History of the Marin Independent Journal
By Robert L. Harrison
The origin of today’s Marin Independent Journal (IJ) newspaper dates back 161 years. The story of the IJ begins on March 23, 1861 when Ai Barney and his son Jerome published the first issue of The Marin County Journal. Editor Barney introduced his news journal this way:
“A Weekly Newspaper Devoted to Foreign and Domestic News, Literature, Agriculture and the Interests of Marin County, Published Every Saturday by Jerome A. Barney.”
It would seem a rather bold move for the Barneys to start a newspaper in Marin knowing that the 1860 Census had just listed the county’s total population as 3,334 residents. But Judge Ai Barney (1804–1886) was a resourceful Marin pioneer. Born in west central New York State, as a young man he moved to Maryland, and by 1833 served as Justice of the Peace and later as Frederick County Surveyor. In 1849 he made the long and tedious voyage to California, found scant success in the gold country, but eventually built a lumber mill in Marin for the Baltimore trading company. In 1850 he was appointed Marin’s first County Judge and was reelected to that post three times. Later he was elected County Superintendent of Schools where he served for four years. Barney then retired from public life, settled down to manage his ranch on the east side of San Rafael and helped edit The Marin County Journal.
With deep regret The Marin County Journal on February 18, 1886 reported Barney’s unusual death: “The circumstances of his death were exceedingly painful and sad…By some unknown means his underclothing took fire, and he was terribly burned….the shock was too great for the system to sustain, and the dear old man slept in death during the night of Sunday [February 14, 1886].”
In 1853 Judge Barney had convinced his son Jerome to join him in California. Jerome Barney (1834–1876) was born in Newmarket, Maryland and learned the printer’s trade in Frederick. In Marin the younger Barney initially worked with his father and later persuaded him to help establish The Marin County Journal. The new paper grew quickly in part because it was the only local source of Civil War news. The Journal firmly supported the Union over the Confederacy and boosted the Republican Party.
On June 30, 1876 the young Barney died suddenly struck down by “dropsy of the heart.” He had been selected to prepare San Rafael’s official Centennial Sketch, a program adopted by Congress recommending that every town in America prepare such a statement. At age 42, in the midst of writing the Sketch, he was taken ill and died before it could be completed.
Four years prior to the younger Barney’s demise he sold the Journal to Simon Fitch Barstow (1832–1902). Barstow, also a Republican and Union supporter, directed the newspaper for 25 years. He was born in Hartford, Connecticut and educated at Westminster University. In 1854 he ventured to San Francisco via Panama, and for 14 years served on the staffs of both the San Francisco Bulletin and Daily Alta California newspapers. Barstow moved to San Rafael in 1872, bought the The Marin County Journal, and continued as its owner and editor until 1897. In 1888 he shortened the paper’s name to the Marin Journal, the name that remained on its masthead until 1948. Barstow’s death on July 2nd 1902 was thought to be caused by a minor eating disorder that later grew into a deadly pathogen.
Initially, under Barstow’s leadership the Marin County Journal remained the only countywide newspaper. Serious competition for the Journal began in 1879 when James Wilkins (1854–1934) founded the Marin County Tocsin. Wilkins was one of the first students at the University of California. After graduation he turned to newspaper work on several San Francisco dailies. He became an early advocate of the Golden Gate Bridge and his agitation helped the project become a reality.
Over 19 years, including his time editing the Tocsin, Wilkins enjoyed a close working relationship with commercial rival Simon Fitch Barstow the Journal’s editor. According to Wilkins, the two remained “the best of friends” despite their political differences. The Tocsin was an avid supporter of the Democratic Party thus offering an alternative to the Journal. In 1893 the American Newspaper Directory estimated the daily circulations of both the Tocsin and the Journal to be between 400 and 800 readers weekly.
The Tocsin published for about 40 years into the 1920s. The Journal continued under several owners until 1947 when it became Marin’s first morning daily and was merged just six months later with the San Rafael Independent.
Aside from the Tocsin other potential rivals to the Marin Journal were generally short lived. An exception was The Independent founded in 1900 by Harry H. Granice (1851–1915). Granice came to California from New York as a child in 1857 and took up printing at age 12. Later he founded several newspapers across central California but was best known as the long time editor of the Sonoma Index-Tribune. In 1902 the Independent became the San Rafael Independent edited by his daughter Celeste Granice Murphy (1882–1962). She was best known for her 34 year stint as the editor of the Index-Tribune. It was said she was “born to be a newspaperwoman.”
In 1903 the San Rafael Independent was sold to Michael F. Cochrane (1873–1926). Until his death, Cochrane wrote all the paper’s news stories and editorials from a Democratic Party perspective. Prior to his work on the newspaper he had invested well amassing considerable real estate holdings. At the Independent he expanded staff and installed several production upgrades.
Late in 1926 Harry Lutgens (1893–1968) bought the San Rafael Independent. Born in San Francisco and raised in Sonoma County, Lutgens first owned several small newspapers in Sonoma and focused their editorials to firmly support local improvements. Later he joined the San Francisco Journal and in 1923 was chosen by Governor Richardson as his Executive Secretary. As owner of the Independent he first upgraded the presses and within a year converted it to a daily. During his years at the Independent he continued his strong support for transportation improvements including the Golden Gate Bridge, the Northwestern Pacific rail commuter service, Highway 101 through Marin and the Army’s proposed air base at Hamilton.
In early 1927 the San Rafael Independent had a weekly circulation of about 3,000. By 1937, the year Lutgens sold the paper, its daily circulation had more than doubled to between 6,000 and 10,000. The Independent was bought by a trio of partners, Roy A. Brown (1893–1966), Justus F. Craemer (1917–1966), and William O. Hart (19?? — 1942). Hart suffered an early death in a plane crash but Brown and Craemer went on to successfully expand their Marin newspaper business. In 1947 they bought the Marin Journal.
The IJ’s November 30, 1948 issue was the first to display the Independent Journal masthead. In October 1957 the IJ moved to new a building in downtown San Rafael more than doubling plant capacity. The paper was acquired by Gannet Co. in 1980 and one year later it departed San Rafael for new buildings with the latest color offset presses located in southern Novato. In 1982 the IJ started printing USA Today, also a Gannet Co. newspaper. By 2000 Gannet sold the IJ to the Media News Group, owners of the Oakland Tribune, San Jose Mercury and other Bay Area papers. In 2018, for the first time in its long history, the IJ was not printed in Marin but on a press in Concord, CA. Local Marin editorial and news staff moved back to San Rafael with offices at 4000 Civic Center Drive. Over the years as Marin County grew so did the IJ, increasing its daily print circulation to about 30,000 today.
Nationally there has been a slow demise of print newspapers. The IJ may be subject to a similar fate, loosening the connection to its 161 years of print history. Fortunately readership is enhanced by its website that averages over two million page views per month.
Much of the history referred to in this piece was found in an article in the July 18, 2018 Marin Independent Journal: “From Simple Beginnings, the IJ Has Grown and Evolved.”
The Anne T. Kent California Room has digitized the Marin Journal, Marin County Journal, and Marin Tocsin through 1922, and issues may be accessed via the California Digital Newspaper Project (CDNC).