Eras have been ending right and left during the past few years of political upheaval and the on-going worldwide pandemic.
The most recent era to end is the recent closing of the last physical newspaper office in Kendall County. For the first time since 1852, there’s no place to go to drop off news items, give news tips, and generally kibitz with the staff. Instead, the entire KendalCountyNOW staff that publishes the Shaw Media subgroup’s four local weeklies is now working wherever they can find a WiFi connection instead of in a newsroom.
This is not an entirely surprising development. After Shaw bought the Kendall County Record, Inc. group, they closed both the Ledger-Sentinel office on Main Street in downtown Oswego and the venerable Kendall County Record office on Bridge Street in downtown Yorkville. The two offices were combined and moved to a second floor office suite in a Yorkville bank, a location that did not invite casual visitation. Now the withdrawal from the communities the group’s papers report on is complete.
You’d think that having a visible presence in towns located in the fastest growing county in Illinois, and one of the fastest growing in the nation, would be a good move to advertise the brand, but apparently modern bean-counters are more in tune with today’s economic and marketing realities than old retired editors like me.
Time was, of course, there were newspaper offices in virtually every community in the county. It took a while after Kendall County’s establishment in 1841 for its first newspaper to open, but in 1852 Hector Seymour Humphrey began publishing the weekly Kendall County Courier in Oswego, then the county seat. Then, as now, local government legal advertisements were the lifeblood of local papers, and locating in the county seat made it easy to pick up those public notices from property tax assessment lists to new county ordinances.
Humphrey was born in Tompkins County, N.Y. Jan. 29, 1828. Early in his life he got into the newspaper business at the Ithaca Chronicle and News where he learned the trade. He headed west to Chicago in 1848, where he worked as a journeyman printer on the old Chicago Journal.
Then Humphrey moved west to Naperville where he worked in the newspaper business and got married. And in 1852, he and his wife packed up their press and type and moved farther west to Oswego where he started the Courier. It advertised itself as neutral in politics, and was apparently just barely successful. Humphrey ran the paper himself as both editor and publisher until the fall of 1854 when he sold it to Abraham Sellers. Humphrey agreed to stay on as the editor. That arrangement lasted until the summer of 1855 when Humphrey bought the paper back from Sellers.
Then during the winter of 1855-56, Humphrey sold the Chronicle to the cantankerous and combative William P. Boyd. Boyd, a pro-slavery native Kentuckian, writing under the pen name of Niblo, made the mistake of changing the Chronicle from a neutral paper to a Democratic sheet.
That didn’t go down very well in Oswego or the rest of Kendall County, which had been fairly strong Whig country before the Republican Party was established. After the Republicans organized, Kendall County, driven by its heavy population of New Englanders and New Yorkers, leaned heavily towards the new party.
As Humphrey recalled the era in a 1903 letter to Kendall County Record Publisher John R. Marshall: “In the spring of 1856, the Republicans desiring an organ, called a meeting of the leading men of the county, decided to establish a paper, and requested me to take charge of it. Subscriptions were made for the paper, for advertising and job work, for which money was advanced for about two-thirds of the cost of material, which was purchased at once and ‘the Kendall County Free Press’ was out soon after for the campaign of 1856.”
You may remember that the campaign of 1856 was famed in Illinois for the series of debates the Republican and Democratic candidates for U.S. Senator held throughout the state. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates introduced Abraham Lincoln to a statewide audience for the first time. While Lincoln was unsuccessful in that campaign, he was able to parlay his name recognition—and his considerable political skills—into winning the Presidency in 1860.
The Republican hold on Kendall County only grew more pronounced following the 1856 campaign. Boyd’s Chronicle was soon out of business, his printing outfit sold to an Iowa newspaper. A cutthroat businessman, land agent, and lawyer known for his pugnaciousness, Boyd was murdered on Nov. 24, 1859. His assailant was never identified.
Humphrey’s Free Press was successful, and he continued publishing it through the Civil War years until the county seat was moved back to Yorkville in 1864. At that point, Humphrey decided to move on to Vandalia.
In May 1864, John Redmond Marshal, a young Chicago newspaper man and Civil War veteran of the Sturgis Rifles, decided to start a new county seat paper in Kendall County. Naming it the Kendall County Record, Marshal located his office and printing press in space above a store in downtown Yorkville, moving it to a new one-story brick building on busy Bridge Street in November 1867—where it stayed until the paper was sold to Shaw in 2015.
While the Courier was Oswego’s first paper, it was hardly the last. In fact, Oswego has seen far more than its share of newspaper start-ups. Besides the Courier and The Free Press, papers published in Oswego included the Bald Hornet, 1855; Oswego Vidette, 1873; Oswego Daily Times, 1877; Oswego Reporter, 1892; Kendall County Press, 1884; Oswego Herald, 1904; Oswego News, 1948; Oswego Ledger, 1949-1980; Fox Valley Sentinel, 1974-1980; Ledger-Sentinel, 1980 to 2015; and now the Oswego Ledger again after the name was shortened, supposedly for marketing purposes, a few years ago.
As I noted above, virtually every other town in Kendall County has had its own newspaper, no matter how briefly, over the years.
Yorkville, of course, had—and still has—its Kendall County Record as well as in the mid-20th Century the free distribution Fox Valley Shopper, the 19th Century Kendall County Clarion, and in 1872, the Yorkville News. That paper eventually moved to Plano and became the Plano News in 1876, changing its name again in 1881 to the Kendall County News. Plano was also served by the Kendall County Journal, the Plano Pivot and the Plano Standard. Two religious newspapers were published in 19th Century Plano, The True Latter Day Saints Herald and Zion’s Hope, both by Joseph Smith Jr.’s Reorganized Church of the Latter Day Saints.
The stagecoach hamlet of Little Rock in extreme northwestern Kendall County was briefly served in the 19th Century by The Little Rock Press, and Millington by The Millington Enterprise. The Newark Clipper was organized in 1872, and The Lisbon Comet was published early in the 20th Century.
It’s also worth noting that back in the late 20th Century, the daily Aurora Beacon-News had a bureau in Kendall County.
Nowadays, though, the whole idea of newspapers, even local weeklies, not maintaining a visible presence in the communities they serve has become the norm, especially with papers owned by large chains thet really seem more interested in profits than in community service and keeping their fingers on the pulse of the communities they serve. Most independently-owned weeklies still think that’s not only important to the places they cover, but also figure it’s good business—Cheryl Wormley’s successful Woodstock Independent up in the northern suburbs immediately comes to mind.
When I was the Ledger-Sentinel‘s editor, we had a lot of news stories just walk in—or past—the door of our Main Street office. For instance, there was the day a sheep galloped past the window, followed by another, followed by one of our former sports writers. Turned out he was working for a local farmer whose load of sheep got loose when they stopped at the gas station just up the street. Or the day a nicely-dressed white-haired woman walked in up to our counter, held her hand out to me and said, “Hello, I’m Jean Simon. What’s happening in Oswego we ought to know about?” Turned out she was Sen. Paul Simon’s wife, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Or the day Sen. Chuck Percy stopped in to chat about the I&M Canal Corridor legislation he was co-sponsoring. We had a nice chat, but I don’t think he ever figured out we were some miles outside the corridor he was so enthused about.
But while there will no longer be a physical newspaper office presence here in Kendall any more, that doesn’t mean the KendallCountyNOW staff won’t be getting and printing as much local news as they can.
Because, really, when it comes to finding a source for local news you need and can actually use—where your property tax dollars are being spent, what various local governmental boards are really up to, and what’s happening in local schools—weekly newspapers are the only serious game in town.