Column: The newspaper office has generated as many memories as stories over the years | Latest titles
In the summer of 2005, I felt a rush of excitement as I walked into the office of the Amherst New Era-Progress and the Nelson County Times for the first time.
As a native of Amherst County and a frequent traveler to the town of Amherst, I had walked past the building several times and felt a slight curiosity as to what it was and how it operated. “There’s a story there,” I told myself unconsciously, even years before I got directly involved in the craft of storytelling through journalism.
I had spent weeks interning at The News & Advance that summer and had taken the familiar route on US 29 Business from my Lynchburg residence to start a new job that summer. Even though I’ve never set foot there, I felt like I was at home in an uncertain career.
Over the weeks of getting to know my colleagues and this special building, those initial fears dissipated. For some reason I still can’t explain to this day, it felt like I knew the place from the start. He embodied the spirit of the communities in Amherst and Nelson County that we spent so much time covering and immersing ourselves in.
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That summer, going to familiar places like Winton Country Club and Amherst County High School, and many, many new ones, I felt history converging with the present. I spent a lot of time during the last five months of 2005 and the following year traveling the roads of Nelson County, seeing events and places such as Hurricane Camille and the Waltons Museum in Schuyler, to name a few.
This year and a half of “cutting my teeth”, as they say, in this profession has been invaluable. I loved coming to work in my office in the middle of the city where the sun shone through the windows in the summer and the fall was pleasant and comforting.
At that time, it was a packed house with three reporters and a full-time editor, and as the news industry was affected in later years, some of that work consolidated. While I was there as a new reporter for the two weeklies, we also had the privilege of designing and producing these newspapers on Tuesdays.
One of my favorite activities of the week was laying out the pages, printing out the hard copy and bringing it to a standing desk where we marked things that needed to be corrected. A short time later, once the page corrections had been made, the document was sent by computer to The News & Advance for printing. The next morning I picked up a copy from reception – a magical feeling.
Enjoyed talking to colleagues about the history of the building and how it worked with a printing press in the basement and darkrooms for photos. I also really enjoyed the archive room downstairs where you could look up old papers and browse the history of the county at your fingertips.
It was a privilege to be part of this story. Through the archives I learned of the first edition of what eventually became known as New Era-Progress, first published in 1881, when it was simply known as Amherst New Era . In the early 1890s a competitor, the Amherst Progress, became established and the two newspapers were purchased by a trio of Amherst businessmen in 1924. In 1946, J. Bernard McDearmon and his wife , Louise, bought it and the business had several locations around town before the building at 134 Second St. in Amherst opened in 1969.
The Nelson County Times, also known as the “Nelson Examiner”, dates back to 1874 and between 1924 and 1937 came under the Amherst Publishing Company. One thing I wish I had experienced as a former Nelson County Times reporter, that first job at this company that I treasured, was to experience the downtown Lovingston weekly office that closed before I arrived on board.
I remember long summer and fall drives from Nelson and back to the Amherst office to fill up like you would at a gas station. What fueled me was having a place where I liked to come to work, so much so that in early 2007, when I accepted a job at The News & Advance, I had to hesitate to leaving my comfortable spot by the window overlooking Front Street. .
I especially enjoyed going to the office at night and turning on the lights. Something about it after dark made the character stand out. Many election days, hearings steps from the courthouse, or county government meetings have had me writing long into the night when Amherst felt like he was sleeping.
Another irreplaceable advantage was its proximity to everything. Steps from the courthouse, sheriff’s office, government and municipal government, school administration, etc., it was truly a front seat of the county seat.
And even more than the building, what I miss the most are the great people who worked there. Lots of hard work, good conversations and laughs have taken place within these walls, I can assure you.
Sometime in the 1990s, printing of the two weeklies crossed the James River to Lynchburg, ending an era. Over the next several years, more changes occurred, including the Amherst-Nelson office eventually closing its doors to the public in the summer of 2018 when business transactions moved to Lynchburg.
As another era comes to an end for the Amherst and Nelson weeklies with the sale of the office to a local couple, I want readers to know that our commitment to covering community news is stronger than ever. The memories and pride that this wonderful place instilled rumbles as loud as the press that shook the building as told to me by Lee Luther Jr., a photographer as dedicated as anyone I know to capturing the communities of Amherst and Nelson through photos.
Although there is no physical office for the newspaper in Amherst, readers of the New Era-Progress and Nelson County Times should know that we remain committed to covering these communities. We are accessible by email and phone and our physical address is The News & Advance, 101 Wyndale Drive, Lynchburg.
Support local journalism and stay engaged. If you have a story you think you should cover, suggest it. More chapters in the story of both newspapers will be written, so stay tuned. Now and always, thanks for reading.