Farmington Press & John Emery

Power of the Press

With the help and encouragement of John Emery and the Farmington Press, the village of Farmington would receive its Charter. So important was the role Emery and the Press played in having the 1872 Charter accepted by the community, the story of he and his newspaper needs to be told.

“Horrid black mud, and dust, with filthy, stagnant pools that filled the atmosphere with what in any eastern climate would be a real pestilence,” was Emery’s first impression of Farmington and its streets in the spring of 1870.

Emery arrived from Boston in search of a healthier climate. He also came to look around Farmington to see if the community would be able to support a new newspaper. Farmington was without a newspaper in 1870 after Frank J. Mead folded the Telegraph and moved to the Dakota Territory.

A native of Maine, Emery had lived all his life on the east coast, but the foggy and damp climate affected his health. It seemed that Farmington’s dust would be more suitable than fog and the fine aroma of Farmington’s filth healthier for him than the salty spray of ocean air.

Despite his health, things had been good back east for Emery. Born at Eastport, Maine, in 1822, he spent his youth sailing the Atlantic. His nautical experience qualified him for a place on the Massachusetts Board of Pilot Commissioners. In 1860 he was appointed an Inspector at the Boston Custom House, a position he held for six years, and from which he was promptly discharged because he swore at President Andrew Johnson when he “swung ‘round the circle.”

During the congressional elections of 1866, President Johnson made a “swing ‘round the circle” - a tour of the important cities of the east and middle west - to explain the reconstruction policy to the people and to help elect a congress with which he could work. His efforts were a failure. Under the goad of vicious heckling, Johnson lost his temper and hurt rather than helped his cause. One of the loudest hecklers was Emery.

After losing his government job Emery went back to the business he knew best. When he was 14 he became a printer’s apprentice and for six years learned the newspaper trade. When he was 26, he purchased the Eastport, Maine, Sentinel, his hometown newspaper. He subsequently moved to Massachusetts on account of his health and purchased the Provincetown Banner and the Harwich Press.

In 1870 a change in health led him to sell the newspapers. He went west in search of a healthier climate. Arriving at Minnesota in May, he met General John Averill, a veteran of the Minnesota sixth Infantry, who told him of an opening for a paper in Farmington.

Emery spent a few days in Farmington and wasn’t impressed with what he saw, but the town had possibilities. After some doubts and hesitation, he wrote to his wife, Mary, to pack up his type and newspaper equipment, hire a railroad car and come to Farmington as soon as possible.

When the boxcar arrived at Farmington in June and finally opened, Emery was horrified to see all the neatly packed type spilled and scattered on the boxcar floor. Type that has been spilled is known as pied type. It took the Emery’s two months to sort them and get them in working order. On August 4, 1870, the first issue of the Farmington Press appeared in town.

History of Farmington contributed by David Schreier

John Emery and the Truth

“Here shall the PRESS the People’s Rights maintain,
Unawed by influence and unbribed by gain.
Pledged to no party’s arbitrary sway,
We follow truth where’er it leads the way,” was the motto Emery,
printed in every issue of his newspaper.

Outspoken about the community’s economic, social, spiritual, intellectual and physical health, Emery never wavered in following the Truth - as he saw it.

However, not everyone saw it his way, and expressed their differences with him in their own style.

“We have contended with every species of personal abuse, deceit, lying, defamation and slander, that could be connected by a few mean souls, and one malicious fool in particular, that were resorted to in order to injure our business and defame the character of our family - not even the wife being spared,” wrote Emery in the August 10, 1871 issue. “With all this, and in a period of general dullness and cry of hard times in this neighborhood, we have yet managed, by hard work and close application, by both man and wife (both in poor health), to get all the friends worth having, keep our Press moving, pay our bills, and TELL THE TRUTH.”

Farmington wasn’t making any progress in the early 1870s and he let the community know it, Things had gone from bad to worse and people were getting tired of Emery harping about it.

Unsanitary conditions of the streets and alleys created health problems. The first cold blooded murder in town - a local farmer beaten to death with a piece of firewood - was the result of a quarrel in one of Farmington’s six saloons, and a shop keeper rousted from his bed and dragged through the muddy streets by four inebriated and unhappy customers, were a few problems the community had no way to deal with.

These occurrences were “an outrage upon law and decency,” wrote Emery in the November 2, 1871 issue.

“People are determined that “law and order” shall prevail here even if it may be necessary to suppress every saloon in the village for that purpose.”

To have “law and order” prevail in the community, Farmington needed to be incorporated and organize a municipal government.

It took Emery a year and a half of hard campaigning to get the community ready.

In January 1872, state senator R.J. Chewning, a resident of Farmington, introduced a bill to have Farmington incorporated.

At last it seems that an act to incorporate the Village of Farmington has passed through the Legislature. We hope to have a copy of it soon. It should be printed and put in the hands of every person interested, so that all can act and vote upon it understandingly, when called upon. There can be no doubt of the importance of such a measure, in regulating and improving the village and enhancing the value of every man’s estate within its limits,” wrote Emery in the February 29, 1872 issue.

A copy of the act was slow to arrive but hurriedly printed in the March 21 issue for the residents to read, study and discuss its implications.

“In our view, it is very fair and equitable,” wrote Emery. Section 17 of the document indicated that the act of incorporation would be voted upon on the first Monday of April at Niskern’s Hotel on the corner of Oak and Second Streets.

After a week of discussing the act Emery had this to say in the March 28 issue: “The Incorporation Act, we suppose, is to be voted upon next Monday afternoon, and we presume all interested will be at the polls, to vote for or against it. Our opinion is that the act will be accepted by a respectable majority; for the fact is, the better portion of the people in this village are sick of the miserable and careless manner in which the place has gone on, with no government, no regulations, and no responsibility. If they are to live here, they desire to have the place assume a decent appearance, and made somewhat attractive, so that strangers passing thro’ and desiring a place to locate may not be repelled by the absence of all systems, order and neatness, which are so agreeable to people from the eastern States, generally, and to all people of taste and refinement from anywhere. Hundreds of persons in search of good farming locations, which are here abundant - people with money, enterprise and taste - what we specially need and must have to build here, have passed us by: the shanty-like aspect of things, the muddy streets and sink-holes, the absence of sidewalks and trees, made them dubious, and so they passed on, We must remedy all this, if possible, and the first step is now before us. We therefore urge all friends of order and improvement who have votes to give to throw them “For the Act of Incorporation,” on Monday next when they assemble to ballot.”

On April 1, 1872, the Act of Incorporation was approved by 89 voters and rejected by 11. Although the Act of Incorporation was accepted, Farmington had to wait a little longer for its anticipated Village Charter.

Emery was ready for the next step in the process and encouraged qualified residents to consider running for public office.

A citizen’s caucus was held on Friday, May 3, with nine candidates competing for six offices. It was no surprise that the candidates who received the majority votes at the caucus were the ones elected as Farmington’s first public officials on Monday, May 6.

B.F. Miller, a merchant, and Thomas C. Davis, a banker and wealthiest individual in town, were elected to the Board of Trustees. Edward Brackett, a railroad agent, was also elected a Trustee and chosen to preside over the Board.

J.F. Dilley, a merchant, was elected Constable, Charles B. Smith, a merchant and real estate agent, was elected Treasurer, and W. Gibbons, a merchant, was elected Justice of the Peace. Samuel Webster was appointed the Village Assessor by the Board of Trustees and John Emery was asked to be the community’s first Village Clerk.

Emery gave the newly elected officials some advice in the May 9 issue: “The officers elected are as competent and faithful as could be gathered from the list of those who would be willing to serve; and we trust they will perform their duties in an acceptable manner. The trustees are burdened with the entire management of the village government, and their office is one of much responsibility and trust. They will have plenty to see to, lots of fault found with them, and have no pay for their trouble - always expecting the satisfaction they will feel in regulating, re-arranging and beautifying this naturally pretty village. We say to our new Board of Officers: Go ahead, moderately, but firmly and fearlessly; and manage our young city’s affairs just you would manage your own estates - as if you had all to enjoy and all to pay for yourselves - and you cannot go very wide of the mark.”

The officers of the Board of Trustees did go ahead moderately, firmly and fearlessly, as well as generations of elected and appointed officials who followed them. Farmington’s charter would change with the community. In 1900 Farmington was re-incorporated. The village was then governed under the “general Village Laws of the State of Minnesota.” The special charter granted to the village in 1872 by the State was surrendered. The greatest benefit of the re-incorporation was that the duties of the elected officials were better defined. The stage was set for the community to see its greatest changes.

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