been serving as editor since 1997, was named editor and publisher. Brad McElhinny was named editor and publisher in 2013 after Friend’s departure.

The Daily Mail has won awards in many fields. J.D. Maurice, its editor of many years until his retirement in 1978, won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished editorial writing in 1975.


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