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Feature on Sidney School Furniture Co. Topic: INDUSTRY & PEOPLE
Written by Linda DeVelvis in September, 1996

THE SIDNEY SCHOOL FURNITURE COMPANY

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At the turn of the century, Sidney was able to boast of many profitable and nationally known businesses and industries. Although perhaps not as well known as the steel scraper companies, or many of the Wagner industries, one of our important businesses of this time was the Sidney School Furniture Company. For approximately 20 years, it sold school related items all over the United States.

John D. Loughlin, born in 1852, came to Sidney in 1880, and with a man named T.D.Scott, purchased two lots between Main and Ohio Avenues, (lots 289 and 290 on North Ohio Street). This was an excellent location being just north of the feeder canal that went through Sidney. They erected a main building, 165 by 60 feet, and a smaller office building which faced Ohio Street. The factory began operation in February of 1881 by manufacturing the "Fashion", the most progressive school desk of the time.

The most important feature of this desk was the "Patent T-head". This was an innovative method of joining the wood of the top, back, and seat to the cast iron legs and framed the wood and iron directly together, doing away with screws and bolts. This made a much more sturdy and durable desk. The desk was manufactured in different sizes to be used with all ages of children. An excerpt from the company’s catalog explains that the "Fashion" desk was "the latest and best". "No desk in the market is made with more care, nor of better materials than the "Fashion", and none has met with a more popular reception, or gives better satisfaction. We are now prepared to make it better than ever before, and will guarantee it to stand the test of school-room use, and to please all who can be satisfied by the best material and workmanship, and perfect mechanical construction."

Besides this student desk, the company made many other school related items. Among them were office and teacher desks, recitation benches, a variety of chairs, school bells, and slate blackboards. They also made a globe holder that boasted of having a stand that was a "recent patented invention". It was tripod in shape, made of iron, and solid in nature, not held together by screws. It is thought that most of the iron work done for the factory was from the Philip Smith, Bro. & Co., an ironworks company which was located on the east side of Main Street.

Employees of the Sidney School Furniture Company,
along with some examples of the school desks they manufactured.

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In the first few years the sales of the desks far exceeded the expectations of the owners and in 1882 they added an addition to meet the growing needs. A profit of $75,000 after only the first year in business resulted in the addition and by the late 1880's it was "now the most completely equipped school furniture factory out side of the largest cities, and is scarcely second to any in facilities and capacity in the Union..." At this time they employed about forty workers, and could produce around three hundred desks per day. Sutton, in the History of Shelby County, informs us about the factory: "Theirs is the noble task of administering to the convenience and bodily comfort of the pupil, while his mind peruses the illuminated page which lightens up the path that leads to fame."

During the most productive of the years in business, John Loughlin built the home which to this day is known in Sidney as "the castle". It was built in the mid 1880’s and is located on the top of the hill on Walnut Avenue. It is 5,118 square feet and includes a 30’ x 50’ brick carriage house. He named it Bonnyconnellan and patterned it after a castle of that name situated near the estate of a friend who lived in the vicinity of Cork, Ireland. It was this friend who suggested the name for the home and to this day it adds charm and history to our community. In 1891 the original school desk plant was destroyed by fire. However, it was immediately rebuilt of brick. In 1901 Mr. Loughlin sold the company to J.B. Tucker who later also bought Bonnyconnellan. Unfortunately, just a few years later the school furniture factory went out of business.

Loughlin then invested a large amount of money in the once famous Mary L Poultry plant, which was located in east Sidney, off Brooklyn Ave. He also built another house on Brooklyn and it is today inhabited by Eric and Gay Smith. The poultry plant was very prosperous and well known throughout the country, and was, at the time, perhaps the largest in the world. Unfortunately, this venture also ended in failure and most of the money that Loughlin had made was lost.

The Sidney Daily News tells of John Loughlin’s death in August 1909 after he left Sidney and moved to Philadelphia. He had been in ill health following two gallstone operations. John died penniless.

This building is believed to be one of the original school furniture buildings
located today at 405 North Main Avenue in Sidney, Ohio.

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There are a number of school desks around today that were built by the Sidney School Furniture factory. It is easy to determine which are the Sidney desks because the words "Fashion" and Sidney were molded into the wrought iron which comprises the leg portions of the desks. There is also a number from 1 to 6 which denotes the size of the child for which it was intended.

Possibly, one of the original school furniture buildings is still standing on Main Street. At the very least it looks much like the brick building on the back cover of the original Sidney School Furniture catalog. It is located at 405 North Main Avenue and is one of the buildings of the Sidney Manufacturing Company, owned by Jon Baker.

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Sidney School Furniture Company Catalogue

 

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