aka: Benton Courier
The Saline Courier (formerly known as the Benton Courier) is the largest and oldest newspaper in Saline County.
The paper began its life as the Saline County Digest, established by Vermont native W. A. Webber in 1876, as the official mouthpiece of Saline County Democrats, although it later lost that affiliation. The Digest was published weekly in a seven-column folio with an average circulation of 1,000. In November 1882, the Digest changed hands for the first time. It was purchased by B. B. Beavers, who renamed it the Saline County Review; in November 1883, Colonel Samuel Houston Whitthorne bought Beavers’s interest in the paper and renamed it the Saline Courier. Whitthorne was the father-in-law of prominent Benton doctor Dr. Dewell Gann Sr., owner of the Gann House and office at what is now the Gann Museum on South Market Street in Benton (Saline County). A fire destroyed the Courier office and all of its contents in December 1883. The paper replaced its lost materials in fifteen days.
The paper changed hands a few times before landing back in the possession of Whitthorne in August 1886. Whitthorne increased the Saline Courier’s size to nine columns and raised its circulation overall. He was bought out by A. F. Gardner in October 1887. Gardner then sold the paper to Colonel T. C. Mays a year later. Mays sold it to J. J. Beavers in 1890. The paper changed hands several times before being purchased on November 12, 1906, by L. B. White, who owned it for many decades after that. Under White, the name was changed to the Benton Courier. Its employees’ wages gradually increased from $9 a week in 1906 to $250 a week in 1936. White used his own printing company to print the paper, after 1910, circulation rose to more than 2,000 copies per week. The L. B. White Printing Company, Inc., published many key books about Arkansas history in addition to the Courier.
After World War II, the Benton Courier faced another fire, but this one was no accident. Reportedly, a ten-year-old boy named Charles Braswell set fire to the Courier office. All of the contents of the office were lost in the fire, and at least three other businesses near it were damaged as well. Braswell was described by the paper as a child “who seemingly had a mania to see property destroyed.” After the fire, the paper had to be printed in Malvern (Hot Spring County) for a week, then in Little Rock (Pulaski County) for the following fourteen weeks. Even still, the Courier’s average circulation was 4,000 issues per week. According to current Courier publisher Kelly Freudensprung, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette occasionally prints issues of the Saline Courier in Little Rock because the Gazette does not see the much smaller Courier as a business rival and is thus willing to help them.
In 1953, a new era for the Courier began after White sold the paper to decorated World War II veteran Samuel M. Hodges. Hodges had been born in Osceola (Mississippi County) to a family steeped in newspaper publishing, his father having been the publisher of the Osceola Times. In 1947, following the death of his father, Hodges became sole owner and publisher of the Osceola Times. He was also an investor in the Maumelle Monitor.
In 1970, under Hodges’s ownership, the Benton Courier became a daily newspaper. Hodges held on to the Courier until 1996 when he sold it to American Publishing. By 2001, the paper was under the ownership of Horizon Publications, Inc., a large corporation that also owns the Bryant Banner and the Malvern Daily Record.
In August 2010, the name of the paper was changed back to the Saline Courier to reflect its coverage of the whole county. The current Courier office, built in the mid-1980s, is located at 321 North Market Street in Benton near the Saline County Courthouse. The facility also houses a small printing factory behind the office. The Courier itself has been recognized by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program for its historic significance. There is a newly restored marker on the office’s front lawn.
For additional information:
“The Courier Is in New Building on Former Site.” Benton Courier, March 21, 1946, p. 1.
“First Newspaper Here Sixty Years Ago—L. B. White Here Thirty Years.” Benton Courier Centennial Edition, 1836–1936. March 25, 1937, p. 129.
Sabin, Rainer. “Longtime Publisher of Benton Courier.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 4, 2005, p. 4B.
Saline Courier. http://www.bentoncourier.com/ (accessed September 9, 2020).
Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Last Updated: 09/09/2020