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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    The Day's past and future entwined with home city

    Greg Stone, retired deputy editorial page editor of The Day and author of a book on the newspaper's history, stands in The Day pressroom on Friday, April 15, 2022. The printing press was dismantled in 2011. (Karen Florin/The Day)
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    Did you know The Day was instrumental in the establishment of Connecticut College, The Garde Arts Center and the Dr. Martin Luther King Scholarship fund?

    The company also had a lot to do with building State Pier, and with bringing the annual Harvard-Yale Regatta to the Thames River in 1878.

    We've become so focused on tomorrow's news, and on the future of our newspaper, that we don't look back often.

    What has us waxing historic today is a lecture this past Thursday night by retired Day journalist Greg Stone, as part of the Thames River Heritage Park Foundation's lecture series, "Media and Society Past and Present ... Journalism on the Thames." I was honored to join Stone at the podium in the Fort Trumbull State Park conference room to speak about some of our current and future plans.

    Stone covered the history of newspapers, people and politics in the city dating back to the 1750s, and I encourage you to read his thorough treatment of the history in his book, "The Day Paper: The Story of One of America's Last Independent Newspapers."

    The stories about Theodore Bodenwein, who purchased The Day in 1891, underscore the paper's essential role in New London and later, throughout the region. Bodenwein died in 1939, leaving a will that set us up as a public trust required to donate a portion of our profits annually to local charities. The will ensured The Day would remain an independent "protector of the public interest and defender of the people's rights."

    Stone told of Bodenwein's leadership, in 1911, of a campaign to raise funds to help establish Connecticut College. He said Bodenwein had a clock attached to the front of our building on Eugene O'Neill Drive marking the progress of the campaign. Bodenwein also was a partner in the development of The Garde and other properties at the top of State Street in the 1920s.

    Stone said some of Bodenwein's plans were "cockeyed," such as his support of a plan to build two giant cargo ships on the banks of the Thames to sell wheat to China. It turned out there weren't enough coal fueling stations for the two ships to reach China. The shipyard remained however, and became the home of Electric Boat.

    We loved hearing about The Day's role in the establishment of the MLK scholarship fund. Stone said in 1968, on the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, students from New London High School walked out of class and marched through the city, stopping in front of The Day.

    City and NAACP leaders Clarence Faulk and Eunice Waller met with Editorial Page Editor Ken Grube, and out of that came the Dr. Martin Luther King Scholarship Fund, according to Stone. What started as an award for New London High School seniors is now a four-year, $20,000 scholarship offered to seniors throughout the county.

    Stone visited The Day a week ago to prepare for Thursday's lecture, and we snaked through the building to take a look at our former press room. The Day dismantled and sold its last printing press in 2011, and the paper now is printed at the Providence Journal. 

    The economic challenges to The Day, and to all newspapers, have been tough, but we've embraced the digital age as we continue covering, and helping to shape, our local communities. We offered our building for sale recently, because we're no longer printing the paper here and only use about 1/3 of the space. We'll eventually move to a more efficient setting, and Publisher Timothy Dwyer assures us we'll stay in New London.

    The building, Stone reminded us Thursday, is not the newspaper.

    "We're lucky The Day is still here," he said. "It's not the printing factory it used to be, and doesn't need most of the space in the building. It's been reduced to its most essential components — a business organization of trained reporters, photographers and editors ... who perform an essential role in the community."

    Karen Florin is The Day's engagement editor. She can be reached at k.florin@theday.com or (860) 701-4217.

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