In late 1955, Chestnut Hill entrepreneur Lloyd Wells decided Chestnut Hill needed a new newspaper. The first issue of the Chestnut Hill Cymbal was published in December of 1955. Its purpose, captured in that inaugural issue’s policy statement, was “to generate understanding and create public interest in the problems facing our community today.”
Those same sentiments were the foundation of the Chestnut Hill Local, which replaced the Cymbal after nine issues in May of 1958.
Wells was the godfather of Chestnut Hill’s civic infrastructure. He was the president of the Chestnut Hill Development Corp., and later started the Chestnut Hill Community Association. He created the Parking Foundation, which operated the many off-street lots in the upper blocks of Germantown Avenue’s retail corridor.
In an opinion published in the Local 10 years ago for our 50th anniversary, Wells was clear that the Cymbal and the Local after it, were essential in order to address the many issues Chestnut Hill faced at the time – from the Morgan Tract Development, which is now home to Market Square and Chestnut Hill Village, and a rapidly changing economy in which automobile travel to suburban shopping malls was a direct threat to the Hill’s village retail district.
At the time, the local paper, The Chestnut Hill Herald, was controlled by a publishing group headquartered in Conshohocken. That it had no direct ties to the neighborhood was one strike against it, but when the Republican-controlled paper ultimately worked against the re-election campaign of Hill resident and Democratic City Councilwoman Constance Dallas, the city’s first female council person, Wells was convinced the neighborhood needed its own paper.
It’s been 60 years now since Wells launched the Local, and it’s remarkable to note that despite a great deal of change in the way the newsroom, advertising sales and design take place, so many of the foundational aspects of the Local survive.
Wells and those who helped him start the Local in 1958 were concerned about the influences of party and profit. They pioneered a newspaper that was owned by a local, nonprofit civic association, The CHCA. This relationship that still stands today. To keep party influence out of the paper, it would have no unsigned editorial opinions. The columns I write, and the ones written by editors before me, all carry a signature because they are the opinions of the editor, not the institution.
To this day, the Local is still a genuinely unique institution. It is a community weekly owned by a community association, the purpose of which is not to create profit for shareholders, but to be vehicle to report on the community – its successes, its prominent people, its controversies and its problems. As Wells wrote in that 1955 policy statement, “Sound human progress can only be achieved through general public appreciation.”
As we continue to work on keep the Local on track as a publication that serves the needs of a contemporary audience, that purpose of this paper is the same as it was in 1958 – to report on the progress and problems of the community in the belief that through a public account, we can better appreciate those successes and solve the problems.
Here’s to another 60 years.