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The History of The Bridgeport Index

Printed news in Bridgeport did not appear on news-stands until about 1893, although a forerunner of The Index did exist. A small newspaper appeared in the township when a publisher from Terrell, Oklahoma, sought to establish a weekly, but his endeavor failed, and he only stayed in Bridgeport a short time. Credit for the first newspaper really goes to Luke Pearre, who was the first publisher of The Index. Mr. Pearre did not stay long, and Orion Proctor, who had been connected with a San Antonio newspaper, was the third publisher of the weekly, which has been in continuous publication since its establishment in 1902.
    The Boyd Index, established October 3, 1893, and The Bridgeport Index, established July 4, 1902 consolidated on November 8, 1907 and was called The Wise County Index, with Orion Proctor as editor and J. S. Proctor (and Edgar Proctor) as associates. Subscription rates were $1 per year with specials offered at least once a year when a metropolition paper (Fort Worth or Dallas or Wichita Falls) and The Index could be had for $1. The paper retained The Wise County Index title for several years; by 1909 there were offices in both Bridgeport and Boyd. Display advertising was going for 10 cents an inch up to 100 column inches, where a one cent discount kicked in. Copies cost 10 cents each, and readers were advised to “put several copies under your carpet and note how much warmer it makes your room this winter.”
    File copies for the early years are not readily available. John Sellman, whose parents ran The Index between 1948 and 1957, recalls that libraries at the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and the Mormon Church acquired microfilm copies during that interval, but by the time Harlan Bridwell bought The Index in 1957, he inherited only a stack of copies about eight inches high. This history is compiled without recourse to the film copies, and is therefore full of holes. Anyone with knowledge to fill them could be of service to the Bridgeport Historical Society.
     Sampling a random assortment of copies reveals that D.M. Norwood was editor and proprietor on May 22, 1925, when The Index ran front page ads, and inside, Ford advertised a “Fordor” for $660.
    S.M. Lamons was editor in November 1941; W.M. Free in April of 1944. Mrs. Free, Sellman recalls, did alterations and kept her sewing machine at the office. F.E. Forgy was publisher and Mrs. Forgy news editor in August 1947. C.F. Sellman leased The Index from Mr. and Mrs. Phil Luker, who owned The Wise County Messenger. Mrs. Sellman (Marguerite) wrote the front-page column “Around Town” . Her slogan, “The thing that costs the least and does the most good is a smile,” stayed in use for 30 years during John's own career with papers in Texas and New Mexico. The Sellman sons, John, Bobby and Collis (Sonny) grew up working for the paper for “three squares, a rag and a roof,” John said, and each found additional jobs outside for their spending money. Their sisters, Nancy (Dugan) and Sue (Womach), “helped keep the house running.” “Daddy was in charge when the oil boom started,” John said. “There was quite a bit of controversy. One company was trying to pick up all the leases. Dad tried to get more money for the property owners. He made it better than it might have been. We kids used to watch the drilling. Bridgeport was changing at that time. Before, everything was cotton. The land got to where it wouldn't support cotton. Then peanuts came in. A lot of my friends from high school would shake peanuts to earn money. All of that went away. Everything headed toward rock crushers. Then mostly gas. Then oil. Shysters came in. Oil booms used to be wild.”
    Harlan Bridwell, who then owned The Bellevue New, bought The Index from Mrs. Phil Luker in May of 1957. She asked $10,000, he offered five. She accepted. It was raining when he came to Bridgeport to look at the paper, the roof was off the building and tarps were over the equipment. Bridwell didn't even bother to raise the tarps to look at the equipment. “I figured it was a bunch of junk, and sure enough, it was,” he said. The Index was being printed in Decatur at the time. Bridwell traded a Model 15 Linotype for $1,000 of the purchase price. He started printing the paper in Bellevue. Sammy Garcia was the only employee who “came with the deal.” The Index was running four pages a week. When Bridwell told Garcia, after a few weeks, that they were going to run eight pages, Sammy thought he had misunderstood. Bridwell rented the building in the 1100 block of Halsell for $75 a month. In late '59 or '60, he bought the bank building at the corner of 10th and Halsell for $10,000, nothing down. “It was,” he said, “the first time in the history of the world that a newspaper ever took over a bank.” He made a darkroom out of the vault.
     While still running letterpress in the other building, Bridwell set up for offset printing in the bank building. The Index was recognized in trade papers as the first newspaper between Fort Worth and “some little town way up in Oklahoma” to go offset. Leola Medford, a Bellevue staffer, became assistant editor at The Index and worked for Bridwell for 17 years before she married and moved to Wichita Falls. The Bridwell children grew up working at The Index, and Harlan's wife Rosemary, who helped him with a succession of newspapers since their first paper in Forestburg, was an untitled force at The Index.
    Son Doug served as editor from September 1975 to December 1978, when he left to join Mitchell Energy (now Devon) and Joann Pritchard was named editor. Son Keith, who ran The Frisco Enterprise from 1967 until 1983 after Harlan bought that Collin County paper and found himself without an editor, joined The Index staff as managing editor in the mid 1980's. Daughter Melanie (Fair) served as business manager in those years. After stints with daily papers in Liberal, Kansas and Waxahachie, Texas, Keith became Index editor and publisher when Harlan and Joann Pritchard retired simultaneously in 1998.
     Many Bridgeport residents count The Index among their job experiences, and though they will unanimously tell you that it didn't pay much, most of them will tell you that it was fun.
   - much of the information here was gleaned from The Index Centennial Edition of July, 1973