This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on December 8, 1946
Dayton’s Face Lifting
By Bernard J. Losh
THERE was a hole in the seat of its pants and its toes were sticking out of its shoes. Its face was dirty and it needed a haircut—a tough looking guy. But because it was young and pliable, had a yearning for better things and because someone took an interest in it these factors were able to act in happy unison to straighten it out.
As it grew this lusty, robust city developed a sense of cleanliness and orderliness and found itself with a liking for beautiful things. Discovering an expanding vision which enabled it to peer into tomorrow, it came to know that all those tomorrows would be just about what it would make of them. It decided to be a better boy.
This much could be said of countless thousands of communities. It is presently being said about Dayton, O. Some of the old names of the city’s areas and sections tell the story of the way it was going.
There were times when visitors, on leaving Dayton, talked about Slidertown, Tin Town, Africa, Frenchtown, the “Commons” and the things they said were not nice either. In fact they did not see much reason for returning. It was just a small town and a pretty tough one at that. It was run down at the heels and it not only needed to have its face washed, it required a thorough face-lifting job if it was ever going to look like anything.
Some of the names were descriptively ugly. Other names were pleasing enough of themselves, but they had a nasty inference. Others were at once pleasing to the ear as well as being colloquial.
Names and boundaries being the points of interest here it is expected that anyone who undertakes to do a story about them will come upon protestants and dissenters and we do not expect to be spared. And we have only the sketchiest kind of authority to back us up but those who beg to differ will be hard put to produce much with better warrant or testimony.
How or why sections and areas of the city came by their names are not matters of indisputable record today. No one seems to know precisely how many of the names were arrived at or why they endured. Histories are of little help in the premise. Sections of the city were simply called by what they stood for or tagged by some outstanding bit of topography or building and that was that.
It is also true that while there was no single movement which brought the city to mend its ways in the designations of its areas and sections, the start to expunge the picturesque names was made by John H. Patterson, founder of the National Cash Register Co., about 1919 when he campaigned to clean up Slidertown. His factory, beautiful by the then industrial standards, was in the midst of this particular community shambles.
On the basis of the sketchy authority we were able to dig up, Slidertown was not first of the descriptive names which attached themselves to areas of Dayton but it was one of the most offensive and when Mr. Patterson began crusading to clean up Slidertown he also saw to it that it got another name, South Park.
Areas in Dayton once had these fanciful and pungent names: Miami City, the area from Wolf Creek south to the railroad and immediately west of the Miami river.
Africa was along Seely’s Basin. It included a part of Wayne av., Pearl, Simpson and Warren sts.
Phillips Hill was the high ground at the north end of the present Fairgrounds. At one time, because of traffic on the Miami-Erie canal there were boat yards at the foot of this hill.
A stretch of ground west of Ludlow st., to the river, from about Bruen st. to below Apple st., was known as the “Commons.” It was called that from about 1845 to 1855.
Robert’s Fill was an area of filled-in land where Robert blvd. is now located.
Shakertown was a large area lying to the east and south of the city along what is now Watervliet av.
Tin Town, a district of questionable repute, was the area which began, roughly, at what is now McArthur av., then to the north and from there to the Soldiers’ Home.
St. Anne’s Hill was the high ground from the corner of McLain and Eagle sts., north to Third st.
Frenchtown extended south of Second st. and the canal to Fifth st., and east from the canal at Webster st. to St. Ann’s Hill.
Slidertown included the territory from Wyoming and Brown sts., south to Irving av., and west to Main st.
A section of what is now North Dayton, lying adjacent to the Mad river was known as Texas.
McPhersontown was located on both sides of Main st., north of the Miami river for a distance of several squares.
Mexico was originally a plat of 39 lots on Third st., east from Williams st., and New Mexico was hard by.
Patterson, better known as Browntown, was west of the Miami river and south of the old C. H. and D. railroad. Parts of it are now in Edgemont.
In its early history Dayton had a Cabintown. People living north of Third st. appropriated the name of Dayton and, according to the historians, in derision called that part of the city lying south of Third, Cabintown.
In what is now part of the business area there was a plot of 87 acres called Buck’s Pasture. Histories tell of the happy day when the owners began to parcel the ground, expecting to get $700 an acre for it. They got $6000 an acre for it and were they surprised!
Another section of North Dayton was called Brush Prairie.
A district including Concord and Albany sts., and a part of Bolander av., was called Plum Orchard. Greencastle was on the Germantown rd., between Broadway and Summit st.
Newcom Plain was a large area which took in lands on both sides of Richard st., and in 1813 there was a small area west of Perry st., near what is now Fifth st., called Specksburg in honor of a baker named Speck.
Wait a minute before you pick up your pen to start writing. We have one more and we saved it till the last. Dayton, in 1879 was called unofficially, Venice. A Major Stites stood at the mouth of the Mad river and opined that would be a nice name for what he saw before him. Also unofficially the Mad river was known as the Tiber along about that time.
Now you may take pen in hand and begin.
We can say by way of an opening gambit that we have talked with a lot of old timers, consulted a lot of histories and made mighty efforts to locate the boundaries of these colorfully named districts, but our authorities are not infallible. The nicknames now being matters of official record many of them are also not in the minds of old residents, one remembering this location and another that but not one recalled them all.
Every one was in agreement however that the tough town did grow up to be something of a gentleman and the names now borne by the districts are the kind that need no apology.