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A View From The Attic

Week of 11 Mar 2013

Fremont County Historical Society

The Story of John Franklin Lewis

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.