BONIFAY — It was 120 years ago the Holmes County Times-Advertiser went to print for the first time.
“I remember the caption that was across every edition of the paper,” said local resident and President of the Kiwanis Club of Bonifay Carlton Treadwell. “It read ‘Labor is Honest and Pluck Wins,’ and we use to send a copy to a relative in the southern pacific and his buddies would ask what it meant, if anything. Pluck means persistence, durability and a drive to finish what you’ve started.”
Treadwell said that the paper was important to the Holmes County community.
“It was very important,” said Treadwell. “It was the main source of news for the county. You had the paper and then you had gossip, but that was it.”
The lifeline during those days was the carriers, said Treadwell.
“Most of the people lived in rural areas and the newspapers were delivered by rural carriers,” he said. “Most of the time those in the rural areas would get their Wednesday paper by Friday and was served through Black, Ala. Route 1. Carriers were very nice and used to buy things from the store if you needed them, so they we’re just the means of getting the paper.”
The biggest population at that time was in Bethlehem, said Treadwell.
“Bethlehem had the biggest school at the time,” he said. “That was back when farming wasn’t all that expensive and was profitable.”
He said in those days the residents of Holmes County were self-sufficient.
“They survived on cane syrup, eggs, pork, corn, ground their own meal, grew their own food, got milk from cows, made their own butter,” said Treadwell. “People lived on ham, eggs and bacon, but that was it. There were no televisions and hardly any radios and that’s why the newspaper was so important for getting the news.”
He said he remembered the paper had their own printing press, complete with having to melt their own lead to reform the letters for printing and that he also remembered the old editor, Ed Williams.
“He was a long, tall and thin man who smoked cigars and always had an awful lot of work to be done,” said Treadwell. “He was always in a running fit to get it in the mail and out on time, but he had help from his boys.”
As far back as he could remember, Ed Williams was the editor.
“Ed Williams was an old man in 1940 and being the editor of the paper was all he’d ever done,” Treadwell said, trying to contemplate if Williams was the first editor of the Holmes County Times-Advertiser.
He said his sons were DeVane and Edward Williams II.
“Edward Williams II became post master, but by then the paper was owned by someone else and DeVane Williams was editor until the day he died.”
After DeVane Williams passed away Orren Smith, who married Williams’ daughter Dianne, became the publisher, said Treadwell.
“He was publisher of the paper for the longest time,” he said.
Dianne, great-granddaughter of the original owner W.D. Williams, said that four generations of her family owned and edited the paper for almost a century, from the time it was established in 1892 till the paper was sold to the Woodhams in 1981.
“When I was in my pre-teens and early teens I would come in on Saturday mornings and afternoons and fold the Baptist Church’s announcements for $1,” she said. “Back then that was enough to go to the movies and pay for candy and popcorn.”
She remembered when things broke on the press that her grandfather and father could fix it, but it would be stressed to get the papers out.
“They would take all of the sheets and go down to the house, which was where the A-Plus Pharmacy is now, and they would lay it out on a big table,” said Dianne. “Then the women of the family would fold all the papers to get them ready to go out. The whole family would pitch in those days.”
She said she and her husband had left, but would find themselves back home and back in the newspaper business.
“I never knew my great-grandfather, W.D. Williams, who was actually editor and publisher longer then any one,” said Dianne. Her grandfather, E.A. Williams, was editor and publisher of the Advertiser for 40 years. “When he retired my father (DeVane Williams) became publisher and editor and when he became ill my husband and I bought the paper from him.”
“My husband was the one really in charge,” she said. “I helped with writing weddings. I wrote about the wedding dress, the reception and was usually a nice write-up about their wedding in general.”
Her mother, Dianne said, wrote about the local weddings, and then she followed suite.
“Weddings and Obituaries were always very important to the community,” she said. “Obituaries were always important and if the person was known by the editor or well known in the community the editor would say a few words about them. Obituaries were always flowery; praising the person’s life, but eventually that changed to be more matter-of-fact and strait-to-the-point.”
These events fell under the category of “Social News.”
“There was a woman by the name of Lilie Harrell and she was one of the Social Editors, writing columns about visitors and weddings,” said Dianne. “That’s something the papers don’t do any more. We’d have people call in and say ‘I had company over last week you know,’ and we’d write it up and have it in the paper that week.”
Another woman she said she remembered covering Social News was Ann Brown.
“This was something she wanted to do after her husband, Clyde Brown, died,” said Dianne. “She was really good at getting the Social News. She knew a lot of people.”
She said that this trend of putting in the Social News continued until the Woodhams took over the paper.
She said she also remembered a man and his son that worked there.
“Mr. Savage and his son, Jimmy, used to work there for a long time,” she said. “Both very good at working with the press and setting type.”
Another set of people she said she remembered was Wayne Marsh and his wife Nancy.
She said Edward Williams II and Tom Douglass both worked at the paper until they were old enough to leave home. Both Williams II and Douglass joined the military, one to the Navy and one to the Army.
“Williams II went on become Post Master in Bonifay after graduating from the University of Florida and Douglass attended Florida State University and then went on to work with various newspapers,” said Dianne. “Edward started printing and publishing The Gator Post, a paper for the Post Masters Association. All of the printing was done here.”
“We were living in South Carolina and my husband, Orren Smith, was working for IBM when my father got sick,” she said. “We bought the paper from my father and Orren began working with no newspaper experience. He thought he could learn it, so my daddy taught him what he needed to know and Orren ended up doing a wonderful job.”
Orren did a column called “Now Hear This,” which was the personal opinions of the editor and what Dianne said was an answer to her father’s own column.
“They would sometimes write about things that were controversial,” she said. “My husband would do that more often then my father had. My dad didn’t say much that was controversial, but my husband did and would always get a big response.”
Dianne and her husband would go on to run the paper for 17 years.
“All of our generations that ran the paper were concerned with covering the whole county as much as possible,” she said. “We had correspondents all over the county.”
The correspondents would have their own section for county updates along with a picture of them to go with it.
“This is something that was important to my grandfather,” she said. “He loved Holmes County. He wouldn’t call it Holmes County, he’d call it Good Ol’ Holmes.”
In 1981 Dianne and her husband decided to sell the paper to a family of newspaper owners, the Woodhams.
“It was so stressful to get the paper out and Orren got to wondering if anything should happen to him who would take care of the paper?” said Dianne. “The Woodhams seemed like a good family of newspaper owners and we wouldn’t have sold it to just any body.”
“Orren got a private practice then went one to work with the State’s Attorney Jim Appleman as a prosecutor and then decided he wanted to go to the opposite spectrum and become a public defender,” said Dianne. “He did that until we both retired in 2000. We then enjoyed traveling until his health declined and now he’s in the Bonifay Nursing Home.”
She said her memories keep going back to the time of the paper.
“The whole family, including the extended family, we all felt a sense of pride in the Holmes County Times for those years,” she said. “I remember when it was $1 for a subscription to the paper and if someone couldn’t pay but really wanted it we’d then accept payments of things like a mess of turnips, cane syrup, eggs and the like. There were shelves of stuff like that just waiting for granddaddy to pick up and take home.”
Then she said the newspaper was very important to the community.
“This was back before there were radios and television so there was no other way to for the community to get their news,” she said. “We had some national news but it mostly stayed local. We still have parents dying and when the children go to clean out their belongings they’d find stacks of old Holmes County Times piled up and saved in a trunk somewhere.”
Dianne said her great-grandfather was known as a “Yellow Dog Democrat.”
“He used the paper as the voice of the Democratic Party and he was very vocal,” she said. “Grandfather wasn’t as vocal but then just about everyone was a Democrat.”
She said her father was involved with the Democratic Party.
“There were very few registered Republicans; you could probably count them all on two hands,” she said. “It changed from being a Democratic paper shortly before my father sold it.”
Dianne and her husband never used it as the Democratic Party, she said.
“Virtually it was something that everyone looked forward to,” she said. “It was a important part of their lives. We felt a real kinship and love for the people of Holmes County.”
She said they wanted a paper people could be proud of.
“I can still get very nostalgic and a little emotional when thinking of the paper,” she said. “It was a very difficult decision to sell something with that much history. He had made it financially stable and it was the best decision for his family and his newspaper.”
Stephanie Smith, daughter of Dianne Smith said she had many fond memories of the Holmes County Times-Advertiser growing up.
“From ages about 11 to 14, I worked at the paper on Wednesday afternoons,” said Stephine. “This was the day when the paper was ready to be mailed to out of town subscribers.”
She said some of her duties including folding each newspaper in half and stuff into brown paper bags which were sorted by zip codes.
“Needless to say this job got fairly boring to a young kid after about 100 had been stuffed,” she said. “I would then entertain myself by looking at the subscriber labels to see if I knew anyone. I distinctly remember one effort to relieve my boredom by drawing a big smiley face on the bag going to my aunt in Atlanta along with a ‘Hello from Florida’ note.”
She said her father, however, didn’t find this as amusing.
“My father, who was a big stickler for rules, was not pleased at my freelance greeting and gave me a long, stern lecture on how I was breaking federal law by writing on U.S. mail,” she said. “The $3.25 I received for my child labor efforts were not enough to keep me interested in being a full-time bag stuffer so employer and employee (father and daughter) decided to part work ways for the sake of peace at home.”
Other strong memories she said of coming from a newspaper family included:
1. The smell of newspaper ink at the Advertiser office and on her father when he came home from work
2. Always feeling that she knew what was going on in our town due to reading the paper front to back every week
3. Developing an early interest in local politics due to the paper and her parents’ involvement
4. Only being able to take family vacations from Thursday to Saturday because of paper schedule and having to be back in town in time for church on Sunday
5. Classmates always worried about telling her any news or gossip for fear that it might end up in the paper
6. Her Dad being at most every sporting event in town
“Holmes County town’s sporting events got coverage in the hometown paper as well,” she said. “I also remember my father taking quite a hit on the sidelines from an errant HCHS football player who ran out of bounds (took that hit like a champ and popped back up ready to take more photos)!”
Stephanie said her family is proud to have owned and run this hometown business for over 90 years.
“I feel my father always did his best to report the news in a fair manner with no personal bias,” she said. “His editorial column, ‘Now Hear This,’ on the other hand could be full of personal bias and I read those weekly columns nervously hoping it would be on something non-family related — i.e. not embarrassing for a young, easily embarrassed daughter. I didn’t always get my wish but any embarrassment suffered then has now been forgotten and replaced by pride in knowing that my family kept Holmes County informed for many years.”