On this day in 1908, the daily edition of the Log Cabin Democrat was published for the first time. For 110 years now, the newspaper’s staff has been shouldered the weighty responsibility of keeping Faulkner County residents up to date on the news of the day.
Frank Robins, its original publisher, put great thought into the launch date of the first paper. He ultimately decided that the first issue should coincide with the opening of Arkansas Normal School (now the University of Central Arkansas), another sign of progress in Conway.
In his first editorial Robins wrote: “This is the first issue of the daily edition of the Log Cabin Democrat. If our intentions are carried out, it will be the poorest issue, because we expect each succeeding issue to be better than the one which preceded it.
"The encouragement which the daily has already received is very gratifying to us. We have set our mark for 500 subscribers and we are agreeably surprised to be able to send the first edition to considerably more than one-half that number of actual subscribers. [Conway's population was about 2,800 in 1908.]
"One copy of today's paper will be sent to every home, in order that those who have not subscribed may have an opportunity of seeing the daily edition.
"We shall be glad to receive subscriptions from every person in the city who feels he can afford to pay ten cents for the paper delivered and everyone else who feels that the daily will be worth 25 cents a month when sent by mail."
The current Log Cabin Democrat was actually created by the merger of two local papers. The Conway Log Cabin was founded in 1879 by Able F. Livingston, a Whig-turned-Republican who chose the Whig symbol — the log cabin — as the name of his new paper. When he died in 1883, his brothers-in-law, Zol and T.M. Woods, took over the paper. Two years later, J.E. Underhill became a partner and editor of the paper.
Underhill became the sole owner in 1888 but sold it to J.W. Robins, a sawmill operator, in 1894. The story goes that Underhill and Robins were sitting and talking by a creek bank one day and decided to swap businesses. It was said Robins wanted his 13-year-old son, Frank, to experience the educational atmosphere of a newspaper office.
After Robins died only a few months later, the newspaper changed hands several times before returning to Minnie Freeman Robins, his widow. She and J.E. Underhill, who had gone on to publish another local newspaper, the Conway Democrat, married in 1899.
Both papers were published in the same office until June 1900 when the newspaper office burned. In the early morning hours of June 19, 1900, a fire destroyed the office, but the news still went out. The Log Cabin was published that day, a one-page edition, printed through the courtesy of the Faulkner County Times.
The newspaper reported that its representatives had left that day for St. Louis to buy new printing equipment. The two newspapers were published in the Conway opera house until the new equipment could be brought from St. Louis and a new building completed.
Fifteen months later, the two papers were consolidated into the Log Cabin Democrat. Frank Robins, 22, subsequently became editor and bought his stepfather’s interest when Underhill passed away in 1906. The Log Cabin Democrat was published by the Robins family until the mid-1990s.
For nearly 40 years, the daily's circulation was smaller than that of the weeklies. But, that changed quickly during the 1940s. In 1940, the weekly's circulation was 2,400, compared to the daily's 1,475. Many soldiers had the paper sent to them during World War II. The weekly's circulation peaked at 3,300 at the beginning of 1945, while the daily’s subscriptions numbered 2,450.
The weekly's circulation declined after that, and by mid-1947, the daily overtook it with a circulation of just less than 2,600. The daily's circulation continued to climb, while the weekly's continued to decline until the cessation of publication in August 1982.
Until 1979, the daily was published Monday through Saturday. But, on December 2, 1979, the Saturday paper was dropped, and publication of the Sunday paper was begun. On April 14, 1980, after 80 years on Oak Street, the Log Cabin moved from 1318 Oak to 1058 Front Street, into an extensively remodeled former Kroger supermarket. In July 1981, the newspaper went from having its articles pounded out on typewriters to composing stories on computer terminals, a long way from the newspaper of Able F. Livingston's day.
On Oct. 1, 1989, the Log Cabin Democrat finalized a planned restructuring of the corporation's ownership. The restructuring included 51 percent of the stock in the newspaper being owned by Frank E. Robins III, publisher; his wife, Dorothy Robins; and his daughter, Laura Robins Falls.
The remaining 49 percent was purchased by Stauffer Communications Inc. of Topeka, Kansas. On March 20, 1994, Frank E. Robins III, a fifth-generation publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat, announced his retirement effective Friday, May 27. Mike Hengel was named publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat.
Morris Communications, Inc. of Augusta, Georgia, purchased Stauffer Communications in 1995, assuming ownership of the Log Cabin Democrat in 1999. The online edition of the Log Cabin Democrat, thecabin.net, debuted May 15, 1997, and the newspaper added two magazines, Women’s Inc. and iCON to its publications.
In 2011, the Log Cabin offices were moved to the renovated Federal Building on Front Street. Last year, Morris Communications sold the newspaper to GateHouse Media, headquartered in New York. Over the past year, the Heber Springs Sun Times and Van Buren County Democrat weeklies have come under the Log Cabin’s umbrella.
In recent years, many newspapers in surrounding communities have been shuttered, leaving those residents without a reliable local news source. The challenge is great, but today’s Log Cabin Democrat staff continually strives to provide its readers with quality local news, still fulfilling Frank Robins' vision of 110 years ago.