In 1858, some of Fayette County’s leading citizens asked William Millikan, the proprietor of a newspaper in La Porte, Ind., to relocate to Washington C. H. and publish a paper that would espouse the policies of the Republican Party created in 1854. Millikan accepted the proposal, and the first edition of the weekly newspaper he named the Fayette County Herald appeared on Dec. 11, 1858.
William Millikan was born near Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1806. Raised in Delaware, Ohio, he learned the printer’s trade at the Delaware Gazette and later purchased an interest in the paper. He moved to South Bend, Ind. when in his late 20s, and founded the South Bend Free Press. In 1842, Millikan sold the South Bend newspaper to a young journalist named Schuyler Colfax, who later became an important Hoosier State Republican politician. Colfax served as speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives during the Civil War and as Vice President of the United States in the first term of President Ulysses Grant (1869-1873).
For half a century, William Millikan was one of Fayette County’s most respected and influential citizens. His Fayette County Herald covered politics, social events, and the whereabouts of the county’s soldiers during the Civil War. The paper never wavered in its support of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War president. Its persuasive, persistent arguments on behalf of the Unionist cause played an important role in Lincoln winning Fayette County by 332 votes in the presidential election of 1860 and by a much wider margin in the presidential election of 1864.
The building housing the Fayette County Herald was located at the northwest corner of Court and Main streets. Across from the Herald’s office on West Court Street was the office of the Washington Register, the county’s Democratic newspaper. Millikan called the Register “the mouthpiece of the county’s rebel sympathizers.” William Millikan made his son W. W. Millikan a partner in the Fayette County Herald in 1868. In 1875, the Herald became a daily newspaper.
William Millikan was an unabashed promoter of Fayette County as the “Garden Spot of Ohio.” Typically, he trumpeted in one editorial that Fayette County had “sharper traders and prettier women than any place this side of sundown.”
A photograph of Millikan taken late in his life shows a serious countenance, but the editor had a playful side too. He liked to coax the Herald’s readers to share with him the bounty of their gardens, farms and orchards. In the pages of the paper, Millikan expressed his “indebtedness to Daniel Wood for a basket full of nice apples,” adding that “he had no objections to anyone else following the example of our friend Wood.” And again in print, this time in the Herald’s final edition of 1861, he thanked Bowman Hess, the undertaker, “for the fine turkey he provided for our Christmas dinner.”
After four years as Vice President of the United States, Schuyler Colfax retired from politics and launched a successful career as a traveling lecturer. He came to Washington C. H. on Oct. 30, 1878 and spoke at the second-floor music hall on South Main Street. The topic of his lecture was the life and character of Abraham Lincoln. Millikan and Colfax likely spent some time together that day, for the two veteran newsmen would have had much to talk about.
Millikan died in December 1904 at the age of 98. At the time of his passing, he was purported to be the oldest newspaper editor in America. Mills Gardner—a prominent local attorney and a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives—-delivered the eulogy at Millikan’s funeral held at the Grace Methodist Church. Gardner said that in an era of personal journalism and bitter partisanship, “William Millikan never used his paper to herald slander and personal abuse or to gratify personal malice. He was a public spirited and progressive man, who was personally on the right side of all moral questions.”
Such qualities made William Millikan one of Fayette County’s most important leaders in the second half of the 19th century.