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Aberdeen is the largest city in Grays Harbor County (known as Chehalis County until 1915), situated on the central Washington coast. Named for Aberdeen, Scotland, the city is located at the confluence of the Chehalis and Wishkah Rivers, just east of Grays Harbor itself. The first white farmers settled in the area in the 1860s; in the following decades, Aberdeen blossomed into an industrial city that boasted numerous sawmills and salmon canneries. By the 1920s Aberdeen declared itself “The Lumber Capital of the World,” but the following decades saw a decline in industrial activity, the economic effects of which are still felt today.
Hunt and Kaylor’s Washington, West of the Cascades (1917) describes the Aberdeen Herald as the city’s first newspaper. Politically, the paper supported the Democratic Party. According to J. Orin Oliphant’s “Newspapers of Washington Territory,” the weekly Herald started publication on October 20, 1886, under 18-year-old Harford Charles “Harry” Telfer. In 1887, according to Ayer’s Directory of Newspapers, control passed to Edward C. Finch, a real estate man who ran the paper for one year before leaving to found the rival Aberdeen Bulletin. For a short period beginning in 1889, the paper was called the Aberdeen Weekly Herald. Over the next decade, under a series of editors, the paper’s circulation dwindled, amounting to just 450 readers by 1897. In 1898, the Herald was acquired by one of Grays Harbor’s most prominent citizens, John J. Carney, a pioneering Aberdeen sawmill operator, merchant, and land developer who had become the town’s postmaster and then editor of the Elma Chronicle and the Washington Economist. Carney merged the Economist with the Herald and went on to lead the paper longer than any other man, serving as editor and publisher until the Herald’s demise on July 1, 1917, with the exception of a short period in 1915 when John A. Stimson served as editor. From about 1904 until about 1911, the paper was published twice a week. Circulation reached its highest point in 1916, at 2,100 readers.
During these years, Aberdeen was known as a rough-and-tumble frontier town. Major topics covered in the Herald include the discovery of oil in the nearby Hoh River valley and the killing spree of Billy Gohl, “the Ghoul of Grays Harbor,” a union agent who may have murdered as many as 250 sailors in Aberdeen between 1903 and 1913. Gohl was convicted of two murders in 1910, and he died in an insane asylum in 1927. During this time, Aberdeen was known as an important union town and an organizing center for the International Workers of the World.