Jacksonville’s paper of record

*The former Florida Times-Union headquarters at 1 Riverside Avenue.

The Florida Times-Union is in decline. The changing landscape of media combined with how consumers get news online has created a problem for newspapers like The Florida Times-Union. The steady decline in subscriptions over the past ten years has led to staff cuts, and this has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2016, the paper had a staff of 85 but in 2020 that number is down to just 24, and those employees have faced a 25% pay cut because of COVID-19.

Four well-known Times-Union staffers, Mike Clark, Andrew Pantazi, Will Dickey and Sandy Strickland, recently took a voluntary buyout by the parent company Gannett. To further complicate matters for the paper, it has relocated from the iconic Times-Union building into the Wells Fargo Center. Newspapers for the Florida Times-Union are no longer printed in Jacksonville but instead in Gainesville and Daytona Beach where Gannett also owns newspapers. The dynamic shift in how consumers choose to acquire their news, whether it is online or simply following a local social media news account, has hampered the Florida Times-Union and further exacerbating the already disconnect from its hometown of Jacksonville going back 156 years as of 2020.

The Florida Union: Birth of an institution

*The first issue of the Florida Union on December 31, 1864. Courtesy of the Jacksonville Historical Society.

The Florida Times-Union traces its origins to 1864 during the Civil War. An olive grower from Fernandina Beach named J.K. Stickney partnered with W.C. Morrill to form the Florida Union. The name was fitting for the times because Jacksonville had been occupied by the Union the majority of the war and the newspaper leaned more toward Republican and Unionist views. It is not entirely known what Morrill and Stickney’s first names were. The first publication of the Florida Union was on December 31, 1864. Morrill departed the Florida Union in April 1865 leaving it to Stickney and his new editor Holmes Steele. Steele was previously the mayor of Jacksonville from 1859 to 1860 and served again from 1866 to 1867.

The Florida Union on February 11, 1865.

The Florida Union remained Republican under Stickney while Steele was allowed to lean Democratic for the readers. The paper supported a congressional bill that would disenfranchise Confederates in 1867. Steele himself was a former Confederate and had commanded the Jacksonville Light Infantry in the Civil War. Steele decided to resign his position with the Florida Union but unfortunately died two months after his resignation on May 7, 1867. In 1867 Stickney sold the Florida Union to a Boston lawyer named Edward M. Cheney who had moved to Jacksonville shortly after the Civil War. Cheney was successful in Riverside where he platted the original Riverside development with John Murray Forbes in 1868.

Cheney tried to turn the triweekly Florida Union into a daily newspaper but was unsuccessful. The Florida Union ran into financial difficulties under Cheney and was forced into a smaller office above a whiskey store on Bay Street. Cheney owned the Florida Union for six years until he decided to return to the law profession in 1873. He sold the paper to Walton, Fowle & Co. headed by Charles H. Walton. Lawyer and stockholder C.F. Mawbey took over as manager, and turned it into a daily publication. He also brought back Cheney as editor. Unfortunately, Mawbey died of typhoid fever in 1876.

Shifting allegiances, rifts and mergers

Hugh Bowen McCallum.

The 1876 election led to a political shift with the Democratic Party becoming the dominant party in the South once again. Cheney resigned his position and again returned to law. The Florida Union declined substantially and stopped daily publication. Walton, Fowle & Co. sold the paper to Baptist preacher Hugh Bowen McCallum and W.W. Douglas. McCallum and Douglas reworked the Florida Union into a more Democratic leaning publication, marking the end of any Reconstruction influences on the newspaper. The Florida Union returned to publishing daily under McCallum. McCallum was a reputable Democrat and a strong fighter who refused to sell the paper.

Charles H. Jones was one figure who had wanted to purchase the Florida Union. Running away from his home in Talbotton, Georgia, he joined the Confederate Army at 14 years old as a drummer boy. After the war, Jones became an editor of a magazine and wrote several biographies. He became a ghost writer for George M. Barbour’s book Florida for Tourists, Invalids and Settlers. This book led to Jones’ decision to move to Florida and settle in Jacksonville. There he hoped to acquire the Florida Union, but McCallum refused.

Charles H. Jones

McCallum’s behavior in the dealings apparently bothered Jones so much that he decided to start a rival newspaper. He and his friend George Barbour launched the Florida Daily Times in November 1881. Jones recruited top talent for his paper, which quickly surpassed McCallum’s Florida Union. Clearly beaten and declining in health due to tuberculosis, McCallum decided to sell the Florida Union to Jones. The New York Times published an article about the acquisition, which reported that the two newspapers were to be consolidated under a new name: The Florida Times-Union. McCallum succumbed to his illness January 31, 1883, before the combined paper reached print. On February 4, 1883 the first edition of The Florida Times-Union was published with Charles H. Jones and Jones Varnum Co. as the publishers.

The Florida Daily Times on January 4, 1882.

The Florida Times-Union on April 27, 1886.

*The Florida Times-Union building at the corner of Bay and Laura in 1885. Courtesy of the Jacksonville Public Library.

In March 1888 Jones sold The Florida Times-Union to the Florida Publishing Company owned by James Jaquelin “J.J.” Daniel. Jones left Florida to be the editor of the St. Louis Republic. Jones left just before Jacksonville faced a major yellow fever epidemic. J.J. Daniel unfortunately succumbed to the fever and died on October 2, 1888. In September 1897 The Florida Times-Union and the Florida Citizen consolidated to form The Florida Times-Union and Citizen. In 1903 the paper reverted back to The Florida Times-Union.

J.J. Daniel.

Florida Times-Union and Citizen on December 5, 1899.

Next page: The Times-Union greets the 20th century