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article number 227
article date 04-18-2013
copyright 2013 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Small Town Entertainment and Belongingness 1900–1976. A Look at Sidney, Illinois
by Virginia McElroy

From the book, History of Sidney 1827 to 1976.


In the year 1901, musicals, shows, festivals, surprise parties, school entertainments, drama club programs, band concerts and church services were our activities. A Chautauqua came each summer and brought a week long program of musicals, plays, speeches, readings and individual singing.

The young men had horses and buggies to convey their girls to these social affairs. Of course, they could walk within the village limits, but many a young man chose a girl in the country or the country boy chose a village girl. And after all, a buggy ride was much more fun than walking. While the town had hitching racks, some people carried their own hitching posts. This was a large iron ball flattened on one side that was placed on the ground and the horse tethered to it when the driver wanted to leave the vehicle.

John Cole in front of his home. Yes kids, we didn’t have automobiles yet.

The bootlegging and wild parties of the early twenties did not affect Sidney too much. It had been a dry town long before the eighteenth amendment. Probably some participated in drinking parties but it was done quietly and was kept from the knowledge of most of the community.

Homer Park, organized in 1905, was a recreation center for the surrounding community during the first quarter of the twentieth century. People enjoyed boating, dancing, roller skating, swimming, movies, pool hall and concession stands. On Sundays and holidays, band concerts and free acts were held. One of the features was a black bear which the children loved to feed. It also liked “pop”, which it drank from the bottle when the spectators would buy it. Families took their picnic baskets and hitched their horses to their surreys or wagons and started early for the park ground on these special days. The entire day was enjoyed by all.

When the automobile came into use in the middle and late teens, the park was a favorite meeting place for the young people of the community. Every Sunday evening they would gather from all the surrounding communities for fun, dancing, movies and picnics. The park closed in the early thirties, but before that it had lost much of its glamour and clientele.

In the summertime of the twenties and thirties on Saturday nights, the merchants of the village hired a local band to play a concert. People from all over the township gathered to hear the music, do their shopping and visit with their neighbors. The young teen-agers walked the main block of Sidney. All evening, groups of girls walked up one side of the street and down the other, stopping often to talk to the boys who were following them or waiting on the corner to chat. No nice young teenager paired off with the opposite sex or left the bright lights of the village block. In the winter, the Toby shows came to town. By this time, most families had cars and the roads had improved.

David Street, Downtown Sidney Illinois, 1926. On Saturday evenings, “No nice young teenager paired off with the opposite sex or left the bright lights of the village block.”

After the band concerts were disbanded, free movies were shown in the street each Saturday night during the summer months. Each family brought a blanket or camp-stool to sit on. The street was blocked off from traffic and everyone enjoyed the show. General shopping was done before or after the show. Of course, this gave the young teenagers a better chance to get together and many preferred to sit on the town hall steps and talk rather than watch the movies.

After the tractor gave the farmer more leisure time and more people moved to town, the merchants did not find it necessary to put on entertainment to get the farmers’ trade. Free movies, too, became a thing of the past. Cars became bigger and better. Roads improved and people began to go to the neighboring cities for entertainment. Church suppers similar to the old festivals were still held each year and friends from the surrounding towns and communities came and enjoyed a good meal and visited with old friends and neighbors.

Different organizations of the communities such as service clubs, church groups, 4-H, scouts, lodges, dance groups, school activities and Little League groups met regularly. In fact, there were so many things going on in the community that a person had to choose the activities they were most interested in and attend only those.

The town’s personnel also changed. During the period from 1920 to 1930, Sidney was a retired person’s town. Many women were left widows and lived alone. Grocery stores provided all the food needed or desired by the community. Recreation of this period was quieter and less hectic than later years.

After World War II the young men came back restless. They had seen much of the world and could not return to the old way of life. Many new brides came from every section of the world. New jobs were opened in Champaign and Urbana. The young men preferred to live in Sidney and commute to work rather than to move to the city. Young families began to grow up in the town. Sidney Township schools were consolidated and the Sidney School increased in size. Young families and increased numbers in school brought about the activities described elsewhere in this book.

Changes in women’s fashions give an interesting picture of the changes in life style throughout the years. In the 1890s the Gibson girl set the style in dress. This outfit had a full gored skirt that fit snugly at the waist and hips but flared out around the ankles. A long sleeved, high collared blouse went with the skirt.

Gibson Girl Drawing.

In the early 1900s the tight hobble-skirt was the fashion. The skirt was so tight from the knees down to the ankles the wearer could scarcely walk. The blouse was a high, boned neckline with long sleeves. Later the very low neckline became the fashion.

In the 1920s the flapper dress was very popular. This dress had a very long waist line reaching to the hips and a very short skirt ending at the knees or above. For a few years the waist line traveled upward until it was just below the bust line.

Suits became the favorite wear after World War II. The straight dress with pleats or gathers at the hip line was the next style. This was followed by a wide-belted, plain dress with the length half-way between the knees and ankles.

The sheath dress was the height of fashion in the fifties. This fell well below the knees. Skirts and blouses were worn in the late fifties and early sixties, and this was followed by shorts for sports-wear with plain dresses for other occasions. The plain, straight dress, just reaching the knees or above, was enjoyed a few years before the pant suit captured the fancy of women. In 1975 most of the women wear them.


Today the average woman can get a dress out of a yard and a quarter - to a yard and a half, depending on her size. Of course, material must be 60 inches or more in width. The latest material is double-knit polyester that is almost indestructible. Of course, many long dresses are worn for daytime as well as for evening wear and that takes more material.

The unrest of the late fifties and sixties brought many more young people to the community. In 1975-76 Sidney is almost a young man’s town or a suburb of Champaign-Urbana. Most people work away from the village and commute to and from each day, but their children are growing up in the town and community and the activities are suitable for their needs.

A tot’s park has been built for the young children, trees are being set out on the streets of the town, a tennis court has been built and new crafts and skills are being taught.

The last three years, Sidney has had contact football for the school boys during the fall, sponsored by the Park District. The school coach helped them get started, but this year the parents acted as coaches. They had a successful season and were fully supported by the parents and townspeople. Every summer there are several organized teams of baseball for the school boys.

As the town continues to grow and change, the activities will also develop and change to meet the people’s needs.

In 1921-22 Sidney had a baseball team. A league was formed among the surrounding towns. Sidney’s ball ground was at the north end of Washington Street, down by the Salt Fork. Each Sunday the team played, the band was there to help entertain the crowd. Ralph Cates was the pitcher, and it was said every time he seemed to be weakening, the band would play “Beautiful Katy”. This seemed to help for they won most of their games.

Early Sidney Illinois baseball team; Jay Reynolds, Manager.

A Club for Every Person

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following text contains condensed accounts of some of the organizations listed in the book, ‘History of Sidney 1827 to 1976.’ The objective of reading these accounts is to help imaging what our after-work lives were like before cable TV and other innovations which structure our life differently. Our after-work lifestyle was enhanced by organizations. We may wonder about the effect of organizations on our lifestyle … we obviously knew our neighbors better than we do today. Activities of our evenings and weekends gave fulfillment in a very personal sense.

*** Knights of Pythias No. 360 of Sidney, Illinois
(By Jack McElwee)

The Knights of Pythias was founded in Washington, D. C. on February 14, 1864. It was the first fraternal order chartered by the U. S. Congress.

Sidney Model Lodge no. 360 was instituted May 6, 1892 with 28 charter members. Miller Winston was the first Chancellor Commander.

The first Lodge was located on the east side of David Street where the Lewis Insurance Agency now stands. The building and records were destroyed by fire in October 1905. The members continued to hold their meetings in l.O.O.F. Hall, which is now the American Legion Hall.

The lot where the old building stood was sold and a new, two-story building was built across the street at 213 S. David Street. The upper story was made into a lodge room and the downstairs was used for rental purposes. Erb’s Appliance Store now occupies the building.

*** The Pythian Sisters’ Temple
(Material furnished by Ethel Kammin)

On June 14, 1905 a Temple of Pythian Sisters was instituted in Sidney with Mrs. C. W. Witt as the Most Excellent Chief. There were 18 charter members, but their names were not given. Meetings were held regularly the rest of that year. Sisters Gertrude Bentley, Minnie Owens, and Mary Neer were appointed to draft the by-laws. The first Sister to be initiated was Ella McElroy and the first Knight was Clint Thompson.

In October, 1905, fire destroyed the K. of P. Hall and for almost two years the meetings were held in the Odd Fellows Hall, while the new K. of P. HaIl was being built.

In 1906 eight Sisters and five Knights were initiated into the Order.

The first meeting held in the new hail was August 7, 1907.

The Temple put on a play, “The Mock Wedding”, and took up donations to buy supplies for the new hall. They donated money to send a girl from the Pythians to the University of Illinois, and donated money and a barrel of clothing to the Red Cross for flood sufferers.

As of 2013 you can still see the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) sign on a two story building on David Street in Sidney, Illinois.

*** American Legion Auxiliary, Unit No. 433
(By Betty Trees)

There was a Sidney American Legion Auxiliary Unit no. 433 in the last of the 1920’s and early 1930’s. The unit was reorganized in 1948 and held its first meeting on November 5th in the American Legion Hall in Sidney. The unit was organized by Mrs. Hazel Cannon of Tuscola, the 19th District Director, and she was assisted by Ann Thoeming, also of Tuscola.

The unit members join the legionnaires in the Memorial Day services at Mt. Hope Cemetery. The Chaplain lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, along with a legionnaire. They have also raised the flag for the ceremony. The unit feels it a great honor to send a girl to “Girl’s State” held on McMurray College campus in Jacksonville in June. These girls come back and give the most interesting reports on their study of our government.

The unit helped financially in installing flasher signals for protection of our school children, and Eva Leeper was representative on this project.

In 1953-54 a special guest, Mrs. Roscoe High, a native of the Ukraine, gave a very interesting report on her being a prisoner of war by Nazis during World War II.

In 1951-52 nine members presented a play “The Henpecked Holler Gossip” for the Champaign County Council and other organizations in the community. We really had a lot of fun presenting the play under the direction of Mrs. Doris Koeck.

*** Sidney Boys’ 4-H Club
(Material furnished by Paul Herriott)

The Sidney Boys’ 4-H Club was organized July 22, 1935. Luther Bickers was the leader. The first year the Club’s project was sheep, and the following year beef. There is no record of the number of members.

Over the years the membership grew and the number of projects were wide and varied. They ranged from gardens and home beautification to corn and wheat, as well as poultry, beef, pork, sheep and dairy products.

Girls as well as boys were members of the Club. The only requirement was to be interested in agriculture and to be 8 years old. Their projects were shown at the County Fair and were often sent to the State Fair at Springfield.

Meetings were held regularly each month at the leader’s homes. Each member was required to give a talk on or have a demonstration of his or her project. The leaders visited the members’ homes to see their projects.

People interrupting work in 1903 for a group picture. Organizations filled our after-hours.

*** Boy Scouts
(Material furnished by William Wagner and Mary Thomas)

The Sidney Boy Scouts, No. 44 organized in 1928 and were sponsored by a group of Sidney citizens until 1949.

In June of 1950 a senior patrol was organized for boys over fourteen years of age. In 1951 this became known as the Explorer Post. The leaders were Weldon Thomas, Fred Kraft and Ray Peters. The group took an active part in district events. The high-light of their activities was when eight of the boys and two leaders spent ten days camping and canoeing in northern Wisconsin.

In 1949 the Salt Fork Indian Tribe became one of the scout activities. From a very small beginning, the tribe grew until there were twenty-eight boys and twelve or fourteen adults who dressed in Indian costume and did Indian dances. The boys were supervised and trained by “Ike” Reynolds and Walter Kraft. (“Ike’s parents had vacationed in Wisconsin near an Indian Reservation since he was a small child and he knew a lot about their dances.) The costumes were all “home-made”. Several mothers spent many hours sewing and gluing cloth and feathers on the “Indian suits”. (Butzow’s Turkey Farm was a source of supply for feathers that were bleached and dyed to many different colors.)

The Salt Fork Indian Tribe became known throughout the Arrowhead Council. Trips were made to other towns and pow-wows were held. For three years, members of the Chippewa Indians came to the annual fall festival and joined with the Salt Fork tribe to put on a real pow-wow for the community. Twenty-eight scouts, parents and leaders had spent a week camping on the Indian Reservation near Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin, and in return the Indians were invited to attend the festival. The Boy Scouts attended the St. Joseph Festival and appeared on the U. of I. TV Station in September 1952.

Boy Scouts learned and acted out Indian traditions. They met with members of the Chippewa Indians.

*** Brownie Troop No. 11
(Material furnished by Diane Long, Sandy Stipp and Sue Brown)

During the 1973-74 school year, Sue Brown and Sue Price were leaders with Diane Mullen and Diane Riddle as helpers of the Brownie Troop no.11. The girls participating during this year were 2nd and 3rd graders.

Many craft projects were completed during this year along with service projects, cookie selling, hikes, trips, parties and learning workshops.

*** Sidney Cub Scouts
(Material furnished by Grace McCarrey)

The Sidney Cub Scouts, Pack no. 44 were organized in January 1949.

The Cub Scouts had weekly den meetings with their Den Mothers and a Pack meeting (which included all the dens) once each month. At the Pack meetings, the boys displayed the crafts they had made, put on skits, sang songs, and received the badges they had earned.

*** Girls’ 4-H Club
(Material furnished by Marie Herriott and Alberta West)

In 1937 a committee of the Home Extension Unit was appointed to see about forming a 4-H Club. This committee was Mrs. Sadie Magill, Mrs. Leah Busey and Mrs. Maggie Kemper. The next year a Club of nine members was organized with Miss Mary West and Mrs. Celia Erb as the leaders. The next year, fourteen members belonged to the Club. The membership continued to grow and other clubs were organized for foods, serving, flower arrangements, recreation and many others.

Later the girls took different projects in one club. Some of the present projects are: Arts and Crafts; Sewing (beginners and advanced), Cooking (beginners and older members), Child Care, Do Your Own Thing, Room Decoration, Home Furnishing, Crochet, Knitting, Macrame, and many others.

To be a member a child must be 8 years old, but not 19 by January 1st of that year. They must complete a project, give a talk or demonstration about their project and exhibit their project to the public. Last year’s membership was 30. Several of the girls took their projects to the Fair and Janet West went to the Fair as a representative of the Cooking Clubs.

Lake at Salt Fork Campgrounds.

*** Sidney Girl Scouts Junior Troop No. 392
(Material furnished by Sue Brown)

There isn’t any record of when the Girl Scouts were organized in Sidney, but they have been active forty years or more.

As Juniors, badge work is something new and fun. Along with craft work, service projects, parties, trips, hikes, and cookie sales, we are working on a special Bi-Centennial Badge. In May the girls are looking forward to a camping trip.

*** Homemakers Extension Unit
(Material furnished by Ella Erb)

On March 13, 1920 a group of forty women of the Sidney community met in the Sidney Town Hall for an organizational meeting of the Home Bureau, which has later been named the Homemakers’ Extension Unit.

A demonstration of chicken culling was given by Mrs. Bronson, and Mrs. Henry Dunlap spoke on gardens and health.

At present the Unit has 38 members, including one charter member, Mrs. Fred Wood, who is most active in the organization. During each year a tour of interest is taken by the group. The Unit sponsors the local Girls’ 4-H Clubs, besides being interested in other community activities. A book is purchased and donated to the Sidney Library in memory of a deceased member.

The Unit stresses the homemaker’s aim for home and family ties in the community.


*** PEE WEE Football
(Material furnished by William Morse)

The PEE WEE football program began in 1973. The program was prompted by Emil Peterson, President of the Sidney Park Board. Through the Park Board the program received financing as part of the Revenue Sharing Fund. It was also assisted by parents and the community’s three bake sales, chili supper, game concessions and donations. From this, the teams were able to purchase uniforms, helmets and equipment.

The first year there were 42 boys participating with Gene Martin as coach. They played six games.

In 1974 there were 45 boys participating with Robert Hakes as coach, assisted by Rev. Dean Follis. They played five games.

In 1975 there were 38 boys with coaches Jim Robinson, Bill Morse and Chuck McDuffee. Former coach, Robert Hakes, scheduled the games. They played five games.

1901 Sidney School Football Team. Early school sports were truly local. After the era of school consolidations, the town team was lost except for local initiatives.

*** “Salt Fork Swingers” Square Dance Club
(By Pat Potts)

The “Salt Fork Swingers” Square Dance Club of Sidney, Illinois was organized in September of 1968. Area square dancers, who belonged to other clubs, got together and decided they would like to have their own club in Sidney.

The newly organized square dance club sponsored their first dance September 6, 1968, at the Sidney Town Hall, Sidney, Illinois with Ray Clark as Emcee and Farmer Stultz and the Mountaineers providing music. Guest callers were Chick Bean, Orville Clayton, Clarence Fairhurst, Sam Green, John Halman and Dave James. The dance was a big success and the club decided to hold dances twice a month.

The Club offered lessons to interested couples starting in November 1968 and in February 1969 twenty-four couples were graduated and joined the Club. The Club then had a membership of 50 couples. The Salt Fork Swingers held their first Camp-O-Rama July 18, 19, 20 1969, at the Salt Fork Campground. Ray Clark, Dave James and the Swinging Rangers provided music. Square dancers across the United States and Canada were invited to attend for three days of camping, square dancing. swimming. workshops and fireside refreshments after each dance.

Salt Fork Swingers receiving an award.

*** Sidney Baseball Summer Program
(Material furnished by Larry Pridemore)

The Sidney baseball program is sponsored by the H & H Implement Company is Sidney. The company bought their uniforms and equipment. There are several divisions among the boys.

The Little League ages are from 8 to 12 years. Their leaders are Larry Pridemore and Larry Gerald. There were fifteen boys enrolled for the team.

The Babe Ruth League is led by Dick Weed and Kenneth Katterhenry. The age for this group is 13 to 15 years. There were fifteen boys in this group also.

There wasn’t a Pony League this past year. This age group is 15 to 18 years. If enough boys of this age are interested, a Pony League will be organized for them. This year a new club, called the Farm Club, was organized for the farm boys in the community. The age for this group is 8 to 11. Larry Kammin was their leader. There were 18 or 20 boys enrolled in this club.

Games for the boys start the first Monday in June and the tournaments for each group start the last of July. They visit seven different towns and play fourteen games. The boys hold a car wash and sell tickets for their tournaments, to pay their expenses. Last year they were invited to an invitation tournament at Mahomet and won second place.

After their end of the season tournament, a pizza party is held for the boys at a pizza parlor in Champaign-Urbana and each boy has all he can eat. A good time is enjoyed by all. The leaders are doing a good job with the boys.

*** Sidney Lions’ Club
(Material furnished by Howard Friese)

The Sidney Lions’ Club was organized and chartered in April 1956. They were sponsored by the Tolono Lions’ Club, Tolono, Illinois.


*** The Mason Lodge
(by Wilbur Dixon)

On October 11, 1859, B. H. Towner, William Towner, Robert Johnson, E. B. Johnson, G. W. Hartman, 0. W. Upp and S. H. Willis petitioned Homer Lodge No. 199 AF & AM to permit them to form a new lodge at Sidney, Illinois. On November 22, 1859 the petition was refused. On April 3 1860, the above persons with W. A. Smith renewed the petition and on April 10, 1860 the petition was granted.

For many years, the meetings were held in a hall on Main Street in the old business district, located on the second lot west of the corner of Harrison and Main Streets on the north side.

In 1893 work was commenced on the present building. The bricks used in the structure were manufactured in the J. M. West brickyard northeast of Sidney. Most all the labor was donated by the members of the Lodge.

*** Sidney Order of the Eastern Star No. 373
(Material furnished by Frances Clem)

The Sidney Order of the Eastern Star No. 373 was instituted in April 1897 by the Urbana Chapter. The Chapter celebrated its seventy-fifth birthday in April 1972 and in December of that year they merged with the Homer Chapter.

The chapter celebrated its seventy-fifth birthday in April 1972 and in December of that year they merged with the Homer Chapter.

*** Sidney Woman’s Club
(Material furnished by Mrs. Imal Lovingfoss)

The Sidney Woman’s Club was organized April 3, 1906 through the inspiration of Miss Mary Busey and Mrs. Helen Packard. The first officers were: Mrs. William Hanson, President; Mrs. Tillman Busey, Vice-President; Mrs. Howard Hess, Secretary. There were seventeen charter members.

The Home and Miscellany department of study was chosen for the first programs of the club. It was said they chose domestic science as their phase of study because “We might live without friends, we might live without books, but civilized man cannot live without cooks”. The first several years the programs were concerned with the home and the schools. Later, they expanded to include the community, country, state and nation, but never lost interest in their own community.

At the end of the first year, the membership had increased to thirty-two members. Besides their regular meetings, three special meetings were held during the year. There were two picnics for the families of the club members, and a reception was held in honor of Mrs. Packard of Kearney, Nebraska, one of the founders of the organization.

On May 15, 1907 red and white were chosen as the club’s colors, the carnation as the club’s flower, and “Wisely improved the present. It is Thine.” was chosen as the club’s motto. The dub’s song is ‘‘Illinois’’.

The first guest night was held on February 16, 1909. The husbands were special guests and the program was planned for their entertainment. Guest night became an annual affair and the people look forward to this special night each year.

The Club adopted a policy of accepting the new babies of the club members each year. A special program was planned for the mothers and the babies were presented to the Club. The mother was given a red carnation tied with ribbons of the Club’s colors. Helen Porterfield and George Cole were the first Club babies.

In 1928 a Junior Woman’s Club was organized for the young women of the community. It was a very active organization for many years, but was discontinued around 1945.

The Club became concerned about the condition of the nine foot pavement to Champaign-Urbana They presented the idea of an eighteen foot pavement to the town meeting and worked to bring about the fulfillment of the project.

The Club contributes to all state, district, and county projects. They give money to the Federation Forest project in memory of the departed club members. A scholarship is given each year to a boy or girl in the community in art, music, speech or conservation. The young people who have attended these camps have returned with enthusiastic reports of their experiences.

(The article continues with many achievements which improved the local community. Here are just a few of them.)

The Club became concerned about the condition of the nine foot pavement to Champaign-Urbana They presented the idea of an eighteen foot pavement to the town meeting and worked to bring about the fulfillment of the project.

Sidney Illinois Town Hall, year unknown. Still stands as of 2013. You can rent it for a party.

When a restroom was added to the Town Hall, the Woman’s Club furnished and maintained it for several years. The first drinking fountain by the Town Hall was paid for by the Club. Two trees were planted on the lawn east of the building, and an evergreen was decorated with colored lights each year until it became too large for that purpose. Another evergreen was planted west of the Hall to be used as a living Christmas tree, but this tree obstructed the view of traffic at the corner of David and Byron Streets and it was removed for safety reasons.

When the decision to restore or remove the Town Hall had to be made, the Sidney Woman’s Club went on record for its restoration. When the work was completed, the Club bought draperies for the hall.

The school has been of special interest to the Club from the beginning of the organization. It helps with any needs of the different classrooms and asks the children to give musical numbers before the Club. It was instrumental in getting the first music program in the Sidney Grade School long before it was considered a part of the curriculum in the school programs.

When a curtain was needed for the gymnasium, the Woman’s Club helped the school Board buy a blue velvet curtain. This year they bought a Christmas tree for the school.

A four-way stop sign was placed one block from the school at the Club’s suggestion. With other organizations, the Woman’s Club helped pay for the caution light at the corner of Main and Washington Streets to help guarantee the safety of the children at that crossing.

Sidney Illinois, David Street looking north in 1976. After-hours activities were affected by a changing society. Air conditioning kept people inside in the evening instead of walking the neighborhood. School consolidations swept kids activities from the local town.
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