James Charles Sidney was an architect, engineer, surveyor, and landscape architect born in England. He first appears in Philadelphia in the early 1840s employed by John Jay Smith, Librarian of the Library Company, as a cartographer. Sidney also worked at this time for Smith's son, Robert Pearsall Smith, one of the most prolific Amercan map publishers of the mid-nineteenth century, who produced Sidney's Map of Ten Miles Around -- Map of the Circuit of Ten Miles around the City of Philadelphia (1847) and his Map of the Township of Germantown with the Names of the Property Holders (c.1848). In the mid-1840s Sidney also executed six plates published in Thomas Ustick Walter and Smith's Two Hundred Designs for Cottages and Villas (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1846; second edition, 1847). An unabashed sampling of English pattern books by Goodwin, Loudon, Robinson, Lugar, Thomson, and Papworth, Two Hundred Designs included some additional works by Americans, particularly Philadelphians William Russell West and G. P. Cummings. Sidney, however, is listed as "delineator" rather than architect.
Sidney's earliest known architectural works date from the mid-1840s, and by 1849 he listed himself in the Philadelphia city directory as a civil engineer. In 1850/1851 he formed a partnership with James P. W. Neff, "engineers and architects", at 80 Walnut Street. Also at this time appeared Sidney's most important publication, American Cottage and Villa Architecture (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1850). Intended as "a series of views and plans of residences actually built . . . with hints on landscape gardening, laying out of grounds, planting of trees, etc.," the book was to be issued in ten parts beginning in July, 1850, and monthly thereafter. So far as is known, only four or five parts actually appeared, containing a total of 22 plates of structures by various architects throughout the Northeastern United States.
The Sidney & Neff partnership appears to hav dissolved in 1854/1855, and Sidney moved to New York City to work for Robert Pearsall Smith's firm, then mapping New York State. He returned to Philadelphia in 1857/1858 and shortly thereafter entered into another brief partnership (1859-1860) with Andrew Adams, "rural architects, engineers and surveyors. Particular attention paid to building and laying out of country seats, cemeteries and public grounds. Surveys and plans made for every kind of building or work requiring knowledge of engineering," at 520 Walnut Street. The most important work of this short-lived partnership was a master plan for Fairmount Park, adopted in 1859, the same year that an article in The Gardener's Monthly touted Sidney as "the best landscape-gardener, perhaps in the country." (Gardener's Monthly 1 November 1859)
Shortly thereafter, Sidney changed partners again, joining Frederick C. Merry in a partnership that lasted until 1864/1865. Sidney & Merry continued the Fairmount Park work and designed a number of houses in the expanding Chestnut Hill area of suburban Philadelphia. By the mid-1860s, however, Sidney again shed his partner; working independently, he concentrated for the rest of his career on the design of schools for the Controllers of the Public Schools of Philadelphia.
Sidney had been one of the 19 signers of the application for a charter for the Pennsylvania Institute of Architects in 1861, and he became a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1870.
Roger W. Moss, and
Sandra L. Tatman.
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- American Institute of Architects (AIA)
- Pennsylvania Institute of Architects
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