hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News May 2023


A newspaperman who toiled till his last breath

Maury Thompson


Even on the day of his death, Editor W.A. Wilkins of The Whitehall Times did not miss deadline, although he worked from home instead of the newspaper office.

“He complained of mental lassitude during the day and did not engage in his work with his usual zest and satisfaction,” the newspaper reported in its Aug. 3, 1887 issue. “Still, he finished it, as these pages show.”

The only portion of that issue that Wilkins did not edit and proofread was the editorial announcing his sudden death the previous day.

The news was even more difficult to report than the deaths of U.S. presidents and prominent statesmen, the editorial said.

The Whitehall Times this week bears to its readers the saddest and most sorrowful message it has ever borne to them: the message of the most sudden and unexpected death of its editor.”
Wilkins’ colleagues were still in a state of disbelief.

“We cannot divest ourselves of the feeling that he is still somewhere here in the village, and that we shall meet him when we go out, and talk over mutual experiences since we parted.”
Death caught even Wilkins himself by surprise, his colleagues reported.

“Almost his last words were about his paper, he having no idea he was so near his end,” the editorial stated. “He had gotten it in shape so he could relax his attention to it a little, and he remarked to his foreman that he had worked hard all his life, but now was in a condition to take a little rest, and the world a little more easily.”

By all accounts, the death of the 47-year-old Wilkins — editor, publisher, novelist, poet and politician — arrived much too soon.

“The intelligence of the death of W.A. Wilkins of The Whitehall Times Tuesday afternoon will be received with surprise and regret by thousands,” The Granville Sentinel reported on Aug. 5, 1887.

“No journalist in the state was better known than the deceased,” The Morning Star of Glens Falls reported on Aug. 3, 1887. “His bright witticisms were copied extensively and read in every state in the union.”

More often than not, other newspapers credited quotations to “Editor Wilkins,” with out a first name or initials, as in this witticism The Morning Star quoted on June 27, 1887: “Some men are born great, some achieve swallowtail coats, others have tailor’s bills thrust upon them.”
On Jan. 20, 1887, The Morning Star republished this pun-filled report Wilkins wrote about a meeting of the Undertakers Society of Warren, Washington and Saratoga Counties:

A grave looking individual presided, while an obsequious mannered man lay in state over the secretary’s desk.

The hall was mourn-full of delegates, and it is not tomb much to say that a funeral air pervaded over the ceremonies.

Unwise resolutions were laid at rest by members coffin them down. …
There was an urn-est dis-‘cuss’-ion on cremation. The body became much decomposed and attempted to effectually lay out cremation with fiery philippics. To have their business shrouded in ashes up-palled them worse than a ten-dollar funeral customer.


Wilkins died after being ill for two days with cholera morbus, a gastronomical illness, which aggravated a heart condition.

“He returned from the canal convention at Rochester considerably frustrated with the heat and fatigue of the journey,” The People’s Journal of Greenwich reported on Aug. 11, 1887. “His happy wit and unfailing bonhomie won for him a host of friends, who will learn with sorrow of his sudden death.”

“With the death of W.A. Wilkins comes the demise of The Whitehall Times,” The Morning Star reported on Aug. 3, 1887. “Its form may survive, but those who look for the sprightly features that have brought it into prominence will look in vain. The spirit of him who has breathed life into its columns has fled. There was but one Wilkins.”

Just weeks before his death, Wilkins was elected president of the New York State Press Association.

“It is a very honorable and responsible position,” The Granville Sentinel reported on July 1, 1887. “The Sentinel extends congratulations to Brother Wilkins on being chosen the chief mogul of an organization which has intelligence in its make-up.”

Wilkins was born March 26, 1840, at Cherry Valley, in Otsego County.
Early in life, his family moved to Cohoes, where Wilkins was a student in a class taught by Chester Arthur, who later became president of the United States.

Arthur was a Republican, but Wilkins became a diehard Democrat.
The Whitehall Times was among the first newspapers in the nation to endorse Grover Cleveland for president, according to The Morning Star.

As a young adult, Wilkins opened a clothing store in Whitehall and wrote freelance articles for several newspapers using the pen name Hiram Green.

In 1873, he bought The Whitehall Times and published it until his death.
“He found it a mere village paper having only a local circulation,” the Times editorialized when Wilkins died. “He left it with a national reputation, and with a circulation far beyond the average country paper.”

Wilkins also was a novelist. His best-known work was “The Cleverdale Mystery,” a humorous work with a plot built around the political machine in Warren and Washington counties.
Wilkins sent a copy of the novel to Chester Arthur, his former teacher, who responded with “a flattering telegram.” The novel can still be purchased from historic book reprint houses.
Wilkins wrote another novel dealing with the role of women in politics, The Essex County Republican reported on Feb. 11, 1886.

“Mr. Wilkins is indeed a great humorist,” the paper wrote.
In June 1887, he was working on a novel “For Revenge Only,” a romance set in Chicago.
“Brother Wilkins is anxious that the waiting public understand that there is not a scintilla of politics in the book, even if there is plenty of it in the life of the man who wrote it,” The Argus of Albany reported on June 29, 1887.

Wilkins also “turned his hand to poetry,” The Morning Star reported on Nov. 11, 1886.
Wilkins was secretary of the Washington County Democratic Committee for several years and served as chairman of the convention that nominated Democratic candidates for state Senate.
He was the Whitehall village treasurer for many years and also held the job of canal collector at Whitehall, a political patronage appointment, for several years.

Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.