Behind Louisville’s Oldest Neighborhood Newspaper
Before his groundbreaking twenty-year tenure as President and CEO of Louisville’s Home of the Innocents, a boy named Gordon Brown, would in the 1950’s, find himself allegiant to the Parkland neighborhood. His rival neighborhood was Portland. However, after graduating from high school at the turn of the decade, Brown would become the driving force behind one of his once-rival neighborhood’s most active voices: the Portland Anchor newspaper.
The Anchor, one of Portland’s most cherished treasures, was founded out of the neighborhood’s Boys & Girls Club. In 1961, Gordon Brown began his twenty-five-year career at the Portland Club as an arts-and-crafts instructor, gradually working his way up to the position of citywide Executive Director by 1973. Along the way, Brown mentored and collaborated with a continually changing cohort of children and young adults who were inspired by the civic culture of the 1960s. Brown recalls that these individuals “believed that we could actually change the world.” Among the group were future community leaders such as Sharron Wilbert, who would go on to become a Louisville Alderman; Houston Cockrell, who would become a banking executive in New Albany; and Sue Gentry, who would become the director of United Crescent Hill Ministries. These young adults took the Portland community seriously and tackled the issues of their time by advocating for downzoning to restrict noxious industries, establishing the Portland Summer Festival and Homecoming (now just called the Portland Festival), and constructing the Portland Plaza Housing Complex for the elderly.
The most personal of these initiatives was the Portland Anchor, a neighborhood newspaper established to counteract Portland’s growing reputation from the greater city’s news media as “the cesspool of Louisville.” Since its first printing in 1975, produced in the Boys & Girls Club basement with assistance from the local Improved Order of Red Men, the Anchor has been a source of journalistic activism, civic pride, and community positivity for its namesake neighborhood. Every section of the paper carries a trove of stories and heart. “Fishtank” sports contributions from students of Portland’s many elementary schools, while “Chit Chat” is a place to share shoutouts among community members. Even incarcerated neighbors sent illicit communications through “Mail From Jail.” The Anchor has also provided a platform for outsider journalists, such as the beloved Portland Nate, to share their writing. Only one issue of the Anchor has ever been delayed due its printing house burning to the ground the night before publication. Nothing less can stop it.
With no newspaper experience among them, the Anchor’s original seven founders (Paul Bissig, Gordon Brown, Houston Cockrell, Kathy Frost, Sue Gentry, William A. Smith, Sharon Wilbert) utilized the talent and resources Portland had to offer. The first issue was handprinted by Brown himself in the basement of the Boys and Girls Club, or, was at least planned to be. In a dramatic twist, the press broke down the night before release! While the team had a “collective heart attack,” Wilbert split to a nearby fraternal lodge hosting a party for its members, many of whom were experienced printers. Hoisted from their fun, these members drunkenly repaired the press, and thus began a forty-eight-year legacy. Since then, the Portland Anchor has been organized by hand within the Boys & Girls Club, then eventually the home of longtime editor Alma Wright, and now digitally by current editor Sherry Stewart.
Since 1973 production methods have changed and team members have come and gone, but Brown has remained the paper’s president. Portland Museum is honored to announce through this exhibit that Brown has entrusted the neighborhood institution with the responsibility of continuing the Portland Anchor. In a letter to the community published in April, Brown wrote:
The Portland Anchor is entering an exciting new era that we think you will love and be proud of. And, on behalf of those pioneers 48 years ago, thank you Portland for your support and love for the Portland Anchor, Louisville’s oldest community newspaper.
In celebration, Portland Museum has taken the May issue of the Anchor to the next level with double the page count and color spreads. Dubbed the Big Fish, the issue features alongside its star Portland community contributors guest columns from Louisville leaders, reflections on the neighborhood and paper’s history, original artwork by Danny Seim, and more. Free copies will be distributed throughout the city as are every issue of the Anchor, and a constant stock will be kept at Portland Museum as part of the exhibit.
This impressive history will line the walls of Portland Museum as part of a special exhibition: Anchor Management: Behind Louisville’s Oldest Neighborhood Newspaper. Some of the newspaper’s oldest editions will once again see light through larger-than-life reproductions. Get lost in the history of Portland as told through its star publication. Highlighted alongside the paper itself will be its founding members and, for Gordon Brown, the public debut of his painting practice. Multiple original pieces by Brown will for the first time be on display, alongside profiles covering other major Anchor contributors. Anchor Management: Behind Louisville’s Oldest Neighborhood Newspaper will launch Friday, June 23rd at Portland Museum.