Cabinet newspaper to move out of old Brick School after 65 years

MILFORD – In a shift that reflects changes in the newspaper industry, The Milford Cabinet is moving to a smaller commercial building at 167 Elm St., creating new possibilities for the historic brick schoolhouse it has occupied for 65 years, including its upstairs printing museum.

“We didn’t need all the space we had in the building we were in, but we were determined to stay in town. The Cabinet plays an important role in Milford. That’s true both historically and today, and it was important to us that we stay connected to the community and have a continued presence in Milford,” said Jim Konig, publisher of The Cabinet and The Telegraph of Nashua.

“It also makes economic sense, because we’ve seen an upturn in advertiser support for the Cabinet in the past few years from businesses in the Milford area. That’s been an encouraging sign during a time of transition in the newspaper business,” Konig said.

The Cabinet building dates back to 1853, making it one of Milford’s oldest brick structures.

The weekly newspaper moved to 54 School St. from the opposite side of the Oval in 1950, bringing racks of old hand-set type and large Linotype machines that were used to create the paper until computers took over in the mid-1970s.

Two Linotype machines and other printing material – including a 1972 front page that was the last put out with “hot type” technology – still exist on the second floor, creating an unusual printing museum.

The Telegraph bought The Cabinet in 2005 and moved its Souhegan Valley bureau into the Brick School.

In 2012, it sold the building to Housing Initiatives of New England Corp. a non-profit that operates the Milford Mill Apartments across the street, although both the weekly and daily newspapers continued to lease the ground-floor offices.

“I’m hoping that I can find an artist group that will take over the top floor as a studio and use the equipment, and try to maintain it as a museum. That’s what I’m working on right now; that would be the dream,” said Cynthia Taylor, president of the Housing Initiatives of New England.

She plans to renovate the first floor and rent it out for retail or commercial purposes, or perhaps other uses.

“I’ve always thought that it would make a nice location for a senior community center,” she said.

Kathy Cleveland, a reporter who has worked full-time for the Cabinet since 1990 and did freelance work for the paper before that, said the move was bittersweet.

“I’m sad to leave this building after so many years, a building that has so much history,” she said.

But, she said, “Cindy has a history of doing very respectful renovations. I think it will be good.”

Her husband, Michael Cleveland, who over the decades has worked as editor, editorial page editor, sports editor, columnist and writer for the Cabinet, said the building was sometimes challenging – he pointed to a lack of heat in the men’s room – but was always a lot of fun.

The old school bell still hangs in the belfry and can be rung by swinging on a rope upstairs, and its enormous open attic, accessible only by a ladder, has students’ names written on beams a century or more ago. It also often has its share of dead birds, which manage to make their way into the building past the netting.

“It’s a great old building,” said Frank Manley, who with his wife, Martha Rotch Manley, bought the paper in 1990 from Martha’s father, William Rotch. The Rotch family owned the Cabinet from 1890, when it was still printed in Amherst, until 2005.

The Manleys now live in Rivermeade Community in Peterborough, as does William Rotch, who is 99 but was such a presence in his decades as writer and editor of the Cabinet that many people in Milford still associate the paper with him.

Manley said the Cabinet was losing money when he and Martha bought it, largely because it was too big to be supported by the advertising, which makes up the bulk of newspaper revenue.

“We had issues with 64 pages,” he recalled. That had been trimmed to 32 pages by the time the couple sold the paper, and has slipped since, a reflection of declining advertising.

The Manleys sold the paper partly because they were retirement age, but also because they saw changes coming in the industry.

“If it was going to survive as a business, we needed to do something online. We were the first newspaper in New Hampshire to have anything online, we had a website before anyone else – but that wasn’t anything serious,” he said. “I know we would have to change in a major way our model of business. But I had no clue what that model should be, we didn’t have sufficient cash to research or try things out.”

Since then, the move to the online world has continued to make traditional newspapers a challenge by undermining print advertising.

But The Cabinet will continue to be a presence in the town it has called home for more than 120 years.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531.