If These Walls Could Talk: The Northwest Blade

Anderson, Grenz & Straub. "If These Walls Could Talk: The Northwest Blade." Northwest Blade, 5 January 2012, 5.

One trait common to all humanity is curiosity. From ancient times to present, we need and want to know the happenings around us, in our neighborhood, country, and world. Newspapers have fulfilled that desire.

Two of the earliest McPherson County newspapers, "The Northwest" and "The Blade," both started in 1883 in Leola. These papers merged, becoming "The Northwest Blade," in 1884 or 1887. The exact date is unknown because of a huge prairie fire in 1889 which destroyed much of Leola, burning nearly all of the existing newspaper files. (1987 Centennial Book) The first newspaper in western McPherson County, "The Eureka Magnate," was edited by A.G. Bernard, who owned the land on which Eureka was later built. (1937 Jubilee Book)

A young lawyer, Charles Herreid, came to South Dakota on a business trip for a client in 1884. Enthralled by the rapidly growing territory, Herreid and his wife decided to move to Leola. He helped lay out the town of Leola, assisted in organizing McPherson County, became Register of Deeds, and joined in Leola’s successful struggle to win the county seat. (Herreid, SD 2001 Centennial Book) However, the fortunes of Leola were not as promising as they had hoped; so in 1893, Charles and Jeanette Herreid moved to Eureka.

Along with E.A. Warner, Paul D. Kribs, and another lawyer, L.T. Boucher, Charles Herreid bought the "Northwest Blade" in October 1893. A strenuous month of work moved the plant, cross-country, to Eureka. The first "Northwest Blade" published in Eureka was on November 3, 1893, from a building on Market Street’s west side, where K & A’s machinery lot is now located. Warner bought out the others in 1894, becoming sole owner. (1937 Jubilee Book) By 1897, "The Northwest Blade" was designated the official newspaper of Eureka. (100-Year Eureka Chronology)
In 1907, Warner built the large beautiful brick building on lot seven, block four, Milwaukee Land Company Second Addition which was the home of the "Northwest Blade" for years. Another prominent settler, Daniel Mettler, had received the warranty deed to this land in 1893. Mort Richards’ Barber Shop was on this site, according to the earliest Eureka plat map. (1937 Jubilee Book)

Eureka also had two other weekly newspapers owned by Orvin J. Roe: "The Post," an English newspaper, and "Die Eureka Post," printed entirely in German. A "Die Eureka Post" had an interesting ad displaying the fashion and prices in 1908: "Kniehosen fur knaden von 4-14 jahren gewohnlicher preis 60 cents jetz 12 cents." ("Kneepants for boys from 4-14 years, usual price 60 cents now 12 cents.") (100-Year Eureka Chronology)

In 1911, Warner bought the two competing newspapers from Roe. Warner discontinued the "Eureka Post," while continuing to publish "Die Eureka Post" and the "Northwest Blade." He is listed as publisher of these newspapers in the 1909, 1911, and 1916 Eureka Business Directories.

Another Eureka newspaper, the "Volkszeitung" was published out of the basement of the Farmers & Merchants State Bank on north Market Street, by Gustav Mauser, publisher, and Otto B. Froh, editor. In 1912, Mauser and Froh began publishing a new German paper, the "Eureka Rundschau."
The 1916 McPherson County Business Directory lists three weekly newspapers in Eureka: the "Northwest Blade," the "Dakota Volkszeitung," and the "Rundschau."

An unintentionally humorous ad in a 1911 "Northwest Blade" states "women may not be permitted to vote, but they can refinish the floors, woodwork, walls ceilings, furniture or any scratched surface with PermaLac." (100-Year Eureka Chronology)

The first delinquent tax list was published in 1913. A new SD law allowed this to be public knowledge.

After 23 years, E.A. Warner sold his two newspapers to Gustav Mauser and Otto Froh on April 1, 1917. The 1920 Eureka Business Directory lists Mauser and Froh as printers and publishers of the "Northwest Blade" and the "Rundschau." These two weekly newspapers continued to be published from 1917-1927.

The German paper "Eureka Rundschau" (translated means review or overview) was known as the last German newspaper in South Dakota, however, some sections of the "Blade" were still printed in German until the 1930s. After twelve years of publication by Mauser and Froh, the "Rundschau" was sold to Emil Leicht, who moved the paper to Winona, MN. Otto Froh became sole owner of the "Northwest Blade" when he bought out Mauser’s interests in 1927.

Linotype was installed in 1929 and used until 1977. This machine had 2000 moving parts. Lead was heated to 650 degrees. A plunger squirted the hot lead into the line where each letter had been placed by hand. About six lines could be done per minute if everything worked perfectly. Each line was put into a tray to harden; then transferred to another tray. A proof was taken of the backwards line, and then proofread. Sixty hours per week seemed to be the norm to complete this task. (NW Blade 8-13-08)

By 1935, Eureka’s population was 1430, and subscriptions for the "Blade" continued to rise. In 1936, Otto Froh sold the business to Foster C. Shankland, a Mobridge printer, who became an active participant in Eureka’s growth. After 15 years, the "Northwest Blade" was purchased by a Minnesotan, Harold Mildenberg, who ran the paper from October 1951 to September 1957, when Kenneth Herr of Webster, SD, bought it.

An ambitious EHS junior, Arlo Mehlhaff, started working at the "Northwest Blade" in 1952. His first job was setting each line of a story letter by letter. This employment became a life-long vocation for Arlo. After high school, he attended a course in linotype and printing at SDSU in Brookings, SD. Mehlhaff worked for owners Mildenberg, Herr, and then Bruce Farus of Scotland, SD, who had purchased the business from Herr in 1965.

Mehlhaff remembers workers in the basement melting lead which was used to handset each line of type with individual letters. A nine-ton press, measuring approximately 10’ x 30’, was put in the basement in 1951 by digging a trench outside, moving part of the wall, sliding the press inside, and replacing the wall. This press, although unused since the 1970’s, remains in the basement.

Arlo and Bonnie Mehlhaff bought the "Northwest Blade" from Farus in 1968, publishing and editing it for forty years—over 2000 issues. Employee Leroy Lang, who started working for Mildenberg in 1955, worked alongside the Mehlhaffs for forty years. Another longtime employee, Dennis Schaffer, began in 1976.

In 1977, Mehlhaff and six publishers from North Dakota bought a press, centrally locating it in Wishek, ND. Leroy Lang was instrumental in getting the layout sheets to Wishek for printing so the public could read the newspaper every Thursday. These layout sheets were photographed onto negatives, then onto metal plates, and then put into the printing press. Each unit had a roll of paper weighing about 1000 pounds. What used to take 10 hours now took 2½ hours, including the 1½ hour trip to Wishek! "The linotype was now obsolete," said Mehlhaff.

Arlo and Bonnie Mehlhaff sold their newspaper to Tara Beitelspacher and Jada Bulgin of Bowdle, SD, in 2008. These two women are publishers of the paper, and Heidi Morlock, the editor. The "Northwest Blade" is still published weekly, from the former residence of Drs. Wolff on G Avenue.
As their building was no longer the newspaper office, the Mehlhaffs decided to remove the large sign off the front. They were stunned to find a beautiful stained glass window, over 10’ long by 2½’ wide, which had been hidden for decades. Remarkably, the window had only a few damaged spots. After removal, the window was repaired and cut into three sections, one for each of the Mehlhaff children, while the third beautifies the Mehlhaff home.

If these walls could talk, we would hear, "I am an empty building; but my voice has not been silenced. Albeit from a different site, the "Northwest Blade" is still, after more than a century, proclaiming the news of the area.

Stately brick building is unoccupied in 2011. (Fuchs Repair located here temporarily)
Northwest Blade, owned by Arlo & Bonnie Mehlhaff (1968-2008).
Eureka Rundschau, February 12, 1919.
The Northwest Blade building built in 1907 by E.A. Warner. Note the leaded glass window above the words "Mauser & Froh Printing) (1920s)

Reprinted with permission of the Northwest Blade.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller