Lake County Star still twinkling 150 years later

LAKE COUNTY — This spring, the Lake County Star celebrates 150 years of existence, making it one of the oldest newspapers in this region of Michigan and the oldest continued business serving Lake County. 

The Star newspaper was born May 1, 1873, started by proprietor and editor Charles K. Radcliffe, bringing news to all of Lake County, including community news, state news, national news and other features for people to enjoy back when entertainment and media was more scarce. 

The Star brought news of the outside world to the early settlers, and news of the new communities and progress which sprang up to the outside world. 

In the first issue, dating May 1, 1873, from Green Dell (Chase), an introduction was given. 

“Lake County is destined to be a first class region for agriculture and lumbering pursuits. It is second to none in the State, in point of climate, soil and natural timber growth. There is not an acre of waste land in the county, and none to be wasted. Such a county needs a proper channel through which to herald its progress, and that mouthpiece should be a live, and well sustained newspaper, just what we are determined the Star shall be,” wrote Radcliffe. 

Although Radcliffe, a Civil War veteran, began the paper in the first county seat of Chase, a tug-of-war for the county seat ensued among rising towns, and Chase and Baldwin became the main contenders.

By 1875, when the county seat moved to Baldwin, Radcliffe was already settled in Baldwin and had his printing press set up there. By that time, he had sided with Baldwin for location of the county seat. 

Local historians know about this move of the county paper, and Radcliffe’s partiality toward Baldwin, after starting at Chase, but the reason why has been obscure. Hidden in an article from the Star dating April 19, 1883, when Radcliffe reflected on the 10 year anniversary of the Star, he mentioned how the Star began, and why he removed operations to Baldwin. 

Radcliffe shared how he had left a position as editor of the Toledo Daily Commercial in his home state of Ohio to come be near family in the “wilds of Michigan.” His brother John, at this time, was publisher of the Hersey Outline, a newspaper in Osceola County. 

“The citizens of Lake County had no paper, and wanted one. We could obtain a livelihood where we were, but decided to come into the wilderness and ‘grow up with the country’ in orthodox fashion. With — we might almost say — bare hands, it seemed quite an undertaking,” he wrote. 

He recalled his first trip to Chase before he decided to leave Toledo. 

“Where the village proper now stands, then stood dense forest; but we were told the village would be built there some day, and took a view of the proposed site for the printing office,” he reminisced. 

Although the railroad didn’t come through yet in spring of 1873, and he didn’t have the means to place an office at Chase yet, he began printing the Star at Hersey, using his brother’s tools from the Outline office, The people were glad to have a county paper, so supported him with their patronage. He hoped the railroad would come through that summer, but its completion was still a year off. 

“We well remember the trips we made through the summer and fall of 1873, on foot, from Hersey to Chase, every Tuesday, or oftener, to gather local items and transact other business connected with the paper,” Radcliffe recalled. 

He said about this time, he learned of the rivalry over the county seat between Chase and Baldwin.

“While deliberating as to the wisest course to pursue, the Herald [Chase Herald] made its advent at Chase, in January 1874. It was a time of discouragement to us. Chase had been our objective point; but we had been at a loss how to act as to reconcile and harmonize the greatest possible number of citizens in our support while we published a paper in the general interest of all. The advent of the new paper, of course, decided the matter; that we must abandon our chosen field of labor, or go into debt for material and go ahead," he explained.  


By late January 1874, the newspaper printed its location as Baldwin City, instead of Chase, and by April, he was able to print the first issue of the Star in the county, having all the means to print. 

“We feel that the Star has experienced about all the ups and downs possible to a newspaper in a new country, and still shines. In the future, as in the past, it will shine for law, order, justice and truth; and never for popularity at the expense of principal. Its light will shine clear and distinct on all important matters as it is possible for us to make it,” Radcliffe continued. 

Radcliffe eventually moved into the new Star office by the early 1880s, where St. Ann’s Catholic Church rectory now is, on the corner of Maple and 9th Street. Here, Radcliffe remained with his family until late spring of 1889, when he accepted full time position as railroad express carrier and moved to Detroit. His son, William, took over for a while that last year, as well as George Helms, who worked in the Star office. 

Through the years, other editors took the reigns, such as Herbert Davis from at least the early 1900s to the early 1950s; then Edward J. Bouwsma until about 1965 when Floyd and Robert Hubbard took over through the early 1970s. By October, 1974, the Star became part of the Pioneer Publications, owned by Jack Batdorff in Big Rapids.  

Denise Smith, then Denise Kirvan, was an intern in March 1974, and became editor by May 1974. Working as editor a couple stints, and freelancing some, she remembers some of the other editors being Sheila Lohstroh, Mike O’Connor and Jack Kleeves.  

Smith recalls the office moving further south into town by spring 1976, at the front of the Blass Survey Office, with the surveying business operating out of the back. This was torn down by 1997 to make way for the Lake-Osceola State Bank building. Later, the Star relocated to the main business block, 851 Michigan Ave., next door to Weaver’s Pharmacy (today known as Pandora’s Box.) 

Brett Fischback took the reigns for a bit, as well as Jim Crees. By summer 2016, operations moved to the Big Rapids Pioneer building on Michigan Avenue in Big Rapids, with Crees still as editor. By 2017, the Batdorffs sold the publications to Hearst Corporation. 

After Crees retired, associate editor Tim Rath took over for a while, followed by Brad Massman. Associate editor Julie Norwood filled in until Darren Iozia came along as editor late last year, keeping the Star moving forward into well over 150 years of service. 

What would Radcliffe think to see the publication he began complete 150 years and remain one of the oldest West Central Michigan newspapers in existence? 

Perhaps, these words printed in a May 15, 1873, Star would come to mind. 

“Shine on, beauteous star, may thy bright beaming pages, o’er flowing with wisdom and truth, greet each friend, and ever remain, as now, at thy dawning, a foe to oppression, and liberty’s friend.”