HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
The Zephyrhills Colonist/Zephyrhills News
Most of the information for this article was taken from the former web site of the Zephyrhills News. This page was last revised on Jan. 22, 2017.
An issue of the Zephyrhills Colonist, Abbott, Florida, dated Jan. 27, 1910, was discovered in a time capsule in 2012. It is called Vol. I, No. 3, and it is apparently the oldest surviving issue of the publication. It shows H. Bartholomew as editor.
An article about the beginning of Zephyrhills in the July 17, 1910, Tampa Morning Tribune stated, “The company had a few thousand papers printed by the Tampa Tribune Publishing Company, called the ‘Zephyrhills Colonist,’ setting forth the facts about the land that they were placing on the market with a few letters from prominent citizens of Hillsborough and Pasco counties, making honest statements of the healthfulness and resources of this section.”
The generally accepted date for the founding of the Zephyrhills Colonist is Oct. 5, 1911, and that issue is apparently called the first issue, Volume I, No. 1. The issues may have been renumbered at this time because the new publisher George H. Gibson considered his to be a new newspaper which would maintain weekly publication, whereas the earlier publication had served mainly as an advertising vehicle for the Colony Company.
The following account appeared on the former web site of the Zephyrhills News:
An act of heroism during the Civil War led to the birth of the Zephyrhills News. Capt. H. B. Jeffries, owner of the Colony Co. and one of Zephyrhills’ founding fathers, witnessed an act of heroism during the Civil War in which his adjutant’s life was saved by Pvt. G. H. Gibson. When the Colony Co. decided to start a newspaper as a vehicle for local real estate investors to advertise land for sale, Jeffries remembered the hero was a printer by trade. Jeffries began an extensive search for the man finally locating Gibson in Nebraska. Jeffries made a lucrative offer to lure Gibson to the rolling hills of east Pasco County. Gibson, publisher of the weekly Loup City, Nebraska, newspaper, the Standard Gauge, jumped at the offer and had his entire plant shipped by rail to Zephyrhills. Gibson’s printing equipment arrived before the plant was completed - only the floor slab was in place. The first several months of the Zephyrhills Colonist were written, composed and printed outside. The equipment was covered with canvas each night, while staff members took turns standing guard until the roof and walls were built.
The first issue of the Zephyrhills Colonist as a regular weekly newspaper was published on Oct. 5, 1911. According to a recent Tampa Tribune article, the first issue had 3,000 copies.
The Oct. 12, 1911, newspaper shows George H. Gibson as editor, publisher, and proprietor, and Floyd A. Gibson as foreman.
According to a recent Tampa Tribune article, in 1917 the newspaper was sold to the colony’ treasurer, Jesse F. Stebbins. According to Zephyrhills From A to Z, “He soon confessed that he was not a newspaperman and he would welcome a successor. Lottie Smith, daughter of the paper’s founder, appeared in the masthead as ‘editor and proprietor’ and the following year her husband, Maxie Smith, was listed as publisher.”
Maxie Smith is shown as the publisher in the Apr. 29, 1921, newspaper.
On Feb. 24, 1922, the Dade City Banner reported, “C. White of Lakeland, former partner of Royal Childs in publishing the Lakeland Advertiser, has bought and taken possession of the Zephyrhills Colonist.”
On March 9, 1923, the Dade City Banner reported that C. White sold his interest in the Colonist to Sam D. Lovett. On July 22, 1923, the Tampa Morning Tribune named Sam Lovett, formerly of the Times at Bushnell, as heading the paper, which it said was “one of the few all hand set weekly newspapers in the state today.”
In 1925 the name of the newspaper was changed to the Zephyrhills News.
On Oct. 12, 1926, the Dade City Banner reported, “The Zephyrhills News celebrated its 15th birthday last week. The News is as old, if not a little older, than the city it so ably boosts, having been started by Capt. H. B. Jeffries, founder of the place, when he first started his colony. For many years the paper was known as the Colonist, the name being changed only a year or so ago, to the more appropriate one of News. Under the guidance of Editor Lovett, the News has become a sturdy young sheik, and is doing good work, not only for the community in which it is located, but the entire county at large. The Banner extends congratulations and good wishes for “many happy returns of the day.”
Owner Sam Lovett sold the paper to a coalition of Zephyrhills businessmen in 1930. The principal owner was Dr. Bernard A. Thomas, a local dentist.
When Thomas died, ownership went to Walter Gall, a prominent Zephyrhills businessman. Son Owen Gall recalled that in the 1930s one of the writers for the News was a publicity man in the political campaign of President Woodrow Wilson. According to Zephyrhills From A to Z, from sometime in 1936 to March 14, 1941, the newspaper bore the name Pasco County Free Press and it served the additional towns of Lacoochee and Webster.
Gall sold the News in 1948 to Howard Berg, from a newspaper family in Melbourne.
On Sept. 1, 1950, Berg sold the paper to George Johnson, formerly of the Lakeland Ledger and owner of papers in Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida.
Johnson died after owning the paper only four months and his widow Katherine was publisher until she could find a buyer.
In January 1951 she sold the paper to Floyd A. Gibson of Saranac, Michigan, a son of the original owner.
In 1955, George W. Wickstrom purchased the paper. Wickstrom came to Zephyrhills from Rock Island, Illinois. He brought extensive experience, gained working at daily newspapers, to this community. He also taught college journalism and wrote several books. His son Bernie moved from Stanton, Iowa, to become editor.
In December 1978, the New York Times Co. purchased the newspaper. The announcement was made by Sydney Gruson, executive vice president of The Times Company, and George Wickstrom, co-owner and publisher of the Zephyrhills News. The announcement said that Bernard Wickstrom, George’s son and a co-owner, would remain editor the newspaper and would also become its publisher, reporting to William Ebersole, a vice president of the Gainesville Sun. Ron Horton, assistant classified advertising manager of the Ocala Star-Banner, was appointed advertising director of the News. The announcement described the paper as a full-sized seven-column paper selling for 15 cents per copy and published on Thursdays. It said the circulation was averaging 6,200 copies.
In February 1984 the New York Times Co. sold the paper to Asterisk Publishing Inc. At the time, a news release said that the paper had an average circulation of 7,800, and sold for 25 cents per copy.
Bernard Y. “Bernie” Wickstrom died on Sept. 10, 1987, after a nine-month bout with cancer. He was 58 years old. At the time of Bernie’s death, St. Petersburg Times columnist Jan Glidewell wrote, “He came as close to being a Renaissance man as anyone I know in Zephyrhills. He wrote poetry, was a member of the American Watercolor Association, was an avid fisherman, an opera and classical music enthusiast (he owned thousands of classical records), a talented photographer and a ballroom dancer.” Glidewell also reported that Wickstrom served two terms as president of the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, was past president of the Rotary Club, belonged to two PTAs, was an officer in the Quarterback Club, worked on the campaign to build the Bulldog stadium, belonged to the Boosters Club, helped establish a tennis tournament, served on about 60 boards of non-profit, community-oriented organizations, was responsible for the revival of the Zephyrhills Founders Day celebration and was one of the most devoted and ardent supporters of the Zephyrhills Library. The stage on the north side of Lake Zephyr in Zephyr Park is named in his honor.
Republic Newspapers of Knoxville, Tenn., purchased the News in 1988. The company was founded with the purchase of the News.
By 1999, a separate section was being published for Wesley Chapel.
An Oct. 1999 newspaper article identified the publisher as Chris Drews.
In January 2003 the publication was purchased by Scripps Newspapers Inc., a Winter Park-based company owned by Barry Scripps. (This company is not the same as the E. W. Scripps Co., which owns newspapers and television stations.)
In June 2009, the Zephyrhills News returned to local ownership for the first time in more than 30 years when Danny and Jan Linville purchased the newspaper.
In 2010, the newspaper’s web site listed the staff as follows:
Danny and Jan Linville, Owners/Publishers
The newspaper was initially located where First Baptist Church now stands. The original building served the staff well until growth forced a move in 1926. In 1947 the News moved to a location on Sixth Avenue, between Sixth Street and Highway 301. Another move came March 18, 1955, when the News moved to Fifth Avenue where there is currently a children’s consignment shop. The News moved next door into its current plant at 38333 Fifth Avenue February 22, 1959.
Before the 1950s the News was an eight-page publication. Four pages carried local news and the remainder carried syndicated material. It was during the second move that the newspaper expanded significantly. It has been published weekly on Thursdays or Fridays.