The Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum: Permanently Stamped in United States History
Located at 415 South Depot Street in Rogersville, Tennessee, in the old train depot, the Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum is so much more than we could have imagined, and Melissa and Steve Nelson of the Rogersville Heritage Association were incredibly knowledgeable and thorough with their tour.
It is very important that we discuss the historic Rogersville Depot before diving into the museum itself. The Norfolk-Southern Railroad came to Rogersville just after the Civil War in 1870 and the depot where the museum is housed was built in 1890. Initially, the depot was a small platform with a covering for passengers to huddle under while waiting on their train. Rogersville was home to three high-class boarding schools so many of the passengers were students traveling to or from. Another large group of passengers were women from nearby farms coming into Rogersville to sell their vegetables, eggs, and homemade cheese and butter. The historic railroad was not without its kinks as witnessed by the delivering of a cremated remains to the local grocery as pepper than to his family. A frantic search got the urn to the family not long after the mix-up.
In 1984, negotiations started by the Tennessee Homecoming ’86 Committee to secure the depot for Rogersville. Their hard work paid off and in 1986, Norfolk-Southern deeded it to Hawkins County. The county leased the property to the Rogersville Heritage Association in 1987 and renovations and restorations started in the summer of 1998.
Rogersville played a huge part in Tennessee’s and the nation’s newspaper industry, so it seems appropriate that the state’s newspaper and printing museum be located here. President George L. Berry of the International Printing Pressman and Assistants Union (IPP&AU) was originally from the Rogersville area and had proposed to the union that the headquarters needed to be moved within 50 miles of Asheville, North Carolina so a sanatorium could be built for printing pressman since they were the 5th most likely group of people to contract tuberculosis. After visiting his home place in Clinch Valley, he spent the night at Hale Springs Inn and soon learned it was for sale.
Even though it was 75 miles from Asheville, the 1324-foot elevation was judged best for tuberculosis care and apparently the pine trees that covered the mountains produced an ozone that was particularly important for TB patients. In 1910, the sanatorium and school at Hale Springs were approved by members of the union and thus was born the Pressman’s Home. It was home to the union’s convention starting in 1911 and lasting 41 years.
During its existence, the Pressman’s Home experienced tremendous growth. The technical trade school opened in 1911 and the sanatorium in 1916. A post office, general store, hotel, telephone company, and chapel all opened before 1930. There was even a grade school on the premises. At the time, if the railroad was running through the area, the Pressman’s Home was viable. Eventually air travel took over, making it a great deal harder for people to visit east Tennessee. Unfortunately, in 1967, the union voted to move the headquarters to Washington, D.C. and after a few failed ownerships, the Pressman’s Home fell into disarray and is now almost nearly gone.
In 1791, George Roulstone, the first printer to enter Tennessee, took his press apart in Fayetteville, North Carolina, packed it up and journeyed over the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Holston Valley where Kingsport now stands. On the banks of the Holston River at James King’s Boat Yard, he loaded it on a flatboat and floated it down to Rogersville where he set it up and started printing the Knoxville Gazette, the first piece of printing ever attempted in Tennessee.
When he finally got to Rogersville and started his hand press, he was within fifteen miles of the future site of Pressman’s Home, the home of the International Pressman and Assistants’ Union in the early 20th century.
Roulstone and his partner, Robert Ferguson, published the first issue of the Knoxville Gazette on November 5, 1791. Roulstone remained in Rogersville until October 1792.
A replica of Roulstone’s 1791 newspaper, printed on his press, is on display at the Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum. Also on exhibit are the contents of three other print shops from our area, dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Also exhibited are a large paper cutter, type cabinets, worktables, wire stitches, proof press and more.
A centerpiece of the exhibit is the last linotype machine to be used to set type for a newspaper in Tennessee. It came from the Rogersville Review, where it was used until 1982.
Even if you have never worked in the printing industry, this is a museum that deserves to be visited!