When John George Nicolay was sixteen years old, a friend showed him an ad in The Pike County Free Press newspaper dated May 11, 1848. It advertised for "An intelligent boy, 14 to 17 years of age, who can read and write, to learn the Printing Business." Nicolay walked from White Hall to Pittsfield and immediately gained employment as a printer's devil. He met his future wife, Therena Bates, just hours after arriving in Pittsfield. After Zachariah Garbutt, who took him into the newspaper business, retired from the paper, Nicolay eventually became the sole proprietor of the Free Press. Nicolay would live for a period of time here in the Garbutt Home. After he moved to Springfield, it was on a return visit to Pittsfield that he wrote and article believed to be the first to suggest Abraham Lincoln for president on the Republican ticket. When Lincoln was elected sixteenth President of the United States, John Nicolay was asked to served as Lincoln's private secretary.
The Free Press Office was located on the east side of the Public Square in Pittsfield. This Pittsfield building was the first journalistic workplace for John George Nicolay, who later became secretary to the sixteenth president. In collaboration with Lincoln's other secretary, John Hay, Nicolay, wrote a famous biography of the slain president.
The building was taken down in November, 1914.
According to Dr. Wayne C. Temple, perhaps John George Nicolay's most important contribution to Lincoln's nomination for President was an editorial for The Pike County Journal newspaper, which came out on May 10, 1860 in Pittsfield. In it he outlined the difference between Henry Clay's and Lincoln's stand on slavery and other matters. This piece was intended to win support for Lincoln in southern Illinois, Missouri, and other places where this paper circulated by exchange. Actually, Nicolay had sent it in without signing his name to it. Just six days later, the Republican Nominating Convention met in Chicago (with Nicolay in attendance). Certainly some of the delegates had read Nicolay's concise editorial, and on May 18, 1860, Lincoln was nominated for President. Soon after May 18, Lincoln asked John George Nicolay to be his private secretary in Washington, D.C.