The Urbana Union was established in 1862 by Colonel John H. James after he purchased the plant of the former Urbana Free Press. The weekly publication reported on local, domestic, and foreign news and served as the paper of record for Champaign County until it ceased publication in 1872. In its first issue, Editor John W. Houx declared that “the paper is not in the interest of any party, nor is it meant to be identified with any party, because it will not be fettered.” This claim of political independence was tenuous, as the paper had its roots in the county’s first Democratic newspaper, the Western Dominion, and by 1866, the Union openly supported Democratic candidates and interests as well as the principle of states’ rights.
Throughout most of its ten-year run, the last words of Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic candidate who lost the 1860 presidential election to Abraham Lincoln, were printed in the paper’s masthead: “Tell them to obey the laws and uphold the Constitution of the United States.” Each week, the editor’s political commentary reflected this viewpoint as it reported on local and national news. Readers could expect to see updates regarding the Civil War and related legislation, speeches, and Congressional debates. In addition to reporting on events of national and international importance, the editor also sought to create “a complete family paper” that was “devoted to…literature, science, agriculture, mechanics, education, matters of commerce, etc.” Each issue contained a variety of content ranging from poetry and fiction to local gossip to advice for farming and housekeeping that extended the paper’s appeal to people of all interests.
Since its beginnings with the Western Dominion in 1844, the Urbana Union underwent multiple changes in both name and editorship. Upon Houx’s retirement in 1869, ownership of the Urbana Union went to the Urbana Union Printing Company, with A.R. Candy and William H. Kernam serving as editors. In 1870, George B. Hunter took over the Union until he sold it to E.T. Harkrader in 1872. Under Harkrader’s ownership, the paper’s name was changed to the Democratic Plaindealer. This paper failed, leaving the Democrats in Champaign County without a paper until 1873 when General Benjamin P. Runkle and Daniel Flannegan revived the Urbana Union. In 1875, Flannegan purchased the Buckeye Democrat and consolidated the two papers to form the Urbana Union-Democrat. Eventually, the paper became known as the Urbana Daily Democrat, which ceased publication around 1935.
Researched and written by Jenni Salamon
Additional research by Jessica Crossfield