It was charming. It was folksy. It had a small-town voice with a whimsical twang. And for the first nine years, it was typed, mimeographed and all the headlines and ads were hand-drawn.
The Town Crier celebrates 70 years with its Nov. 3 edition. It was founded by Ernie Maxwell as a voice for the mountain community of Idyllwild. And from the beginning, it had a family-centric feel about it. The first edition was published on Friday, Nov. 1, 1946, born in the attic of the Maxwell’s home. There would be five more locations through the years.
Click here to view the Town Crier's first edition
Maxwell was a multi-talented man with a sense of humor and of civic purpose. Born in 1911, he earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art and philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley. After graduation, he drew cartoons for the New Yorker and Esquire magazines. Starting in 1939, he gained newspaper experience writing and cartooning for Copley News Service and the Los Angeles Times.
When he and wife Betty bought a lot in Fern Valley in 1944 and began building a house in 1945, the die was cast. A new home and a love affair with the San Jacinto Mountains led to the birth of the Town Crier. The Maxwells continued to publish and edit for 26 years, with a two-year interruption in the late 1950s.
What was it like when the Crier first came to town? The inaugural edition had this message to readers from Ernie and Betty: “The TOWN CRIER is published semi-occasionally. Editors [are] Betty and Ernie Maxwell. Our policy is flexible but alert to those ideas and projects which forward the development of this community. We feel that the Mount San Jacinto area is one of the choicest spots in Southern California. We’d like to keep it that way. Maybe we can help by putting out the TOWN CRIER for our friends and neighbors on the mountain.”
With that dedication to friends and neighbors, Ernie cartooned and covered Idyllwild as its population grew and it began to shed some of its small-town folksiness. The first edition was homespun, long on charm and definitely not written according to Associated Press style guidelines.
This advisory in the inaugural edition proffers a glimpse of some of the whimsy that would color future pages: “Reports persist that there is a native maple tree in this area. Also that bears still linger in the San Jacinto Mts. The TOWN CRIER offers a fine bag of pine cones to anyone verifying these reports. Two maple leaves or bear skins will do.”
The first edition came, just as this one does, before an election. A short note in the edition previewed Maxwell’s commitment to civic responsibility — “If you vote you have earned your right to participate — if you don’t vote, be careful how you object to the way the government operates.”
From Nov. 1, 1946, until Oct. 11, 1957, the Maxwells were Town Crier owners, publishers and editors.
From Oct. 25, 1957, to Jan. 16, 1959, Mark Clevenger and I.G. Rosen published and edited. They introduced off-set printing, printed (not hand-drawn) headlines, black and white photographs, the Vari-Typer (a word processor of the pre-digital age that formatted pages), and added “Idyllwild” to the paper’s name, rechristening it as the “Idyllwild Town Crier.”
From Jan. 23, 1959, until Jan. 28, 1972, the Maxwells returned as publisher/editors and resumed hand-drawn headlines, preserving some of the original look and folksiness of the paper’s first years.
On Feb. 4, 1972, new owners Luther and Marilyn Weare published their first edition and continued until May 11, 1978. Ernie Maxwell remained as a consultant.
From May 18, 1978, until May 4, 1989, L.B. and Dorothy Hunsaker served as publishers/editors.
In May 1989, in a shift from individual and on-Hill ownership, the Chronicle Publishing Company, based in San Francisco, bought the paper. Carole Brennan served as editor/publisher from May 11, 1989, until April 30, 1992. Even though from Boston and a more corporate newspaper background, Brennan quickly adapted to small-town Idyllwild and a management style necessary to accommodate a large staff, most of whom were women with children.
“In order to keep these great women working, I had to accommodate families,” she remembered. “At one point, I had a crib in my office for an infant that belonged to one of my staff. We converted our break room to a play room for the many young children of staff.”
Brennan recounted an impromptu visit by Chronicle scion Peter Thieriot. “He was shocked by the playroom and said Chronicle HR would object. But by the end of the day, he understood what we needed to do and said to me, ‘This will just be our little secret.’”
Ingrid Wolfe, who was assistant editor under Carole Brennan, remembers the largely female staff in the early 1990s. “We were like a family of sisters left holding the bag and making dinner together,” said Wolfe. “We had to learn how to get along in order to get the work done. Carole was the driving force to make it into a real newspaper. She wanted it to be news that mattered. It was exhausting but it was one of the best times in my life.”
Brennan was succeeded by Gary Hutner from May 7, 1992, until June 30, 1994.
In July of 1994, in an even bigger geographical shift, Tindle Newspapers, based in Farnham, England, acquired the Crier, commencing nearly 30 years of “across-the-pond” ownership. The Crier was the sole Yankee publication in Tindle’s stable of over 220 U.K. newspapers. Gary Hutner continued as editor/publisher from July 7, 1994 until Aug. 29, 1996.
Becky Clark took over as editor/publisher on Sept. 5, 1996, having been selected as the only local in a wide applicant pool from as far away as Memphis, Tenn., and Honolulu, Hawaii. Clark introduced full color in May 2002. She continued until Nov. 12, 2009.
Clark’s association with the paper predates her time as editor and publisher. She started in 1984 as a night typesetter under the Hunsakers. In 1989, she became front-desk manager. When the Chronicle bought the paper, Clark became production manager. In another example of the family nature of the paper, while Clark was production manager, the truck that was delivering the Idyllwild Guide broke down and all staff had to go down the Hill in their cars to pick up the guides. Clark was left with her 5-year-old son Zac and 7-year-old daughter Halie to field calls and front-office callers while Becky worked on the edition.
And, as mentioned, in 1996, under Tindle Newspapers, Clark became editor/publisher.
Grace Reed succeeded Clark as editor/publisher from Nov. 19, 2009, until June 27, 2013.
In a return to local ownership, Becky and Jack Clark purchased the paper from Tindle in June 2013, ending 24 years of off-Hill control, and incorporated as Idyllwild House Publishing Company Ltd. Becky served as editor and publisher from July 4, 2013, until Jan. 8, 2015, and continues in those capacities with husband Jack joining as co-publisher in January 2015.
“We bought the paper to save it,” Becky said. “We could not imagine Idyllwild without the Town Crier.” Halie, who was answering phones at age 7, is now operations manager, again demonstrating the ongoing thread of family that has infused the paper’s growth. Becky’s grandkids, Halie and Zac’s kids, come to the paper on a daily basis. It’s ink in the blood.
Ernie, who continued to come into the paper for years after he no longer owned it, would recognize and be proud of that family thread.