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FW Hartford Founded Portsmouth Herald

Fernando W Hartford Portsmouth Herald founder/ Portsmouth, NH


FW Hartford came to Portsmouth in its horse and buggy days and helped transform it into a 20th Century city. He was its leading newspaper publisher, mayor for seven terms, and perhaps the town’s most enthusiastic booster. He combined the city’s many newspapers into one.




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Fernando W. Hartford
Newspaper editor, publisher, journalist

SEE ALSO  Mayor FW Hartford in 1921  

Born in upstate New York around 1870, Hartford began work in Manchester, NH at 10 as a newsboy, and in the local textile mills at 11. By 13 he was "an office-devil" at the Manchester Union Leader. His superiors, impressed with his energy, sent him to Portsmouth three years later to build up circulation on the Seacoast. His career there would completely change news reporting in the region. While in Portsmouth, young Hartford met and married Lizzie Hill Downing of Eliot, Maine and worked briefly as chief clerk for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard paymaster.

In 1890 an energetic 20-year-old Hartford came under the sway of Frank Jones, "King of the Ale Makers." Jones amassed a business empire that included breweries, factories, racing stables, the Wentworth and Rockingham hotels, a bank, insurance company, local utilities, and a large interest in the Boston and Maine railroad. In 1891, Jones put up $2,000 to purchase The Penny Post, with Hartford as publisher and editor. It was one of six newspapers on the scene: The Evening Times, The Morning Chronicle, The Portsmouth Republican (dailies), and The Portsmouth Journal of Literature & Politics and the New Hampshire Gazette (weeklies). Records from the Portsmouth Herald archives indicate Jones shrewdly gave his young acolyte "sweat equity" that included a $1,000 loan to buy-in. Hartford changed the name of The Penny Post to The Portsmouth Herald, and almost instantly began to build circulation and influence.

Hartford’s arrival stirred up the Republican power brokers. The Morning Chronicle attacked referring to "the lump of diseased tissue which serves him as a brain." But Hartford’s skill as a circulation builder, and as a "clean Republican," succeeded in burying The Chronicle. Hartford bought it six years later (March 3rd, 1898 for $2,956, according to records in the Herald archives). In 1902, Hartford acquired the Portsmouth Republican and the Portsmouth Journal, leaving only the Evening Times to oppose him. He eventually acquired this title June 6, 1925 for one dollar. Hartford vanquished not only the Times but the political machine that backed it, as we shall see.

The Herald of 1898 was a briskly written four page sheet that boasted "More local news than all other dailies combined." No item was too small – dogfights, whist tournaments won by the Warwick Club, runaway horses in Market Square, wages at the Navy Yard, and columns of one-line "personals" about residents trips, parties, and the achievements of their children. The Herald of January 10, 1898 had sixty-three local news items. When city briefs ran short, Hartford was quick to put in plugs for his advertisers written in gushing and fulsome prose.

In 1902, Frank Jones died and his business empire was turned over to three trustees, Justin Hanscom, Calvin Page and Parker Wittemore. The same year, Hartford paid the Frank Jones Estate $8,000 for complete ownership of The Herald, The Morning Chronicle, and The New Hampshire Gazette. He paid back, with interest, the loan used to buy his sweat equity in 1891. At approximately 33 years of age, Hartford was now the owner of the leading morning, evening and weekly newspapers. He had also served as a city councilor and New Hampshire state representative. He and Lizzy had three children – Beatrice, Emma, and Justin Downing (known as J.D.). Hartford also purchased The Music Hall from the Jones estate with two other partners and eventually owned three theaters here, using them to attract stars whom he extolled in his newspapers.

Battling the local political machine in his successful race for mayor, Hartford offered this summary of himself: "I did not enter any college of note, but am a graduate of the biggest college in these United States – The College of Hard Knocks, the College of Hard Work – and the education that is gained from laboring in the cotton mill at the age of 11, twelve hours a day, for $2.75 per week, and from a position in the Sewer Division of the city, and thence to an office devil in a newspaper office, attending business schools at night and graduating from the grammar school at 12. I have battled along and perfected to the best of my ability an education sufficient to meet the ordinary emergency..."

He was the best of mixers," wrote a newspaper colleague from The Manchester Union Leader, "he possessed a fund of good stories; also an astonishing amount of practical information…To a very great degree, he was gifted with that valuable quality which is called ‘personality’."

Perhaps, as the Concord Monitor wrote of Hartford, "his widespread activity probably wore him out before his time." In the late 1930s, his health began to fail. His son, J.D. Hartford, a naval aviator and graduate of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, returned to run the family business. In 1938, surrounded by his family at home at 133 Miller Avenue, Hartford passed away at 10:30pm. The next day, City Hall was closed, flags were at half-mast, and hundreds poured into Market Square to the North Church to pay their respects. It took two hours for the crowds to pass by the casket, including the touching scene of Herald newsboys, with their bags of papers, paying their last respects to the owner.

All around him were the results of his work – a cleaner city government, a new interstate capital bridge connecting Portsmouth to Maine (The Sally Long Bridge), institutions such as The Chamber of Commerce and the hospital, the Portsmouth Historical Society, a navy yard preserved and enlarged, and The Portsmouth Herald, which had grown from four pages a day to a healthy sheet of twenty to twenty-four pages with news from Seabrook to York. Despite his many contributions, no evidence emerges that he ever profited unduly form his civic work or that he exerted his power for personal advancement.

John Tabor is the publisher of Portsmouth Herald and Seacoast Newspapers headquartered in Portsmouth, NH. The Herald is owned by Ottaway Newspapers, Inc. which is now a subsidiary of Dow Jones & Company publishers of the Wall Street Journal. 

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