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Feature on Charles Starrett. Topic: PEOPLE & PIONEER
Written by Barbara Adams & Jim Sayre in January, 1998

SIDNEY'S FOUNDER MAKES LAND DONATION

Sidney is named for the 16th century English poet-patriot, Sir Philip Sidney. But, a myth persists that our city was named for its founder in 1820, Charles Starrett, whose middle name is often rumored to be Sidney. It is no myth, though, that his role in establishing Sidney made him very wealthy. Basis for the middle name rumor are published works, some in the 1920’s, calling him Charles Sidney Starrett.

A special Sidney Daily News edition in August 1927, while affirming Sir Philip’s role, muddied the waters by noting that..."It was in honor of Sir Philip that his namesake, Charles Sidney Starrett, donor of the town plat, affixed his name." In fact, "Charles Sidney Starrett Donor of the Town Plot" was part of the article’s headline. An accompanying photograph of the old Starrett home, which stood at the former Erb lumberyard site on South Walnut near Starrett’s Run, carried this caption: "...the home of Charles Sidney Starrett..."

A recent article, again agreeing to the Sir Philip connection, nonetheless left open the door of confusion with this: "Charles Sidney Starrett, who blew the winds of life into our town’s humble beginning..." (Shelby County Historical Society newsletter insert, July 1997).

What started the Sidney name myth may have been this passage in Memoirs of the Miami Valley published 100 years after Sidney was founded: "It was in Sir Philip’s honor that his namesake Charles Sidney Starrett, donor the of town plat, affixed the name of Sidney thereto" (Robt. O. Law Co., 1919).

starrettfarm.gif (18295 bytes)

This is a map of Starrett’s farm. The gray is the farm boundary on the west, while the red is the 70 acre donation which made up area of what is now known as Sidney, Ohio.

 

Local genealogists can find no name record other than simply "Charles Starrett," although the known facts of Charles Starrett’s life are meager. In fact, executors of the will of Mr. Starrett’s father wrote him off as a beneficiary, noting that he probably died in Kentucky. No, he died In Ohio and was buried in Sidney...at least twice.

First laid to rest in the old Presbyterian Cemetery, his body was removed when the high school, now Bridgeview, was built in 1912, according to the late Shelby County historian Paul Sherman. But was Starrett first buried in the old Starrett cemetery, now the triangular Schultz’ Battery Memorial park at the divergence of South Main and South Ohio streets? This is the claim of a Starrett researcher of the same name but different branch of the family, Bill Starrett of Indianapolis and formerly of Sidney. But, for sure, Charles Starrett now lies beneath a Graceland Cemetery memorial of dimensions befitting a town’s father.

Local historians believe that a sharp investor like Starrett would have specified his name in the Sidney land agreement if indeed his middle name had been Sidney and had he wanted the town named for him. In short, he covered all the angles. But, there is no such clause.

Starrett’s land was chosen for Sidney in 1819 after a short trial seat of justice at Hardin, mainly because the Great Miami River site was more centrally located in the county. And, Mr. Starrett was ready to deal. He offered his land for the town, but he made sure that the county seat would permanently remain there and he wanted half the proceeds from the sale of lots. Agreement came quickly and 113 lots were laid out in the original plat.

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This is a map of the downtown portion of Charles Starrett’s donation. It is the original town plot.
[Note: Lots #105-113 are not shown on this drawing]

The official document of the land deal read, in part... "I, the undersigned subscriber....do make a donation to the Commissioners of Shelby County of seventy acres of land...to fix said seat (of justice) in said fraction...provided that I do receive one-half of the proceeds of the sales of the lots..." And, it was signed "Charles Sterrett," with a slight variation in spelling, but no middle name.

A resident of Virginia, Starrett in 1809 had applied for the purchase of 508 acres of Miami County land, later a part of Shelby County. The transaction was completed in 1812 with a government land patent made out to "Charles Sterrett," no middle name nor initial. He likely paid the going rate for that time and location of $1.25 per acre, totaling $87.50 for the 70 acres "donated" for the town of Sidney.

Some donation! The early Shelby County land speculator reportedly realized more than $3,000 from the sale of the Sidney lots, thereby netting him about $2,900, or nearly 3,000 percent, on the deal. At today’s Shelby County land prices, this one transaction would have netted Starrett in excess of $3 million and, of course, there were no capital gains taxes back then to diminish the earnings.

Certainly a sharp real estate dealer but also public spirited, Starrett stipulated that one acre be set aside for a public square, two half acres for two different denominations of religious societies, one acre for each of two different denominations for cemeteries, and one acre for schools. He also conceded all springs within the property for the use of the town and "the privilege of conveyance to the town" (Sutton’s History of Shelby County). He initialed this clause with a simple "C.S.," not "C.S.S."

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Mr. Starrett's tombstone can be found near a large tree in Section 1 of Graceland Cemetery.

Further indication that Sir Philip, not Starrett, was Sidney’s namesake comes in a May 3, 1820, letter written by Thomas W. Ruckman, early surveyor of Sidney and later clerk to the county commissioners, county auditor, and adjutant to the local militia. To his brother, he wrote: "I shall now state that our County Seat is now finally Established on Mr. Sterats farm. The Court Sanctioned the decision of the Commissioners at december court last winter and appointed David Henry, Capt., Director (Director of the town of Sidney) to lay off the town & sell the lotts. The town was laid off by the 13th of March and named Sydney by the Court after a great Political writer."

If we assume that Mr. Starrett was not that "great Political writer," this early and first person account of the Sidney name origin seems irrefutable, except for the short-lived double-y spelling (see Early newspaper published in ‘Sydney,’ Sidney Daily News, April 5, 1997).

Ruckman gave another interesting perspective on real estate prices on the first sale of lots: "The highest lot went to 239 dollars & several 200 and upwards. The lowest about forty--the terms was 1 fourth in 90 days, l fourth in 9 months, 1 fourth in 15 months & the remaining fourth in two years."

The late William A. Ross, Jr., of Sidney had few clues to aid his frustrating search for Charles Starrett’s history. What little he had was found in Charles’ estate settlement. In the list of debts owed to the estate, one item gave this information... "A letter from John Todd, Executor of the Estate of Charles Starrett’s father acknowledging that there was one hundred pounds (entered in the settlement listing as $333.33) willed to said Charles by his father, letter dated May 26th 1818..."

The wills of Charles’ parents, Robert and Elizabeth Starrett, though written in Augusta County, Virginia, were eventually found in Butler County, Kentucky. Both wills confirmed that their second child was indeed Charles Starrett of Sidney, Ohio, fame, but no middle name nor initial appeared. Robert’s will read, in part: "I give and bequeath to my son Charles Sterrit one hundred pounds more than he has received."

A Starrett descendant, the late Duncan H. McIntosh of Richmond, Virginia, researched the family in 1963 and concluded that there was "No record of Charles. He could have lived in Kentucky and died there." Charles Starrett was born in Ireland in 1774 and lived in Virginia before coming to Ohio, but historians can find few details. He was married twice, his first wife having died. Of the seven children fathered by Mr. Starrett, only one, Charles Jr., who died in 1853, maintained the family line. In 1871, his wife and son, Charles Horace Starrett set out for Kansas and Missouri, leaving Sidney bereft of the city founder’s descendants, although a number of Starretts of another branch of the family live in Shelby County.

Charles Horace Starrett, married in 1884, named one of his five children Charles Sidney Starrett, probably in honor of his family’s historical connection with Shelby County’s seat. The name of this fourth generation son may have contributed to the middle name myth. Perhaps one factor compromising research into the family has been the numerous spellings of the name: Sterrit, Sterritt, Sterrett, Starret, Starrett, but the latter has been accepted in Sidney, a fact confirmed by Charles’ rather imposing Washington Monument style gravemarker in Sidney’s Graceland Cemetery.

Noting the passing of "Chas. Starrett, Sr." on February 28, 1829, the monument marks the life of a man short on recorded personal history, but long on public accomplishment.Myths tend to build around important figures of history where facts are sketchy or missing altogether. The middle name Sidney for Charles Starrett is just such a case. But, it is no myth that he influenced the early settlement of Shelby County more than any other man, especially Sir Philip for whom Sidney is named, but who missed seeing it by several centuries and quite a few thousand miles.

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This is but one of the many lumber companies which were located near the site of Charles Starrett’s original homestead.
The above picture is of Klipstine Lumber, ca. 1909.

 

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