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Reflections with Sammy Way - The Sumter Item: ‘The Voice of the Gamecock City’

By SAMMY WAY
Posted 10/18/19

Reflections remembers the founding of The Sumter Daily Item and the men responsible for its inception. The newspaper is celebrating 125 years of educating and informing the Sumter community. …

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Reflections with Sammy Way - The Sumter Item: ‘The Voice of the Gamecock City’

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Reflections remembers the founding of The Sumter Daily Item and the men responsible for its inception. The newspaper is celebrating 125 years of educating and informing the Sumter community. Reflections will attempt to chronicle the lives of the four men who have led this endeavor, Noah Graham Osteen, Hubert Graham Osteen, Hubert Duvall Osteen and Hubert Duvall Osteen Jr. The efforts of these men led to the creation of South Carolina’s first small-town daily newspaper in 1894. The author used material and photos from The Sumter Item archives in preparing this edition of Reflections.

“Noah Graham Osteen, only son of Charles LeRoy and Elizabeth (Weston) Osteen, was born Jan. 25, 1843, at the home of his maternal grandfather, Jonathon Weston, near Concord Presbyterian Church.” He spent his early life on the farm of his father, attending the country schools, and at about the age of 12 or 13 entered into an apprenticeship in the printing business. His father took him to town to see A. A. Gilbert, where he entered a five-and-a-half-year apprenticeship. His compensation amounted to room and board, 50 cents a week spending money and an allowance of $50 for clothing.

His apprenticeship ended early in 1861, and he gained employment with Gilbert and Darr as publisher of the first newspaper published in Horry County, The Horry Dispatch. This paper closed due to the onset of the War Between the States in 1861. Following the conclusion of the war, he returned to the newspaper industry and was also determined to return to Sumter. He had married by this time, and in 1866 he bought half interest in the Sumter News with H.L. Darr, his former boss and now partner. This partnership continued for 16 years, and they changed the name of the Sumter News to The True Southron. In 1881, Osteen purchased Darr’s interest in the paper and at the same time bought The Sumter Watchman and consolidated the two papers under the name The Watchman and Southron, this publication will continue until 1933. He died on Nov. 8, 1936, as the result of injuries sustained when he collided with an automobile at the corner of West Liberty Street and Salem Avenue while riding his bicycle out to his bee yard.

He was followed by his only son, Hubert Graham Osteen, who was born on Dec. 25, 1870. As a boy, he worked in the printing office in the afternoon and Saturdays as he literally grew up in the newspaper business. He attended public and private schools in Sumter and graduated from Peabody Normal College, Nashville, Tennessee, in 1890. He taught school in Georgia for two years before returning to Sumter. He taught school in Sumter from 1893-94 while doing editorial work on The Watchman and Southron, Sumter’s oldest newspaper, a weekly which was owned by his father. He gave up teaching and turned his interest to the newspaper business.

On Oct. 15, 1894, he established The Sumter Daily Item as an adjunct to The Watchman and Southron. The first Daily Item was strictly a local affair, a sheet of four pages — four columns to the page. It had no telegraphic service for several years but was gradually developed and enlarged. In 1916, The Daily Item became a member of The Associated Press, and in 1929, the full leased wire teletype printed news service of The Associated Press was installed. The Daily Item sustained a heavy blow when fire destroyed the plant on June 18, 1921, on West Liberty Street.

“For one month, Mr. Osteen supervised the printing of the paper in Orangeburg while a new plant was assembled. The Daily Item plant, due to Mr. Osteen’s efforts, was reassembled in 30 days after the fire. During that time, not a single edition of the paper was missed.

“He served as editor and publisher until June 30, 1946, when he retired; however, he remained as president of Osteen Publishing Co. Inc. His son, Hubert D. Osteen, succeeded him as editor and publisher and published in the new, modern building constructed at 124 E. Hampton Ave.”

Hubert Duvall Osteen was the second editor and publisher in the history of The Sumter Daily Item. He was born in Sumter on Jan 8, 1904, to Hubert Graham and Elizabeth Duvall Osteen. He graduated from Sumter High School and Hobart College, located in Geneva, New York, in 1924.

He went to work at The Daily Item upon graduation, where he remained prior to his tour of service in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1943-46.

He became editor and publisher of The Item in 1947 and president of Osteen Publishing Co. in 1955 after the death of his father. He led The Item for 40 years, during which the paper experienced its greatest period of growth.

The number of subscribers increased from 2,000 to 22,000 during his tenure, and the number of employees increased from 10 to 75 full-time workers. In 1953, he is credited with moving The Item from West Liberty Street to a new facility at 20 N. Magnolia St. He oversaw the rebuilding of this plant after a major fire in 1965 and continued to upgrade the newspaper by investing in modern equipment and enlarging and improving the facility.

The fifth generation is currently leading the future of The Item. H.D. Osteen Jr. and his three sons, Graham, Kyle and Jack, are bringing to The Item an incredible array of technological advances. The newspaper still addresses the concerns and the day-to-day life of the community it embraced in 1894.

Hubert D. Osteen offered a concise evaluation of The Item and its purpose when he wrote in 1994 the following: “In looking back on The Item over the course of 100 years, I would like to think, and I hope most of our readers agree, that we have done more good than harm and served as a builder and constructive force in this community while telling the story of our lives.”

The history of The Item tells a powerful story of one family’s effort to produce a quality newspaper. The vision of Noah Graham, Hubert Graham, Hubert Duvall and Hubert Duvall Jr. will continue to be an integral part of the history of the community of Sumter. The fifth generation of the Osteen family looks forward to perpetuating the ideals of their forefathers while carrying The Sumter Item into the 21st century. They look forward to the next 125 years with anticipation and excitement. “The voice of The Gamecock City,” a slogan that won an Item competition at the Rex Theatre in the 1930s, has proved prophetic as this family’s dream has continued to inform and work to better the Sumter community.