Written by Sandra Folkes Bengtson of Sidney
Research by Bob Jenkins, formally of Sidney.
Many years ago a citizen of Sidney provided much of
the information that we know today about our past.
This man was a photographer and took pictures of various
street scenes, events in the town, our courthouse,
schools and churches. Many of the pictures he took
were sold as souvenir postcards which have been passed
down through the generations. Because of him we know
what our town looked like more than 100 years ago.
The man behind the camera was John Franklin Lewis
and we give him the credit for preserving much of
our history with his many pictures of our past.
John Franklin (J.F.) Lewis was born
1858 in Darlington, Wisconsin. He was orphaned and
"farmed out" as a small boy. Because of
this he did not have the advantage of a formal education,
but educated himself by borrowing books from friends
and neighbors. He even taught country school for a
time before he took up his work of news reporting
and photography. As a young man he eventually emigrated
to Iowa opening a photography shop in Riverton in
1889. After that shop burned, he relocated to Sidney
in approximately 1904, opening a studio there. Also
while in Sidney he served as the editor of the Fremont
County Herald writing feature articles which he frequently
illustrated with his own pictures.
He moved to Ekalaka, Montana, in May
1917 where his brother, Jay, lived. During World War
I he photographed the majority of Carter County residents
who entered the service of their country. In May 1919
he began serving as Associate Editor of The Ekalaka
Eagle and remained in this position until his death.
During his career he wrote articles
in leading magazines. He photographed William J. Bryan,
who was his idol, also President William Taft, President
Woodrow Wilson, Chief Justice Charles E. Hughes and
many other figures whom he interviewed personally.
Lewis never married and was described
as a man who did not worry about life's problems and
cared nothing for material things of the world.
John Franklin Lewis died May 20, 1933
and was buried in the I.O.O.F. Cemetery in Ekalaka,
Montana. A number "30" is inscribed on the
bottom of his tombstone which is the old telegrapher's
symbol for "End of Message."
One of J. F. Lewis' early photos of Sidney, Iowa's
main street. Circa 1910. is available in the Fremont
County Historical Society's collection.