The History of the Shelby County Historical Society
There is an innate sense of history and legacy in every culture. A mixture of curiosity and the sense of obligation cause people to record the accomplishments of their age and those before them. So it was in Shelby County.
Before there was an organized group with the stated purpose of preserving history, individuals wrote down their family history and those whom they knew. The 1927 ‘Homecoming’ celebration held in Sidney resulted in many such articles.
The earliest recorded effort to preserve a collective history was that of the members of the Writer’s Project in Shelby County. Paul Sherman was the key participant in the Writers Project of the late 1930s. He was ably assisted by Minor Dow of Sidney as editor. This project was apparently funded by the WPA. Mr. Dow sought “Indian relics, old documents, old books, flags, maps, etc.” It is unknown what became of these early efforts.
The First Historical Society Meeting
An interesting news item hit the local papers on June 25, 1946. It announced that a new organization was being formed to “compile and preserve authentic historical material relating to Shelby County and its people.” A meeting held in the city council chambers resulted in the formation of the Shelby County Historical Society on July 24, 1946. W. R. Minton was elected the first president. Assisting him were John Whitney as vice-president, treasurer Mrs. W. H. Emmons and Mrs. Marion Russell as secretary. Other members of the first board of directors included W. R. Joslin, Jr., Rev. R. Wobus, Mrs. Maude Carey, E.J. Griffis and Mrs. Cable Wagner.
It is believed that the first members of the Society concentrated on identifying important historical landmarks. The list of summer projects for 1948 included repair of the covered bridge, marking the first home sites in Shelby County, establishment of a state park around the canal locks in Lockington and excavation of “mystery rock” in Fort Loramie. Additional local historians such as noted author Leonard Hill of Piqua, Ft. Loramie native Paul Sherman, Judge Robert Eshman and Ernest Amos joined as volunteers. John Whitney was president of the Society during this time.
Probably the first major project for the Society was the construction of a monument at the site of the county’s first resident, James Thatcher. He settled here in 1805. A ceremony dedicating the permanent marker on that location was held on September 23, 1951.
Subsequent historians owe a special debt of gratitude to another early Society volunteer, Paul Sherman. He has been recognized as “the foremost recorder of Shelby County history.” Sherman kept voluminous files documenting almost every aspect of our early history. “Sherman’s Chronology” listed every key event and date in the county from 1860 to 1936. His untimely death in 1951 at a relatively young age was a great loss to county residents.
The Society took an important part in the Sesquicentennial celebration in 1953. Society president E.J. Griffis sought public help in writing articles on virtually every aspect of county history. These invaluable articles routinely appeared in the Sidney Daily News throughout the celebration from June 7-13, 1953, and still serve as an important resource today.
A period of inactivity followed. This was to be an unfortunate trend that plagued the Society from time to time as older members retired or passed away.
A January 15, 1965, Sidney Daily News article announced the reactivation of the Shelby County Historical Society. Attorney William F. Milligan chaired the meeting. He led a committee that included Russell Bunker, Forrest Griffis, Foster Moon and Cecil Ginn. They drafted a new constitution and planned a series of activities that centered around the development of the Lockington locks area. The group also revised the Code of Regulations of the Society.
John Minton took over as president in 1966, following the early efforts of his father. Minton began a series of programs for members that included one by Coin World representative Courtney Coffing on early U.S. coins.
The group remained active throughout the 1960s. Attorney William Milligan became the president in the late 1960s.
One of the group’s major accomplishments was the reprinting of Sutton’s History of Shelby County. This important 1883 publication was indexed and reprinted by Society volunteers in 1968, and still serves a valuable research tool today.
The sesquicentennial of the founding of Shelby County was celebrated in 1969. The main event was the David Henry Day Dinner, held on December 15, 1969. The guest speaker was U.S. Senator William Saxbe. He is the great-great grandson of David Henry, an important early pioneer in this area. It was Henry who was the director of the Town of Sidney (overseeing the sale of its lots), the first auditor and a county commissioner. Descendants of many early pioneers attended the dinner.
An important early research pamphlet, ‘Wilderness to Prosperity,’ was published by the group 1970 immediately after the sesquicentennial celebration. John Minton was the editor.
Historical Society members acquired and restored the City Waterworks Building on Brooklyn Avenue as a home for the Society.
The Shelby County Historical Society entered a period of decline. The society still owned the Waterworks Building, but there were no active members.
William A. Ross, Jr
However, history in the county was alive in the heart of a key community leader. William A. Ross, Jr. developed a passion for local history and shared it with anyone who would stop to listen. He researched the history of Shelby County newspapers and countless other institutions. His work with sculptor Robert Koepknik resulted in aluminum sculptures adorning US Bank, Wilson Memorial Hospital, Ross Aluminum and other buildings. He (anonymously at the time) paid for the construction of the covered bridge in Tawawa Park. His death in 1990 was a great loss for all Shelby Countians.
1993- Reactivation For Good
Bill Ross’s son, Dr. Bill Ross III and local attorney Rich Wallace decided in January 1993 that it was time to revive the Shelby County Historical Society. Plans were made for a history program. Indiana historian Mike Klinger traveled to Sidney to speak on January 12, 1993. A large crowd responded, and plans were made to re-launch the Society.
Other history programs, such as Indians, canal history, World War II, local architecture, industry and many other topics were held throughout 1993 and the years that followed at the high School, the then empty Monumental Building, the Children’s Home and at the Amos Memorial Library and elsewhere.
The first Board of Trustees consisted of Rich Wallace as president, vice-president Linda DeVelvis, secretary-treasurer Sherrie Casad-Lodge and trustees John Minton, Bill Ross and Cassie Wilson.
The key decision made by the volunteers in 1993 was a promise to each other that this time, the Society would not go through the typical cycle of success then decline as the key members aged. The key leaders agreed that the emphasis this time would be on young people, a renewable resource. It was a strategy not followed by any other historical society at the time.
Youth Programs Begin
The September 16, 1997, issue on the Sidney Daily News announced the beginning of the Society’s “History Just For Kids” program. School Superintendant David Dolph called it a “very ambitious and exciting program,” and it was.
Society volunteers Sherrie Casad Lodge, David Lodge and Rich Wallace proposed to write eight teachers guides on local history for use by teachers in the classroom. It was the first of a kind project in Ohio. Over the next year, the authors produced guides (with local history, maps, teachers notes, handouts and related materials on the Civil War, Immigration, local industry, canal history, Sidney’s downtown, Indians, pioneer and black history.
The teacher’s guides were followed by interactive cd-rom’s on Pioneer and Civil War and what Society volunteers termed ‘museums in a suitcase.’ Suitcases were created to supplement the teachers guides on the following subjects; Pioneer, Indian, Industry, Immigration, Civil War and Downtown Sidney. These suitcases contain artifacts and reproductions that can be used by teachers to demonstrate local history in their classroom.
Teachers responded enthusiastically as did state history officials. The Society received numerous awards for the “History Just For Kids” project, including those outlined later in this history. A long-term relationship between the Society and educators was established that has existed to this day.
Volunteer Sherrie Lodge became the first newsletter editor in January 1995. It quickly became an outstanding publication, earning an award of merit from the OAHSM. The newsletter has been printed monthly since then.
Building A Team
With the public beginning to sense that the Society was here to stay, people began to donate artifacts for preservation. Volunteer Tom Homan, who got involved when the Society was reformed in 1993, headed up the collection efforts of the group. He donated hundreds of hours of time in creating and managing the Society’s collection policy and activities. Tom also shepherded the Society’s merchandising efforts. A popular plaque series, coverlets, and many other items were created and supervised by him.
Tom’s lasting legacy to date was his leadership in the acquisition of the Josephine Royan Feth collection. The family donated hundreds of important artifacts dating from the earliest beginnings of Shelby County.
The funding of the Society in the beginning was shored up by grants from the Emerson and Alcoa foundations. The Society board, still without a permanent home, decided to hire a paid part time director. Society volunteer Jim Sayre took over those duties on January 26, 1998. He became the newsletter editor in 1998, and continued in that capacity until August 1, 2005.
The Society benefited in the 1990s from an outstanding series of volunteers, representing every segment of the community. Local businessman Dan Francis, engineer Larry Roettger, high school student Wade Krempel, teacher Linda DeVelvis, farmer Eric Ditmer and others helped shape the direction of the Society.
Communication was important in the Society’s rebirth. Our first website was launched in 1996. It was primarily created by then administered by Sherrie Casad Lodge. It remains an important research tool for people across the world to this day.
In addition to an ongoing program schedule, Society volunteers decided to host an annual dinner at the GreatStone Castle to honor its Victorian past. The ‘Victorian Evening” was born in 1996. David and Sherrie Lodge portrayed Mr. W.H.C. Goode and Ida Haslup Goode, owners of the castle, welcoming guests. Over 200 people attended the fundraiser each year.
The Society developed partnership opportunities in the 1990s, working with the library, Gateway Arts Council, veterans groups, City of Sidney, the county commissioners and others. An example of such activities was the 1998 Memorial Day Civil War reenactment event on the court square. A plaque honoring those whose names were left off the original Monumental Building tablet was dedicated.
“Give Your History A Home”
It was time for the Society to find a home. The board had debated the topic for some months, evaluating the old county jail and the children’s home as potential sites. It was decided eventually that a location downtown, within walking distance for elementary and middle school students, the Society’s most important customers, was the goal. In April 1998 the society sold the Water Works building and entered into a purchase agreement to buy the William Haslup home.
A 1998 fund raising drive, chaired by Dan Francis and Rich Wallace, resulted in the purchase and renovation of 1902 William Haslup home (used for many years as a funeral home), in 1999. The theme was “Give Your History a Home.” Over 200 supporters helped the campaign sweep past the $250,000 goal, raising over $330,000 in the process. A ribbon cutting and open house were held on January 19, 2000. The Haslup home, now officially known as the Ross Historical Center, was alive and back in the history business.
Membership in the Society climbed more than 200% during the building fund drive for the Ross Historical Center. That necessitated the employment of an administrative assistant. Matilda (“Tilda”) Phlipot was hired in January 1999. This move allowed Jim Sayre to concentrate on research and writing.
That move paid off when Sayre authored his first book, “Farm Tales,” in 2000. He donated the proceeds of that book, and his subsequent work, “The Grandpa Ride,” to the Society. His efforts inspired two other authors. Rich Wallace produced “Voices From the Past” in 2001 and “Voices From the Past II” in 2003. Linda DeVelvis wrote her “Treasure Chest” series of childrens’ books beginning in 2002. All proceeds from these books were donated to society activities.
The emphasis on youth activities and the partnership with local schools did not stop with the building acquisition. The authors of the teachers’ history guides (Dave and Sherrie Lodge along with Wallace) produced a series of interactive cd roms for use in the class rooms in 2000. Teaching history had gone hi tech in Shelby County.
Tilda Phlipot’s strong ties with the school systems and her love for children took the Society’s partnering relationships with the education system to a new level beginning in December 1999. The Society offered a sneak preview of the Ross Center by participating in the Christmas Historical home tour sponsored by the Gateway Arts Council. Though renovation was not complete, aided by the Sidney City Schools and Holy Angels the house was dressed for the holiday season. The Christmas of Yesteryear became a family tradition that carries on through the present on the first Saturday of December.
A new cadre of key volunteers emerged right after the building opened. They were critical to the activities success just mentioned. Chester and Peg Morrow, Terry Lee, Rick Steenrod and Dave Ross are just a few of the important people who added their passion and energy to the Society’s activities. Karen Sayre, Bill and Doris Dilbone and many others filled key roles as well.
In 2001,The Local history award was established to honor those history volunteers who have given countless hours to their community to preserve and share Shelby County History.
Barbara Adams was given the first Local History Award on local history night during the Victorian Evening in November of 2001. Since then Betty Bevins was honored in 2002, John Minton in 2003, Peg and Chester Morrow in 2004, Jim Sayre in 2005 and in 2006 the award was given to William Ross III and David Ross.
Planning For Our Future
Attention was given to organizational issues along the way. A new Society logo was adopted in 2000. The mission of the Society was updated as part of a community-wide strategic assessment activity in 2004. Specific long-term goals and objectives were established.
In 2000, the society made one of its focuses to look for partnership opportunities to share the Shelby County’s rich history. The Society joined with the Gateway Arts Council in the spring of 2001 to present the first Spring Fling Fine Art Show and Sale. The Society continued to form partnerships in 2001 by working with Main Street Sidney the Society created Vintage Day, which was held on the third Saturday in September. Participants were given opportunities to watch demonstrations and make pioneer crafts. This event evolved into the Shelby County Applefest in 2003.
The Society planned and coordinated all the activities in Shelby County for Ohio’s Bicentennial celebration, starting in 2001 and continuing through 2003. Shelby County lead the way with being one of the first counties in the state to have their Bicentennial Bell cast during the Shelby County fair in 2002. Though we were one of the last to have our barn painted because of the leadership of the Society the State of Ohio later decided to video tape the painting of the Shelby County barn to include it in a VHS tape that documented the project and was later sold to the public. The Shelby County barn was painted on August 9-10, 2002 on the Schwer farm located at 2540 W. Mason Rd.
In mid 2002 the Ohio Humanities Council selected the Society as one of eight sites in Ohio to display the Smithsonian traveling Exhibit, “Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future.” This exhibit was hosted by the Society from September 1-28, 2003. One of the responsibilities of the community that host a Smithsonian Exhibit is to hold community activities that tie directly in to the main idea of the exhibit and so the Shelby County Applefest was born. Though the Society continues to be a major part of the Shelby County Applefest today!
Community leaders did not want to commit to host an annual Shelby County Applefest in the early planning stages, so the Society along with leaders from the Shelby County Schools and the Shelby County Soil Water Conservation office agreed that this information was to important to the youth of Shelby County to be never recreated. These groups formed a partnership, which created Pioneer Day 2004. Pioneer Day allows to students to participate in what an average day in Shelby County might have been like in the early to mid 1800’s. Since 2004 Pioneer Day has become an annual event.
With the publication of the Treasure Chest Series the Society wanted to get their children’s books into the hands of students. With the support of the Monarch Foundation the Society was able to create an after school program entitles, “Step Back in Time with Shelby County History.” The pilot event was held at Central Elementary a title I school in 2004. The program was enlarged in 2005 to offer the program to both Central and Lowell Elementary both title one schools. This event has continued to the present.
The partnership with the schools continued to grow in 2005, 2006, and 2007 by creating educational exhibits that reinforced the Social studies curriculum. In 2005, the Society hosted “200 year s of Shelby County History.” The exhibit highlighted major events in the history of Shelby County in the last 200 years. In 2006, the Society presented “Coming to America.” This exhibit allowed the visitor the chance to learn about the Immigration procedure. The Society hosted a Civil War Educational Day in April 2007. This program was to help prepare students for state testing.
As the board continued to plan for its future, the Society requested and received assessments from two outside organizations, Its facility (The Ross Historical Center) was evaluated by an Indiana architect specializing historical societies. The Society’s artifact collection and preservation process were assessed that year as well as part of a special grant.
The assessments confirmed what the board already knew: the Society was outgrowing the Ross Historical Center and its rapidly expanding collection of artifacts needed care the basement of a 1902 building could not provide. The board entered into an agreement to purchase the Couchman property to the west of its building. Plans are being developed for the use of the land.
As the history of the Society is being written in 2007, it is necessary to pause and remember the long list of awards garnered by the volunteers of the Society since its rebirth in 1993. These awards represent outstanding achievement in a number of different areas.
Given by the Ohio Association of Historical Societies & Museums
- Excellence in newsletter “Historical Highlights”
- Excellence in communications (membership brochure)
- Excellence in audio visual (“Do You Remember”- WWII documentary)
- Excellence in exhibit creation (“USO Show”)
- Excellence in public programming (“Victorian Evening”)
- Excellence in history publications (merchandising catalogue “History to Call Your Own”)
- Excellence in educational programming (“Just For Kids”)
- Excellence in educational programming (“Pioneer Day”)
-Educational Outreach Award ("Coming to America" Immigration exhibit)
-Award of Achievement ("A Minute of Shelby County History" Radio program)
-History Outreach Award (Civil War Education Day)
-History Outreach Award ("Honoring Those Who Served", Field of Flags and Traveling Vietnam Wall)
-History Outreach Award ("How 9/11 Changed Our Lives Forever" exhibit and USO show)
What is believed to be a record number of Society volunteers have won the coveted Individual Achievement Award given out annually by OAHSM.
2002 - Jim Sayre
2003 - Rich Wallace
2004 - Linda DeVelvis
2006 - Terry Lee
Given by the Buckeye Association of School Administrators
1997 - 1998
- Leadership in Education award for the youth programming series, “Its History Just For Kids.”
In 2006, the Society was honored by the Shelby County Education Services Center for its continued support of the Shelby County Schools.