The oldest business in the city of Booneville, the Booneville Democrat has come off of the press on a weekly basis for over 114 years.
The first issue of the Booneville Democrat was printed Feb. 10, 1899. H. T. Hampton, the founder and original publisher had slogged across Booneville Creek in a wagon loaded with family belongings a short time before that first publication of the paper.
A few weeks later, the first trains ran through the area on the Rock Island Railroad and the little village was located just south of the railroad.
Hampton published the paper until he became incapacitated by a series of strokes in 1909 from which he never recovered.
Max Hampton, son of the founder, took over the business and became “builder” for the newspaper during the ensuing years. He worked very hard for improvements in the community and became well known for his writing. He had a personal way of writing editorials that seemed to reach all people.
In later years, Hampton wrote that he returned to Booneville in 1911 with “a family, a busted business and $12.”
Just as things were looking brighter for the newspaper, World War I erupted in Europe and Mr. Hampton was called into military service on the Mexican border.
His wife, Mrs. Louise Hampton almost single-handedly kept the operation going during her husband’s absence. She gathered news, set type, sold advertising and kept the business records. Mrs. “Hamp” continued active in the firm for some 40 years.
Max Hampton returned to Booneville in 1919 and the business continued to expand through the years. By 1954, the year he retired, he had put together one of the best printing shops and weekly newspapers in the state.
The Hamptons’ only son, Buddy, a popular citizen and a good writer, returned to Booneville after World War II and co-edited the paper with his father. He took over the operation at Max Hampton’s retirement, but his untimely death in 1956 cut short a promising newspaper career.
Max Hampton came out of retirement until Mr. and Mrs. Val Zachariah came into the business. Mrs. Zachariah, the former Dorothy Hampton, one of his two daughters, also had a newspaper background.
The Zachariah’s purchased the entire business in 1960, except for the building, which was retained by Mrs. Louise Hampton.
On Aug. 1, 1968, the newspaper, including a job printing operation and all equipment, as well as the name, was purchased by Donrey Media Group. The Donrey Group then published daily newspapers at Fort Smith and Rogers in Arkansas, and in other states under the leadership of president Donald W. Reynolds.
The sale marked the first time that the Booneville Democrat was not in the Hampton family since it was founded by H. T. Hampton in 1899.
A late night fire destroyed the offices of the Booneville Democrat in May of 1976 but with printing services having previously been moved to the Times Record in Fort Smith, the paper survived the fire without missing an issue.
The newspaper’s office was immediately rebuilt in the same, current location at 72 West Second Street. In the interim the Democrat staff worked in offices at 302 West Main Street. The current office was reopened in October of 1976.
In 1999 the Democrat recognized its 100th anniversary with the publication of an anniversary edition on June 23. The edition encompassed some 80 pages. The largest paper in the state that day, the edition is still the largest single edition of the paper.
The newspaper remained under the Donrey umbrella through Reynolds’ death in 1993. Nonetheless, the newspaper continued under the Donrey name until 2002 when the parent name was changed to Stephens Media Group. That was later revised to Stephens Media LLC.