Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

A Timeline

Newspapers in Three Rivers through the years
By: 
Sarah Elliott

 

From the earliest days of Three Rivers to the present, publishing a newspaper has demanded ingenuity and, at times, unconventional procedures. Newspapers, especially those that are independently owned, are only as strong as their advertising base and circulation. The downfall of most newspapers in Three Rivers is that the circulation has never been enough to attract sufficient advertisers to support them. In addition, dedication and commitment is necessary to meet the grueling and always looming publication deadline.
 
Three Rivers newspapers have been sporadic through the years. This leaves many gaps in the documentation of local history. Towns should place priority on supporting their community newspaper, if only for this reason.
 
1890-1891— The first newspaper in the area was The Kaweah Commonwealth, published by the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony. Although mainly used as a propaganda tool for the socialist society, each of the 96 issues offered a firsthand glimpse of Colony life, from business matters to recreational pursuits to births, marriages, and deaths. The weekly paper was printed on the first steam-operated press in Tulare County, given to the Colony by Dr. M.A. Hunter in exchange for membership. The printing press was located in a tent in a Colony camp on the upper North Fork.
 
1948— The first Three Rivers Current, which was also the first newspaper in Three Rivers in more than a half century, was published by the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce, headed by Gene Gray (a founder of Valley Oak Credit Union in Three Rivers). The group subsidized the weekly newspaper and hired publisher John Van Leuven. Van Leuven mimeographed the news stories in his home and had the paper printed in Visalia. Van Leuven paid most of the subsequent expenses of publishing the newspaper, but discontinued publication after one year.
 
1949-1950— Rev. Pooley, pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church, attempted a monthly four-page newspaper that was mainly for church members. It contained local news and photographs in a community with no newspaper, so it was passed around town. This publication also lasted only one year.
 
1950— Russ and Verna Curtis (late parents of present-day Three Rivers resident Ginger Curtis) tackled the task of reviving the weekly Current newspaper. They changed the masthead to The Current of Three Rivers. It was adjudicated as a newspaper of general circulation in 1951. It was a six-page paper, printed on a small offset press in the chicken house behind the Curtis home. After one year of publication, the couple relocated.
 
1951— Virginia Williams bought the press from the Curtises for $100. Unable to take the helm of the weekly publication immediately, Virginia loaned the press to Rev. Fritz, pastor of the Presbyterian Church. For the next few months, the Current was printed in the manse, located where the Harrison Fellowship Hall now stands. In the fall, Virginia installed the press in the spare bedroom of her home. It was later moved into what Virginia called “a cubbyhole,” next to the present-day office of The Kaweah Commonwealth. The name of the publication was changed back to Three Rivers Current and the paid circulation reached 555 subscribers.
 
“No one made money on the Current,” recalled Virginia, “but we had a lot of fun.”
 
1952— A fire in the office of the Current destroyed all equipment, including the press and cameras.
 
1954— The Current was destined to persevere as Virginia bought another offset printing press and set it up once more in the bedroom of her home. In a few years, the press wore out and Virginia switched to mimeographing and taking the publication to Visalia for printing.
 
1956— The weekly Three Rivers Current ceased publication but not before publishing impressive reporting on the experiences of Three Rivers residents during the December 1955 flood that ravaged Three Rivers.
 
1960— The Kaweah Magazine, a monthly publication of local interest, began publication. The  publisher was Malden Grange Bishop, a writer by trade, and he gleaned the best of Three Rivers for his staff — Gene Gray, Sam and Juanita Pusateri, Rosemary Packard, Ester Peck, Karolyn Opitz, Carroll and Vangel Barnes, Dr. Vernon Van Zandt, Curt Siodmak, and Frankie Welch all contributed to the first issue, published in July. A print shop was installed in Malden’s home and his wife, daughter, and son-in-law all worked on the project. This was a first-rate publication with excellent advertiser support, but illness struck the Bishop family, so after less than a year, The Kaweah Magazine was no longer in existence.
 
1972-1984— Jack and Virginia Albee moved to Three Rivers and started the Sequoia Sentinel. They published in the A-frame house across from the White Horse Inn and had the paper printed in the Valley. The Albees were speculators, using the weekly newspaper to promote development of the Mineral King area by Walt Disney as a world-class ski resort. When the couple divorced, publication of the Sentinel lapsed.
 
1985— Louise Duke, who operated the “Ice Creamery” in Three Rivers, tried her hand at publishing the Sentinel. She had no newspaper experience but was assisted by Norm Sargent of Porterville, a veteran newspaperman. After less than one year, publication ceased.
 
1985-1986— Rick and Judi Kimball and Bob and Judy Gauld purchased the Sequoia Sentinel from Louise Duke for one dollar, which kept the adjudication intact (the authorization by the courts for publication of legal notices, such as notices of fictitious business names). The partnership formed Kaweah Publishing and, while the Gaulds published the Sentinel, Rick and Judi pursued other forms of publishing to make ends meet. When the Gaulds’ teenage daughter, who attended Woodlake High School, passed away suddenly due to complications from diabetes, the couple relocated to Montana to be near family. The Kimballs took over the entire publishing schedule, but when a key sales employee had to leave due to personal reasons, they passed the Sentinel torch along.
 
1986— Thelma Barrios became publisher and changed the name of the Sequoia Sentinel to the Three Rivers Independent. Rachelle Ledbetter was editor of the weekly publication.
 
1986-1987— The struggle of the Three Rivers Independent  and, previously, the Sequoia Sentinel during this decade was in part due to two newspapers serving the Three Rivers area concurrently. Mineral King Publishing, publishers of the Lindsay Gazette and the Exeter Sun, purchased the rights to the names of two defunct newspapers, the Three Rivers Current and the Woodlake Echo, and revived publication. Since the Current required paid subscriptions, the circulation was minimal and advertisers couldn’t justify the expense.
 
It became apparent that a newspaper that was based in Three Rivers and distributed for free to each household and business was read more widely and, thus, a much more lucrative vehicle to attract advertisers.
 
1987-1995— Rachelle Ledbetter, a current Three Rivers resident, took over at the helm, changed the name of the newspaper back to Sequoia Sentinel, and published weekly for eight years.
 
1995-April 2019— John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott purchased the Sequoia Sentinel in March 1995 and changed the name to The Kaweah Commonwealth, in honor of the first newspaper published in the area. The local newspaper had come full circle in the past 100 years.
 
2003— The Kaweah Commonwealth launched its first website. Shortly thereafter, a webcam was added with iconic views of Alta Peak and Moro Rock. 
 
To infinity and beyond— The Kaweah Commonwealth will print its last issue on Friday, April 12. A new name and a new website will be unveiled as Three Rivers news transitions to being published online, still owned and produced by the Elliotts.
 
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