THROWBACK THURSDAY: The Independent’s new home prompts memories

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By James Wear

Sunday afternoon, as longtime friend David Ramirez and I were putting the finishing touches on a 20-ft. long front counter that he and others helped me build for the new downtown office of The Independent, I couldn’t help but think back to the other locations the newspaper has called home during its 32-year history.

The first office was basically the back seat of founding publisher Jim Linzy’s car, and while I can’t recall the make or model of that vehicle, I do remember Linzy drove that vehicle back and forth to Liberty Hill from his home in Austin as he set out to give Liberty Hill its own newspaper.

It was the same vehicle that I’d ride in with Jim as we followed the Panther football team to its out-of-town games, with more than once those trips taking us through Florence where we’d be sure and stop and grab a bite to eat at a little taco stand that was owned and operated by my friend David and his family.

I had joined The Independent midway through its first year, and by that time Linzy had established an arrangement with George Sybert and James Pogue to allow him to place a desk inside of their print shop on Hwy. 29. We’d type up copy on an IBM Selectric typewriter and paste it up on grid sheets and Linzy would take it over to Round Rock where the page negatives would be shot, the plates burned and placed on the web press that was located in the back room of the Round Rock Leader.

A couple of months after I started and had gone full-time, Linzy worked out an arrangement with Mike Fowler, son of the late Mel Fowler, to rent what’s commonly known as the Fowler building in downtown Liberty Hill. Linzy and his wife lived in the upstairs portion while the downstairs room served as our office, and I think I might have helped Jim build us some additional layout tables to put the paper together on. We were still setting editorial copy with the IBM Selectric, but by this time Jim managed to purchase a phototypesetter that we used for headlines and ad copy.

A few months later, Jim purchased a process camera, and I began shooting our page negatives, often late at night or early in the morning before the sun rose, as the old building behind the Fowler building where we’d established a darkroom had pinholes in the roof and the sun’s rays prevented us from doing any darkroom work in the daylight hours. It was a rather primitive setup, but did reduce our production costs dramatically, prompting the publisher at the Round Rock Leader to comment, “I don’t know anybody who’s ever produced a newspaper for less money than you guys.”

It was during this time that Jim and I spent as much time in Wanda Lane’s Liberty Hill Cafe as we did in the office, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and visiting with other folks, and hatching plans for an organization that would soon become known as the Liberty Hill Community Chamber of Commerce. Later, Jim and others would plan benefit golf tournaments that would serve as seed money for the Liberty Hill Development Foundation, an organization that later obtained the land where the Lions Foundation Park and the Liberty Hill fire station are.

After a few months in the Fowler building we moved across the street to what some refer to as the Brann building…I believe Indigo Salon is there nowadays, and while Jim and his family lived in the living quarters in the back of the building we utilized the front for the office. We took a small closet and made it into a darkroom and could now utilize the darkroom any time of day and for me, in my dual role as editor and darkroom tech, that was living in high cotton.

Diane Pogue joined the staff and I taught her a bit about the darkroom and other newspaper production skills before I left the business for a few years. It was after I left that Linzy and his family moved again, this time to a house beside what was once the First Baptist Church (now One Chapel) on Loop 332. I helped Jim build a darkroom in an outbuilding that was located on the property, but the main office was in a building located next to what was then J&R Tire and Automotive (now Happy Trails) on Hwy. 29. If I recall correctly, that was the newspaper’s home for the next several years until Linzy sold the paper to Diane and her husband, Dan.

At some point the Pogues moved the office to a red brick building, sharing the space with a local realtor and builder, that was located near the Liberty Hill Cemetery Association office at Brown Bridge Road and Hwy. 29, and that’s where it remained until Shelly Wilkison purchased the paper in 2010.

Shelly, who had been publishing an online newspaper known as Radio Free Liberty Hill, moved the newspaper to an office in the P&R Propane building where she rebuilt the struggling newspaper.

The newspaper’s new home at 921 Loop 332 downtown is what many of us remember as the old American Legion building. After the American Legion faded, Liberty Hill legend James Vaughan used the building to store much of his valuable collection of, well, you name it, James probably had it, including an old pinball machine and a record player that he’d drag out during community festivals and play music upon that would echo through the entire downtown business district.

The building, after a substantial investment by Shelly’s husband and his company Charles B. Wilkison Holdings LLC, has a new roof as well as a new front fascade. The interior has been restored with freshly painted walls and a metal ceiling, and the new front counter that, given my ties to the early days of the newspaper, I’m proud to have been asked to build.

And, in keeping with a family tradition established by my father’s uncle and continued on by my late brother, I’ll find some tiny corner on a shelf and inscribe my name and a date and perhaps a message to some future occupant of the building.

That’s the Liberty Hill way.

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