Editor’s note: in conjunction with the 200th celebration of the establishment of Sidney, the Sidney Daily News will be publishing a year long series about the city’s history.
SIDNEY — Anyone intrigued by the history of mankind is well aware individual chapters are often punctuated by rivalries of one nature or another: In commerce Pepsi Cola vs Coca Cola; in sports University of Michigan vrs The Ohio State University, and in family relationships the Hatfield and McCoy conflict. And then, there was the 36 year-long rivalry conducted by William Binkley against anyone — or anything — attempting to interfere with his perceived responsibility to print the truth as editor of a weekly newspaper.
Born Oct. 4, 1844, in Leesport, Pennsylvania, William as a youth learned the rudiments of the printers trade and in his early 20s looked westward for opportunity. Winning the hand in marriage of Hannah Elizabeth Chapple, an emigrant from Devonshire, England, he moved from Urbana to Sidney and in 1869 entered into partnership with Robert H. Trego through purchase of The Sidney Journal.
Settling into his chosen profession, little time was wasted in adopting the-power-of-the-pen to the task of creating a public library.
“Nights that are now spent by our young men in dens of infamy…(and)
Young women, whose leisure moments are now absorbed in flirting
and gossiping… would be passed away at home in search of useful knowledge…if they had the means to get…books.” (12-3-1869).
Within the week, some 50 prominent citizens purchased stock in the proposed enterprise. William was quickly voted Librarian of the Sidney Lyceum and Library Association.
Characterized as a gentleman who affected extreme elegance in choice of workday clothing, manners and vocabulary, William lived life not easily flummoxed by either mankind or nature. Dressed in Edwardian tails, high-top shoes, top hat and the commonly present white bow tie, his daily routine was spent surfing for news, first among the proprietors of the Courthouse Square business district and then anywhere else a four-inch column might be found. A graduate of Pennsylvania State College (now University), his home on Fair Avenue was filled with books, the subject matter of which gave emphasis to Shakespeare and the “Great Writers.” Widely recognized as a thorough rhetorician and a virile writer in possession of abundant editorial initiative and courage, he was a working example of the old Australian expression “no flies on him” — referring to an individual adapted to recognizing opportunity and readily accomplishing whatever worthy task is under discussion.
Next on editor Binkley’s “to-do” list was the subject of fire control in a community constructed largely of wood. His crusading journalistic involvement with both the purchase of a fire engine and development of an integrated fire fighting system ultimately resulted in taxpayer support. Early on, following the purchase of a fire truck, The Journal recorded approval:
…”if only the same encouragement is given to all other projects tending to give our town an air of enterprise and prosperity, Sidney will soon awake from her long sleep.” (11-19-1869).
In spite of this leadership, during the decades following the Civil War many community leaders felt all was well and perhaps the wheels of progress could be set in neutral gear. The voice of The Journal thought otherwise and continued a printing press program aimed at even better refinements:
“The appointment of a few good men on a night police force may…perhaps have the effect of ridding the town of its swarms of prowling thieves.” (12-31-1869).
“The Council will do the public the great kindness by ordering the marshall to clean away the manure around the square.” (11-23-1877).
—…”it seems strange that it has never occurred to any one of a philanthropic tendency in Sidney that the town has no Young Men’s Christian Association…(so as) to keep young men off the street and out of saloons at night.” (5-6-1892).
And so it went, month after year, as William continued to editorially preach the virtues of culture, propriety and human decency as cures for the curses of crime, neglect and unpleasantness. In addition to fulfilling his perceived responsibility in badgering the city leadership onward towards a greater Sidney, William unhesitatingly entered the realm of regional affairs of humanity with a mixture of macho bravado and lack of political correctness.
“Has…the editor of the Democrat … ever been credibly informed that he is a chucklehead?” (1-20-1871).
“Some white trash had their curiosity gratified and a colored brother and sister their sins washed way on Sunday last…when a hole about six feet square was cut in the ice on the Miami…and (they were ) duly immersed…” (12-24-1875).
“Every time a young man spends 5 cents for a glass of beer, he takes 5 bricks from a snug little house.” (3-14-1879).
“Sidney is becoming cosmopolitan. A Celestial…Samuel Lee, a Chinaman, has opened a laundry in the basement of the Valley City House.” (2-17-1882).
“The Sidney Gun Club has elected a President and…Treasurer. They will hold office one year, unless shot.” (3-25-1892).
“The devil has found a resting place for the sole of his cloven foot in…Bellefontaine…a sad story summed up in a single phrase; horse racing and betting.” (8-28-1903).
Up to the end William stood his ground in his ability and desire to speak his mind. On March 17, 1905, he announced his retirement from journalism. Thirty days later community leaders of Sidney and surrounding environs gathered in the banquet room of the Wagner Hotel for an evening of recognition and cheerful farewells. Judge John F. Wilson summarized the collective memories:
“You have always carried the party standard at great sacrifice…and advocated more good measures that were turned down than any other editor in the State of Ohio.” (Shelby County Democrat, 4-14-1905).
Years later, the extended record of Sidney’s most influential newspaper editor was nicely summarized:
…“there is not a single public utility or advantage originating between 1869 and 1905, which was not first trumpeted by William Binkley, through the columns of the Journal — oftener than not at the expense of personal popularity…” (Memoirs of the Miami Valley, 1919, pages 383- 384).
William Binkley died Feb. 28, 1920, age 75. He is buried next to his wife in Graceland Cemetery.
Dr. Albert B. Dickas was born in Sidney, Ohio, and graduated from Holy Angels High School in 1951. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Miami University (Oxford, OH). After serving in the US Navy, he obtained a PhD at Michigan State University, then worked in the petroleum industry for awhile before joining the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Superior, where he taught for thirty-one years and founded an environmental research center. Today he lives on the crest of Brush Mountain in southwest Virginia. He has written several books about Shelby County history including Passages Vol ! and Vol II and Eclectic Pen of William Binkley, editor of the Sidney Journal from 1869 to 1905.