It was not until 1849 when Nathan W. Thayer established the Ashtabula Telegraph that the city of Ashtabula, Ohio, had a long-running newspaper. Newspapers first appeared in Ashtabula in 1823 when Asa and John Hickox established the Ashtabula Recorder. The Recorder survived only three years, and over the next few decades, several more papers were established in Ashtabula. Many of these lasted only a short time before publication either ceased or the paper moved elsewhere in Ashtabula County, such as to the more centrally located county seat at Jefferson. The Telegraph’s name was changed to the Ashtabula Telegraph and Lake Co. Advertiser in 1851, and, under this title, it began to report on local news from nearby Lake County, merging with the Painesville Free Press in 1852 to form the Ashtabula Telegraph and Lake Co. Free Press. The Lake County interest was dropped in January 1853, and the paper, then owned and edited by John Booth, became known as the Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph.
The Telegraph was considered the newspaper of record for northern Ashtabula County, containing news and advertisements from Ashtabula and surrounding communities. The paper featured a business directory and regularly printed birth, marriage, and death notices. Republican in politics, despite its “Independent in all things” byline, the Telegraph supported Union interests during the Civil War. Ashtabula itself was at one time considered the strongest Republican county in the Western Reserve, and its proximity to Canada made it a major hub of Underground Railroad activity. News from the battlefield, soldiers’ letters, and reports from Congress were commonly included. In addition to reporting information of local and national importance, the Telegraph also printed international news.
In 1856, James Reed purchased the paper, and, in 1873, his son, James Reed, Jr., became co-proprietor. Under their leadership, the Telegraph reached a circulation of over 1,000 and held mass appeal in an area characterized by a mix of industry and agriculture. Located on Lake Erie, Ashtabula was a major coal and iron ore port; it was also situated in the heart of a rich dairy district. Most issues of the Telegraph contained household tips, poetry, and works of fiction in addition to political commentary. In 1874, the paper dropped the “weekly” from its title to become the Ashtabula Telegraph. It expanded from four to eight page issues in 1880 when its name returned to the Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph. With this change came an increase in content, such as a regular temperance column and sections devoted to school and church news. During the latter part of the 19th century, the Telegraph experienced no major changes and continued to expand through mergers with other local papers. It even boasted a daily version, the Ashtabula Daily Telegraph, for a short time in 1884. After nearly 70 years of continuous printing, the Telegraph ceased publication in 1911.
Part of this newspaper has been digitized and is available for research via Chronicling America: Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph, 1858-1873; Ashtabula Telegraph, 1874-1880; Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph, 1880.