Yesterdays: Echo for a time through the Blue Ridge

The Blue Ridge Echo was Rappahannock County’s second newspaper. The Rappahannock News was the first, but its initial version lasted only two years: 1877-1878.

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William Walter Moffett, intrepid editor of the Blue Ridge Echo, which began publication in the town of Washington in 1878.

The Blue Ridge Echo was established in 1878 by William Walter Moffett and his cousin, Horace G. Moffett. It lasted seven years until 1885, when it closed down. At one point it changed its name to “The Call,” but that was soon dropped. That said, the Echo became one of the most aggressive Democratic papers of the state, and its influence was so great that Rappahannock came to be one of the stand-bys of the Democratic Party, and could always be depended on for a big majority.

Moffett was the intrepid editor of the Echo. Other newspapers often picked up news articles from his newspaper. In 1881, The Richmond Dispatch commented, “The Blue Ridge Echo had begun its fourth year with an increased force at the helm, whose united efforts will be directed to making the paper better and brighter than ever before. We join in the hope that the efforts of the present editors will be profitable to the public and the owners.”

The newspaper was a weekly, four pages long, with a subscription rate of one dollar for a year. N.W. Ayers & Son’s was an advertising agency and published an Annual, noting all of the newspapers in the United States and something about their place of publication.

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The Annual for 1882 described Rappahannock County as having a population of 9,291 people, including 3,536 blacks, and with a Democratic majority of 609 people. It noted its location as being in Northern Virginia, having an area of about 240 square miles, and a diversified surface with the Blue Ridge on the northwest border, the soil being generally fertile. Its chief products were corn, wheat, oats, rye, tobacco, butter, wool, and livestock. The county seat was Washington, with a population of 254. Its newspaper was the Blue Ridge Echo, Democratic, published in Washington, with a circulation of 750.

In 1885, the Annual reported the circulation of the Echo had fallen to 500.

In mid-1882, the editors suspended publication, with the following announcement, which was repeated by “The Exponent” of Culpeper of June 9, 1882.

“But we do not regret the past. We are proud of the record our united purpose of heart and mind has accomplished for though grave errors have marked our way it was ever the purpose of The Echo to espouse the cause of honor, truth and justice, to inculcate a higher standard of public faith and private morals, to alleviate the sorrows of the distressed, to make the journey of life less toilsome and tempestuous. How far short of our purpose we have fallen is not for us to judge, but even a continued attempt to accomplish this purpose affords a reward richer than pure gold.

“But now when the die is cast; when the silver cord is about to be snapped, should we follow the impulses of our nature rather than our better judgment, this article would be turned into a war whoop, rallying every energy to the defense and support of the principles guarded and maintained in the past, rather than to the funeral dirge of The Blue Ridge Echo.”

By way of comment on the demise of the Blue Ridge Echo, The Exponent stated: “It is with sincere regret that we announce the suspension of our neighbor, The Blue Ridge Echo, of Washington, Rappahannock County. In the issue of last week, the proprietors announced that its publication would cease.

“The Echo has been a marvel to us ever since we have been in a position to appreciate the difficulties of a country newspaper. Situated in a small county, not containing a single market town; remote from any railroad, its advertising patronage was necessarily very limited, and it was obliged to rely for support upon its subscription list. It is well known that the present subscription rates for newspapers scarcely pay for the paper and press work. Yet, with all of its disadvantages, the Echo was a large, newsy, well conducted and well edited newspaper.

It deserved a better faith. But it does not complain of a want of proper spirit among the citizens of its county. It frankly confesses that they did all that could be expected and that its suspension was because there was not sufficient field for a newspaper. The citizens of our sister county sustain a serious loss in the suspension of the Echo, but none will regret more sincerely than The Exponent the absence of this esteemed friend from our table hereafter.”

As to Moffett, in 1883 he became a member of the State Central Democratic Committee and was then nominated and elected to the Virginia General Assembly in the same year. In 1891, Moffett moved to Roanoke County from Rappahannock County and a few years later he was made Judge of Roanoke County, a position he held for eleven years. He died in 1926, after an illustrative legal career.

Don Audette, who has a place in Sperryville, is a longtime member of the Rappahannock Lions and writes about local history in his “Yesterdays” column.

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Don Audette
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Don Audette has a place in Sperryville, is a longtime member of the Rappahannock Lions and writes about local history in his "Yesterdays" column for the Rappahannock News.