The Chinook Observer was started late in 1900 by two investors named Hibbert and Gaither. Gaither’s involvement was short-lived, but Hibbert lived in the Chinook area and was publisher for many years.
Within weeks after it was founded, the Observer was joined by Charles Angus “Jack” Payne, who wrote many of the paper’s colorful early reports about pioneer life on the Columbia River. He arrived on the Peninsula in a very unusual way, as the survivor of a famous shipwreck.
The Strathblane, a three-masted British ship, wrecked four miles south of Ocean Park on Nov. 3, 1891, with a loss of seven lives, including her captain. The wreck of the Strathblane led directly to construction of North Head Lighthouse, which celebrated its centennial in 1998. An original architectural drawing of the lighthouse now is the front-page logo of the Chinook Observer.
Payne and Hibbert started publishing the Observer in a “funny little shed” in Chinook. Later, the two men built a two-story building, the only one of its kind in the area. That building still stands and is used as an art gallery.
A townsman said “The printing presses and office were located on the ground floor and his living quarters were above. [Payne’s] bedroom was a small ship’s stateroom, complete to built-in bunk, a port hole and ship’s clock.”
In about 1923, Hibbert sold the newspaper to John and Margaret Durkee. They operated the paper through most of the Depression years. With the outlawing of fishtraps in 1933, Chinook went into a sharp decline. Bill Clancey of Chinook bought the paper, and in 1937 James O’Neil became co-owner. O’Neil moved the paper to Long Beach in 1938, but retained the original name because of its historic connotations.
Much of the newspaper’s printing equipment from its earliest days was housed at Fort Columbia State Park for many years, but was recently moved to a new exhibit at Ilwaco Heritage Museum. The Observer now is printed at The Daily Astorian each Tuesday night.
O’Neil’s son Wayne and his wife Frances took over the paper in August 1963 and operated it until July 1, 1984, when it was sold to Craig and Geri Dennis, the son and daughter-in-law of the owner of Dennis Company hardware stores in Raymond and Long Beach.
On Feb. 16, 1988, the East Oregonian Publishing Co. bought the paper from the Dennis family. In 1991, Matt Winters was named Observer editor and he remains so.
The Observer has a circulation of about 6,700, making it one of Washington’s larger weekly newspapers. Its staff has won more than 50 statewide awards for excellence in the past five years, adding to the scores of other prizes it won in past years.
The Chinook Observer celebrated its 100th anniversary last year with a historical series that continues and which will be re-published in book form. Beginning its 101st year of publication on Dec. 12, 2001, it remains committed to thoroughly and thoughtfully covering the lives and times in its fascinating corner of Washington state.
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