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About the Press Democrat Media Company

About the Press Democrat Newspaper

The very first newspaper in Santa Rosa, the parent of today's Press Democrat, was begun in 1857, just three years after Santa Rosa was chosen as the seat of Sonoma County and seven years after California became a part of the United States.

Called the Sonoma Democrat this newspaper was a four-page weekly. Its name reflected the politics of the Santa Rosa and Russian River valleys, which were settled in the 1840s and '50s by farmers from Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The founding publisher was Alpheus Russell, a merchant with some newspaper experience who came to open a general store on Third Street. John Taylor, a prosperous rancher south of the new town, encouraged Russell to establish the paper, giving him a five-dollar gold piece for the first subscription.

At the end of a year, Russell sold the paper to printer E.R. Budd, who sold it again in 1860. The new owner was Thomas Thompson, a young Virginian who had edited Petaluma's Sonoma County Journal five years earlier at the age of 17.

Thompson was a supporter of the Southern cause and conventional wisdom of the time said that Democratic party money, perhaps Confederate money, helped Thompson buy the paper to oppose the election of Abraham Lincoln.

Thompson and Samuel Cassiday, the Republican editor of the Petaluma paper, carried on a Civil War of words, in which Thompson was victorious.

Lincoln did not carry Sonoma County in either 1860 or 1864 elections.

Thompson played a major role in politics in Santa Rosa, the state, and later as U.S. Amabassador to Brazil. He sold the Sonoma Democrat in 1897 to Ernest L. Finley, owner of The Evening Press who merged the two papers and renamed the new publication The Press Democrat. Finley also bought The Santa Rosa Republican, the paper's long-time competitor, in 1927. Ernest Finley's wife, Ruth, was very much a part of the affairs of the newspaper. She encouraged him, also, to establish radio station KSRO in 1936. Control of the newspaper and radio station passed to Ruth at his death in 1942.

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