Just one newspaper in the western United States can claim continuous publication since 1819. Its founder, William Edward Woodruff, was an East Coast man born in Long Island, New York, in 1795. He spent the early part of his life in his native New York, completing an apprenticeship with printer Alden Spooner and working his first job with a publishing company.
The young Woodruff migrated South in 1818, spending a brief stint in Louisville, Kentucky, before moving on to Nashville to work for the Tennessee State Gazette. The Gazette publisher encouraged Woodruff to found his own newspaper, suggesting the perfect location would be Arkansas, which had just received territory status. Woodruff had the sense to know that if he could be the first to start a paper for the new territory he would almost certainly be successful. He moved to Arkansas Post, then the capital of Arkansas Territory, in October of 1819.
It did not take Woodruff long to set up a press and begin publishing his new Arkansas Gazette. The first issue of the paper, published weekly, came out on November 20, 1819, around the same time the new territory’s legislature held its first meeting. When Little Rock became the capital of Arkansas Territory in 1821, Woodruff took his paper there and built a new house at 2nd and Cumberland Streets.
The Gazette soon prospered, and by 1823 Woodruff built a printing facility adjacent to his home to accommodate the paper’s publication. He also kept a book and stationery shop on the first floor of the two-story print house and established what was, in essence, a profitable real estate agency. The original house was destroyed during a restoration in 1939-1941, but the Historic Arkansas Museum today displays a replica of the print shop in a reconstructed outbuilding on the original lot.
Just four years after settling in Little Rock, Woodruff built another print shop and a bigger house on Markham Street for his new bride, Kentucky native Jane Eliza Mills. Woodruff established himself as a prominent member of the community, using the Gazette as a mouthpiece for his editorial opinions and befriending the likes of Chester Ashley, a wealthy lawyer and influential figure in Arkansas politics.
At least one of Woodruff’s editorial campaigns came to fruition when Arkansas achieved statehood in 1836, a move he had long supported. He was active in the local political arena and held public office multiple times, serving in turn as councilman, city treasurer, and postmaster for Little Rock. His dedication to the city motivated him even to impromptu military service—at the age of sixty-eight, he fought to defend Little Rock from Union troops during the Civil War.
Love of politics and publishing notwithstanding, Woodruff found his real estate business supported his family far better than the Arkansas Gazette ever could, influencing his decision to sell the paper in 1843. He was incapable of retiring so soon, however, and founded the Arkansas Democrat three years later. In 1850, he bought the Gazette back and fused it with his new paper to create the Arkansas State Gazette and Democrat, which he renamed as the Arkansas Gazette in 1859.
The Arkansas Gazette continued its life after Woodruff’s death in 1885, headed first by his son and then by a series of editors until the newspaper industry began downsizing in the 1980’s. In 1991, the Arkansas Democrat—not Woodruff’s publication but a separate paper founded in the wake of the Civil War—bought the Arkansas Gazette. The two papers, in a move not unlike Woodruff’s Arkansas State Gazette and Democrat fusion of 1850, became the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas’s premier newspaper.