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A brief history of The Darien News

The following contains excerpts from “The Story of a Newspaper and a Family,” by Genevieve Wynegar, originally published in The Darien News on Feb. 21, 2008, and “Once Upon a Time,” the memoirs of Charles and Maude Williamson, published in 1997.

The Darien News is published in Darien, Ga., a coastal community in McIntosh County, halfway between Savannah and the Florida state line. The area is known for its Scottish and Gullah-Geechee heritage, seafood and lumber industries, and its scenic marshes and barrier islands.

The newspaper was founded in 1951 by W.P. Lunsford, and in 1953, it was purchased by Charles Memory Williamson Jr. and his wife, Maude Zorn Harrod Williamson, for $1,000. The newspaper has remained in the Williamson family ever since.

Both Williamsons often told the story of buying the newspaper, with a touch of humor, stating that what they had really bought was, “a handwritten subscription list of the 500 subscribers and a deed to The Darien News. For another $50, (Lunsford) sold us an antiquated L.C. Smith typewriter and a roll-top desk!”

Charles and Maude were high school sweethearts and Darien High School graduates, class of 1943. Charles volunteered for service in the U.S. Navy when he was 17 and served as a radioman, copying Morse Code as his primary duty. 

He returned home from the war in 1947, went to college and graduated in March of 1950, with a journalism degree from the University of Georgia.

Two months later, he accepted a position as assistant editor of the Walton Tribune in Monroe. The newspaper was operated by the Camp family, who offered Charles the opportunity to learn every aspect of the newspaper business, including the printing business. 

While he was still employed in Monroe, Charles married Maude in Darien, on Jan. 20, 1951.

Charles was hired by the Central of Georgia Railway in Savannah as Editorial Assistant for their monthly magazine. The couple returned to McIntosh County in May of 1953.

Charles took a job with Union Camp in Eulonia, and later that year, he contacted the late W.P. Lunsford, to ask about renting his small farm in Cox to pasture milk cows. Lunsford agreed to rent the farm and also talked Charles into buying the newspaper.

After the Williamsons bought The Darien News, Charles continued working 50-hour weeks at Union Camp, while working with Maude on the newspaper. In 1955, believing he could make a living from the newspaper as his sole occupation if he could expand the business into printing capabilities, he borrowed a pickup truck and hauled the first piece of printing equipment to The Darien News

At that time, the newspaper office was a building, on the site of the present location of the newspaper, which served as the depot for the Georgia Coast and Piedmont Railroad in the early 1900s.

Over the next several years, the Williamsons began to acquire several pieces of modern printing equipment. Prior to 1957, the paper had been “made up” in Darien and taken to Kingsland for printing. However, in late 1956, the Williamsons purchased a new 2066 Long Drum press, an IBM Executive typewriter and a new 20x24 camera, for printing. Thus, in January 1957, the Williamsons printed their first edition of The Darien News, in Darien, on their own presses.

Charles quickly earned a reputation as a journalist who would stand up to wrongdoers in McIntosh County. He exposed corruption and theft by a multitude of former county officials, theft by a former chairman of the board of commissioners, and clip joints and prostitution on Highway 17. 

As a result of his coverage, shots were fired at the newspaper building in 1960, he and his family had to go into hiding because threats were made on their lives, and The Darien News building was burned to the ground by an arsonist in 1971.

By 1976, the business had recovered and was doing so well that the Williamsons needed help. Their two children, Kathleen and Charlie, both graduates of the University of Georgia, began working full time at The Darien News

In their memoir, “Once Upon a Time,” the Williamsons noted with great pride that they were thrilled to have both of their children in the family business.

Charles and Maude Williamson officially retired from the newspaper business in 1988, though they retained the title of “publishers” throughout their lifetimes. 

Maude Williamson passed away in 2004, and Charles Williamson passed away in 2008.

   On Aug. 18, 2011, Kathleen Williamson Russell became owner of The Darien News, Inc., and serves as the editor and publisher of the newspaper.

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