St. Helens, Columbian

The Columbian
[LCCN: sn93051654]
St. Helens, Columbia County, Oregon

Debuting on August 13, 1880, the Columbian [LCCN: sn93051654] was the first paper of Columbia County.  Printed from the home of its editor and proprietor, Major Enoch George Adams, the publication featured family-friendly news items of general interest but Adams’ “eccentric nature” bled into his work and the paper would cover bizarre stories and curiosities from around the world in its later days.

Enoch Adams was born in New Hampshire to a preacher known as “Reformation John” and Sarah Adams in 1829.  He graduated from Yale and would go on to serve in the Union Army from 1861-1864.  Eventually earning the rank of Major, Adams fought in the Indian Wars in the Midwest before finally settling in the Pacific Northwest.

Adams had a long history with writing and printing before beginning the Columbian.  He was an avid poet, publishing several poems during his time in the Union Army.  In 1865, when stationed at Fort Rice in what is now North Dakota, Adams published a weekly post newspaper, the Frontier Scout [LCCN: sn84022132], in order to “boost morale” of the men stationed there.  When his service was over, Adams moved to Vancouver, Washington, where he was the editor and publisher of the Vancouver Register [LCCN: sn86072039] from October 1868 to at least October 1870.

After settling in St. Helens, Adams continued his publishing career with the creation of the Columbian.  The paper typically began with a poem and frequently featured Adams’ poetry.  Printing from his home overlooking Frogmore slough, Adams had complete creative control and the paper certainly reflected the character of its publisher.  As was written in the Morning Oregonian [LCCN: sn83025138]on November 23, 1900, the Columbian was “little more than a record, written with child-like simplicity and amusing attention to detail, of family and community life – a clean, harmless and withal an amusing sheet.”

The four-page, six-column folio typically featured general news items, whimsical quips, local gossip and humorous, anecdotal stories from around the nation on the front page.  The second page was slightly more serious in content and featured local news, events and a regular column entitled “Our Washington Letter,” which reported on proceedings in the nation’s capital.  A brief column called “the World of Agriculture” was occasionally printed.  The remaining two pages were devoted to advertisements, poems and short humorous writings. The Columbian was printed every Friday and increased to seven columns on April 13, 1883.  Small illustrations and cartoons were added in the later years, but the subscription price never deviated from $2.00 a year during the paper’s six years in publication.

When serving in the Civil War, Adams was severely injured during the Battle of Williamsburg.  This intense and violent episode led to a weakened nervous system, which only worsened throughout his life.  As a result, Adams would unfortunately suffer frequent spasms and would be described as having a “fiery disposition;” he was considered by most to be a very unusual and “remarkable character.”

His temperament and opinions, “which were considerably out of the usual trend,” were very evident in the material he printed in the Columbian in its later years.  Just a few of the more noteworthy topics covered by his newspaper include: lion tamers, petrified wood, dwarfism, human hair, injured oysters, the moon, volcanos, the history of carpet, the city of Pompeii and a particularly grizzly story about a wolf eating a man’s head.  Although the paper had a small circulation, these unusual stories “afforded a great deal of entertainment” to its subscribers.

On September 10, 1885, the paper began publishing every Thursday; Enoch Adams was still the editor and Dr. Arthur Branscombe Adams, Enoch’s nephew, was hired on as the associate editor and business manager.  This was probably due to Enoch Adams’ failing health, as the paper was suspended the following year, at which point Enoch returned to the east coast.  He purchased a farm in Maine where he lived the remainder of his days writing poetry and editing his father’s journals.

Enoch Adams’ obituary, published on November 22 and 23, 1900 in the Morning Oregonian, stated that Adams, who had served his country well and in his prime, was “regarded with interest by his acquaintances…His most charming faculty was that of making his readers wonder what he was going to say next.”

But When o’er sins and follies past
We Weep and penitently pray,
O then in Heaven is unsurpassed
The rapture of that day.
An Angel comes – all light – all love –
To catch the penitential gem,
And bear it to the realms above
To grace God’s diadem.

— Enoch Adams, “The Preciousness of Tears”

Prepared with reference to:

Chapin, Bela, ed.  The Poets of New Hampshire.  Claremont, New Hampshire: Charles H. Adams, 1883.

Erikmoen, Curt. “Fort Rice Soldier Edited Paper, Wrote Poetry,” Bismarck (North Dakota) Tribune, March 6, 2011.

Historic Newspapers in Washington Project, Vancouver Register (1865-1869), Historic Washington Newspapers online directory.

McMurtrie, Douglas. “Supplemental – Washington Newspapers, 1852-1890 Inclusive, a Supplement to Professor Meany’s List.” The Washington Historical Quarterly 26, no. 2 (April, 1935): 129-143.

Milne Special Collections. “Adams Family, Papers, 1731-1964.” University of New Hampshire Library.

“Mist Published as Early as 1881,” St. Helens (Oregon) Sentinel-Mist, Friday, February 28, 1936.

Rowell, Geo. P. American Newspaper Directory. 16th ed. New York: Geo. P. Rowell and Co, 1884.

Turnbull, George S. History of Oregon Newspapers. Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, 1939.

–Written by Emily Vance

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