Hot Springs (Garland County) has had a number of newspapers come and go throughout its history. Local residents but also visitors to the Spa City from around the country have made up the readership of Hot Springs’ papers over the years. Between 1873 and 1883 alone, fifteen Hot Springs newspapers began and ended operation. This fact led Robert W. Leigh, historian of the Arkansas Press Association, to state in 1883, “Hot Springs has been the birthplace and burial ground of many a newspaper.” The Sentinel-Record (often abbreviated as S-R), the only local newspaper circulated daily throughout the area, remains as the last survivor of a series of newspaper mergers in Hot Springs.
The first record of a local newspaper in the Spa City dates back to June 25, 1869, when the Courier was published by J. D. Huston and W. G. Musgrove. It was published (though not continuously) until January 20, 1871, when newspaperman A. S. Allard took over, publishing the Courier until 1874.
The line of newspapers that evolved into the Sentinel-Record began in 1874 with the Daily Sentinel, published by Ellis Woolman and edited by George Lower. Merging his operation with another journal, Woolman began publishing the Sentinel-Star in 1877. Around 1880, an advertisement from Woolman in Charles Cutter’s Guide to the Hot Springs of Arkansas proclaimed the Hot Springs Sentinal [sic] Star as “the oldest daily newspaper published at Hot Springs, Arkansas.” The Sentinel-Star continued publication until John Higgins acquired it in 1882, renaming it the Sentinel. In 1899, John Higgins began a newspaper called the Record, and he eventually merged the Sentinel with the Record; since that time, the newspaper has been known as the Sentinel-Record.
Before the merger, however, the S-R’s antecedents had a colorful history. In 1882, Charles Matthews, editor of the Sentinel-Star, wrote a scathing editorial criticizing what he called “The Arlington Gang.” Matthews accused local entrepreneurs Samuel Fordyce, Frank Flynn, and DeWitt Rugg of corruption by using devious methods to get the Arlington Hotel greatly reduced fees in acquiring thermal water from the federal government. A shootout between Fordyce, Flynn, Rugg, and Matthews took place on Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs on September 22, 1882; editor Matthews was killed. After the “Arlington Gang” was charged with manslaughter, Flynn and Rugg were acquitted. Fordyce paid a hefty fine after pleading guilty to simple assault and battery. The following year, in 1883, another local editor, Mose Harris, wrote a column criticizing the ruling by the Circuit Court during the trials of Fordyce, Flynn, and Rugg. Editor Harris was jailed for contempt of court.
Tracing the subsequent history of newspapers in Hot Springs becomes difficult because major portions of the downtown area, including the newspaper offices, were destroyed or severely damaged by fire twice in the early 1900s, on February 26, 1905, and September 5, 1913. However, highlights of the Sentinel-Record can be traced through later decades.
In the 1920s, the entertainment page of the Sentinel-Record carried a schedule for “Colored Baseball,” a nod to the Negro League players who regularly came to the Spa City for spring training. Also in the 1920s, the S-R added syndicated columns titled “Boxing” and “Golf Notes,” as well as a crossword puzzle and an occasional cartoon. Perhaps reflecting those added features, in the 1920s, the S-R could no longer offer the yearly subscription rate of $6.00, which it had maintained since 1900. The price was increased to $3.35 for six months.
In 1929, the Sentinel-Record was purchased by Clyde Eber Palmer. Palmer, a Nebraska businessman, had moved to Texarkana (Miller County) in 1909; there, he bought the Texarkana Courier, which he renamed the Four States Press. This purchase would be the beginning of his chain of small-town Arkansas newspapers. In addition to the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record, Palmer bought the Camden News, El Dorado News-Times, Magnolia Banner News, and Hope Star.
Palmer’s son-in-law, Walter Hussman, joined Palmer’s organization in 1932. Hussman would become the corporation’s publisher and president in 1957, the year of Palmer’s death. According to Palmer’s grandson, Walter E. Hussman Jr., “One of my grandfather’s most noted accomplishments was establishing the first automatic teletypesetter (TTS) circuits connecting a group of newspapers in 1942, the first use of technology to link newspapers instantly. This ‘Palmer Circuit’ was the first of its kind in the United States and led to the establishment of such systems at other newspaper groups and press associations.”
According to Hussman, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, many newspapers were in trouble, including the Sentinel-Record. His father moved to Hot Springs to attempt reviving the newspaper, which had been foreclosed on by creditors. As Walter Hussman Jr. (who would become the publisher of the Arkansas Democrat) explained, “Since Hot Springs was a national park and a tourist destination, he came up with the idea of an annual ‘mail it away’ edition. Under this promotion, subscribers and citizens of Hot Springs would pay to have a copy of one issue of the mailed edition sent to friends and acquaintances around the country, promoting Hot Springs as a tourist destination. The section was a big success, helping the newspaper repay its debts and get out of foreclosure. My dad said the newspaper was thereafter consistently profitable.”
Also in the 1930s, more syndicated columns were added, including “On the Sidelines,” which discussed sports, and one called “Charm Chats.” At this time, the S-R was divided into sections, including movies, personals, radio, society, sports, and “Bath House Schedule,” reflecting the bread-and-butter industry of the Spa City. Also in the 1930s, more items for and about women began to be included. One headline, “Attire Causing Stir,” appeared after a woman was seen on Central Avenue in Hot Springs “dressed in the regular attire of the sterner sex,” i.e., wearing men’s clothes. The woman simply said she wore what felt more comfortable.
After wartime coverage in the 1940s, the prosperity of the 1950s saw the Sentinel-Record increase its number of pages from about ten to twenty-eight. Subscription costs rose to $10 a year or $1 a month. Clyde Palmer’s daughter, Alden Palmer Mooney, became general manager. In 1972, the Sentinel-Record added color, and in 1973, it joined the newspaper companies owned by Hussman by merging into WEHCO Media, Inc.
The S-R has received numerous awards from the Associated Press and the Arkansas Education Association, as well as Distinguished Service Awards in Journalism from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. In the twenty-first century, the Sentinel-Record places a large emphasis on local news. It is assembled through computer pagination and printed in Little Rock (Pulaski County).
For additional information:
Allsop, Fred W. History of the Arkansas Press for a Hundred Years and More. Little Rock: Parke-Harper Publishing, 1922.
Anthony, Isabel B. Garland County, Arkansas: Our History and Heritage. Hot Springs, AR: Garland County Historical Society, 2009.
Dougan, Michael B. Community Diaries: Arkansas Newspapering, 1819–2002. Little Rock: August House, 2003.
“Hot Springs Has Been Birthplace, Burial Ground of Many Newspapers.” Sentinel-Record, June 1, 1958, p. 16.
Hussman, Walter E., Jr. “The Palmer-Hussman Families.” ArkansasOnline.com. http://www.arkansasonline.com/tools/palmerhussmanhistory (accessed March 15, 2018).
Mross, Steve. “The Hot Springs Sentinel-Record Looks Back.” The Record (2016): 6.1–6.16.
“Newspapers Have Had Colorful History in Hot Springs.” Sentinel-Record, July 16, 1972, p. 34.
Sentinel-Record. http://www.hotsr.com/ (accessed March 15, 2018).
Garland County Historical Society