When the Log Cabin Democrat began publishing more than a century ago, all the type was set by hand. Each letter was picked out of a type case, one character at a time. Now computers do most of the work, and what once took hours to accomplish is done in a matter of minutes. The Log Cabin has grown through the years along with Faulkner County and Conway.
The newspaper proudly traces its history to a date in July 1879, when Able F. Livingston came to Conway from Illinois and founded a newspaper.
Livingston had been a member of the old Whig Party, and even though the party was gone by then, he chose the Log Cabin -- the symbol of the Whig Party -- as the name for his newspaper and named Charlie Cox its first editor.
In the early 1880s, Livingston moved to Morrilton to edit the Star, and his brothers-in-law, Zol and T. M. Woods, continued to publish the Log Cabin.
In March 1885, J. W. Underhill became part owner. Livingston had created the newspaper as a Republican weekly, but when Underhill assumed control from the Woods brothers in the late 1880s, he turned it into a Democratic Party newspaper.
On Jan. 1, 1894, Underhill and J. W. Robins, who owned a sawmill, decided to trade businesses. The deal was completed on a creek bank and was the beginning of an almost unbroken succession of Robins family ownership. Five generations of the family have been involved in the newspaper’s history.
One of Robins’ reasons for obtaining the newspaper was to provide his son, Frank, with the educational environment of a newspaper office. Young Frank Robins had just turned 13 when his 39-year-old father purchased the Log Cabin.
Six months later, J. W. Robins died. His wife, Minnie Freeman Robins, published the paper until the fall of 1894, when she turned the operation of the Log Cabin over to O. C. Ludwig. Three years later, Mrs. Robins again became involved in the operation of the newspaper.
Another newspaper, the Democrat, had begun publishing in Conway in 1881, but a fire at the offices caused it to cease publication in 1885.
About 10 years later, the Democrat was revived by a group of three men, and in 1896, Underhill returned to Conway and purchased it. In 1899, he married Minnie Robins and thus became associated again with the Log Cabin. The two newspapers were published from the same office, and the Robins-Underhill marriage was the first step toward the merger of the two papers.
A fire on June 19, 1900, delayed the merger, but it didn’t delay that week’s edition, the paper read:
“Fire this morning at three o’clock destroyed the brick building on West Oak Street, owned by Mrs. J. W. Underhill and occupied by the Conway Printing Co. and B. G. Muse’s Meat Market; all of A. J. Witt’s frame buildings including his store warehouse and wagon yard buildings and a small farm building, belonging to Mrs. Underhill...
“The fire is supposed to have originated in the upstairs room occupied by the printing office. The cause is unknown.”
Just 15 months after the fire, the two papers became the Log Cabin Democrat. But a year later, Underhill’s health failed and Frank E. Robins, then 22, took over management of the newspaper his father had purchased on a creek bank eight years earlier.
When Underhill died in 1906, Robins became editor and purchased his stepfather’s interest Two years later, Sept. 14, 1908, there was a drastic change in the newspaper. Frank Robins decided to begin a daily edition of the Log Cabin Democrat to coincide with the opening of Arkansas Normal School (now the University of Central Arkansas).
The next major change in the newspaper’s publishing frequency occurred Dec. 2, 1979, when the Log Cabin Democrat began a Sunday edition and dropped its Saturday delivery. On April 14, 1980, after 80 years on Oak Street, the Log Cabin offices were moved from 1318 Oak St. to its current quarters at 1058 Front St.
In July of that same year, a new computer system was installed which replaced the typewriter as the reporter’s trusty tool, moving the Log Cabin another step away from the green-eyeshade era of journalism when Able F. Livingston opened his newspaper office in Conway.
Two years later, Aug. 26, 1982, the Log Cabin Democrat ceased publication of its weekly edition, ending a tradition of small-community coverage -- church singings and covered-dish suppers -- that stretched back over 100 years.
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, Kan.
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. The Log Cabin Democrat is now fully owned by Morris Communications Inc. of Augusta, Ga.
The online edition of the Log Cabin Democrat, thecabin.net, debuted May 15, 1997.