The Paris Post-Intelligencer is the oldest business in Henry County.
Owned and operated by the family of the late W. Percy Williams, it is one of the oldest businesses still owned and operated by the same family. Currently it is under the control of Michael Williams, who is the fourth generation editor and publisher.
The P-I's ancestor paper, The Weekly Intelligencer, is thought to have been first published on April 14, 1866. A few years later, it merged with The Paris Post, and for about 60 years The Paris Post-Intelligencer was a weekly paper. Three years after buying The P-I in 1927, Williams changed it to a daily.
W. Percy Williams was born April 19, 1892, in Louisville, Miss. He began his journalism career at the age of 12 as a carrier for The Birmingham (Ala.) News in 1904. He became one of the daily paper's youngest district carrier route managers at 18 in 1910.
He married the former Lucy Cowan in 1912 and accepted the position of circulation manager at The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News in 1914. Williams eventually bought an interest in the daily and became the youngest editor-publisher in its history.
When the paper was sold to someone else, he moved to The Florence (Ala.) Times, in which he also became part-owner. While there, Williams bought a competitor, The Florence Daily News, and published it daily as The Florence Times-News.
Williams bought The P-I from then-owner Wallace Edwards, now deceased. Bryant Williams, second oldest of seven children, now retired as editor and publisher, was 13 years old when Williams bought The P-I.
The weekly P-I then was located on the west side of the court square next to the former location of Wallin Hardware. Its equipment consisted essentially of one battered Linotype machine and an ancient hand-fed sheet press to print about 1,000 copies a week.
Making a success of The P-I was a family affair , Mrs. Williams said.
"They never got paid -- we just didn't have it. But they were a part of it."
Bryant, had a series of "printer's devil" jobs afternoons and Saturdays, sweeping, folding papers, casting "cuts" (pictures formed from molten lead), mailing and tying bundles. Other employees included a Linotype operator, a society writer and some part-time workers to fold the papers once a week.
During the next couple of decades, the family faced tough competition from The Parisian, another weekly which had twice The P-I's circulation.
Its publisher predicted it would be the Williams' first and last Christmas dinner in Paris.
The Great Depression "...made it doubly hard," Mrs. Williams said. The failure of First State Bank and Trust Co., where The P-I kept what little money it had, "added to our troubles."
Bryant said, "There was no money as we know of it today. We took a lot of exchanges from farmers and others for advertising and subscriptions."
Kroger, at that time on the court square, paid for part of its advertising with scrip books good for buying groceries, he said. "Pawpaw (as grandchildren and great-grandchildren called Williams) would use that on payday to pay employees." People bartered live chickens, meat and peanuts for advertising and subscriptions. A bushel of potatoes sold for 10 cents if you returned the basket, Mrs. Williams said. People also traded potatoes and sorghum.
Mrs. Williams inherited one-fifth of her uncle James Cowan's estate upon his death, in the form of a monthly income for more than a year. "It saved our lives. It just saved us."
Seven months into the Depression, Mr. Williams converted The P-I to a daily paper. His competitor remained a weekly. It turned the tide. Bryant said, " The P-I then printed four pages a day, except Thursdays when it was six or eight pages."
Bryant graduated from Grove High School in 1932 and went to work full time in advertising, bookkeeping and circulation. He gradually got into news writing and finally became a general newsman, covering county court and city aldermen meetings and going to the courthouse tocover police news.
The year after his graduation, Bryant married the former Julia Sensing of Paris. She worked at The P-I in the job printing shop and as society editor who wrote the "We Hear" column, which Joan Bell later inherited, and as the main proofreader.
In 1934, The P-I bought a new press, a second-hand eight-page web press. Later it bought an automatic folder. At about that time, Julia Williams recalled, the paper bought its first comic strip, "DorothyDarnit." There were few cartoons because they were expensive.
The P-I moved Sept. 1, 1937, from the court square to the building at the corner of Poplar and Blythe streets now occupied by law offices of Greer and Greer. It was the first occupant of the building, erected by John Kane Currier Jr. on land formerly occupied by the H.D. Timmons boarding house. In that location the paper started an office supplies business, which was to continue for years until it was sold to Virgil Clark as Clark's Office Supplies.
The P-I was not long in that location before it started getting Associated Press wire stories by telegram, basically just a digest of news events.
W.P. Williams bought The Murray (Ky.) Ledger and Times in 1941, one week before Pearl Harbor was attacked. His four oldest sons, a son-in-law and the man who operated the Murray paper all went off to war. So Mr. Williams had to spend all of his time at the Murray paper for two or three weeks, leaving his wife to run the paper in Paris.
"I wrote everything that went in The P-I. I sold every ad that went in The P-I. I sold every paper," Mrs. Williams said.
Bryant said, "I went back to work on the paper (in November 1945), I guess as advertising manager."
The Murray newspaper, then operated by another son, Jim, was converted to a daily in 1946.
Bryant said, "... we incorporated in 1947 as the Paris Publishing Company. I was named publisher and Dad was editor and president of the corporation."
The P-I was usually six to eight pages a day then, with Thursday issues often two sections. Today it has eight to fourteen pages daily, with two or three sections several times a week.
In 1948, Mr. Williams bought The Fulton (Ky.) Daily Leader, until recently published by the family of a daughter, Eunice Mitchell Clark.
Organizational connections with the Kentucky papers have since been severed.
The P-I 's current building at 208 E. Wood St. was completed by Frank Barrett in 1949, with the move taking place on the Fourth of July weekend.
Since then, The P-I has converted to offset presses and photocomposition equipment, computer terminals for typing stories, and finally to building pages on computers.
In 1955, The P-I purchased its old competitor, the weekly Parisian. It has since been discontinued.
In 1960, Bill returned to The P-I as the one-man news department.
Today, the news staff numbers seven.
W.P. Williams retired in 1967 and died in 1970. Bryant served as editor and publisher from his father's retirement until his own retirement in 1981, when his son Bill succeeded him. For years after retirement he continued his local history column, "Post Mortems," which has been turned into two booklets published by Henry County Historical Society with more in planning. Bryant died in 2009, one year after his wife’s death. They had been married just three months shy of 75 years.
In 1984, The P-I 's family corporation purchased The Camden Chronicle, which it operated for several years before selling it. Today The P-I has no business interest in any other company.
Michael Williams joined The P-I news staff in 1984 after interning at The Tennessean in Nashville and working as news editor of the LaFollette (Tenn.) Press. He became editor in 1992 and, upon the retirement of his father in 1999, publisher as well.
In retirement, Bill Williams continues to be the paper's primary editorial writer.
Michael's wife, Evonne, is now business manager. Their older son, Daniel Williams, was a paper delivery boy until he left for college, and is now office manager and part-time sports writer/photographer. Their daughter, Katie, is receptionist and their younger son, Matthew, is a college student.
The P-I has gone from using one battered Linotype and a hand-fed press to computerized, photocomposition equipment, computers, scanners, digital cameras, Internet, an image-setter and a high-speed press and inserter.
Newspapers or related professions have occupied most of W. P. Williams's seven children, several grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. In fact, 28 members of the Williams family have been involved in newspapers, journalism education or printing.