The Hays Free Press has been in existence since 1903, and has carried a variety of names over its more than 100-year history.
Originally founded by Thomas Fletcher Harwell in 1903, the Kyle News was a family venture. It covered events from throughout the county, but was based in north Hays County. Harwell’s son, Turner, took over the business and worked at the Kyle News until it was purchased by Bob Barton and Moe Johnson in 1954. Turner continued to help on the newspaper until his death 40 years later.
Barton and Johnson ran the Kyle News while they were both in college at Southwest Texas Teachers College. Their friends and spouses took up the call, with Wynette Barton, Bob’s spouse, then a junior in college, serving as news editor. Pete Guttery, 21, was a sophomore in college at the time and studying journalism. The business manager was 19, the sports editor 17, the printer’s devil 16 and the Linotype operator a mere 13. The average age of the staff? 19.
Johnson decided to get out of the business in a few years and pursue his career in teaching and later in school administration. He traded his share of the business for a box of cigars. Barton continued in his newspaper venture, combining it with other newspapers, changing its names through its varied history and locations.
The Hays Free Press, founded as the Kyle News, has carried the names and/or combined with other newspapers – Hays County Citizen, Austin Sun, Onion Creek Free Press, River City Sun, Hays County Free Press, The Chautauquan and more.
It would be difficult to write a history of Hays Free Press without talking more about Publisher Bob Barton.
Barton was honored by the Texas Press Association in 2000 for his 50 years in the business, starting with his days as a stringer for the American-Statesman and following through his purchase and founding of newspapers throughout his life.
When Barton finally settled back in north Hays County, he took over the newspaper again (it had changed hands while the early employees went into other business), changed the name to the Onion Creek Free Press, which covered news, sports and politics along the meandering Onion Creek, running through Buda and north in South Travis County.
The character of the newspaper has been formed by Barton – always a maverick when it came to newspapers. He advocated for some times unpopular beliefs – voting rights for minorities, desegregation of schools and more. He has been – and continues to be – outspoken on local issues, whether poring through local school budgets or asking for governmental reforms.
Because of the newspaper’s insistence on correctness, the Hays Free Press has excelled as a strong community newspaper. The office walls in both of its locations – downtown Kyle and downtown Buda – are lined with plaques awarded to it by the Texas Press Association, the National Newspaper Association, the Inland Press Association, South Texas Press Association and more.
The family is taking on a new venture, building a new office for the newspaper in downtown Kyle. Completion of the project, which includes luxury apartments on the second floor overlooking old city hall square, is expected in late 2010.
The Hays Free Press and its excellence is reflected by its staff. Many of its former employees have gone on to bigger jobs – the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek Magazine, Houston Post, USA Today, the Charlotte Observer, Reuters News Service. But when the call goes out for a “family reunion,” these employees come flooding back, renewing old friendships, again finding their common thread, a small weekly newspaper covering Hays County.
It is this sense of family and comraderie that makes the Hays Free Press what it is today.
Now the largest circulation newspaper in Hays County, beating out even the dailies covering the area, the Hays Free Press has added a monthly magazine, All Around Hays, to its repertoire, as well as a website covering everything from the Hays/Travis county line to San Marcos.
The website with its tens of thousands of readers per month has become a “go-to” for northern Hays County, The monthly All Around Hays magazine, going to more than 13,0000 homes in Buda and Kyle, focuses on young families moving into the area.
Hays County continues to grow, being one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, according to estimates by the U.S. Census.
The Hays Free Press continues to grow as well.