Editor’s note: This is one of several stories published by the Daily Mail on Friday, April 4, to commemorate the newspaper’s 100th anniversary. Click here to see them all.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One hundred years ago this Sunday, a former Alaskan governor purchased a small bankrupt newspaper in Charleston, W.Va.
The publication, known at the time as “The News-Mail,” had spent decades in and out of financial difficulties.
But Gov. Walter E. Clark was a man of unique experience, having spent years as a Washington correspondent for some of the country’s biggest newspapers.
He also had spent time as a gold prospector, so he knew buried treasure when he saw it.
Clark changed the paper’s name and spent the rest of his life helping it thrive and grow into the newspaper you read today.
This Sunday marks the Charleston Daily Mail’s 100th birthday, and this is the story of the man who started it all.
TEACHER, NEWSPAPERMAN, PROSPECTOR
Walter Eli Clark was born Jan. 7, 1869 in Ashford, Conn., the son of a farmer. He attended the local public schools before heading to the Connecticut State Normal School, where he graduated in 1887.
He spent the next year working as a schoolteacher in Waterville, Conn., before, at age 19, becoming principal of the Manchester, Conn., grade schools.
Clark quickly left the education world behind, however, returning to school at Williston Seminary and then Wesleyan University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1895.
After graduation, Clark got into the newspaper business.
He became a reporter at the Hartford Post in Hartford, Conn. but left that position for a job in the nation’s capital, working as a telegraph editor at the Washington Times.
He then became Washington correspondent for the New York Commercial Advertiser and, in 1897, the New York Sun.
In 1900, he took a yearlong leave of absence from the newspaper to travel to Alaska and prospect for gold. He didn’t find his fortune, but contributed articles to several papers during his time in the Final Frontier.
He returned to Washington in 1901 and, over the next few years, worked for the Sun, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Toronto Globe.
In 1909, Clark again left the newspaper business for Alaska… but this time at the request of President William Howard Taft.
Clark never sought political office but had developed a reputation as a man “unusually well-informed on Alaskan affairs,” according to a front page New York Times story on May 19, 1909.
Taft and Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger asked Clark to become the first territorial governor of Alaska.
Local newspapers criticized Clark as a “carpetbagger” but Taft believed putting an outsider in charge would help resolve political squabbles that were hampering efforts to establish a territorial government in the district.
Indeed, it was Clark who oversaw the establishment of Alaska’s first legislature. But after four years he grew tired of the job and in early 1913 submitted a letter of resignation to President Woodrow Wilson.
Wilson asked Clark to stay in Alaska until the legislature completed its session. Clark relented and stayed until May 21.
Although some might have expected Clark would return to Washington once back in the continental United States, he chose instead to relocate to Charleston.
And although he never again held (or even sought) political office, friends and colleagues would affectionately call him “Governor” for the rest of his life.
THE CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL
Upon arriving in West Virginia, Clark received several offers from state Republicans to run for office. But he wasn’t interested.
His only ambition, he said, was to “publish a good newspaper.”
It was a crowded business…