Fayetteville Observer

Written By Shane Williams

Founded in 1816 by Francis W. Waldo, the Fayetteville Observer was initially a four-page weekly newspaper called Carolina Observer. By 1824 Chatham County resident Edward Jones Hale, who had worked for the Raleigh Register and National Intelligencer, purchased the newspaper. Hales’s first edition was published in 1825 and reported on Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to Washington D.C. Hales was the editor and owner for the next forty years.

In 1833 the Carolina Observer’s name was changed to Fayetteville Observer. By the 1850s the paper had a wide readership in the state, and its editorial pages promoted Whig Party legislation.  While the paper covered state politics and local news, it included short histories by an historian and lawyer, James Banks.  During this time, Hale preserved copies of each published newspaper.  Few gaps in the publishing timeline exist in the paper’s history.

During the Civil War, Fayetteville Observer  editorial pages promoted Unionism, but as Union General William Sherman and approximately 60,000 blue coats invaded North Carolina, the paper included expressions of Confederate sympathies.  The newspaper provided citizens with constant war updates, including battle accounts and casualty lists.  Simultaneously, the newspaper, with its endorsement, no doubt contributed to the successful gubernatorial election of Zebulon B. Vance.

During the next few decades, the paper exchanged ownership hands.  In 1850, Hale’s son Peter joined the newspaper as well as his other son Edward in 1860. After Sherman’s troops burned their printing presses in 1865, Peter Hale and Edward Hale, sons of Edward Jones Hale, moved to New York and started a book publishing business called E.J. Hale & Sons. In the early 1880s Earl Hale, Jr. returned to North Carolina and operated the Fayetteville Observer.  By 1896, the Fayetteville Observer was a daily paper.  In 1923, William James McMurray purchased the paper and established Fayetteville Publishing Company.

In 1924, McMurray’s brother-in-law, Charles Wilson, became publisher and expanded the newspapers’ circulation.  A new plant was also built at 512 Hay Street, and the paper was published six days a week. T he newspaper press was located on Green Street at the site of Old City Hall.  Wilson acquired new facilities and presses and began publishing larger special edition papers. A popular edition included a 1939 paper that celebrated the 150th anniversary of the constitutional convention in Fayetteville.

After Wilson passed away in 1949, his son in law Richard Lilly administered the papers expansion and created a Sunday morning publication in 1957. Richard Lilly passed away in 1971 and Wilson’s wife acquired the paper while his son in law Ramon Yarborough became publisher. Yarborough was successful in creating the morning Fayetteville Times in 1973 while still publishing the afternoon Observer. During the 1970s and 1980s, both publications achieved accolades for community, sports, and political coverage as well as editorials. The paper was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize category award in 1984.

By 1990 the papers were merged and a new morning daily was created called the Observer-Times. By 1995 the Observer became one of the first papers with its own website. In 1999 the paper returned to its historic name the Fayetteville Observer. In 2002 the paper was named one of the best, printed editions in the world. In 2005 the N.C. Press Association awarded the Observer the best in General Excellence among North Carolina’s largest daily papers.