The state’s largest-circulation newspaper since 1981, the Charleston Gazette has been owned by the Chilton family for more than a century. Its history began in 1872, when Charles B. Webb started the weekly Kanawha Chronicle in Charleston. From the outset, the Chronicle’s self-described editorial leanings were ‘‘Democratic, liberal and progressive,’’ an apt description of the present-day Gazette.
In February 1877, the Chronicle was sold to James B. Pemberton, who later served as Charleston mayor, and John W. Jarrett, a printer, who renamed it the Kanawha Gazette. Moses W. Donnally of Charleston, a publisher and oil developer, bought an interest in the Kanawha Gazette in 1884 and later bought Pemberton’s share. In 1888, the Kanawha Gazette began regular daily publication; two years later, the name was changed to the Daily Gazette. In 1897, the Donnally Publishing Company sold the paper to the Gazette Company, headed by Col. O’Brien Moore. The Gazette published a daily and a weekly edition in the late 1890s and early 1900s. For two years, from 1905 to 1907, the Charleston Publishing Company took over the Gazette.
In 1907, the Chilton family acquired an interest in the newspaper and renamed it the Charleston Gazette. The Daily Gazette Company’s incorporators included C.A. Ashcraft, T. S. Clark, Joseph E. Chilton, Sam B. Chilton, and William A. MacCorkle, the former governor and longtime Chilton associate. After W. E. Chilton of Charleston completed his term in the U.S. Senate in 1917, he became publisher of the Gazette, borrowing money to keep the shaky paper afloat. After a fire in 1918 destroyed the newspaper’s plant at the South Side Bridge, the Gazette built new offices on Hale Street, where it remained for 42 years.
In 1922, William E. ‘‘Ned’’ Chilton Jr., son of the senator, became president of the Daily Gazette Co. and was later named managing editor. As an editorial writer, he helped to establish the newspaper’s reputation as a voice for the powerless. His son, W. E. ‘‘Ned’’ Chilton III carried on the newspaper’s crusading tradition from 1961, when he was named publisher, until his death in 1987.
In the late 1920s, the Gazette’s financial condition improved and circulation increased, due in part to Robert L. Smith Sr., who oversaw the circulation, advertising, and business departments before being named general manager, stockholder, and board member. Smith was Gazette publisher from 1950 to 1961. By 1937, circulation exceeded 50,000, with high readership in the traditionally Democratic southern coalfields. Statewide circulation peaked at 86,000 in 1953. Within a decade, circulation began to decrease, primarily due to mining industry layoffs and the resulting migration from the state’s coalfields. In 2013, the Gazette’s daily circulation was 34,354, and the circulation of the Sunday Gazette-Mail was 62,421.
Beginning in the 1950s, the Gazette promoted several community events, including the annual North-South football game, soap box derby, Kanawha River boat races, and the city tennis tournament. In June 1950, the Gazette led a two-day community effort to build Coonskin Park on Charleston’s outskirts.
On January 1, 1958, the Gazette entered into a joint operating agreement with the Charleston Daily Mail. Under the agreement, the newspapers merged their business, advertising, circulation, and production departments into a single corporation. The Gazette and Mail retained separate news and editorial identities, but merged their Saturday and Sunday newspapers into the Gazette-Mail, produced by the Gazette staff. In September 1960, the Gazette moved its offices to the Daily Mail building on Virginia Street.
The Gazette has won many national awards, particularly for reporting on educational, health care, and environmental issues. After Ned Chilton’s death in 1987, Robert L. Smith Jr. was named Daily Gazette Co. president and Gazette publisher. Upon Smith’s retirement in 1992, Chilton’s wife, Elizabeth, was named president, later becoming publisher as well.
This Article was written by Nancy Ray Adams
Last Revised on May 14, 2013
Morgan, John G. Gazette Gains First Century Milestone. Charleston Gazette, April 30, 1973.