The News from Lone Rock: Observations and Witticisms of a Small-Town Newsman

By Freeland Dexter, Edited by Deanna R. Haney

Paperback: $18.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-769-3

272 pages, 46 b&w photos, 6x9 Foreword by Mark E. Lefebvre E-book edition available


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If Thorton Wilder depicted a real place in his sensational play Our Town, then Freeland Dexter was the newsman who covered it. At the turn of the twentieth century, the bustling railroad town of Lone Rock, Wisconsin, was home to about one thousand residents, and Freeland Dexter seemed to know the business of every single one. Dexter reported all the news from Lone Rock -- from the significant to the trivial, the tragic to the comical -- for the Weekly Home News of neighboring Spring Green from 1884 to 1912.

This collection of Dexter's most fascinating, amusing, and poignant stories and observations brings back to life the colorful characters of his time and takes readers on a journey to a world that was both simpler and changing fast. Whether he was reporting who grew the biggest watermelon, teasing the local lovebirds, or taking side on the ever-controversial question of whether the town should go dry, Dexter wrote with a distinctive wit and an obvious affection for his town and its people. Evocative of Our Town, "The News from Lone Rock" also provides an illuminating window into a time period of rapid technological progress, showing how the introduction of electrical light, telephones, and cars changed lives and connected this quaint village more and more to the world.

Freeland Dexter, 1847-1912, lived most of his life in† Lone Rock, Wisconsin. In addition to being the Lone Rock correspondent for the Spring Green Weekly Home News, Dexter worked as a farmer, beekeeper, and school teacher, played the drums in the Lone Rock Brass Band, and at various times operated a shoe store, ice cream parlor, and millinery store in town.

Deanna Haney, the great-granddaughter of Freeland Dexter, wrote two books on the family's genealogy before curating this collection. She lives in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Interview with Deanna R. Haney

Wisconsin Historical Society Press:Why did you decide to collect/research your great grandfatherís columns?

I wanted to honor my Great Grandfather in the only way I could, by reading through his writings.† My dad had this same dry wit about him, and I always wondered where it came I know!† On my first visit to the library, I found so many quaint stories, along with heartbreaking ones, that I just knew other people would love to read.

WHS Press: Why did you pursue putting them into a book?

I knew nothing at all about my Great Grandfather, except his name.† I had been researching our Haney & Dexter families for my second Genealogy book, and my sister sent me his obituary, as I couldn't find one.† Along with it she included a short story that he had written, and it was so clever that I wondered what else he might have written, as his obit said he was a correspondent for the Lone Rock news, but it didn't say what paper.† So I started to do some research, and found it was for the Weekly Home News here in Spring Green.† I went to the library to check out their microfilms, and found so many interesting items, that I knew there would probably be enough for any entire book.†

WHS Press: How did you decide which columns went into the book?

I would read through each week's columns by Freeland, and if I found something interesting, I would print off that particular page.† I made MANY copies (from over 1500 papers), and then when I got home, I would circle the interesting parts with a red pencil, type them into my computer, and continue on each day like that.† I tried to find, not only the funny items that I called 'one liners', but paragraphs that showed what was going on in the town, what was going on in the world, both unique, happy, and sad.

WHS Press: Do you have a favorite column or two that are in the book?

I have several, including one about the Spanish American War from March 10, 1898:† "We read in the daily papers the opinions of most all the noted men who have been asked their view on the war with Spain, and for some unaccountable reason, they have overlooked your correspondent. I will give my opinion anyway.†There will be war with Spain.† There will be widows and orphans by the hundreds.†There will be sunken ships.†There will be cities destroyed.†Spain will get whipped.†Cuba will be free, and the starving people will be fed. The United States will have a big war debt and Spain will be bankrupt.†If the daily papers all over the country want to copy this, we have no objections."

And on the same date, March 10, 1898:† "You have heard about the submarine boat called the Plunger that belongs to the United States; and we hear that the Spaniards also have one now.† The boats can stay under the water six hours.† Now, what is there in that to brag about?† Why, Lone Rock has a man living here who has a boat that has been under water all winter, and he doesn't brag about it either!"

A few other shorter ones include:††
From† March 16, 1899:† "A notice hanging on the wall in the post office reads: 'Found, in front of the Congregational Church, a small lady's pocket book.'† If there is a small lady who has lost her wealth, let her call at the post office."
And,†from April 21, 1904:† "Little Victor Boucher has a new baby brother that was born Saturday night.† Victor is perfectly willing to trade him off for some candy."