A century ago the Rappahannock News was called The Blue Ridge Guide. Only four pages long, it looked like the New York Times. It had seven columns jam-packed with small print and small headlines, with no page-filling photos or illustrations.
Stories of tragedies on the front page caught the eye. Coverage of national, international, and Virginia news plus a religious column filled other columns.
There aren’t many copies of The Blue Ridge Guide around these days. There is only one that is 100-years old in the Rappahannock County Historical Society, that of Feb. 10, 1910. That newspaper came out as now, on Thursdays. A subscription was likely $1 a year as it was in 1911, about $23 a year in today’s money.
If someone in 1910 plunked down a few cents on the wooden counter of what is now the Corner Store in Sperryville (the counter is still there) the front-page news of the Feb. 10, 1910 issue would have had a familiar ring to us today. Eleven men were dead in a mine explosion in Pennsylvania. A man and woman were found dead together in Philadelphia: a double murder? A consummated suicide pact? Or two sudden deaths from natural causes? Food dealers in New York City had 36 million eggs and 100,000 pounds of chicken stored in a warehouse in Jersey City for almost a year, waiting for prices to go up.
The front page also covered Virginia legislative matters, deaths of notables, and human interest stories. There was one about a 14-year old in a Richmond Police Court. He was caught stealing a loaf of bread from a bakery at 4 a.m. to take to his starving mother. The judge listened and then ordered the bailiff to pass the hat, collecting $15, with the judge putting in $5 himself to help the kid out.
The front-page religious column was entirely devoted to a thorough discussion, with biblical references, of earthly wealth versus heavenly wealth.
Ads for nationally known products in The Blue Ridge Guide were something else. Take a cartoon ad on the back page for Munyon’s Paw-Paw Laxative Pills. It shows a man wanting to divorce his wife and his lawyer recommending Paw-Paw pills. Later, the man says he has the best wife in the world, well worth the $500 paid to the lawyer.
Later that same year, in December 1910, “Dr” Munyon pleaded guilty after government chemists found two of his so-called cures “contained nothing but save cane sugar, while a third contained mercury, potassium, and sugar of milk,” a clear misbranding of his products. The bowel remedy was worthless.
Another ad on the back page was for Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound to cure “female ills.” It was found to contain about 19 percent alcohol.
Then, there was an ad on an inside page of the paper for Electric Bitters, a sure cure “for nervous prostration and female weaknesses.” It was 20 percent alcohol.
In the early 1900s, such patent medicines were found by state chemists, boards of health, and others to contain large amounts of alcohol and some had cocaine and opium. Women back in those days had a very tough life. Maybe patent medicines mellowed things out for them.
The two inside pages of The Blue Ridge Guide were devoted to Rappahannock County matters. Villages had their own columns, mostly about who was ill, getting better, visiting, or entertaining. Or they contained cryptic comments understood only by those in the know, such as these from Sperryville: “Ask Swartz about the “Hot-Head,” or “What Did Scott do for Clyde?”
There was some general local news. “Seventeen took the examination last Saturday for census enumerators for this county. The county is entitled to eight enumerators.” It was census time in 1910, just as it is this year in 2010. And, under a headline of “They Want a New Sidewalk,” a pointed message, probably to the Board of Supervisors, minced no words. “A new sidewalk is badly needed from the jail to the new High School building. In muddy weather the children and teachers have to walk in mud ankle deep. Get to work — get a move on yourself and let’s have a good walk. Right now is the time.”
Although the 1909 issue was only four pages long, The Blue Ridge Guide grew to eight pages by 1911 as the economy improved. According to “Rappahannock County, Virginia, a History,” by Elizabeth Johnson, the newspaper lasted until 1934 when George Cary sold it to Rufus Roberts and he reduced it to one page in the Culpeper Star. The current Rappahannock News, with L.C. Bowie initially as publisher, began on Nov. 3, 1949, and continues to this day.
But one wonders if somewhere in some attic in Rappahannock County a stack of The Blue Ridge Guides awaits discovery. What an incredible find that would be.