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100 Years Ago

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Lobbying for the Canal Locally

The Canal Act, passed in 1825, authorized construction of the Miami Canal from Cincinnati, Ohio to Dayton, which was the principal concern of the businessmen in those areas. Of much less importance to them was extension of the canal northward through the wilderness to Lake Erie. In fact, as author Michael Morthorst related in his book, "The Miami & Erie Canal and the Sidney Feeder Canal", after getting the canal built from Cincinnati to Dayton, Dayton area legislators backed the idea of constructing a railroad or canal route from Dayton to Sandusky, and not through Shelby County.

William Barbee, an Ohio legislator, pushed for and obtained funding to survey a canal route through Shelby County. The survey results were acceptable, but a severe drought in the Mad River basin in 1830 caused many to reconsider this route. It became apparent to the residents of Shelby County, along with those of other areas in the Miami Valley, that it would be necessary to lobby the legislators in Columbus in order to convince them to extend the canal north of Dayton.

A notice appeared in Sidney's first newspaper, "The Western Herald", on September 22, 1831, inviting the citizens to a meeting at the Courthouse, "to take into consideration the utility of the extension of the Miami Canal to this place." The next week's edition of "The Herald" noted that the "...meeting not being so full as many desired, in order that a powerful voice be expressed, it was thought proper to adjourn, to assemble again...on the 15th inst. at 1 o'clock P. M."

public meeting lobbying page
1831herald article lobbying page

Dr. William Fielding, one of Shelby County's first physicians, made the following motion at the meeting of October 15:  "RESOLVED, That a committee of five persons be appointed to prepare an Address to the People and  Memorial to the Legislature, expressive of the sense of this meeting, and report to an adjourned meeting of the citizens, to be held in this place."  Samuel Gamble, George Leckey, John Buckland, and attorney Joel Frankeburger were appointed along with Dr. Fielding to draft what amounted to a 'manifesto' for presentation to the General Assembly in Columbus.

This fascinating document was presented to the next meeting of citizens on October 22 and passed unanimously. It was reprinted in the October 29, 1831, edition of Sidney's "Herald". Legislators were urged in the strongest terms to extend the canal through this region to Toledo. Authors of the document pointed out that over 500,000 acres of land had been donated to the state by the federal government in anticipation of the extension of the canal northward. The citizens also made a powerful economic argument. The authors reasoned that the completion of the canal would enable Miami Valley residents to purchase salt at 45 cents versus the local price of 70 cents per bushel, "...leaving a neat saving to the inhabitants of this valley of the sum of $35,800...a sum sufficient to pay more than one third of the interest annually of the whole sum necessary to be borrowed to complete this line."

The local citizenry rested their case in the manifesto by stating: "Resting, therefore, confidently on the justice of our claims, the great and important benefits which would result to the state by the granting of our request, we submit these few statements, and ask your Honorable body to grant our request. And, as in duty bound, we will ever pray, &c."  An even stronger and longer statement was sent to the government in Columbus. It was reprinted in the "Western Herald"on October 29, 1831.

Local politicians were turning up the heat, but to some that meant only 'home cooking.' Shelby County's representative in the Ohio legislature was William Barbee, a resident of Troy. Some suspicious Sidney residents mistrusted Barbee, thinking he would push for the extension of the canal only as far as Troy. Barbee wrote a letter to an unnamed Sidney resident in response. "I defy either friend or produce one being original from me, to stop the canal at Troy. My views extend beyond Troy...and do not stop even at Sidney." In a stirring conclusion, Barbee finished: "I do not represent Troy alone;... I trust I prize justice, duty and my honor too highly to ever sacrifice it on the altar of Troy."

The political machinations subsided. The December 31, 1831, edition of "The Western Herald" carried the good news: "Our canal bill has this day passed the Senate, and become a Law. This all absorbing question is now put to rest." Thomas Smith, editor of "The Western Herald", reported the reaction of Sidney's residents: "Great joy and rejoicing were manifested by our fellow citizens on that occasion. The court house, the public houses, and many private houses, were brilliantly illuminated. The roaring of cannon, music, and dancing, seemed to indicate the joy of all at the bright prospects of the future thus placed before them." The mistrust of Barbee was quickly forgotten. Thomas Smith commented: "Our representatives deserve much praise for the zeal and activity with which they have pushed forward this bill to a successful termination..." Shelby County was ready to face the dawn of a new era. Construction began on the canal extension in 1833.

'Canal' segment written in December, 1998 by Rich Wallace 


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