As my late-blooming interest in local history has deepened, I’ve become increasingly impressed with the value of old newspapers.

They preserve a contemporary record of people and activities in a locale, and regardless of accuracy or bias they balance our often faulty human memories. They’re also an irreplaceable resource for constructing timelines, and timing is often a key to understanding the past. This has turned me into an activist for making old newspapers available on the Web.

Reconstructing Idyllwild’s history can be especially frustrating. Nearly 150 years have passed since settlers first moved into Strawberry Valley, and for half that time there was no local paper. The bits and pieces that appeared in papers from Hemet, San Jacinto, Banning, Riverside or even Los Angeles too often supply more questions than answers.

Idyllwild’s first newspaper appeared less than a century ago. Part of Claudius Lee Emerson’s campaign to develop a summer community, his Idyllwild Breezes was published somewhat erratically from 1920 to 1929. Though primarily a publicity tool for Idyllwild Inc. enterprises, it recorded the boom years of our evolution into a settled village with detailed notes of events and people, property sales and home construction, along with obligatory puff pieces touting the mountains.

In 1923, Emerson even recruited an experienced editor in Frank Fowler, formerly of the Hemet News and San Jacinto Register. For two summers, Fowler gathered news for the paper by going door to door, taking the communal pulse and inquiring about residents’ doings and opinions.

The economic collapse after 1929 left Idyllwild without a newspaper through the Depression and war years, but the return of peacetime brought a new awakening.

During the summer of 1946, Marcia Woods introduced an eight-page mimeographed weekly called Tahquitz Talk, which she sold for a nickel a copy. It carried hand-lettered ads, social notes and gossip, but focused primarily on activities of local organizations, such as clubs and churches.

Tahquitz Talk disappeared at summer’s end, but in late October, Ernie and Betty Maxwell tentatively floated the Town Crier. Very similar in appearance, but available only by dollar-a-year subscription, the Crier took hold as a steadily growing biweekly newspaper with weekly summer editions.

By June 1947, the Maxwells raised their price to $2 and attracted competition in The San Jacinto Mountain News. For a dime (or $3/year) it delivered news of the Hill from Pine Cove to Thomas Mountain (Garner Valley). Printed with a professional look and layout, distinctly less folksy than the Town Crier, it carried the sort of news coverage and advertising we expect of a modern newspaper. Weekly publication continued through and perhaps beyond 1948, but the paper seems to have suffered recurrent editorial turnover, and any later traces have disappeared.

The Town Crier has survived periodic attempts to launch an alternative, most recently the Idyllwild View. Appearing in September 2009, it promised to be the “good news” alternative, and folded within months.

If any readers have access to copies of those old papers before 1950, I’d love to hear about it.