From the editor: The Altamont Enterprise has come home

Altamont artist Ed Cowley painted this oil of 123 and 125 Maple Ave.

Every morning, I walk my dog on Brandle Road. He is a puppy, born in October.

He has the inquisitiveness of youth. The world is new to him.

Usually, he has his nose to the ground, sniffing scents I can’t discern. But today, he looked up and all around trying to find the noise I think he thought was made by a slew of barking dogs. He looked puzzled.

The noise came from the sky. And was too high-pitched to come from dogs.

I looked up, too, and saw the familiar ragged V of geese returning from their winter stay down South.

“They’re coming home,” I told my dog.

Yes, I talk to my dog.

I have been pondering the meaning of home for the last fortnight.

My favorite definition of home is not a sentimental one. It comes from Robert Frost’s poem, “The Death of the Hired Man.”

In my childhood, my father read Frost’s poems to me and my sisters at our dinner table. One of them was the poem about Silas, returning, an old and broken man, to the farm where he had once worked as a hired man.

Later, as a young woman, I was given a worn volume of the collected poems of Robert Frost by the man who would become my husband. I reached today for that volume to read the poem I remembered so vividly but had not memorized as I had others.

It still rang true for me. The farmer’s wife, Mary, had discovered Silas huddled against the barn door, fast asleep. She dragged him to the house and gave him tea. 

When the farmer, Warren, returns home, Mary sits with him on their porch to tell him the news. They puzzle over why Silas would come to them rather than to his wealthy brother, who lives just a piece down the road, if he were in need.

Mary tells her husband that Silas has come home to die.

“Home?” Warren gently mocks.

“Yes, what else but home?” asks Mary.

And here is the line I was waiting for, the one that defines home in the truest sense I know.

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” says Mary.

Warren responds, “I should have called it something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”

I have been thinking about home because The Altamont Enterprise — our newspaper and yours — has come home.

When Marcello Iaia, myself, and my husband bought the newspaper in 2015, we bought a name and a subscription list, and took up residence across Maple Avenue from the old Enterprise building.

We wrote then, “Are we crazy?

“In an era when newspapers are losing readers, cutting staff, and, sadly, closing, we have decided to buy one — yours, The Altamont Enterprise. We, the new publishers, are three award-winning journalists who believe that good reporting is essential to democracy. Further, we believe, a good newspaper can bind a community as well as inform it.”

We still believe that. With a small but devoted staff, we have worked hard for the past eight years to find and tell the truth in the towns we cover.

Jim and Wanda Gardner continued their lifelong labors in the building across the street, at 123 Maple Avenue. Jim Gardner started working at the Enterprise print shop there as a printer’s devil when he was in high school. More than 70 years later, he was still there, with his wife, Wanda, beside him.

“Retirement” didn’t seem to be in their vocabulary.

But Marcello Iaia had a vision — I called it a pipe dream — to return to 123 Maple Avenue.

It had seemed unrealistic to me. Our reporters, Sean Mulkerrin and Noah Zweifel, since the pandemic had liked working from home and our photographer, Mike Koff, sends in his pictures from afar as does our artist, Carol Coogan. Holly Busch manages circulation on the road and Ellen Schreibstein handles legal notices from her home.

We use modern technology — computers and offset, not a Linotype to print letterpress pages.

But still, the old building was home.

The Knowersville Enterprise, as it was called before the village, and therefore the newspaper, changed its name to Altamont, had had a peripatetic existence for the first 17 years of its life. It was first printed in 1884 at 154 Church Street, now called Maple Avenue.

After the great fire of 1886, which destroyed much of the Church Street business district, the paper moved to 198 Main Street, now home to the Main Street Café and Bakery. The paper’s office then moved to three different locations on Main Street before returning to Maple Avenue in 1901.

I detailed the newspaper’s history at length soon after we purchased it. But what I had missed in the new location was history in a visceral sense.

I missed the smell of printer’s ink. I missed taking Scout troops down the creaky stairs to our cellar where Mister Thunder, the original press for our broadsheet, still looked noble even if covered with cobwebs.

I missed pulling open random drawers of type to see exquisite letters from an earlier era. I missed the sound of rain on a tin roof — that’s what it sounded like to me when Jim sat at the Intertype machine creating sticks of type.

I even missed people coming in off the street to pound on my desk and tell me why they disagreed with my latest editorial.

I missed the worn marble composing tables and the walls that Wanda had lined with the many shining awards we’d won. I missed the portrait of our founder, David H. Crowe, a man with a clipped mustache and a penetrating gaze.

“The pilot is at the wheel, the launching has gone on merrily, and is ominous of success,” Crowe wrote in our first edition. “We shall have no use for life preservers.”

Crowe — an auctioneer, churchman, Odd Fellow, prohibitionist, sometime farmer and teacher, would-be preacher, and fulltime booster — printed 300 copies of the first Enterprise, from a hand press. He saw the newspapers as guests.

“Today a guest visits the citizens of Knowersville,” he wrote. “An unknown, strange guest. Not a visitor of flesh and blood but a silent speaker of true things that will each week go to every home where its presence is welcomed.”

Crowe also asked, “Will the people of Knowersville and the surrounding towns support and sustain a journal which is ready for a square knockdown with wrong each week?”

They did, and the paper carried on through various owners and locations. In June 1901, John and Junius Ogsbury purchased the property at 123 Maple — once a tin shop, then a stove shop, then a hardware store — and The Enterprise had been there ever since.

“We have moved to a new location … a trying experience especially for a printing operation,” the Ogsburys wrote in 1901. We can relate to that well over a century later as we carefully moved more than a century of archived newspapers and a half-century of photographs back to their home in recent weeks.

“We are not boastful but speak in a spirit of achievement long labored for…,” wrote the Ogsburys 139 years ago. “We trust to improve and make the paper more worthy of the generous support already accorded us.”

John D. Ogsbury steered The Enterprise through two financial crises — the recession after World War I and the Great Depression of the 1930s — which destroyed hundreds of weeklies in New York State alone. 

We find ourselves again in trying financial times for newspapers but, like the Ogsburys, we trust to improve and make the paper more worthy of the generous support already accorded us.

Jim is serving as a mentor to Marcello who will carry on the Enterprise’s century-old tradition of printing for the community.

And we envision continuing, not just as a newspaper with all the modern methods of reaching residents — a website, podcasts, video forums, a daily electronic newsletter — but also as a center to our community.

We hope to repurpose the old wainscoted meeting hall on the top floor of 123 Maple Avenue, once used by the Odd Fellows, to be an inclusive meeting space for candidate debates and community forums.

We have much work ahead of us but, with the support of our readers, we hope to make this a community home. In an era when our society has become splintered, we want to provide common ground for civil discourse.

We want The Enterprise to be a home for the community.

Please, come in from the cold; join us.

After all: Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor


Wendy Dwyer
Joined: 03/20/2020 - 14:19
What a story, such an interesting history.

I love the last lines from the poem, made me well up. What a wonderful thing to do , to create a community space , we really need places like this in these times. I hope community members can help support this endeavor. Thank you AE!

More Editorials

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.