Most people probably haven’t heard of the southwestern Ohio City, but Dayton, Ohio and its surrounding area is quite a historical place. Founded in 1796, not only is Dayton the birth place of the Wright Brothers, it is also the home of Paul Laurence Dunbar and the site of an American Indian archeological dig.
Located just outside the city limits in the suburb of Oakwood, you can find Hawthorne Hill. This 1914 era mansion was the home of Orville Wright, his father Milton and his sister Katharine for 35 years, until Orville’s death in 1948. His brother Wilbur had also planned to live in the house, but he died in 1913, a year before the construction was complete. The home is filled with Orville’s own ‘labor-savor’ designs, including an early water softener, a chain and rod system for controlling the furnace from upstairs, and a toaster that could slice and brown bread. Hawthorne Hill was designed to entertain distinguished guests, and was visited by Thomas Edison, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Charles Lindbergh, just to name a few. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991, the Wright home still accepts guests and offers private tours several times a week.
Located just a few miles from Hawthorne Hill, Carillon Historical Park is where you will find 25 historical buildings filled with samples of the creativity and inventiveness that has been a part of Dayton’s heritage for over 200 years. The 65 acre park is home to the 1905 Wright Flyer III, an 1835 B&O steam locomotive, and the first automobile self-starter. The park also houses one of Dayton’s most well-known historical structures, Deeds Carillon. The 151-foot tower, built in 1942 at the request of Colonel and Mrs. Edward Deeds, contains 57 bells. The carillon was converted to electrically controlled, in 1988, but was originally a traditional mechanical design.
The National Cash Register Company (NCR), founded in 1884 and one of the largest employers in Dayton until 2009, opened Old River Park on June 3, 1939. The park was opened exclusively for NCR employees and their families and was originally under the leadership of Colonel Edward Deeds, chairman-of-the-board. Set to the tune of early 20th century themed music that is piped throughout the park, it is filled with activities for all ages, including a miniature golf course, horseshoe pits, and volleyball courts. It is equipped with stone cooking grills and situated along a 1.5 mile historic lagoon (boat rentals are also available). Old River Park opened to the public for the first time in May 2010, after NCR left Dayton in 2009 due to the current economic recession.
Known for being the highest point in Dayton, Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum is one of the oldest “garden” cemeteries in the United States. With over 100,000 memorials, Woodland Cemetery is the resting place of both Wright brothers, Paul Laurence Dunbar, George Mead of Mead Paper, Charles F. Kettering (inventor), and Matilda and Levi Stanley (Queen and King of the Gypsies) just to name a few. The cemetery was founded in 1841 and is home to over 3,000 trees and 165 different specimens of woody plants native to the Midwest. It also served as a refuge for many people during The Great Flood of 1913.
Paul Laurence Dunbar is another historical figure from Dayton, Ohio and his home is part of the Dayton History Family of Museums, owned in partnership by Dayton History and Ohio Historical Society. Born in Dayton to former slaves in 1872, Dunbar was the first African American poet/writer to garner national acclaim. He penned over 400 poems, 6 full length novels, as wells as plays, short stories and lyrics for musical productions. His works appeared in popular publications like Harper’s Weekly and Sunday Evening Post, and also many other magazines and newspapers. He died on February 9, 1906 at the young age of 33.
For a taste of the American Indian culture, Dayton’s Sun Watch Indian Village / Archaeological Park offers a recreation of the approximately 3 acre Indian village. Uncovered in the 1960s, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 when a local sewage plant had intentions to expand onto the site. In 1990, it became a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public for tours and educational programs and activities.
The history of Dayton is so rich that it is deeply imbedded in the culture of the city. You never know what new piece of yesterday you will find hiding around the corner.