BONIFAY — The year was 1892, and W.D. Williams established the Holmes County Advertiser at old Cerro Gordo, which was then the county seat.
According to an article published in the Advertiser on Oct. 8, 1921, and cited in the “Heritage of Holmes County,” Cerro Gordo was then the county seat.
The Holmes County Advertiser was founded, owned and operated by four generations of the Williams family.
“The exact spot where the building stood in which the first edition was printed is marked by the channel of the Choctawhatchee River, and all that is left of old Cerro Gordo is the memory and the little wooden jail, which is now less than twenty feet of the rapidly caving banks of the river, soon to be washed in and leaving nothing save the giant oaks to mark the spot where once was enacted the stirring scenes of those pioneer days,” the article stated.
The first edition of the Advertiser carried the motto “Labor is Honest and Pluck Wins,” a motto that remained on the front page for decades. The motto was described as “this pithy sentence as its guiding rule, and it is certainly appropriate to say that it has required both labor and pluck in generous quantities to bring thepaper through the strenuous years of its existence.”
The newspaper was burned out twice, with no insurance. It was forced to temporarily suspend publication twice, was published in Cerro Gordo, Westville and Bonifay, and had been printed in a dozen or more towns and cities — all in the first 29 years of the newspaper’s existence, according to the article.
W.D. Williams served as editor except for the year 1908, when W. D. Brett Jr. took control of the newspaper. However the Williams family resumed control in 1909, when Edward Arthur Williams Sr. became editor and publisher of the Advertiser.
Edward Williams guided the newspaper as well as provided leadership to the county through some of the nation’s most trying times — World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II.
“Because of his long tenure at the helm of the newspaper, he, more than anyone else, molded the philosophy and tradition of a family-owned publication that became a Holmes County institution,” according to the “Heritage of Holmes County.”
Edward was the youngest son of founder W.D. Williams, and he began learning the newspaper business at an early age. By the time he was 15 he had already assumed a leading role in the publication of the newspaper. Before taking over from his father in 1909, Edward worked briefly for the Carrabelle Advertiser. He also worked briefly for the Marianna Times, only to return to Holmes County when his father called him back to take over after the county seat was moved from Westville to Bonifay — and the newspaper also moved to Bonifay.
In a 1929 editorial celebrating the 36th anniversary of the Holmes County Advertiser, Edward wrote:
“That old epigram, ‘It takes a lot of living to make a house a home,’ is familiar to all. Perhaps few have thought to apply it to a newspaper, however. It takes a lot of living to make a publication a home newspaper. The publication must participate in the joys and sorrows, the problems and perplexities, as well as the triumphs and successes, of a people for a long time before it becomes a real integral part of their home life. It must struggle for them, sacrifice for them, suffer for them before it becomes one of them. This is what the Advertiser has aimed to do.”
In 1949, Nolan DeVane Williams took his father’s place as editor and publisher, and ran the newspaper until he encountered health problems, at which time his son-in-law Orren Smith purchased the newspaper and became editor and publisher. Orren and his wife Dianne ran of the newspaper until its sale in 1981 to Larry and Merle Woodham, newspaper publishers in DeFuniak Springs and Florala, Ala.
The Holmes County Advertiser remained within the Williams family for 89 years.
The Woodhams took possession of the Advertiser in 1981 from Williams relatives, Orren and Dianne Williams Smith. Woodham was the fourth generation in a family of newspaper publishers. His two great-uncles started in the newspaper business in 1917, followed by his grandfather, then his father and mother, according to an article published in the Wednesday, March 11, 1992 issue of the Advertiser.
The Woodhams were natives of Alabama and owned four other newspapers — The DeFuniak Springs Herald-Breeze, The Beach-Breeze in South Walton County, The Beach Bay News in Panama City and The Florala News.
In 2003, the Woodhams sold the Holmes County Advertiser and the Washington County Post to Chipley Newspapers Inc. According to CNI President Maurice Pujol, CNI published the Washington County News and the Holmes County Times, along with the Weekly Advertiser, a free shoppers’ guide which was distributed in both counties.
The merger of the Times and the Advertiser was historic, Pujol said, “in that it represents the combination of over two great centuries of newspaper publishing in Washington and Holmes counties.”
Pujol founded the Holmes County Times in 1989. The late Jack Davis, retired educator and coach, served as the Times’ first managing editor until his death in 1992.
Davis was a retired principal, coach and teacher and one of the founders of the Northwest Florida Football Conference. He not only served as managing editor of the Holmes County Times, but he was known as an exciting radio color commentator for HCHS football games.
“He was one of the fairest newspaper reporters I’ve ever known,” said Holmes County Clerk of Circuit Court Cody Taylor in 1992. “He was cordial, objective and he never tried to embarrass anyone, yet his work was always in-depth and thorough.”
Upon his death in 1992 in an automobile accident, the Times began the tradition of awarding Jack Davis Memorial Award to the outstanding boy and girl athletes of Holmes County each year, a tradition that still continues.
According to Pujol, the Times continued to gain popularity with readers and advertisers throughout the 1990s. It became the county’s first full-color newspaper as the decade ended and a new millennium dawned.
Pujol came to the News in 1974 after a stint as a reporter for the Panama City News-Herald and was named publisher in 1979. CNI was established in 1983.
“We see this merger as an opportunity not only for our business, but also for all the communities which we serve throughout the two counties,” Pujol said in 2003. “We take seriously our responsibility to serve as a voice of the people, an example of professional journalism and a force for community service and development.”
Cameron Everett, a Holmes County native, was on hand for the transition to CNI in 2003, and he still works for the newspaper today as production supervisor.
“Cameron even worked part-time for the News while he was still attending Holmes County High School and also helped out at the Advertiser under Orren Smith at the time,” Pujol said.
In January 2007, Freedom Communications purchased the Washington County News and the Holmes County Times-Advertiser, along with the Crestview News Bulletin in Crestview and the Santa Rosa Press Gazette in Milton.
Nicole Barefield became the publisher of the Holmes and Washington County newspapers.
“When I came to the Times-Advertiser in 2007 I was surprised to learn how distinct and close-knit the county communities were, and how everyone had a story to tell,” Barefield said.
“It's been a privilege these last five years to help tell the stories through the newspaper, and share the proud heritage of Holmes County and its people.“
In June of this year, Halifax Media took ownership of the Holmes County Times-Advertiser and the Washington County News when the company purchased the Panama City News-Herald and the rest of Freedom’s Newspapers in Florida and North Carolina.
Other Florida newspapers involved in the transaction were The Star in Port St. Joe, The Walton Sun in Santa Rosa Beach, The Crestview News Bulletin, The Destin Log, Northwest Florida Daily News in Fort Walton Beach, The Santa Rosa Press Gazette and the Santa Rosa Free Press in Milton.
“At Halifax Media Group, we believe in the future of newspapers,” said Michael Redding, CEO of Halifax Media Group. “The purchase of Freedom’s Florida and North Carolina properties further demonstrates our commitment to newspapers, not only for their value as an investment, but for the value they provide to the communities they serve. These properties provide a perfect extension to our recently acquired New York Times Regional Newspaper Group papers and reflect our interest in preserving community journalism for many years to come.”