by Ivan Foley
It’s a milestone worth mentioning.
With this issue, The Landmark begins its 150th year of uninterrupted publication.
Volume 150, Issue 1 of The Landmark is rolling off the press today, May 14, 2014.
The Landmark has never missed a week in hitting the streets of Platte County since its inception in the closing days of the Civil War in 1865. Older than the Kansas City Star, The Landmark is one of the oldest newspapers in the state and one of the oldest continuously published newspapers west of the Mississippi.
THE EARLY YEARS
The first Landmark was published at Weston on Sept. 28, 1865 with the motto “Remove Not the Ancient Landmarks.”
For a historical point of reference, President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865. Five months later, The Landmark began publication.
The Landmark’s beginning required the efforts of men who were unafraid. Harry Howard was publisher and C.L. Wheeler was editor when The Landmark began in 1865. Not much is known about Howard or Wheeler, but a 1965 issue of The Landmark mentions that 100 years later “an old type case in The Landmark office still bears Howard’s name.”
In its early days, The Landmark espoused the cause of the Confederacy and promoted the cause of the Democrat party.
After nearly six years of publishing in Weston, on June 6, 1871 The Landmark moved to Platte City, where it has since been published.
The Reveille, another Weston paper, was consolidated with The Landmark, with Maj. Thomas W. Park and James L. McCluer as editors. Park was the father of Guy B. Park, who served as governor of Missouri from 1933-1937.
Upon moving to Platte City, The Landmark was located in the Fleshman House at the foot of Main Street on the north side of the street. One interesting story that has been handed down is that when the equipment was being moved to Platte City, the Kansas Redlegs--guerrilla fighters who often clashed with pro-slavery groups from Missouri-- intercepted and dumped The Landmark presses into the river.
In January of 1873, The Landmark was moved from the Fleshman house into the Wells and Woodson building in Platte City, on the lot where Wells Bank now stands.
In 1866, the subscription price of The Landmark was $2 per year. Today’s price is $24 per year.
In March of 1878, Thomas W. Park was the sole editor. The next year he sold it to W.C. Julian, foreman, but Park still controlled. In June of 1879, The Landmark was sold by the sheriff, under a chattel mortgage with power of sale on one undivided half interest. Norton B. Anderson purchased it for $450. Park again became the sole editor.
In October of 1879 an Episcopalian minister by the name of Rev. T.R. Valliant became the business manager and later the proprietor and editor. Historical accounts describe Valliant as “a true friend of the South and an ardent Democrat. He was a good writer of sketches, proficient in rhetoric, but deficient in logic.”
In 1881, The Landmark and the Advocate, another Democratic newspaper in Platte City, consolidated and kept the name The Landmark. Park retired in 1882 after 15 years as editor, and at about this time The Landmark moved into the upstairs of a brick building on the site where the Central Platte Fire Department is now located at Second and Main.
After the consolidation, The Landmark began to assume considerable state prominence. The Landmark, it was reported, “became an admirable county newspaper” under Valliant’s management. It was full of local news, correspondence, literature and poetry.
Contributors of poetry included noted local historian W.M. Paxton.
In 1888 Valliant, determined to devote his life fully to the ministry, sold The Landmark to John B. Mundy, who operated the business for two years, then sold it to W.T. Jenkins in 1890.
After a fire at its location, The Landmark moved into a building especially built and designed for the newspaper by Gus Smith on Third Street in 1890.
Following is an excerpt from a story written by Landmark publisher Jenkins in the Jan. 2, 1891 issue of The Landmark, describing his experience in moving the office.
“Friday, Saturday and Monday we have been moving into our new office. This was about as heavy work as any in which we ever engaged. There is nothing light about a printing office, except maybe the editor, and an occasional Alexander who steps in with a lot of valuable advice, telling how a paper should be conducted. The type is lead and the imposing stones upon which the forms are made ready for press weigh 500 pounds.
“The engine, presses, paper cutter, etc., are of course made of iron, intended to be held in position by their own weight. We took advantage of the snow, however, and used a sled and with the energetic office force and an able squad commanded by Eph Saunders, we are safely ensconced in our new quarters. We have, by far, the best country printing office in this part of the state.
“Since 1890, when we assumed charge of the paper, we have been surprised at our phenomenal success, the number of our subscribers has greatly increased, the business of the office has nearly tripled.”
Jenkins went on to write about his goals for The Landmark.
“It has three aims, first--money for the editor; secondly--advocating Democratic principle; thirdly--advancing the material interest of Platte County.”
INTO ITS CURRENT LOCATION IN 1899
Around 1898, the newspaper press was wearing out and Jenkins was forced to purchase a new one. Smith, the landlord, and Jenkins disagreed over the installation of the new press and engine, with Smith believing it would destroy his building. An increase in the rent was demanded, so The Landmark moved in March of 1899 into the building on Platte City's Main Street where it still resides today--252 Main Street.
The current Landmark building was constructed in 1869 by a doctor as a drugstore and post office. In later years, a grocery store and hardware store were located here.
Soon after The Landmark moved in, the Odd Fellows Lodge added a second story to the building. An Odd Fellows Lodge sign remained attached to the second story of the building, though it had been painted over, until 2008 when the brick exterior was restored. That sign now resides in storage inside The Landmark office.
In the March 10, 1899 issue of The Landmark, Jenkins wrote:
“This week The Landmark has changed its home. We have moved from the house on Third Street to our new and commodious quarters on Main Street. For some time past we have felt that our rapidly increasing business would demand larger and better quarters and this week things have so shaped themselves that we determined to make the change. This was a necessity as we were sorely cramped for room and our handsome new press required more space.
“We have just placed in our new home a Babcock cylinder press, probably the best country press made, capable of running 2,000 newspapers per hour. Our Webber gasoline engine will furnish the power to run this press and our handsome new job presses and we can safely say that we now have a plant that would be a credit to any country town.”
Incidentally, the Babcock press that was installed in 1899 was used to print copies of The Landmark each week until November of 1979 when the paper finally switched from letterpress printing to offset style.
The large hand-fed 1899 Babcock press, in fact, still sits in a rear corner of The Landmark office today.
Jenkins, who is described in some historical accounts as “a good editor and very aggressive in civic and political affairs,” died in 1916. Max Jones, who was the shop foreman, then managed The Landmark for the estate, with Judge J.L. Carmack, administrator.
THE MAX AND LUCY JONES ERA
On Jan. 1, 1918, Max Jones purchased The Landmark and became the editor and publisher. He had begun serving an apprenticeship in printing in The Landmark office in 1892 at the age of 16. His first job was working on the Platte County Fair catalogs.
In January of 1919, The Landmark broke out a new masthead (front page heading containing the name of the newspaper). It laid aside the German text letters that had been used since the beginning of the newspaper and substituted plain block lettering.
The reasoning the newspaper used in explaining its action is that so much animosity of Germany and anything connected with Germany developed during World War I that the editor decided to do away with the German text type.
Until 1923, all the type had been set by hand in The Landmark office. That year, a Linotype machine was purchased. A representative from Mergenthaler Linotype Company installed the new typesetting machine and stayed several days to instruct the staff as much as possible in the operation of what the newspaper described as “a wonderful piece of machinery. The Linotype allows the operator to set in the same length of time more type than can ordinarily be produced by five or six men working by hand, and the composition is incomparably better.”
In February of 1933, Mary Hymer was employed as the Linotype operator. It's a job she performed for many years on a Linotype machine installed just inside the large double windows in the front portion of The Landmark office. People walking along Main would often stop to watch Miss Hymer pound out the news one keystroke at a time.
That Linotype, sitting idle since 1979, can still be found in that location in the front of The Landmark office.
Roland Giffee, printer, had begun working at The Landmark in 1929 as a regular employee on an after-school and Saturday basis and became a full time employee when he finished school in 1932. Giffee resigned in 1942 for service with the U.S. Navy. When he returned to Platte City in December of 1945, he became a licensed embalmer and worked full time for Rollins and Mitchell Funeral Home while still working on press days at The Landmark.
In 1953 he again became full time at The Landmark. In addition to his work at The Landmark, later in life Giffee served as county coroner and county collector.
After the death of Max Jones in April 1956, his widow, Lucile L. Jones, became the editor and publisher. Giffee served as the business manager and Mary Hymer continued as Linotype operator.
Under Mrs. Jones, The Landmark focused primarily on coverage of lighter news items. Church news, news of organizations and club activities, wedding announcements and items of “who visited whom” filled the front page and all parts of the newspaper.
In those days The Landmark was most often a four-page issue on the former “blanket-sheet” sized web. Mrs. Jones enjoyed the societal aspect of the newspaper business and was very active as a member of the Missouri Press Association and Northwest Missouri Press Association. She later penned a column entitled ‘Lines from Lucy,’ which featured recipes and tidbits of other light news and observations.
JONES SELLS LANDMARK TO DWAYNE FOLEY
In 1979, Lucile Jones, looking to retire, sold the newspaper to Dwayne Foley of Wathena, Ks.
Foley had become friends with The Landmark and Mrs. Jones through her calls for help in running The Landmark’s press on occasions when Landmark pressman Roland Giffee had taken ill or traveled to visit his daughter at Christmas time.
Foley was already publisher of two weekly newspapers and also owned and operated a central printing plant. A printer since his teen years, Foley had purchased his first newspaper in 1959, added a second in 1970, then purchased The Landmark in late 1979.
Though that was an era when weekly publishers had to be machinists first and writers second, Foley had earned a reputation for not pulling any punches when feeling compelled to unload in his editorials. A Kansas City Star article in the late 1960’s described Foley, an Army veteran, as “a militant newspaper editor.”
The sale of The Landmark was announced in the Oct. 26, 1979 issue of The Landmark. It included the explanation that not only was The Landmark being sold, but the method of printing would be changing as well.
“New equipment is being installed at The Landmark office and will permit The Landmark to be printed by offset, a relatively new printing process,” a front page announcement read.
“This issue of The Landmark, Vol. 115, No. 18, will soon become a collector’s item because of the change in the printing process next week. This is the last newspaper in the State of Missouri using the old “blanket sheet” size of newsprint and this is the last issue for The Landmark to be printed on this size sheet of paper.
“This is the last issue to be printed on the flatbed Babcock printing press in The Landmark office that beats a loud rhythmic clang! clang! every Wednesday and Thursday as Roland Giffee hand feeds the big sheets of newsprint into its giant claws.
“Soon the aroma of hot lead and metal will evaporate from The Landmark office for after this issue the Linotype will be turned off and will be used only when that kind of type is necessary for commercial printing--the type will be set on a new Compugraphic typesetting machine that is supposed to do all kinds of tricks for the printing business.
“Yes, The Landmark is going to have a new look as the result of the modern printing process that will be used after this issue. We will be able to produce a better newspaper to serve the readers and advertisers to a greater advantage,” read the front page of The Landmark that late October day in 1979.
An open house was held at The Landmark office on Friday, Nov. 2, 1979 to introduce Dwayne Foley as the new owner/editor and also to recognize Giffee for his nearly 50 years of service to The Landmark.
The Nov. 9, 1979 issue featured some pictures from the open house, with Platte City Mayor Truman Glenn shown cutting a ribbon, which was actually a blanket sized copy of The Landmark connected to the newer smaller size. The “ribbon” was being held by Mrs. Jones and Dwayne Foley.
Some of the local dignitaries pictured as being on hand for the open house included local banker Wells Hull, Missouri Supreme Court Judge Andrew (Jack) Higgins, Farley banker Wallace Farley, Judge Lee Hull, and local pastor Rev. Kyle Hern. Mrs. LaVerne Taulbee was shown handling registration and Dorothy Clifton was pictured serving punch to Mrs. Ray Ferrel.
In May of 1980, Dwayne Foley hired veteran newsman Clay McGinnis to serve as editor of The Landmark, telling McGinnis in his first telephone interview for the job that if McGinnis accepted the position “The Landmark will be your baby.”
McGinnis had worked as an editor at several papers in the Kansas City metropolitan area, including the Independence Examiner, Lee’s Summit Examiner, and Blue Springs Examiner, and Lee’s Summit Journal.
In July of 1980, less than nine months after buying The Landmark, Dwayne Foley died of a heart attack at age 50. His widow, Ethel Mae Foley, who had been a stay-at-home mother of seven children, assumed the title of publisher.
THE LATER YEARS
Ivan Foley, the youngest son of Dwayne and Ethel Mae Foley, began working at The Landmark in May of 1982 at the age of 19 after a year at Missouri Western State College. Ivan Foley had grown up working in the family newspaper and printing business.
At The Landmark, Foley began by covering local government meetings, school news, and wrote a weekly sports-based column while helping McGinnis manage the office.
For the next decade, Clay McGinnis, left-leaning politically, and Ivan Foley, right-leaning politically, worked together as The Landmark’s two-person news team.
In August of 1993, McGinnis, 63, died following open heart surgery. Foley assumed the role of editor after McGinnis’ death.
Foley began his Between the Lines column on page 2 in 1993, initially penning it only as an occasional feature. A Between the Lines column has appeared in every issue of The Landmark since 1999.
The Compugraphic typesetting equipment was phased out when The Landmark made its first purchase of desktop computers in 1993.
In the late 1990’s, The Landmark’s readership and reputation grew through more aggressive coverage of breaking news stories and a watchdog approach to local government issues. Editorials became unafraid and didn’t shy from stepping on toes when needed. The use of occasional touches of humor on its opinion pages slowly became commonplace.
Technological advances continued to arrive in the newspaper industry, and The Landmark launched its web site at plattecountylandmark.com in 2001. The web site now attracts more than 156,000 page views per month.
In 2002, Ethel Mae Foley sold The Landmark operation and The Landmark building to Ivan and Linda Foley.
Cindy Rinehart of northern Platte County, who had begun working at The Landmark in 1992 as a typesetter and later took on a variety of tasks, was named office manager in 2002 and continues in that role today.
In 2004, The Landmark expanded its coverage area to go countywide. Instead of focusing just on Platte City and areas north, The Landmark extended its presence and coverage into the Barry Road, Parkville, and Riverside areas of Platte County, which resulted in increased awareness, readership, and advertisers.
Around 2004, The Landmark began entering the annual Missouri Press Association Better Newspaper contest and has since become an annual winner in the competition, capturing many awards in the categories of general excellence, news stories, best editorial pages and photography.
Bill Hankins of northern Platte County, a contributor to The Landmark since 1999 with photo features, has been inducted into the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame. He has successfully published two books featuring his work that originally appeared in issues of The Landmark.
In 2008, renovation of the exterior of The Landmark building was performed. Paint that had for many years covered the century-old brick was removed by power washing with chemical agents. Tuckpointing and waterproofing work was performed. Four specially-crafted arch-shaped windows were installed on the second story brick front.
The improvements to The Landmark building earned Ivan and Linda Foley the first-ever William M. Paxton Preservation Award from the City of Platte City, presented in March of 2009, for “preserving Main Street’s architectural heritage and the community’s character.”
In June 2009, The Landmark became the first Northland newspaper to begin a 24/7 interactive news and commentary feed on Twitter at Twitter.com/ivanfoley. The activity there ranges from breaking hard news, to offering opinions, to lighthearted fun.
Foley was named in the Top Five of Kansas City’s Most Powerful Newsies of 2012 by Tony’s Kansas City (tonyskansascity.com).
The Landmark’s news staff includes senior reporter Valerie Verkamp along with Stephanie Eaton and Alan McArthur. Matthew Silber is editorial cartoonist, and has published a book that is an illustrated history of Platte County featuring his illustrations that first appeared in The Landmark.
Editorial page columnists each week include Chris Kamler, James Thomas, Brian Kubicki, and Hearne Christopher, formerly of the Kansas City Star. Greg Hall, another former Kansas City Star columnist, began contributing to The Landmark in 1999 and remains contributor of a five-day-a week popular sports media sound bite column posted on The Landmark’s website at plattecountylandmark.com.
The Landmark’s sports photographer is Doug Baldwin. Other contributors include Ron Rugen, investigator; Mylissa Russell, photographer; and Jesus Lopez-Gomez and Randy Foley, who assist with mailing and distribution each week.
CELEBRATING THE 150TH YEAR
Some special activities throughout the next 12 months will help The Landmark ring in its 150th year of continuous publication.
Readers are encouraged to submit their own memories of Platte County. These 500-word (or less) submissions can be on any topic related to Platte County--tell us stories from your family’s history anytime over the past 150 years. Share family stories about the wars, the Depression, farming in the early years, experiences in one-room schools, or any memories about The Landmark. It’s a chance for readers to share specific memories on any topic important to them.
Each writer whose memories are chosen for publication during The Landmark’s 150th year will receive a commemorative Landmark coffee mug. The coffee mugs are emblazoned with photos of The Landmark building and some of our old-time newspaper equipment.
Email your memories of anything connected to life in Platte County to firstname.lastname@example.org or drop them by The Landmark office at 252 Main Street in downtown Platte City. Make the subject line of your email “Landmark Memories.”
Call at 816-858-0363 if you have questions.
In October, The Landmark will team up with Scott Campbell Law Office for an open-to-the-public celebration in downtown Platte City. Set for the late afternoon/early evening of Friday, Oct. 3, the event will include a street dance with live music from Outlaw Jim and the Whiskey Benders. Food and beverages will be available.
That evening, The Landmark office will be open for tours, giving the public a chance to view much of the old-time printing equipment on display.
Another special project is being planned for next year at this time when The Landmark will be reaching the end of its 150th year. Stay tuned for details.
For more history and photos.