On October 22, 1914, Sol Lewis (1888-1953) publishes his first edition of the Lynden Tribune. Although a newspaper named the Tribune has been published in the northern Whatcom County community of Lynden since 1908, Lewis is the one who will bring the little weekly a measure of fame. The paper flourishes under his direction, and Lewis will later gain national recognition. After his 1953 death, the paper will continue to grow and expand under the management of his two sons, William "Bill" (1920-2011) and Julian (1926-2005), and later under his grandson, Michael (b. 1957).
Sol Lewis Takes Charge
Lynden had four newspapers over a period of 20 years before the Lynden Tribune debuted on July 9, 1908. It went through several owners before Sol Lewis bought the paper in the autumn of 1914, paying $7,500 that he'd borrowed from his family as a down payment. Lewis was a 1912 journalism graduate of the University of Washington and had gained teaching and reporting experience in the two years before his arrival in Lynden. Although owning and publishing a town newspaper was a first for him, it turned out not to be a problem.
Lewis's first edition of the Tribune, issued on Thursday, October 22, 1914, looked much like the paper that preceded it a week earlier. There was no salutation from Lewis or obvious changes in format or style. In fact, the only difference is almost imperceptible -- a change in the editor's name in the paper's masthead on page 4, from "H. Rosenzweig" to "S. H. Lewis" (Masthead, Lynden Tribune).
A picture of Ole Hanson (1874-1940) appeared on the front page; the Tribune was endorsing him in his run for U.S. Senate (he lost, but went on to national renown as Seattle's mayor when he stared down the Seattle General Strike in 1919). The front page also featured an update from the local temperance committee, as well as an article, apparently written by several committee members, explaining why Lynden should vote in favor of Prohibition in the upcoming election. (Lynden voters did, along with the rest of the state, but the law was repealed in 1933.) A list of prizes won at the Northwest Washington Fair took up the entire left third of the front page and continued on page six. A few bits of local news, an obituary, and a short article suggesting 5th Street be paved between Main and Front streets completed the page.
Nearly half of the eight-page paper consisted of ads, and one merits an honorable mention here. Half of page 3 held an ad for the Lynden Department Store, extending to everyone a "hearty welcome in our new home" ("We Have Moved"), into which the store had just moved into days earlier, and was still in the process of fully stocking and furnishing.
Though there was nothing obviously special about the ad or the move, a Lynden historian will immediately see what they portended. The new building, located on the northeast corner of 5th and Front streets, housed the Lynden Department Store until 1979, and the store became renowned throughout northwestern Washington for its selection and service. Store owner W. H. "Billy" Waples (1875-1962) became synonymous with Lynden history, and the building, remodeled and reopened in 2015 after a devastating 2008 fire, now houses several businesses and the upscale Inn at Lynden.
The Lynden Gimlet
Lewis had an upbeat, funny, folksy style of writing that struck a chord with his readers, and before long he was making his mark on the Tribune. On February 8, 1917, he published the first of what became a long series of The Lynden Gimlet, a column of 10 or so paragraphs of quips and commentary about happenings around Lynden. (Lewis's Gimlet was named after a small tool with a screw tip that was used for boring holes, not the cocktail of the same name.) He wrote it for more than 30 years and supplemented it in later years with Gimlet Gems, a collection of highlights from earlier columns. The Gimlet became an integral part of the paper, and here's a snippet from the first column:
"A debate has been going on lately as to who has the best beard in the Lynden district. What is your opinion? Let The Gimlet know. By beard, we do not mean a mere fragment such as Nels Jacobson carries below his lip, but something that can be discerned an acre or so away such as those of Uncle John Bussard, or E. Zweegman. In grading for quality, age, color, and weight should be taken into consideration. Mail in your vote" (The Lynden Gimlet).
His paper was informative as well as funny, and it soon became a reliable, conservative voice for northern Whatcom County. The paper and its writers (as well as Lewis himself) went on to win numerous awards over the years, and Lewis's talents became recognized by writers and editors all over the country. Though offered other, and larger, jobs, he loved life as a country editor and stayed in Lynden, ever a booster for the community he fondly called Parsnip Corners.
National Recognition and Beyond
On August 6, 1942, Lewis participated in a radio broadcast in Seattle of America's Town Meeting of the Air, a popular weekly show that featured a discussion of current events by newsmakers from all over the country. Current events in 1942 meant World War II, and publishers of various newspapers, both large and small, participated in a discussion of the role of the press during wartime. Lewis, representing the small weekly newspaper, wowed the crowd with his positive, back-to-basics, full-speed-ahead philosophy. His presentation made news all over the country, and accolades and writing offers cascaded into his office. Lewis declined most of the offers, but he did take The Seattle Times up on its invitation to write a column, which appeared in the Times until December 1950.
Sol Lewis died in 1953, after which his sons Bill and Julian successfully grew both the Tribune and a related publishing business. Bill wrote The Lynden Gimlet for a few years, but he had his own style, and later started his own column. Grandson Michael assumed partial ownership of the business in 1984 when Bill retired, and became full owner in 1992 after his father, Julian, retired. The Tribune has continued to prosper under Michael Lewis's management, and with an impressive history not found in many small-town papers, it has remained influential in the Lynden community.