Page 20 - Discover Magazine 2019
P. 20

Discover Shelby County Ohio
Early school in Anna that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1937.
Most of them barely eked out a living, and then only after performing day after day of back breaking labor clearing the fields of the massive trees and stumps. Roads were virtually non-existent. The only trails were those used by the Indians who traveled mainly between the Johnston Indian Agency outside of present day Piqua, the Loramie Trading Post in what is now Ft. Loramie and the French and Indian trading posts in the Detroit area.
Few visionaries in the first two decades of the 19th century realized transportation would be the key to developing the frontier. One of them was Dr. William Fielding. He was only 28 when he moved to Sidney in 1824. This area did not have much to attract him- but he was apparently determined to change that fact.
News the Ohio General Assembly planned to have
a canal constructed from Cincinnati on the Ohio River northward toward Dayton and perhaps on up to Toledo caught his attention. Dr. Fielding realized the canal would open up Shelby County to development as nothing else could.
He immediately saw Sidney was not on the proposed canal route. He gathered county residents to advocate the case for construction of a feeder canal from the Village
of Lockington east along the Great Miami River through Sidney to Port Jefferson. He wrote a “Manifesto” setting forth the case and sent it to Columbus for review by members of the General Assembly. Dr. Fielding faced many obstacles, but in the end his plan was approved and funded.
The completion of the canal and feeder section from Lockington through Sidney to Port Jefferson in 1840 brought immediate growth to this area. The prices county farmers received for their products doubled as they could be relatively quickly shipped to Cincinnati. The cost of finished goods needed by residents was cut in half because of lower shipping costs.
The breakthrough was not so much Sidney’s location on the feeder canal, as it was the visionary leadership Dr. Fielding which made the difference. He had a fierce desire not just to see our county succeed but to have it be the best it could be.
As quickly as the canal arrived, local leaders noticed the next wave of transportation innovations was right around the corner. It was the railroad. Through the leadership of local attorney Hugh Thompson and others, efforts were made to entice an east-west railroad (the Bellefontaine & Indiana) and a north-south line (the Dayton & Michigan) to build their line tracks through Sidney. Thompson convinced county land owners to transfer land in exchange for railroad stock. Sidney was a railroad center by 1856.
The effect on Shelby County was almost immediate. Entrepreneurs noticed this little transportation hub known as Sidney and moved here to establish their business. The R. Given & Son Tannery, the Philip Smith Foundry and the Sidney School Desk Factory were among the first. These and other Shelby County businesses were shipping goods to destinations as distant as Siberia by the 1870s.
This visionary local leadership was not limited to commercial development. As the Civil War drew to a
close, Shelby County was mourning the loss of 320 men. Neighboring Champaign County had twice as many deaths. Their veterans proceeded to erect a marble shaft in the center of Urbana to honor the war dead. Our community leaders had a different idea. They vowed to build a government center, performing arts hall and memorial for the fallen troops. The county’s Monumental Building was the first of its kind in Ohio. Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, Mansfield, Hamilton and several other larger cities copied the idea.
These and other early leaders were setting a standard which has stood the test of time. What was good enough for other communities would not be acceptable for us.
Long before our current Chamber of Commerce was formed, a group known as the Commerce Club developed an innovative and aggressive approach to commercial development in the county. The leaders offered free land and other incentives such as tax rebates to lure businesses here. The Bimmel Buggy Company from St. Marys and the Buckeye Churn Company from Delphos made the move. Another key acquisition was when the Underwood Whip Company relocated here from Worcester, Massachusetts. It was the nation’s second largest manufacturer of buggy whips at the time.
More than a century ago, Shelby County was creating twice the number of jobs its residents could fill. That fact has not changed. Copeland Corporation and a host of other businesses came here in part because of our reputation as a “can do” community. Local business leaders established their own start-ups. Such companies as the Monarch Machine Tool Company and the Wagner Manufacturing were among the home-grown businesses which were among the best of their industry in America.
Innovative local leadership made all the difference, just

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