When writing about the colorful history of the Arkansas Gazette, it's natural to focus on the publishers--men such as founder William E. Woodruff, J.N. Heiskell and Hugh Patterson. But a newspaper is a business concern, and any history of the Gazette would be sadly lacking if it didn't include the story of the newspaper's longtime business manager, a fascinating character named Fred Allsopp.
Allsopp was born in England--the one across the pond, not the one in Lonoke County. He moved to Prescott in southwest Arkansas with his family in 1879 when he was 12, and sold newspapers there as a boy.
"In 1884, he spent 13 weeks setting type and working in the printing department of the Nevada County Picayune," writes Dennis Schick, who for many years headed the Arkansas Press Association and is an expert on the history of the state's newspapers. "Allsopp didn't receive any pay, but he gained invaluable experience. With dreams of someday becoming an editor or publisher of a major newspaper, in 1884, at age 17, he applied for a job at the Gazette. He was hired, and he started in the mailroom. As soon as Allsopp learned shorthand and typing, he was transferred to the business office as a stenographer and subscription clerk."
Allsopp, for whom Allsopp Park in Little Rock is named, was associated with the Gazette for more than four decades.
During the next seven months, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will celebrate the Gazette's 200th anniversary with articles and events. The newspaper is reprinting a historic page each day for 200 days. The celebration will culminate with a dinner on the evening of Nov. 21 in the Wally Allen Ballroom of Little Rock's Statehouse Convention Center.
Allsopp was an erudite man who loved books in addition to newspapers. He was an owner of one of Little Rock's top bookstores, Allsopp & Chapple. Allsopp's business partner in the store was James Chapple, a relative of Allsopp's wife. I was delighted last year when the proprietors of a new fine-dining venue where the bookstore was located decided to name their restaurant Allsopp & Chapple.
The bookstore, which operated until 1967, was on the ground floor of the Rose Building. The Rose Building first was constructed in 1900 from plans drawn by famous Arkansas architect George Mann. It was named for prominent attorney Uriah M. Rose. Two fires heavily damaged earlier incarnations of the building. The current design dates to 1916.
Allsopp also opened one of the city's finest hotels, the Hotel Freiderica, in 1914. He named it for his wife, Mary Freiderica Chapple Allsopp. The business later was known as the Hotel Sam Peck. It's now back to its original name with the exception of a slightly different spelling--the Hotel Frederica.
Allsopp collected and wrote books in addition to selling them. Books he wrote included The Life Story of Albert Pike in 1920, Little Adventures in Newspaperdom in 1922, History of the Arkansas Press for a Hundred Years and More in 1922, Albert Pike: A Biography in 1928 and Folklore of Romantic Arkansas in 1931.
As for Allsopp's book collection, Arkansas historian Tom Dillard writes: "The titles ranged from William Shakespeare (Folios 1623, 1632, 1664, 1685) to Mark Twain (57 signed letters and postcards sent to his agent). Allsopp's copy of Dante's Inferno was previously owned by poet John Keats. Following his death in 1946, Allsopp's book collection was sold in three large consignments by Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York."
It was at the Gazette that Allsopp had the biggest impact.
"After several months working in the business office, the humdrum daily routine pushed him to quit his job one morning and move to the news department that afternoon," Schick writes. "However, he had several bad reporting experiences and decided that he didn't have a nose for news. Before long, he returned to his old job in the business department. Allsopp joined two men in publishing a society and literary weekly, the Saturday Bee, in 1895. He dropped to half-time at the Gazette and took a one-third interest in the new publication, but it was a financial disaster. Allsopp became the sole owner and then sold it, returning to his former job."
When James Newton Smithee became the majority stockholder of the newspaper in 1896, he promoted Allsopp to secretary and assistant business manager. Allsopp later was promoted to business manager. In 1902, the newspaper was purchased by Judge Carrick Heiskell of Memphis and his sons, J.N. "Ned" Heiskell and Fred Heiskell. Allsopp became a minority stockholder.
In a 1955 essay about the Gazette, novelist and former Gazette employee James Street wrote: "Mr. Allsopp was a mild man with a yearning for authorship, a book lover and a cautious man with a dollar. First off, an ironclad policy was laid down. The business office must not influence editorial policy. Business employees must not fraternize with editorial employees; in fact, the business crowd must not show their faces in the editorial rooms except on special occasions. Mr. Allsopp nodded. 'We are going for 10,000 circulation,' said Mr. Ned in one of his rare bursts of visible enthusiasm. 'We are going broke,' said Mr. Allsopp."
When the Arkansas Press Association created a committee to develop a code of professional ethics in 1922, Allsopp was made chairman. He also was named the APA "historian for life."
It's nice that Allsopp's name lives on in one of the capital city's prettiest parks and also in one of its best restaurants.
Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.
Editorial on 05/15/2019
Print Headline: REX NELSON: The business manager