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Feature Article on 19th century farming. TOPIC: AGRICULTURE
Written by Jim Sayre in September, 1999


Chickens, hogs, and cows once roamed Sidney’s streets as 19th century Sidney residents took an active role in agriculture within the city limits. Chickens, in fact, once helped bring financial ruin to one of Sidney’s leading industrialists, school furniture magnate John Loughlin, builder of Bonnyconnellan Castle.

Horses, of course, were kept in town, either in commercial livery stables or in privately owned small barns behind the houses, because they were the main driving force in front of buggies, wagons, and other conveyances.

Where we have parking meters for our cars in Sidney, our ancestors built special parking contraptions for their horses:  The iron hitching rack around the court year square is in process of construction. The posts, of which there are one hundred and forty-four, are set nine feet and four inches apart. The chain is one thousand three hundred and thirty-six feet long. The contractor, Philip Smith, is doing a highly satisfactory job. (Shelby County Democrat, July 1, 1887)

These hitching posts, it is thought, were melted down for military use during World War II. But, the Shelby County Historical Society has preserved two of them which will be on display at the William A. Ross, Jr., Historical Center in Sidney.

But, horses were not the only agricultural-type animals living full-time in Sidney. "Just about everybody had a chicken coop then," long-time Sidney resident Art Killian has reported. Killian was 4 years old when the 1913 flood drove his family up to the second floor of their South Miami Avenue home. "After the flood waters went down, we found a lot of dead chickens as well as cats and dogs caught in the fences."

Cows, even pigs, had long been a problem for the city fathers. The Sidney City Council’s deliberations in 1998 over a proposed cat ordinance only emphasize how much worse things could be. Well over 100 years ago, the council’s predecessors wrestled with similar ordinances, but of a larger dimension:

The cow ordinance published this week is unnecessarily severe.... It requires the owners of cows empounded to pay the Marshal two dollars for the release of a cow, which is double what it should be. The Marshal can well afford to take up a cow and empound her and release her to the owner for one dollar and it will be a severe penalty for the the poor owner of a cow to pay two dollars, near the price of two days work, to redeem his cow that has accidentally got away from him, and become empounded (SCD, May 6, 1881).

The need for such an ordinance was longstanding. For example, a Civil War era Sidney resident took to the front page of the Sidney Journal (Nov. 4, 1864) to plead for the return of his cow:  "STRAYED AWAY.--A red spotted Cow. We miss her very much. The poor old Cow, we would like to see her back again. Now if any of our friends have seen such a Cow, wandering where she ought not, and will leave word at the JOURNAL OFFICES, we will greatly appreciate their kindness, and will make honorable mention of the same."

Perhaps some ancestors of this stray cow mobilized the citizens of Sidney to protect the courtsquare: "In June, 1839, a few of the residents of public spirit, desiring to improve the appearance of the square, and hoping to keep the stray cattle from making a resting place of the ground, took a subscription and a contract was let at $329.25 to Samuel Mathers for fencing the same..." (SJ, July 14, 1893).

Cows were not the only, and certainly not the first, wandering offenders in downtown Sidney. An ordinance directed against hogs was enacted over Mayor Samuel Mathers’ signature in 1864:   Be it enacted by the Town Council of the Incorporated Village of Sidney that after the passage and publication of this Ordinance, it shall be unlawful for the owner or owners of any hog or hogs, of any size or description, to allow the same to run at large within the limits of said Incorporated Village.

The ordinance instructed the village "Marshall" to impound all such hogs and sell them within four days at a public auction. He could charge the owner fifty cents for each impounded animal and fifteen cents a day for taking care and feeding it (SJ, Mar. 11, 1864).

Prominent Sidney resident and businessman W.H.C. Goode, owner of Sidney’s American Steel Scraper Co. and builder of Whitby Place (now GreatStone Castle) in 1891, may have been Shelby County’s preeminent farmer, with extensive farm holdings in Shelby County, North Dakota, Texas, and Mississippi. No absentee, hands-off farm owner, Goode never rented out his land, but rather hired farmers and directed the farm work himself, according to his wife, the late Ida Haslup Goode.

Mr. Goode’s inherited love of the soil and its cultivation led him to purchase large tracts of land in various states. In 1885 he bought three sections in the Red River valley in North Dakota. Through good years and poor years ‘"Goode Farm" has always kept pace with its neighbors in sending to the markets of our Country its share of the Nation’s wheat. During all these years Mr. Goode never failed once to be present during the harvest and generally at the spring seeding. He knew and loved stock and while busy with the factory in Sidney, he carried on for a number of years six farms in Shelby County raising both grain and stock...(Ida Haslup Goode, booklet titled W.H.C. Goode, of Sidney, Ohio, n.d.).

Perhaps the county’s largest farming enterprise at one time, the Mary L. Poultry Plant, was located in Sidney, or very nearly so. Bonnyconnellan Castle owner and Sidney’s prominent school desk manufacturer, John Loughlin, built the huge chicken production complex just across the river on South Brooklyn Avenue property just north of where the Big Four Bridge would be built nearly 30 years later.

"Mary L." was touted as the "largest poultry plant in the world" when Loughlin built it near his farm residence in 1895. The residence is now the home of Eric and Gay Smith. The horse-shoe shaped chicken house had a capacity of 21,000 birds, while a separate egg house contained 3,000 Leghorn hens producing 200 dozen eggs daily. Loughlin kept 900 Plymouth Rock hens for hatching eggs, some 300 a day. He reportedly shipped 300 broilers each day (Atlas and Directory of Shelby County, Ohio, American Atlas Co., Cleveland, 1900, pp. 106-7).

Loughlin seems to have captured the idea of assembly-line production in Shelby County long before Henry Ford applied the concept to the auto industry: TO HATCH CHICKENS BY STEAM: John Loughlin will in the course of a few days begin the erection of a monster chicken raising establishment on his farm just east of this city. In the large field just north of his summer home, he has broken ground for the building, which will be of brick, two stories high and roofed with slate.

Connected with the building will be a steam plant and the chickens will be hatched in incubators, leaving the shell the chickens will drop themselves into a place called the nursery, where they remain for a day. From there they will be transferred by an elevator to the second floor where there will be thirty pens so arranged that the chicks which are hatched one day will to into one pen and those hatched the following day into the same pen, the ones hatched the previous day being moved into the next pen, and so on until the chicks have passed automatically through each of the thirty pens.

A large circular building built in the shape of a horse shoe, will connect the main building with the shipping building, in which is also located the office. This circular shaped building will be divided into sixty pens, with rooms for the chicks and so arranged that the chicks will remain in each pen but one day. It will thus be seen that the chicks are ninety days in making the circuit from the nursery, the day of hatching, to the shipping room. When the plant is in running order, it is Mr. Loughlin’s intention to hatch and ship an average of two hundred chickens each day.(SCD, Apr. 24, 1896):

Chickens were not the only product of Loughlin’s venture; Sidney also reaped considerable amounts of tourist dollars from special excursions starting from Cincinnati and Toledo just to see the plant:

Commencing next Sunday there will be excursions run from all points on the C., H. and D. Railroad to the Mary L Poultry Plant in this city. Next Sunday there will be two excursion trains on the C., H. and D., one will leave Cincinnati, at 7:15 a.m. and the other will leave Toledo at 7:10 a.m. and both will arrive here at 10:30 a.m. Returning they will leave Sidney at 6:20 p.m. These excursions will be increased until there will be eight a week, four on the C., H. and D. and four on the Big Four railroad. It is expected that a hundred and fifty thousand strangers will visit Sidney within the next four months. There is no other attraction in America equal to this poultry plant, and our citizens should feel proud of it and do everything in their power to encourage it and treat all the visitors courteously. It is modestly estimated that these excursions will leave to the citizens of Sidney at least one hundred thousand dollars (SDN, July 11, 1899).

If outsiders found Mary L. fascinating, Sidneyites were just as fascinated by the outsiders, according to the Sidney Daily News (July 16, 1899):  There was not a very large crowd on the excursion run on the C.H.&D. railroad yesterday from Toledo and Cincinnati to this city with the Mary L. poultry plant as the attraction. There was, however, quite a large crowd of Sidney people at the depot to see the excursion come in.

Crowds picked up again a couple weeks later as the Sidney Daily reported between 500 and 600 arriving on trains in one day from Cincinnati and Toledo (July 30, 1899). Loughlin catered to the tourists by developing special facilities for their comfort:

The visitors visited the poultry plant and spent a portion of the afternoon in the grove over the hill at the rear of the plant. The grove is a most beautiful place and is provided with a large number of settees, swings, and hammocks for the convenience of visitors (SDN, July 30, 1899).

The business, however, resulted in failure, noted Hitchcock’s 1913 History of Shelby County. A 1963 historical series in the Sidney Daily News reported that, "In a relatively short time the plant became a quicksand in which the entire Loughlin estate was drawn into ruin; the castle, Bonnyconnellan, located on Walnut Avenue, was mortgaged to the German-American bank and the Mary L. soon followed."

"In later years," the SDN article continued, "with slaughter houses barred from the city limits, the plant became a packing house, at which nearly 4,000 hogs and 1,200 head of cattle were slaughtered annually, and where all kinds of sausages were made and refrigerated and bacon and hams cured by the Bennett-Bulle Packing Co."

Agriculture in Sidney persisted well into the 20th century. Hogs reportedly resided within the Sidney corporation limits in 1924, according to the county auditor’s office which counted nine porkers there valued at $80 (SDN, July 10, 1924). Since then, Sidney has presented no real agricultural competition to Shelby County’s rural areas, although the county seems to be out-competing Sidney in the number of new housing starts.


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