Brothers Hugh Sidey (left) and Ed Sidey became two of Iowa’s most respected journalists, Hugh writing “The Presidency” column for Time magazine and Ed as editor and publisher of their family’s hometown paper, the Adair County Free Press in Greenfield.
Brothers Hugh Sidey (left) and Ed Sidey became two of Iowa’s most respected journalists, Hugh writing “The Presidency” column for Time magazine and Ed as editor and publisher of their family’s hometown paper, the Adair County Free Press in Greenfield.
May 1, 2014


The Carroll Daily Times Herald this morning officially took ownership of one of the more iconic newspapers in the history of the state - the Adair County Free Press, based in Greenfield.

Former Des Moines Register columnist Chuck Offenburger in 1984 ranked the Free Press as Iowa's No. 1 paper, just ahead of The Register.

For 125 years the estimable Sidey family has owned and operated the Free Press, producing news and photography recently celebrated in an Iowa Public Television documentary - "The Sidey Report." The Wilson family, starting with the late James W. Wilson, publisher of the Times Herald from 1929 to 1977, has operated the Carroll newspaper for 85 years. The Times Herald in late 2012 purchased the Jefferson Bee & Herald from Rick Morain, a longtime Wilson and Sidey family friend.

The Daily Times Herald and the weekly Free Press signed the arrangement in Jefferson.

"Ed told me if I ever had an offer from a good 'family' of newspaper owners who I respected, I was to consider them above anyone else as the new owners of the Free Press," said Linda Sidey, the most recent Sidey at the helm of the Free Press and wife of the late owner/publisher Ed Sidey. "Folks, this was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, it is like saying goodbye to Ed again. It is important for to me follow through with Ed's wishes, and that is why I have chosen Ann Wilson and her superior journalistic family to take over the ownership of the Free Press. They know the importance of the local paper, and I am positive they will provide excellent coverage of our area. So with this announcement, I am turning over ownership and management of the Adair County Free Press to the Wilson family."

Daily Times Herald Publisher Ann Wilson said her family plans to maintain strong community-minded journalism in Adair County.

"We are humbled by Linda's decision to turn a newspaper we have admired for years over to our family business," Wilson said. "We will maintain the existing staff in Greenfield to ensure continuity. The Sidey name is synonymous with not only Iowa journalism, but rural Iowa itself. We share the Sidey passion for community development and betterment."

The Times Herald, operating under the Wilson family owned Herald Publishing Co., will print the Free Press in Carroll. Herald Publishing also prints, in addition to the Carroll and Jefferson newspapers, the Breda News, Dunlap Reporter and the Coon Rapids Enterprise - the latter three which it does not own.

The Adair County Free Press began Oct. 10, 1889, with E.J. Sidey, publisher and proprietor. E.J. was the first "Edwin John" to edit, write, and publish the newspaper. He was born in Coldsprings, Ontario, Canada, in November 1862. He began what would become his life's work as an apprentice, or "printer's devil" at a printing office in Canada.

The Sidey family moved to the United States in 1876, and E.J. went to work at printing businesses in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Creston before ending up in Greenfield. He worked his way up, becoming the editor and publisher of the Creston Commonwealth, a weekly paper he converted to a daily, which eventually sold and consolidated with the Creston Daily Advertiser.

His father, John S. Sidey, and the rest of the Sidey family moved to Greenfield. The newspapers of the era had strong political affiliations, and there was no Democratic-leaning newspaper in Greenfield. John S. and E.J. started one, the Adair County Democrat.

The news was gathered by John S. Sidey in Greenfield, sent to Creston for typesetting and printing, with the papers coming back by train for distribution.

E.J. Sidey was listed as the publisher for the first two years. Volume III had John S. Sidey as publisher and manager.

E.J.'s wife was the former Miss Irene Cavanaugh, who came west from New York with her uncle James Gibbs in 1892. She was not only Sidey's wife, but also his partner and helper in the newspaper business for more than four decades.

Mrs. and Mrs. E.J. Sidey had three children, Kenneth, John and Irene, who grew up in the print shop. There are stories of Kenneth and John sleeping on stacks of newsprint in the shop as their parents worked to get the paper out.

E.J. ran for the Iowa Legislature and was elected in 1906 as a Democrat. In 1907, the Adair County Democrat became the Adair County Free Press. In 1912, E.J. ran for the Legislature again, this time as a Republican, and was elected.

Back in Greenfield, sons Kenneth and John were busy learning the printing trade. Kenneth, the older of the two, gravitated to the news and advertising side of the newspaper. John became an expert printer.

Kenneth served in World War I, going to France, serving with the Fifth, or Red Diamond, Army Division in artillery.

When he returned to Greenfield, he was determined to further his newspaper career with a degree in journalism. He went to the University of Missouri at Columbia, but returned after a year to help the paper, which was being financially buffeted by a farm crisis.

After 30 years in business, the Free Press began changing. Kenneth brought back from college expertise in writing and page makeup. The arrival of a typesetting machine was the other force.

The linotype machine was able to case a whole line of type (hence the name - a line o' type) from molten lead by operating a keyboard. This replaced the tedious and slow method of setting type by hand, one letter at a time. More local news was printed, replacing the preprinted inside pages containing national and world news and fiction stories.

Another change in the newspaper arrived in the midst of its fifth decade. News photos had replaced the old sketches in big daily newspapers some years before the 1930s, but still were rare in the weekly press. Kenneth Sidey took up photography, and began to take news pictures. Few were sent to engraving plants, and those that did ran in the Free Press a week or two late. Kenneth wasn't satisfied with that. He visited professional photoengraving plants and studied the equipment. He designed and built his own engraving plant in the basement of the Free Press. The Adair County Free Press was one of the first weekly newspapers in Iowa to have its own engraving plant, and news photos from that time on have been an important part of covering Adair County events.

Kenneth had married Alice Swanson in 1924. They had two sons, Ed and Hugh. The boys spent their boyhood in a home with a darkroom. They had the smell of developer in their blood, as well as the printer's ink acquired through summer jobs of cleaning the presses and stripping old type metal from its wooden base.

E.J. Sidey passed away on June 23, 1938. He was a community leader, and a respected journalist. He served 32 years on the Greenfield School Board, 20 of them as president, and was active in many civic organizations. Kenneth, known as K.H., took over the Adair County Free Press as publisher.

On Dec. 8, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan. The sixth decade of the Free Press became dominated by the war. Two Free Press staff members, Jack Brinton and Millard Summers, were gone to the service. The paper struggled to cover the increasing amount of news, including pictures of men leaving for service and news from the men in the service, as well as scrap drives and notices from the rationing board. There was a shortage of newsprint, which forced K.H. to limit advertising space to get vital community news into print. Alice Sidey learned to make photos in the basement darkroom. Ed and Hugh became Free Press staff members until the war called both of them into service.

After the war, the boys were reunited at Iowa State College, having both decided to pursue careers in engineering. That lasted a year, then the ink in their blood drew them to the Iowa State Daily, and the college journalism department, where they found jobs and a purpose for the rest of their lives.

Photography shaped Hugh's life the most. He co-authored a book on photojournalism with Rodney Fox, one of his professors, then became a stringer for Life, the great photo magazine, while he worked at the Omaha World-Herald as a reporter. Ed joined him there, and they roomed together as they had in college.

In 1955, decisions had to be made for the Sidey family and the Adair County Free Press. It was the seventh decade for the newspaper; K.H. Sidey had been covering the county for 35 years. He wanted to ease up, devote more time to his weekly tramps out the railroad right of way to the west and into the timber south of Lake Nodaway, the area that now bears his name. He also needed more time for his column, Notes and Notions, which often recorded these hikes and observations, which was becoming very popular and widely quoted.

The conversation went like this: "Would one of you want to take over the paper?" If not, K.H. said, he had some buyers interested.

"You're the oldest," said Hugh to Ed. "You get first choice."

"I'd like to do it," said Ed.

The wives had to be consulted, but details were quickly arranged. Ed came back to the Free Press in February 1955. Six months later, Hugh had a job with Life magazine, first in New York, then in Washington. It was here that he began his career writing about the presidency and the men who occupied the Oval Office.

In 1955, K.H. Sidey was awarded the Master Editor-Publisher citation by the Iowa Press Association, now known as the Iowa Newspaper Association.

Greenfield went through a time of expansion in the 1960s. Businesses prospered, new homes were being built. The Free Press was straining to keep up with the demand for information. The newspaper had been printed on flatbed presses since its earliest days, fed by hand one sheet at a time. Each press run took three hours, printing four pages. A Goss Comet press was acquired to speed up printing. The Goss printed from a roll of paper, eight pages at a time, at a faster speed.

Technology pushed even more changes in the '70s, the 80th birthday of the Free Press. The linotype machines, which had been used to set type so well for many years, were being replaced. Type could be set on strips of photographic paper, which were then waxed and pasted into pages. These were photographed, burned onto aluminum plates and printed on high-speed web offset presses.

The Adair County Free Press made the move to offset printing in 1975. The paper was printed on the presses of the Creston News Advertiser until the staff mastered the typesetting and page paste-up, then the negative making and plate-burning. In 1976, the Goss Community press was acquired, and the Free Press was printed back in Greenfield. An open house in October 1977 celebrated the completion of the transition. K.H. did not see these changes take place as he passed away on May 18, 1976. He had been active at the newspaper until the previous January, writing his weekly column and helping with management decisions.

Ed Sidey had been acquiring ownership since 1968, and so replaced K.H. on the masthead. Hugh Sidey had never really left the Free Press. His interest was maintained, and he helped provide funds for the new press. The last great change in the production of the Free Press was setting type by computer and laser printer, the result of Hugh's gift of the equipment in 1987.

Other members of the Sidey family active at the paper were David Sidey, Ed's son, who handled the page shooting and assisted in the press room.

The past 25 years have seen even more changes. In skimming through issues, items of interest included one of Ed's "Thoughts at Random" columns - in 1992, he reported "writing this column on a Macintosh computer, and it is no laughing matter. More than six years ago, our office was computerized, and the rest of the staff quickly became accustomed to this new method of typesetting. But not me. After an hour of instruction, I have up and returned to my faithful old Remington typewriter."

In 1993, Ed wrote of Ken moving to Greenfield, taking over some of the reporting, editing and management duties. He commented that, "we will have two fifth-generation Sideys involved with the Free Press."

In May 1994, Ken wrote his first regular column, "For What It's Worth," titled "Feeling a Little Self-Conscious." In July 1994, Ken took over duties of publisher of the Free Press, and Ed gave himself the title of publisher emeritus.

Things plugged along as normal until November 1996.

In Ken's "For What It's Worth" column, he noted that, "The Free Press is selling its press and beginning later this month will be printed at the Creston News Advertiser. The Free Press is still in business, just as it has been for 107 years." The Nov. 20, 1996, issue mentioned that readers may want to buy a few extra copies of this week's Free Press, as it could become a collectors' edition. In the column, it ended, "one thing that hasn't changed, though, is the purpose of this newspaper: to provide the county with the news and information it needs. And that won't change, no matter where or how the ink goes on the paper."

In August 1998 in "Thoughts at Random," Ed wrote that, "This is the week the Free Press lost a Sidey and got news that we are gaining one." What he meant was the his son Kenneth would begin the pursuit of an advanced degree in journalism at Iowa State University, and teaching journalism classes part-time. He would keep his hand in the Free Press as an adviser, but the day-by-day, nuts-and-bolts business of running the newspaper would be done by the staff.

The Sidey to be gained was Teddy, son of Hugh Sidey.

"Teddy has decided he would like some firsthand experience at small-town journalism," Ed wrote.

Ted joined the staff as a reporter, "meaning that he will be doing everything from stuffing newspapers to emptying wastebaskets, as well as covering news."

The first column that Ted wrote on the opinion page, he stated, as an answer to why Greenfield, he said, "As the son of a man who began his career at the Free Press, there is a certain undeniable draw to this place. Family history mingles with town history in the stacks of over a hundred years of newspapers. After five generations, the gene pool must be stained with printer's ink."

Ted was editor until late November 2000.

Hugh Sidey passed away in Paris on Nov. 22, 2005. Ed passed away on Jan. 17, 2008, leaving the business in the hands of his wife, Linda.

In April 2008, the Free Press made the big change from pages being pasted up and hand-delivered to Creston by David Sidey, to being sent electronically to Creston.

The last major change came at the end of 2010, when the staff moved the office from the building where the Free Press had been for 100 years to the current location on the square.

Current staff members are Denna Mitchell, office manager/circulation; Sandy McCurdy, assistant editor; Jennifer Eshelman, reporter; Steve Thompson, sports editor/reporter; Hesper Christensen, advertising representative; Melissa Brewer, front office; and Sarah Bingaman Schwartz, copy editor.