Album of Memories

 

 

This article appeared in the Journal Herald on August 16, 1960

 

Album Of Memories

 

When Dayton’s Growth Demanded More Hotels and New Street Cars

by Margaret Ann Ahlers

 

     This city has a heritage of its own—a heritage rich in records and visible evidence of the achievement of those people who shaped the foundation for future growth.

     A closer examination of that heritage can be as thrilling as the sight of a tall modern building under construction or the first use of some new invention.

     Take a good long look at the Beckel House on the northwest corner of Third and Jefferson streets.  Perhaps you will say, “But why? That’s just another old building.”

     There is no denying the age of the structure, yet today it is worth some of the same respect and consideration accorded to elderly people who have lived full and useful lives.  And even beyond what you can see on that corner, there are countless pictures and stories of a young city-now dimmed by the passing of time.

     On the site of the Beckel House once stood Dayton’s first stone house,--a combination of dwelling and store—built by William Huffman who came to Ohio from New Jersey in 1812.

     A few notes on that period show what life was like then.  In 1815 there were about 100 dwellings in the town, most of them log cabins.  In 1817 a saddler, a coppersmith and a chairmaker first advertised their shops.  D. C. Cooper and Horace G. Phillips were the only men owning carriages.  In 1818 there was a “brush prairie” two miles from the court house where fox hunters “had a great time.”

     In 1819 an African lion was exhibited in the barnyard at Reid’s inn; 10 years later a circus gave three performances in the same barnyard.

 

More Buildings

 

     Records show that by 1829 there were 125 brick buildings in town, six of stone and 239 of wood.  There were 235 dwelling houses and three brick meeting houses.  In 1838 the Montgomery County Agricultural society was organized and the first county fair held the following month in Swaynie’s hotel at the head of the canal basin.

     By the middle of the 19th century, Dayton had grown so rapidly that larger hotels were needed.  In 1853 Daniel Beckel who came from England as a small boy recognized that need and began to build the Beckel House.  An enterprising railroad contractor, he became active in business and social life of the community and apparently had great faith in future prosperity.

     However, the Beckel was not completely furnished and used as a hotel until 1866, after the Civil War.  In the intervening time, lower floors of the building hummed with activity.  Important meetings were held there as well as many social events.

     At the beginning of the war, the post office was located “under” the Beckel House.  On April 20, 1861, a meeting was called for the purpose of petitioning the city council for an appropriation for relief of families of volunteer soldiers.

     The Soldiers Fair and Bazaar, held during the Christmas holiday week of 1863, highlights the story of the Beckel house.  Sponsored by various small groups working to provide necessities for soldiers and their families, it was a brilliant affair with many colorful booths representing foreign countries and local projects offering for sale jewelry, fruits and flowers.

 

Picturesque Scene

 

     Surely the scene must have been one of great beauty and pleasure.  Undoubtedly logs burned in the huge stone fireplace (still standing in the lobby) and the graceful staircases gave ladies plenty of opportunity to display their fashionable costumes.

     Another recorded meeting of consequence was that held Dec. 23, 1873, to discuss a new road to the Jackson county coal fields.

     In later years, when the Beckel House became renowned as a fine hotel, serving excellent meals, some prominent citizens were permanent residents there, and transient guests praised the management of Louis Reibold.

     Today you cannot see the Phillips House which also holds a place in Dayton history.  For 80 years it was the scene of important events and was considered the town’s social center.

     Built in 1850 at the southwest corner of Third and Main streets by J. D. Phillips, the hotel was named in honor of his father, Horace G. Phillips, who came from New Jersey to Dayton in 1805.  With him he brought his bride and they traveled by horseback through Pennsylvania, by flatboat from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati, and by wagon to Dayton.

 

Opening Ball

 

     One account describes the Phillips House opening ball, Oct. 14, 1852, as a social gathering that “thrilled the Miami Valley up and down its entire length.”  It is said that on that night, “the three full stories blazed with candles at every window.  Carriages drawn by spans of horses deposited guests at the Third street entrance whence they mounted the stairs to the parlors on the second floor and then into the long dining room decorated as a ballroom.”

     Another occasion of different nature was the reception held at the Phillips House June 27, 1864, to honor regiments returning from the war.  An elaborate banquet followed Col. E. A. Parrott’s address to the veterans and their friends.

     The builders of Dayton’s first large hotels were civic-minded men, intensely interested in the town’s growth and welfare.  Their names should not be forgotten, though the march of progress may seem to obliterate their good works.

     The Phillips House was destroyed in 1926—but H. G. Phillips is to be remembered as one of the founders of the Dayton public library.