James Wickliffe Axtell

Cumberland Presbyterian

1852 - 1909



The Observer and Mr. J. W. Axtell.

At the annual meeting of the Board of Publication, April 5, 1900, a contract was made with Mr. J. W. Axtell, according to the terms of which he enters the employ of the Publishing House, May 1, 1900, and his paper, The Observer, becomes the property of the Board of Publication April 23, 1900. In detail this arrangement is as follows:


The Board of Publication in assuming the ownership of The Observer, with its subscription list and good will, fully recognizes the demand for a church journal which shall give large space and earnest attention to the especial interests of the section in which The Observer is published and through which chiefly it circulates. Appreciating this need, the Board of Publication will undertake to fully meet the wants of those who have been the warm supporters of The Observer. For the present, without material change in the editorial conduct of either periodical, and pending the perfecting of plans already inaugurated to even more nearly than ever satisfy this recognized demand for a central western newspaper, both "The Cumberland Presbyterian" and The Observer will be issued by the Board of Publication. Our plans, however, comprehend the early employment of an editorial writer to devote his entire time to this new phase of our church's journalism, he to live and labor with and for the Cumberland Presbyterians of the Central West. This change contemplates also the material improvement of "The Cumberland Presbyterian," of which further announcement will be made within the next few weeks. Indeed, the board has not yet decided as to the plan which will be permanently best, but will make ample provision for the interests peculiar to the Central West. Regardless of these details it seems to be the practically unanimous conviction of all who have heard of the negotiations that this whole movement will prove an unmixed blessing to the great denomination which we all love and serve.

Mr. Axtell will himself say in this week's issue of The Observer:

The reasons for the consolidation may be briefly stated. Without speaking for its earlier owners, it is certain that to Dr. Harris The Observer was a source of loss. At two different times negotiations were opened for its sale to the Publishing House, Dr. Harris being ready to sell, but for some reason they failed to mature. The board has made to me a proposition somewhat similar to one at least made at one time to the board, and this has been the basis for the transaction noted.

My own business experience with The Observer has not been satisfactory. The paper is now about "paying its way," if my own services are to be left wholly without compensation. Left by the death of Dr. Harris with the paper in my hands, I determined to work out the problem if there was any 'work out' to it, at the same time recognizing that it was a struggle in which my individual interests must for a long time be absolutely ignored.

"So when the Board of Publication offered me a wider field of usefulness, and called me to a work exactly in line with the training of my whole life, I deemed it my duty to listen; and having listened, I feel through and through that I am doing exactly right, and that in the change I am contributing to the extent of my ability to the promotion of the publication interests of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Pardon this personal reference--but it has seemed necessary in the way of explanation.

"As to independent church journalism: I do not leave the field because of any feeling of doubt as to the propriety of the work in which I have been engaged. It is simply a matter of impracticability. I fully believe (1) that no man in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church can make an independent paper of success and a means of support to himself; (2) that while it is a problem of possible satisfactory solution for the trained publisher who takes up a paper of established reputation, the chances are against even his success; and the success of such a publisher is impossible without that established reputation of the paper as a stock in trade; (3) that is these latter days it is much harder to put a new journal upon a secure footing than at any previous time; and (4) that with 'The Cumberland Presbyterian' developed as it is designed to be there will be less occasion (if indeed there is or will be any at all) than ever before for ventures in that line."


It is a great pleasure to announce, as it will be the delight of the church to learn, that by the altogether reasonable terms of our contract with Mr. Axtell and for The Observer, Mr. Axtell himself becomes business manager of all the publications of the board as also of the job department of the Publishing House. Mr. Gaut will be manager of the other departments, including in addition the legal affairs, real estate and credit relations of the Board of Publication. The business of the House has grown to a point where a competent manager is needed for each of these two phases of the work and the experience and recognized ability of Mr. Gaut and Mr. Axtell in their respective fields render this co-ordinate and joint managerial arrangement most happy. Mr. Axtell will devote most of his time to promoting the circulation and advertising success of the weekly paper or papers, and the Sunday school literature of the church. In the newspaper business Mr. Axtell has been engaged almost continuously since 1864 when as office boy he became connected with "The Cumberland Presbyterian," then published by Day & Miller, at Waynesburg, Pa. After his graduation from Waynesburg College in 1870 he founded a county paper which he conducted for five years. He then removed to Pittsburg where he was one of the founders, and for 22 years the manager, of the National Stockman and Farmer, one of the most successful agricultural papers in this country. Much of the time he was editor also. He sold out his interest and resigned his position in March, 1899, and six months ago became one of the proprietors and the business manager of The Observer. With this statement of facts, it is unnecessary to add that he is thoroughly conversant with every detail of the printing and newspaper business. He has a nation-wide acquaintance with advertisers and advertising agencies, and is familiar with all kinds of successful methods for promotion newspaper circulation and prosperity. The son of the late Philip Axtell, D.D., he has always been an intensely loyal Cumberland Presbyterian, and is well known in Pennsylvania especially for his great ability in Sunday school work. Mr. Axtell is happy to thus give his life to his church; and it is creditable to both managers that they cheerfully render it possible for the publishing work to have the benefit of their joint labors without a cent of extra expense to the board.

It is confidently predicted that the result of the contract above outlined will be the unparalleled growth and usefulness of the church's publishing work, on behalf of which we invoke the prayerful sympathy and co-operation of the entire denomination.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, April 19, 1900, page 483]

J. W. Axtell.

James Wickliffe Axtell was born in Pennsylvania April 16, 1852. He came of an old English family and is the son of the late Dr. Philip Axtell, well known in Cumberland Presbyterian history as the founder of many churches in Pennsylvania, and especially as the father of what is now the First Church in Pittsburg. All of Mr. Axtell's career has tended to make him what he has become--the head of a great Publishing House. As a boy he worked in a printing office and at the age of thirteen set type for "The Cumberland Presbyterian," then published at Waynesburg. After the completion of his education at Waynesburg College, he became one of the founders of the Waynesburg Independent, which he conducted successfully for five years. He then helped to establish the National Stockman and Farmer, and was identified with that leading agricultural paper for twenty-two years, much of the time as editor and manager. In order to give his time and strength more directly to work which would benefit his Church and Christianity, he removed to St. Louis in 1898, and became business manager of The Observer, and in 1900 accepted a similar position in connection with "The Cumberland Presbyterian." A year later he was made General Manager of the whole publishing work of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. He became a member of the Shady Avenue Church, Pittsburg, soon after its organization, and for eight years was the successful superintendent of its Sunday school. This practical experience especially prepared him to become the author of several books on Sunday School problems, which have had a wide sale in all denominations, and are looked upon as the best of their kind. His most important publications are "The Organized Sunday School," "The Teaching Problem," "The Superintendent's Handbook," and the "Teacher's Handbook."
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, December 3, 1903, page 712]

J. W. AXTELL. 1852-1909.

On Thursday, December 23, the wires brought to his friends in Nashville the news of the death of James Wickliffe Axtell. With courage undaunted he had prepared, some days before, for the journey from Nashville to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he expected to make a last effort to regain health and strength, under the care of Dr. Charles Poynter, his son-in-law. Shortly after reaching Lincoln the news came that he had suffered a second paralytic stroke, and the end was not long delayed. The remains were accompanied to the old home at Pittsburg, Pa., by the immediate members of his family, and the funeral services were conducted at the home of his sister, Mrs. J. R. Rush, 6214 Walnut St., Pittsburg, on Sunday afternoon, December 26.

James Wickliffe Axtell was born in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, April 16, 1852. He came of an old English family, and was the son of Dr. Philip Axtell, well known in Cumberland Presbyterian history as the founder of many churches in Pennsylvania. Mr. Axtell's entire business career was connected with the business of printing and publishing. At the age of thirteen he was employed in the office of "The Cumberland Presbyterian," then published at Waynesburg. After graduating from Waynesburg College, he was one of the founders of the Waynesburg Independent, which he conducted successfully for five years. He then helped to establish the National Stockman and Farmer, and was identified with that leading agricultural paper, published in Pittsburg, for twenty-two years, serving much of the time as both editor and manager. During his residence of nearly a quarter of a century in Pittsburg, he was a member of the Shady Avenue Church, under the pastorate of Rev. J. R. Henry. As superintendent of the Sunday school of that church he gained the experience which he later embodied in his books, "The Organized Sunday School," "The Teaching Problem," and "Grading the Sunday School," and in unique annual handbooks for superintendent and teacher. In 1899 Mr. Axtell sold his interest in the agricultural journal which he had conducted to success, and after a short interval became one of the proprietors and the business manager of the St. Louis Observer. The untimely death of the brilliant editor of the Observer, Dr. D. M. Harris, led ultimately to the sale of the Observer to the Board of Publication, and upon its union with "The Cumberland Presbyterian" Mr. Axtell became business manager of the Publishing House at Nashville, his term of service beginning May 1, 1900. Under his direction the work of the Publishing House was carried on with great success. To this work, it may be literally said, he gave his life. Hardly a year ago, failing health gave him a warning which he heeded only with reluctance, laying aside active work so far as possible and endeavoring to regain strength and health in rest which had been, under the imperious demands of duty, too long deferred. In "The Cumberland Presbyterian" of April 19, 1900, in connection with the announcement of Mr. Axtell's connection with the publishing work of the church, a connection just about the be established, these words were used: "Mr. Axtell is thus happy to thus give his life to his church." So he was, and so he did.

J. W. Axtell was married in 1874, to Miss Nellie Minor, of Waynesburg, Pa. He is survived by Mrs. Axtell, with a son, Philip P. Axtell, of Nashville; a daughter, Mrs. Charles Poynter, of Lincoln, Nebr.; and three sisters, Mrs. J. R. Rush, Mrs. T. D. Harmon and Mrs. J. M. Garrison, all of Pittsburg, Pa. It is difficult to express in words the honor and affection which this man's life and character won him from all who were privileged to know him and to labor with him. Their sorrow in his loss, and their sympathy for those to whom it is the loss of husband, father, brother, are as deep as was their love.
Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, December 30, 1909, page 821]


Axtell, J. W. The Organized Sunday School: A Working Manual for Officers. 4th ed. Nashville, Tenn.: The Cumberland Press, 1902, c1901. [2 copies in archives]

Axtell, J. W. The Teaching Problem: A Message to Sunday School Workers. Nashville, Tenn.: The Cumberland Press, 1902. [2 copies in archives]

Axtell Family Information

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Page Last Updated on October 9, 2002