Earlier this week, one of my true career mentors celebrated his 94th birthday on December 9th. This is none other than George B. Delaplaine, Jr.—lifetime newspaper publisher and cable television pioneer.
I mentioned in last week’s blog story that I graduated from the University of Delaware with a concentration in Mass Communications and History. Over 30 years ago, back in 1989, I was hired by one of Mr. Delaplaine’s companies, then known as Frederick Cablevision. As a wide-eyed, recent graduate, I was given my career start here, working as an audio-video specialist for the firm’s local television outlet known as Cable Channel 30 (soon to become Frederick Cable Channel 10).
I could go on for days about Cable 10 and the incredible experiences had over my twelve years of employment under the Delaplaine and Randall families. For a good part of my time with this group, I served as the youngest manager and I always appreciated the trust my bosses had put in me as we did some pretty cool stuff for the community. One such was the televising of local sports such as live, Frederick Keys baseball games, a constant since their inception in 1989. We had a daily newscast Monday-Friday, public affairs talk shows, music performance showcases of local bands, a dining offering, live political cross-talk and even a Frederick version of the popular 1990s television phenomenon of Fox's "Cops."
Of all these, however, the most satisfying moments featured my entry into the world of presenting history to viewers, culminating with the opportunity to produce historical documentaries like my idol, Ken Burns. For anyone that knows the Delaplaine and Randall families, history reigns supreme—especially local Frederick history. Looking back at my own history, I was certainly at the best place I could be. It was 25 years this past week that I was fortunate to win my first award for film documentary work.
Of all these, however, the most satisfying moments featured my entry into the world of presenting history to viewers, culminating with the opportunity to produce historical documentaries like my idol, Ken Burns. For anyone that knows the Delaplaine and Randall families, history reigns supreme—especially local Frederick history. Looking back at my own history, I was certainly at the best place I could be.
Mr. Delaplaine, and the corporation he chaired, gave me the opportunity not only to display my talents, but more so trained me to perfect those talents, while adding greatly to my professional skill set in so many ways. The parent company to Frederick Cablevision was called the Great Southern Printing & Manufacturing Company, incorporated in 1888. Eight years prior, George B. Delaplaine Jr.'s grandfather had started a printing company with various partners. In 1883, this group started a daily newspaper in an effort to further monetize their print operation. In time, this venture would eventually come to be known as The Frederick News-Post.
This endeavor, originally launched as The News, would certainly become a family affair, but not necessarily by choice as Mr. Delaplaine's father and multiple uncles were somewhat pushed to work for "the paper" because of a tragic circumstance. Mr. Delaplaine, the third generation under this umbrella, added to the printing and publishing corporation's portfolio by introducing cable-television here in Frederick in 1966. Ironically, I too was conceived in this year and born in January, 1967.
I came into Great Southern at a very exciting time, because cable-television truly came of age in the 1980s and 1990s. When I started, the company had 300 employees in all its divisions. That number would grow to nearly 500 going into the new millennium—one that saw us offering digital products and most importantly, internet service.
When thinking back on my day-to-day experiences in that job, one word—family— can succinctly sum up my twelve-year tenure before our company, known then as GS Communications, Inc., was sold to Adelphia Communications of upstate New York. This occurred in the fall of 2001. From day one on the job, I felt as if I was part of a family—my employees and staff made me feel this way, my co-workers and fellow managers made me feel this, and my supervisory staff made me feel this. Yes, there were a few bad days and plenty of unique challenges inherent with my job, but when pursuing these, I always felt that “my work family” had my back.
In respect to that family, I fondly remember working with members of the sister company (Frederick News-Post), not to mention the Randall family members, related through Mr. Delaplaine’s sister, Frances Ann Randall. "Franny" passed two years back in May, 2018 and is resting within our hallowed grounds on Area DD in a lot purchased by her parents, George Birely Delaplaine, Sr. and wife Ruth Carty Delaplaine.
With it being holiday time, I recall our departmental Cable 10 Christmas parties, and the annual joint holiday party shared with the News-Post staffers. I also recall the annual holiday bonus we received from the family, not to be expected, but always appreciated. In reminiscing with former co-workers from both companies "of old" under the Delaplaine moniker, I lament the slow extinction of the magical entities of large, family-run companies and the atmosphere I have described. If you are lucky enough to work for one currently, cherish and appreciate your good-fortune!
The vibe and company culture I experienced reflected the Delaplaine family (and my connections of George B. Delaplaine, Jr. and Frances Ann Randall) to a T, as they used to say. And with this particular company, that “T” was a symbolic one, found as the middle initial of the firm’s original founder, one all employees would become acquainted with upon their new staff member orientation. The gentleman's name was William T. Delaplaine, and from a historical point of view, it's easy to see that he created a family atmosphere that would shroud a corporate culture passed down through employees over the next 120+ years.
William T. Delaplaine
In this heightened season of “giving,” I thought it was the perfect time to chronicle the life, and death, of this newspaper and printing icon. With his newspaper, William T. Delaplaine gave the citizenry the news they sought, and in doing so, gave advertisers the customers they needed. Delaplaine even gave back to the community in benevolent ways, something that would always define the corporation and still holds true locally in the Delaplaine and Randall names through with gracious work of respective family charitable trusts.
The roots of this latter attribute actually played a role in part to our subject's untimely death at the age of 35. This occurred during one of Frederick’s first, concerted wide-scale efforts to feed those less fortunate through a hugely, successful food drive. Sadly for William T. Delaplaine, a sacrifice of his own personal health in the name of charity came as a result of tireless work put toward this benevolent endeavor. He died of pneumonia in February, 1895.
Along the lines of George Bayley in Frank Capra’s holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life’”, had William T. Delaplaine never been born, I surely wouldn’t be in the seat I am today writing this blog as historian of Mount Olivet. The “original” Mr. Delaplaine’s grave site is less than three football field lengths away from the desk at which I sit. I often think of this fact, along with his inspiring story when exploring the environs of Area Q which boasts his family burial lot.
William Theodore Delaplaine was a native of Frederick County, and rose to prominence at an early age with business pursuits begun at twenty years of age. His boyhood home had a direct influence on him as it doubled as a prosperous family business. This was the prominent site known as Michaels Mill, south east of Buckeystown, and located adjacent the Monocacy River and accessed today by the riverside road of the same name of Michael’s Mill.
I cannot do justice to the amazing biography penned by legendary News-Post writer Folger McKinsey. This was written for inclusion within the History of Frederick County, Maryland, (published in 1910), as part of a tribute to William T.’s son, Robert Edmonston Delaplaine.
William Theodore Delaplaine, only son of Theodore C. and Annie (Edmonston) Delaplaine, was born at “Monocacy Mills,” in Baker’s Valley, Frederick County, Md., January 3, 1860. He received his early education in the district school near his home, and his boyhood was spent in the country. In early life, he manifested that spirit of enterprise and ambition which marked his mature years.
In 1875, he removed with his family to Frederick City, and in 1877 was employed by Mr. James H. Gambrill in milling. However, Mr. Delaplaine was impatient to reach a sphere of greater usefulness, and, having decided upon a business career, he entered Eastman Business College, Poughkeepsie. N. Y., where he took a full course and graduated with high honors. He returned to Frederick not only equipped with his native energy, industry and perseverance, but well trained for a successful business career.
In 1880, Mr. Delaplaine opened a job printing office on the third floor of the old Macgill building, where the Citizens’ National Bank now stands, the firm name being Schley, Marken & Delaplaine. The plant was afterwards removed to the corner of Court and Patrick Streets, and from there to the upper story of the Whalen building, near the Square Corner. The firm passed through several changes bearing the name of Schley & Delaplaine, and W. T. Delaplaine & Company, keeping the latter until its incorporation as the Great Southern Printing and Manufacturing Company, its present title. The steady growth of the business demanded a change of location, and, in 1887 the building now occupied having been completed, it was leased.
Recognizing the demand in this city for a daily paper that would be a newspaper, the Daily News was established in 1883 followed, in a few months by the Weekly News. Mr. Delaplaine was determined that The News should gain and maintain the leadership, therefore the Morning Call was bought and consolidated with The News, and afterwards The Times was also purchased. In connection with the publication of the paper, Mr. Delaplaine built up a printing business that extended to all parts of the State. The plant has grown in extent and value until it has become the largest in Maryland, Baltimore City only excepted.
Mr. Delaplaine’s energy was not, however, absorbed by his business. The growth and progress of the city were matters of great concern to him, and he was always ready to assist every legitimate public undertaking. He was interested in the sale of typewriters, real estate, and bicycles. Mr. Delaplaine was a man of strict integrity, and great earnestness of purpose. His indomitable energy established his business through years of hard work, and brought financial success.
An iconic, local photograph from 1890 captures the first demonstration of electric light in Frederick. The photo was taken in one of the upper floors of The News office at 42 North Market. William T. Delaplaine is pictured sitting sideways against the wall in the center of the photograph taken by J. Davis Byerly and assistant J. Frederick Kreh.
In personal life, William Theodore Delaplaine was married, April 2, 1884, to Fannie, daughter of the late George E. Birely, and a sister of George and Edward Birely, of the firm of George K. Birely & Sons. They have four sons: 1, Robert Edmonston; 2, George Birely; 3, William Theodore; 4, Edward Schley.
These boys were brought into the newspaper business as children. Little did they know that “the family business” would end up being the life work for three of the four boys.
A Life's Punctuation Mark
I referenced earlier a food effort drive conducted in the winter of 1895. Apparently, this was sparked by a severe winter that befell the community. I found a few articles about this in The Frederick News, in which the company did simply more than just give the project publicity within its newspaper columns.
William T. Delaplaine contracted pneumonia through the busy week of the food drive in mid-February. My friend John Ashbury's book entitled "...and All our yesterdays," includes a story handed down to Delaplaine's granddaughter, Franny Randall. She recounted that her grandfather not only lent the offices of the newspaper for food collection and distribution. Mrs. Randall went on to add:
"He pitched in to help give out the supplies. All kinds of canned goods, flour, any kind of staples like that. Because the winter was so hard, and people were out of work and didn’t have ways to get food and so forth. So it was after a blizzard, I believe, in 1895, that my grandfather got pneumonia and died within a few days. Of course, they didn’t have any wonder drugs or anything in that time, and so pneumonia was like a kiss of death.”
After a short battle of a few days, William T. Delaplaine succumbed on the 19th in the privacy of his home at 75 East Patrick Street, surrounded by family members. Folger McKinsey wrote the following passage for his epitaph:
His private and domestic character was beautiful, and his unswerving integrity, and generous, kindly nature won for him not only the love of his immediate friends, but a full measure of public esteem and respect. As would be expected, the newspaper he founded spared no words in their glowing obituary tribute.
William T. Delaplaine was laid to rest on the afternoon of Thursday, February 21st in Mount Olivet's Area Q/Lot 254 as mentioned earlier. At the time, this was the southern boundary of the cemetery's property.
William T. Delaplaine left a grieving widow, four sons under the age of 10 and a successful newspaper and printing corporation. Relatives, including Fannie's brother Charles, and other professionals kept the business afloat until William and Fannie's sons came of age to run the business themselves. The fore-mentioned Charles also assisted his sisters in raising these youngsters into manhood as he took up residence in the Delaplaine household.
If the author's research calculations are correct, the building (2nd from left with locator pin) at 125 E. Patrick Street was the former home of William T. Delaplaine at the time of his death in 1895. Note that the future headquarters of the newspaper is located in the distance and to the right. Formerly the old trolley terminal (brick building with green trim) this building is on the southeast corner of the intersection between E. Patrick and Carroll streets and has been discussed in recent years as the proposed site for a new, downtown hotel and convention center.
The youngest son of the newspaper founder, named Edward Schley Delaplaine will be a subject of a "Story in Stone" blog and is a man I truly wish I would have got to meet. He studied to become a lawyer and served as a judge on Maryland's Court of Appeals, however a primary love of his life was history and specifically, local Frederick history. He authored biographies on Francis Scott Key and Thomas Johnson, Jr., and was responsible for opening the Roger Brooke Taney Museum in the 1930s. Up until his death, Judge Delaplaine was involved as guiding force and emcee of every historical commemorative anniversary you could think of. He died on May 21st, 1989, just one day after my college graduation. I started with the company the following fall on November 3rd, 1989.
So while I'm handing out thanks, I certainly owe one to Judge Delaplaine too, and I certainly would be remiss if I overlooked the original founder of the company as well—thank you William T. Delaplaine!
Author's Note: Special thanks to Marlene B. Young of the Delaplaine Foundation, Inc. for her unending support of my professional endeavors (including a few photos for this project)....it's now been thirty-one years and counting.