Lincoln O’Brien, former owner of the Claremont Daily Eagle, coined the term “Twin-State Valley” and brought the city its first radio station.
He was born into a prominent family in Boston, Massachusetts on February 4, 1907. His father, Robert Lincoln O’Brien (1865-1955) was in the newspaper business most of his life, was personal secretary for Grover Cleveland during Cleveland’s second term as president, and served as chairman of the United States Tariff Commission under President Hoover. His mother, Emily (Young) O’Brien (1866-1945) became a doctor after being one of the first women admitted to the Boston University Medical School.
O’Brien was educated in private schools. He was sent to Switzerland for most of the summer vacations of his youth. There he participated in rock climbing, which became a lifelong hobby. He became experienced enough to lead climbs.
After graduating from Harvard in 1929 and then Harvard Law School in 1932, O’Brien declined his father’s advice that he go on to business school. He was through with school, and he wanted to get into the workforce. He received an offer, probably arranged by his father, to become a police reporter with the Tulsa Tribune.
O’Brien came down with pneumonia a year later when he returned home to attend his sister’s wedding. Recovering weeks later, he decided to take a job in advertising with the Beverly Evening Times in northern Massachusetts rather than return to Oklahoma. Just a few months later, he was made advertising manager due to a staff illness.
He would not stay in Beverly long. An aunt died in 1934 and left him $45,000. That was a tidy sum during the Great Depression, and it’s worth over $850,000 in today’s dollars. O’Brien used his inheritance to establish the Athol Daily News in Athol, Massachusetts.
With the success of the Athol paper, O’Brien started another daily, the Cape Cod Colonial, in Hyannis in October 1936. Unable to gain ground on the established New Bedford Standard Times, the Colonial was shut down in November 1937.
The Boston Transcript was in financial trouble in 1938, and they sought a new publisher to stabilize the paper. After being turned down by numerous publishers, they offered the position to O’Brien, who took the job in August 1938. While this appointment would ordinarily be a proud moment for a parent, it came with much consternation from his father, who happened to run the rival Boston Herald.
The Transcript was sold in May 1939. The new owner installed himself as publisher and bumped O’Brien down to executive editor. Frequently at odds with the new publisher, O’Brien resigned in September and looked for his next venture.
In November 1939, O’Brien came to terms with the owners of the Eagle Press, publishers of the Claremont Daily Eagle and the weekly National Eagle. The new corporation would be known as the Claremont Eagle, Inc., and the weekly National Eagle would be discontinued after December 1939.
O’Brien then set out to increase revenue for the paper. His first problem was that Claremont’s population had decreased during the 1930s after decades of steady growth. Realizing there were some weekly — but no daily – papers in the area, he decided the solution would be to increase the Eagle’s coverage area.
He coined the term “Twin-State Valley.” While it’s unlikely he was the first to ever use that term, he is the one who popularized it as a means to promote his paper just as the upstart Valley News would do the same a decade later with “Upper Valley.” Within weeks, the Eagle opened offices in Newport, Windsor, Springfield, and Bellows Falls. More would later be added in Lebanon and Hanover. With its expanded coverage, O’Brien increased the daily subscriptions from 2,400 to 8,800 copies by the time he sold the Eagle.
After Claremont’s National Guard unit was put into federal service, a new state guard unit was formed in January 1941. Its purpose was to guard bridges in the area. O’Brien had a lieutenant’s commission from college ROTC, and he was made second in command of the new unit under Leon Hadley, who was partner in the Hadley-Hofstra lumber company on Spofford Street.
With the nation’s entry into WWII appearing imminent, O’Brien decided to sell off the Athol paper and concentrate on the Eagle. Figuring he would be drafted, he appointed his production manager of the Eagle to publisher and went to Washington to see what his options were. He was initially offered a position in public relations in Washington but later transferred to the American Intelligence Command where he was stationed in Miami Beach, Brazil, and then Paraguay.
When the war ended, O’Brien spent the final few months of his service time as intelligence officer at Fort Devens, which was used as a prisoner of war camp. He then returned to Claremont to run the Daily Eagle.
Upon returning to Claremont, O’Brien became the president of the local chamber of commerce. He had previously been honored by the chamber as Man of the Year, an award now known as Citizen of the Year.
O’Brien established Claremont’s first radio station. The call letters, based on his name, were WLOB. A floor was added to the Eagle building at 19 Sullivan Street to house the radio station, which first went on the air May 19, 1947. WLOB was credited with being a vital tool in the hotly debated issue of switching from town government to a city manager later that year.
O’Brien had learned from his military service that he liked warmer climates better than New England. He decided to sell the Eagle and move to the west coast. He agreed to terms with John McLane Clark of New Boston in December 1949. Clark would consummate the deal for the Eagle a couple of months later, while WLOB was sold to the Granite State Broadcasting Company, which would lease the upper floor of the Eagle building. WLOB became WTSV.
Initially moving to Newport Beach, California, O’Brien instead decided to look for a newspaper in the southern mountain states. In January 1949, he purchased two papers in New Mexico, the Las Vegas Optic and the Tucumcari Daily News. He moved his wife and three children to Santa Fe.
Later that summer, O’Brien purchased the weekly Times Hustler of Farmington and turned it into the Daily Times. This would briefly thrust O’Brien into the national spotlight a year later when the people of Farmington reported strange aircraft making 90-degree turns at high speeds. While reporting claims of the townspeople but doubting it was aliens, the Associated Press picked up the story. O’Brien was invited to appear on national television, but he declined. (If you are wondering, Farmington is more than a five-hour drive from Roswell.)
O’Brien continued to buy newspapers in New Mexico. This gave rise to a song being sung about him at a state press convention, which went as follows –
I’m Lincoln O’Brien
and I’m always tryin’
to own every paper
wherever I go.
Oh, how the fellows will slay me
When I start to publish in Lamy
(Lamy is a small community in New Mexico that has never had more than a few hundred residents.)
O’Brien would own five daily papers at once in New Mexico. In 1956, he was elected president of the New Mexico Press Association, and he moved to Farmington, which was the home of his largest paper.
He retired at age 65 in 1973, allowing him to spend more time at his summer home in Sarasota, Florida that he had purchased in 1968. He was elected to the New Mexico Newspaper Hall of Fame in the fall of 1973.
O’Brien had groomed his son Eliot to take over the Farmington paper. Not satisfied with how the paper was being run, he bought out the contract of his publisher and came out of retirement. His plan was to work one summer and show Eliot how the paper should be run.
He died at age 85 in Farmington on July 8, 1992, two weeks following the death of his wife, Frances Torka (Eliot) O’Brien. They had been married for 56 years. In addition to his son, Eliot, he was survived by a daughter, Susan Poet, and several grandchildren. Another son, Lincoln Jr., disappeared at age 36 in 1974 when his private plane went down on a flight to England and was never found.