A History of the Fairfax Herald

By Anne McCrery, Virginia Newspaper Project Intern

Founded in 1882 by Captain Stephen Roszel Donohoe, the Democratically-affiliated Fairfax Herald was published weekly in Fairfax, Virginia, where it served as the area’s dominant newspaper for many years. Fairfax, located near Washington D.C., underwent significant industrialization and population growth throughout the twentieth century, with the city’s population reaching 21,970 and the county’s reaching 455,021 by 1970, around the end of the Fairfax Herald’s run. In 1880, however, just prior to the Herald’s founding, the town of Fairfax had only a population of 376, while the county had a population of 16,025. The community was largely agricultural, producing “corn, wheat, oats, butter, hay; livestock,” according to the 1890 Ayer and Son’s American Newspaper Annual.

It was in this small farming community that S. R. Donohoe founded the Fairfax Herald, bringing the town its first printing press, advertisements for which stated: “Equipped with Type Setting Machine and Steam Press. All kinds of job printing. Splendid advertising medium.” The Fairfax Herald was four pages long and 20 inches by 26 inches in size originally. It had a circulation of 1,225 in 1904, 900 in 1911, and 1,000 in 1920.

FH 1886Born February 1, 1851 in Loudoun County, Donohoe was successful in multiple ventures of public service, in addition to his prolific career in newspapers. He served in the Spanish-American War as a lieutenant with the Fairfax company. He then served as Treasurer of Fairfax County between 1889 and 1891; state senator for two terms, beginning in 1900; Auditor of Public Accounts of Virginia from 1910-1912; a member of the State Tax Commission in 1914, and Federal Prohibition Director of the State, beginning in 1919. Moreover, he is listed as a director at the National Bank of Fairfax in advertisements appearing for the bank in the Herald.

Prior to founding the Fairfax Herald, Donohoe managed the West Point Star and founded the Hampton Monitor. Additionally, during his 34-year tenure with the Herald he also briefly published the Evening Sun, a daily newspaper in Alexandria. He remained editor of the Fairfax Herald until 1916, at which point William Francis Carne purchased the newspaper. Donohoe died in January 1921 at the age of 69 due to complications from an operation to remove an abscess from his kidney.

Hampton Monitor

From page two of the Fairfax Herald, January 7, 1921

Wm. F. Carne, born on October 4, 1866 in Alexandria, appears as editor of the Herald on October 6, 1916. Prior to beginning newspaper work, he taught school at St. John’s Academy in Alexandria, his alma mater. His experience with newspaper work began with the Alexandria Times. Additionally, he served as a reporter for the Washington Star for 25 years and as a correspondent for the Baltimore Sun and the Richmond Dispatch. Carne’s ventures outside of newspaper work included managing the E. S. Randall Steamboat Line and organizing the Fairfax Volunteer Fire Department.

His 23-year tenure as editor and publisher of the Fairfax Herald came to an end in December 1939, when he died at the age of 73. His obituary in the Herald states he had been ill in the months prior to his passing, and had therefore been retired for about a year; however, he appears listed as editor throughout that period of retirement and remains credited as such for the entirety of 1939, even after his death.

From the front page of the Fairfax Herald, December 8, 1939

William Lindsay Carne, William F. Carne’s son, succeeded his father as editor of the Fairfax Herald. His editorship began in 1939, although he is not officially credited in the Herald’s byline until 1940. Under the younger Carne the Fairfax Herald decreased in size and became more regionally focused in content. He remained editor for approximately 27 years, with William J. Elvin taking over in November 1966.

William John Elvin served as editor of the Fairfax Herald from 1966-73, at which point the paper merged with the McLean Providence journal, Elvin’s primary publication, to form the McLean providence journal and Fairfax herald. Under him the Fairfax Herald again decreased in size.Smaller FH Additionally, the Fairfax Herald changed office locations under Elvin, moving from the original print shop at 10400 Main Street, Fairfax, Virginia to a new location at 118-20 E. Main Street, Fairfax, Virginia. Thereafter, “The Old Fairfax Herald Print Shop” was repurposed for commercial ventures, advertising antique “plaques and prints.” One advertisement, appearing in the Fairfax Herald on May 24, 1968, proclaims, “We have ads for Joseph Cooper’s Buggies, Money and Reed Undertakers, Fairfax Hotel, Victor Liver Syrup, and a Temperance Meeting at Langley Hall in 1888!” Another advertisement, appearing on August 2, 1968, playfully announces the shop’s temporary closing, “due to FH AC adlack of new-fangled air-conditioning.”

Born February 14, 1918 in Dumfries, Scotland, Elvin moved to Maryland at the age of six. His involvement with newspaper work began when he was a student at Beall High School, where he was editor of the school newspaper. He then became assistant editor of the Michigan Daily, the school newspaper at the University of Michigan, where he was a student. After graduating from college, he served as an infantry officer for the Third Army in World War II, for which he received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. His daughter, Jan Elvin, has written a book about him titled The Box from Branau: In Search of My Father’s War, which focuses in particular on his experiences in the war.

After World War II, Elvin continued in newspaper work, working as the managing editor of the Fairfax Standard for a year before becoming the assistant state editor for Virginia of the Washington Star for eight years. He purchased the McLean Providence Journal in 1956, which he remained publisher and editor of for 30 years before selling it in 1986; however, according to his obituary in the Washington Post, he remained editor of the paper until the weeks preceding his death in 2004. Outside of newspaper work, Elvin served as president of the McLean Lions Club and the McLean Historical Club, director of the McLean Citizens Association, and as a founding member of the McLean Business and Professional Association. He died on August 26, 2004 due to complications related to pulmonary fibrosis. After his death, the House of Delegates put forth a resolution for “celebrating the life of William J. Elvin.”

Elvin was primarily known for his work on the McLean Providence Journal, rather than for his brief tenure as editor of the Fairfax herald. Thus the Fairfax Herald’s 91-year run effectively ended in 1973 when it merged with the McLean Providence journal to form the McLean Providence journal and Fairfax Herald. McClean Providence Journal

Throughout the Fairfax Herald’s history, it remained committed to the Democratic Party; however, this political affiliation appears in varying degrees. For example, in the 1930s the paper frequently expresses disapproval of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, rejecting aspects of the Democratic platform that supported the New Deal; however, they still insist they are Democrats. They reconcile this disconnect by defining themselves as Jeffersonian Democrats and labelling Roosevelt and his supports as “New Dealers.”

This can be seen in a statement appearing in the April 14, 1939 issue of the Herald, saying, “These Jeffersonian Democrats, who are the only real representatives of the old historic party which Jefferson founded, may yet prove strong enough to oust the interlopers who have crept into the stronghold of Democracy, and cleanse the party of the radical notions which have been fostered upon it.” The paper remained Democratically-affiliated in its later days, according to the 1950 Ayer and Son’s American Newspaper Annual; however,  editor Elvin sought to eliminate political bias in his newspapers by avoiding editorial opinion.

Post Script: An alert reader noted that the Fairfax County Public Library website has a free, online index to the Fairfax Herald. The index was done several years ago by two FCPL Virginia Room volunteers.

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3 Responses to A History of the Fairfax Herald

  1. Pat Archer says:

    My husband and I moved to Fairax in1962. I remember the Fairfax Herald well. The office was on Main Street about a block from the courthouse. I went in there one day out of curiosity. They still had all of the original equipment. it was like turning back the clock 100 years. Nothing had been updated. As I recall when they went out of business, they gave all of the equipment to the Smithsonian.

  2. Suzanne Levy says:

    Your article on the Fairfax Herald is wonderful. But I hope you would add the fact that there is a free online index to the Herald on the Fairfax County Public Library web site. The newspaper was indexed several years ago by two FCPL Virginia Room Volunteers and their work makes access to the paper much easier. See:
    http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library/newsindex/ and http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library/branches/vr/newsindex/

  3. Diane Schug-O'Neill says:

    And weren’t the two Virginia Room Volunteers: Malcolm “Rich” Richardson and Barbara Welch or Barbara Leven? They worked tirelessly for years on that project!

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