This year the St. Petersburg Times turns 125 years old. To mark the occasion, we are starting a weekly feature of local history, drawn from the newspaper's own pages. In their origins, neither the newspaper nor its community amounted to much.
The Times started out as a weekly in July of 1884. In the back room of a drugstore in Dunedin, three men — a doctor, a dentist and a printer — teamed up to produce the first edition. The total circulation was 480 copies. As my colleague Rob Hooker once wrote, "Their paper was like the community — small, humble and faced with an uncertain future."
Over the years, however, the frontier villages scattered around Tampa Bay grew together into a vibrant, dynamic metropolitan region, and the Times grew with it.
Today it is Florida's favorite newspaper, with the largest circulation in the state. Nelson Poynter, a generous and far-sighted owner, protected its independence, and three decades after he died, the Times remains rooted in this community, not part of a chain or conglomerate.
There have been rough patches along the way. Back in the 1930s — the last time a real estate boom collapsed into depression — St. Petersburg city government defaulted on millions of dollars in bond payments, and the public schools started charging tuition. On the outskirts of town, a sign went up warning visitors, "Do Not Come Here Seeking Work."
Those hard times also hit the Times. Advertising dropped by two-thirds. Since they had no cash, merchants paid their bills with vouchers, which the newspaper parceled out to employees as pay. At one point, the news staff dropped to 15 people, and the paper itself dwindled to eight pages.
But over the long term, the trend lines have kept climbing. Compare just two scenes.
During the World Series in 1924, a crowd gathered outside the Times' offices while an editor with a megaphone called out the play-by-play, coming by telegraph into the newsroom. Eighty-four years later and just a few blocks away, 40,000 fans gathered to watch the town's own team playing in the World Series.
For a century and a quarter, the St. Petersburg Times has recorded the unfolding story of our region, sharing in its success, suffering in the setbacks. Now we celebrate our common history by offering these slices of it. And even in this difficult stretch, we are betting that Tampa Bay's best days lie ahead. That is one of history's lessons.
Paul Tash is editor, chairman and CEO of the St. Petersburg Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.