Newtown Bee Family
The Newtown Bee, The Bee and The Newtown Chronicle
Newtown, Connecticut town historian Daniel Cruson placed the birth of the Newtown Bee in 1870 within New England’s post-Civil War florescence of small rural weeklies. It was one of more than 360 distinct weekly titles published in Connecticut between 1865 and 1900. The Newtown Bee was special in that this weekly once devoted to agriculture reinvented itself to serve a town that over time became a center for the production of rubber belting products, a resort linked by rail to the Connecticut shoreline, and, finally, in the last half of the 20th century, a suburban retreat.
In 1880, Reuben H. Smith purchased a foundering publication known as the Bee (1877) from Bethel publisher, John Pearce. The Newtown Bee has since flourished under the direction of the Smith family. With his brother, Allison P. Smith, as editor, and himself as business manager, Reuben Smith rolled the paper’s first edition off the press in April 1881 from its Main Street quarters–the beginning of over a century of uninterrupted weekly publication. Family involvement has been the backbone of the paper. When Reuben moved on to other ventures in 1892, another brother, Arthur, stepped into the role of business manager. Allison maintained the editorial position until his death in 1934. He was succeeded by Arthur’s son, Paul, who steered the Newtown Bee until 1973. R. Scudder Smith, Paul’s son, took over as editor at that time, as well as title of publisher upon his father’s death in 1990.
The early Newtown Bee identified itself as “independent Republican” and was for two years challenged by an upstart paper aligned with the Democratic Party called the Newtown Chronicle. Founded in 1880, the Chronicle enjoyed a large readership among the many Irish immigrant workers who came to Newtown to build the railroads, farm, and work in the rubber belting industry. While an Irish/Yankee division continued to be reflected in Newtown politics and culture until the Second World War, the competition with Chronicle ended when Smith purchased the Bee, bought out the Chronicle, and committed the Bee to non-partisan news coverage.
The Smiths’ success at building a subscriber list for the Newtown Beeis attributed, first, to Reuben’s making a circuit in horse and buggy of surrounding settlements to sell subscriptions and collect social news, and, then later, to the formation of a network of correspondents in dozens of communities in a radius around Newtown. These activities yielded news of social affairs, illnesses, construction, sermons, agricultural plantings, lawsuits, arrests, murders, thefts, road conditions, fires, lightning strikes, shad runs, and business ventures undertaken. In 1888, a special Annex was occasionally published, providing detailed explanations and illustrations of the workings of local industry. The Chronicle‘s circulation grew from 612 in 1888 to 3,875 in 1899.
In the early 20th century, agriculture–this time in the form of dairy farming–took center stage once again, fueling commercial development in Newtown. The Bee continued to adapt and grow, adding more news of the growth of institutions and stores. As the automobile became more affordable and housing patterns changed in the post-World War Two era, Newtown became a rural suburb of Bridgeport and Danbury.
The Newtown Bee has published a special edition only once, on Monday, December 17, 2012, commemorating the lives of children and educators lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.