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The Chronicle was founded in 1874 by Captain W.H. Hutchinson (retired Army) and was the dominant paper in Brookline, MA, until 1984. We are proud to still be Local and Independent.
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The dominant newspaper in Brookline throughout its history has been the Brookline Chronicle. Founded in 1874, the newspaper was traded among many hands, took various formats, and survived a few mergers. “On account of its proximity to Boston, Brookline has not been a good field for local newspapers.” This was the opinion of John William Denehy, an early historian of Brookline, in his book commemorating the two‐hundredth anniversary of the town in 1905.
The Brookline Chronicle, already in print for 31 years at the time of Denehy’s assessment, would continue to prove him wrong. The first issue of the Brookline Chronicle appeared on May 9, 1874. For five cents, it offered four 20×26 inch pages filled with local news, town schedules and events, advertisements, and a weekly prayer. Captain W.H. Hutchinson was the paper’s founding editor and publisher, but only remained so for little over a year. On July 10, 1875, Murray M. Wing and Alexander S. Arthur purchased the paper and moved the offices from the Colonnade Building to the Dun‐Edin Building on Washington Street. The paper itself was originally printed in Boston. The changing location of the offices and printing press would become a theme of the paper’s history, representing its wavering status of permanence. After Mr. Arthur sold his interest to Mr. Wing in November 1876, the offices were moved back to the Colonnade Building. Its stay, however, was short‐lived as the building was destroyed by fire a few weeks later.
Another owner and a move back to the Dun‐Edin Building marked the year 1877 for the Chronicle as Charles M. Vincent took the helm. He installed the first newspaper press, a hand‐powered “Fairhaven” cylinder press. While modest, the machine marked another theme of the Chronicle – a continued effort to modernize with technology. Despite his initiative, Mr. Vincent failed to meet the financial obligations of the paper. The property was returned to the mortgagee and Mr. Arthur was called back to assume management in February 1878. A year and a half later, in July 1879, Mr. Arthur and C.A.W. Spencer purchased the plant & offices of the Chronicle from the mortgagee. Mr. Spencer would become the longest‐serving publisher of the paper. Mr. Arthur, however, fell into poor health and sold his share to Mr. Spencer in 1881. The paper dropped “Brookline” from the title and officially became the Chronicle. Marking a new year, Elliot F. Soule bought an interest in the paper on January 1, 1883. The offices were relocated once again to the Harvard Building in Harvard Square where they would remain for more than thirty years. On November 1, 1883 Mr. Spencer repurchased Mr. Soule’s share & became its sole proprietor for the next thirty‐three years. The Spencer era was marked by expansion in production, office space, and technology operated under Spencer’s company, the Riverdale Press. The format of the paper was changed from a 28‐column folio to a l 40‐column quarto form. The hand‐cranked Fairhaven press was replaced by a steam‐powered press in 1880. By the end of the decade, the Chronicle had converted to the electric‐powered Cranston press, evolving with the rapidly changing technology of the time. The new equipment and larger printing capacity required the addition of office space to the Harvard Building workrooms. Along with the newspaper, the press also produced law and philosophical works, library catalogues, municipal records, the Annual Town Report, and other publications.10 As the paper itself put it, “In the way of job printing, nothing is too small – nothing too large to be undertaken.”11 Under Spencer, the paper matured and flourished.
Mergers, Moves, & 50 Years
In 1916, the success of the Riverdale Press required more of Mr. Spencer’s personal attention. After 37 years with the paper and 15 as its editor, he sold the Chronicle to Walter C. English. Mr. English established the Brookline Chronicle Publishing Company, becoming its treasurer and general manager. The Chronicle continued its excellent operations and was soon ready to expand once more.
The other paper in town, the Brookline Townsman had only been in operation for 16 years in 1919. It had, however, already cultivated a respectable readership, efficient production practices, and a talented editor, Walter D. Allen. Combined with the larger printing capabilities and reputation of the Chronicle, the two papers would mutually benefit from a merger. On September 4, 1919 the Chronicle incorporated the Townsman and reorganized the Brookline Chronicle Publishing Company. Mr. Allen became treasurer of the company and general manager of the Chronicle while Mr. English became the president of the corporation, and Mr. Spencer stayed on as vice president and managing editor.13 It was a powerful marriage of skill and resources.
By 1924, the Chronicle showed no signs of slowing down. It produced over three thousand copies every week of its 24 page paper, maintained a subscription list of Brookline’s most notable citizens, & conducted a healthy advertising business. Its 50th anniversary that year was certainly an achievement to celebrate. The Chronicle’s reputation exceeded Brookline’s borders & the paper received congratulatory notes from President Calvin Coolidge, Secretary of War John W. Weeks, Governor of Massachusetts Channing H. Cox, Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, and Mayor of Boston James M. Curley. Indeed, the Chronicle continued its steady expansion. In 1928 a new building was erected on Harvard Street in Coolidge Corner for the express purposes of the paper. Once again, modern technology was a must. The new machinery included a large cylinder press, proof presses, steel and marble imposing stones, a metal melting furnace, and new type. Readers were encouraged to visit the new building. Purposefully omitting guide rails, the paper wanted citizens to “make of this office a clearing house for the frank discussion of matters that pertain to the advancement & welfare of the town & of all its citizens.”16 The announcement of the new plant overflowed with pride and pleasure.
The Brookline Citizen
For sixteen years after the merger with the Townsman in 1919, the Chronicle was the only Brookline newspaper. It defeated or incorporated its competition over its half century in print. But in 1935 Joseph M. Boyd and Gardner Barker began publication of the Brookline Citizen. Two years later, G. Russell Phinney became a third partner. After disagreements over how to divide shares, Mr. Phinney acquired the entirety of the paper & its parent organization, The Press Publishing Company, in 1939. The offices of the Citizen were located next door to the Chronicle on Harvard Street, and the two papers were neighbors for seven years. The Brookline Citizen was only one of the papers published by Phinney. The Press Publishing Company also produced the Brighton Citizen & the Allston Citizen for these neighboring towns. The Citizen newspapers were free and had a combined circulation of 36,300 by World War II. Along with traditional advertising, the Citizen papers also employed classified ads, including “for sale,” “help wanted,” and “instruction”.18 In its early years, the Citizen had to work hard to establish its credentials. In an interesting piece of self‐commentary eight years in, the Citizen wrote, “Few new undertakings ever meet with a ready welcome. It is well that they do not. Too much approval and eulogy is often fatal to a new enterprise. And not infrequently disastrous to older ones.”19 The Citizen was a challenger & determined not only to survive, but thrive.
The Brookline Chronicle‐Citizen
The Golden Age of the Chronicle under Spencer and Allen was coming to a close. The appearance of the Brookline Citizen changed the landscape. Combined with its readership in Allston & Brighton, the Citizen had a larger circulation & attracted most of the advertising revenue. Faced with growing competition, Allen sold his financial interests in the Brookline Chronicle Publishing Company in 1950 to Joseph L. Gordon and Aaron Sternfield. The offices were moved down Harvard Street and the mechanical work was contracted out to the Wellesley Press.21 The endeavor did not last long. Twenty months later, Phinney bought the Chronicle in November of 1951 and the paper was relocated again farther down Harvard Street. For the next eight years, the Chronicle and Citizen were published separately.
In 1959 Phinney combined the two papers into the Brookline Chronicle‐Citizen. The new paper adopted the format of the Citizen but maintained the paid circulation status of the Chronicle. Under Phinney, the Brookline Chronicle Publishing Company produced the Brookline Chronicle‐Citizen, the Allston‐Brighton Citizen‐Item, and the Boston Ledger along with commercial printing. In 1966, the offices were moved to another location on Harvard Street and switched from old “hot type” to new “cold type”, a photographic method of typesetting. The Chronicle‐Citizen, continuing its legacy of technological prowess, became one of the first weeklies typeset by computer in New England. G. Russell Phinney had cultivated a small network of local papers and provided a touchstone for his community. He would continue to serve as publisher until his death in 1982. At that time his son, Frederic N. Phinney, took control forming Citizen Group Publications to manage the various papers. The Brookline Chronicle‐Citizen was renamed the Brookline Citizen in 1984, to keep continuity among the Group’s papers. The newspapers peaked during the 1980s. For instance, the Boston Ledger averaged forty pages each week & had a circulation of 48,000.
But what goes up must come down, and Citizen Group Publications was on the decline. Meanwhile, the Brookline Tab was growing in circulation and sales. Today, The Brookline Chronicle is on an upswing of building back to its former glory under a new team with a new direction.