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Feature Article on Sidney. Topic: PIONEERS
Written by Jim Sayre in March, 1997


I recently picked up a photo order at the new grocery on Michigan. Glancing quickly at the computer sales tag on the envelope, I saw this address: "Kroger #913, 2100 W. Michigan St., Sydney, OH 45365." Whoa! Sydney? With two "y’s"?

I did a double-take because not long before that I had seen Sidney spelled the same way -- Sydney -- by some old, local newspaper articles in the Amos Library’s microfilm collection. Could it be that an early 19th century newspaperman and a late 20th century grocery chain spelled better than we Sidneyites?

The October 1, 1831, issue of Shelby County’s Western Herald actually spelled Sidney our way, but our fellow town to the north took a real bath in the Herald’s spelling department: "Wapaghkonnetta." The Herald’s masthead and several legal notices in that issue testified that, unlike Wapagh, Wapak, or Wapakoneta or whatever, Sidney with an "i" was secure in its spelling, if not yet its economic future (the same edition announced a public meeting for citizens to consider extension of the Miami Canal to Sidney). But, the Herald’s spelling of Sidney was soon to change.

Herald publisher and printer Thomas Smith subsequently moved operations to St. Mary’s, but soon returned his publishing business to Sidney. "The Herald, the first paper in the county, was established in 1836, and published by Thomas Smith," according Henry Howe’s 1888 Historical Collections of Ohio, getting the date wrong but at least confirming Smith’s newspaper venture.

While Smith’s earlier Western Herald had toed the line on Sidney’s spelling, his new publication went almost 100 percent for the "double y" -- Sydney -- thus inaugurating the short-lived editorial effort to spice up the spelling of our town. Smith was "a very eccentric individual who...would go to Cincinnati on foot, a distance of 100 miles, buy paper for his office and carry it on his back to Sidney," according to Hitchcock’s History of Shelby County.

Smith’s new publishing effort in early 1834 was the Republican Herald, located "on Ohio Street, a few rods south of the Public Square, in Sydney, Ohio," which later moved to the "new building on Poplar Street, a few rods west of the Public Square." The paper’s masthead and all legal notices, including those of County Auditor William Murphey and Treasurer James Forsyth, suddenly employed a "y;" well, actually two "y’s."

Was Smith trying to redeem the spelling practices of our city fathers? After all, they may have intentionally misspelled Sidney to avoid confusion with that down under town of similar name. Both towns were looking for people, with Sidney, USA, being platted about the same time as Sydney, Australia, was experiencing a growth kick from free settlers who came to the country as the wool trade expanded. What about Sir Philip Sidney, from whom Sidney took its name? Unlike the Australian town’s father, Lord Thomas Townshend Sydney, British home secretary in the 1780’s, Sir Philip’s spelling of his name did not match that of his forebears. As late as 1910, Sidney leaders still confused the issue: "Sidney was named in honor of Sir Philip Sydney" (Sidney, and Shelby County, Ohio, Their Stirring Past, Their Splendid Prosperity and Their Bright Future, ca. 1910).

W.J. Brown & Co., purveyors of T. White’s Toothache Drops, D. Judkins’ Specific Ointment ("cures the worst Felons or Whitlows on the application of forty-eight hours"), and Vegetable Rheumatic Drops, used Smith’s newspaper to advertise Sydney as its place of business.

A June 27, 1834, notice published in the newspaper by "Many Democrats" invited the "Democratic Citizens of Shelby County, who are favorable to the present Administration and its measures" to meet at the Court House in Sydney to appoint delegates to a convention to be held in Wapaukonetta. On the other hand, a notice signed by "Many Voters" called on those "opposed to the measures of the present Administration" to meet. Both those "favorable" and those "opposed" agreed that the meeting place should be spelled Sydney.

Attorney Joseph S. Updegraff announced locating "himself in Sydney" and was later party to this 1836 notice: "The Stockholders in the Sydney Lyceum Library are requested to meet on Tuesday evening, the 1st of March, at 6 o’clock, at the office of J. S. Updegraff, Esq. in Sydney, for the election of Officers, &c." Updegraff, proving to be very active in civic affairs, later abandoned support for the "y" spelling. In 1839 editions of the Ohio Argus and Sidney Aurora newspaper, he published notices as secretary of the county Whig party, secretary of the organizing committee for the county Agricultural Society, and captain of the Sidney Guards, all using the Sidney spelling. An 1845 edition advertised Updegraff’s new Sidney Agency for Fire Insurance.

Even the military joined ranks with the "y" contingent. Adj’t Tho’s W. Ruckman published this 1834 notice in the Herald: "The Commissioned and Staff Officers of the 2d Regiment 2d Brigade and 12th Division Ohio Militia, will meet in Sydney, on Tuesday the 26th day of August next, armed and equipped as the law directs, for the purpose of two days drill muster."

Only the Postmaster, Col. James Wells, a War of 1812 veteran and presumably with the full weight of the Federal Government behind him, defied the new spelling affectation, solidly sticking with an "i" spelling in his Herald listing of undelivered mail. "The first post-office in the county was established at Hardin in 1819, Col. James Wells post-master; but was removed the next year to Sidney, where the colonel has continued since to hold the office, except during Tyler’s administration," according to Howe, writing of 1846 Sidney.

The January 3, 1835, Herald reported that: "The following act to amend the act to incorporate the town of Sydney, has passed through both branches of the General Assembly of this state, and has become a law...." And, the newspaper announced that: "The following persons were elected Officers of the corporation of the town of Sydney, on the 6th instant: Mayor, William H. Huntington, Recorder, Calvin B. Woodruff, Trustees, Samuel Mathers, John Whitmire, Abraham F. Perkins, Patrick G. Goode, and Hugh Thompson, Treasurer, William Murphey, and Town Marshal, David Hendershott" (The Republican Herald, Apr. 11, 1835).

Original, official copies of Sidney’s incorporation acts do not support the spelling of these Herald notices. In the 1835 book of Acts of a Local Nature, Passed at the First Session of the Thirty-Third General Assembly of the State of Ohio, we find this wording of the March 1, 1834, Sidney incorporation act: "That so much of the township of Clinton in the county of Shelby as is comprehended in the town plat of Sidney, be and the same is hereby created a town corporate, and shall hereafter be known and distinguished by the name of the town of Sidney." The amendment to the incorporation later that year confirms the "i" spelling. (Photocopies of original acts courtesy of Russell S. Sayre, Cincinnati.)

One now begins to suspect that the spelling was less a popular movement among Sidney officials, advertisers, attorneys, and others, and more the result of Mr. Smith’s creative editing after the copy was submitted for publication.

But, confusion often lurks in the dark corners of historical search. Confirming the Sidney spelling of the March 1, 1834, act, State Representative Jim Jordan adds: "However, in the Senate Journal from that same day, there is mention of a bill to incorporate the town of Sydney (with a "y"). We are not sure what to make of this discrepancy" (correspondence, Jordan to Richard H. Wallace, Jan. 6, 1997).

In April 1836, after 104 intermittent issues of the Herald, Smith finally suspended its publication, apparently ending the public effort to change the spelling of Sidney. Had Smith attempted to return to the very earliest spelling of Sir Philip’s surname, he might very well have faced more than Postmaster Wells’ opposition. Sidney (1554-1586) could trace his ancestry to John de Sydeneia, a Surrey yeoman in the reign of Edward I. "Of all the colorful and heroic figures produced by the Elizabethan Age, one of the most interesting was Sir Philip, critic, soldier, diplomat, and courtier," wrote biographer Roger Howell.

"The original home of the Sidneys was a farm, which still bears their name, in the parish of Alford, on the borders of Surrey and Sussex...It was called La Sydenye...dweller by the wide well-watered land," according to P.H. Reaney in The Origin of English Surnames.

Perhaps editor Smith (or was it Smyth?) had a good point. Sydney seems a reasonable compromise between Sidney and de Sydeneia or, to really exploit the "y," La Sydenye. After all, we too live "by the wide well-watered land." Just imagine...we could be cheering for the La Sydenye Yellow Jackets.

So, what about the Kroger sales slip spelling of Sydney? "Just a computer glitch at the home office," the photo department clerk said. "It should be fixed any day now." Whew! That’s a relief. Now I won’t have to get my bank checks reprinted.


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