This article appeared in the Journal Herald on July 30, 1960
When “Young” Robert Boulevard Possessed An Air of Distinction
By Margaret Ann Ahlers
There was a time when the stately trees along Robert boulevard spread their arched branches above a way of life now a part of history.
Then the crunch of horse-drawn carriage and wagon wheels on gravel intermingled with the sound of voices and laughter of pedestrians who promenaded on the sidewalks. Along those walks were benches for resting or enjoying the shade of the beautiful trees.
It was a time when ladies wore long skirts enhanced by ruffles, pleats or over-draperies. Tight bodices with leg-of-mutton sleeves and high, lightly boned collars were popular.
Gentlemen wore high collars, too, often with formal ascot ties and jeweled stickpins. Their garb was in keeping with the elegant costumes of ladies.
It was a time when the fine houses facing the boulevard gave evidence of Dayton’s stability and progress. Those residences were built for family life and to house more than one generation.
As an example, one of the first homes on North Robert boulevard was that constructed for John Baker who as a boy worked in a hardware store established in 1853 by a Mr. Holcam of Birmingham, England. After three years, the founder of the first hardware store in Dayton returned to England. For a short time the business was operated by Dr. Walden and A. C. Marshall, but eventually John Baker acquired it for himself.
Today his daughter, Miss Dorothea Baker, and his son, Frederick M. Baker, live in the house first owned by their father; they continue to operate the hardware store which has been in the family for 104 years—and in the original location on East Fifth street.
The Howe-Marot school, an asset to cultural life in Dayton, was situated on the boulevard. Miss Baker was a member of the special art class. Her neighbor, Miss Eleanor McCann, also attended the school.
The late Miss Rosalie Lowery, well known for her professional portrait painting, went to the Howe-Marot school. There she studied portrait drawing with Miss Bertha Collins, assistant to Mrs. Laura Howe Osgood, nationally known for her ceramics, director of the art course.
Major William D. Bickham, who purchased the Dayton Journal after mob destruction following the arrest of C. L. Vallandingham in 1863, acquired property on Robert boulevard and lived there with his family.
Another prominent resident was Harry Feight, entertainment promoter, who in 1896 directed the spectacular centennial celebration staged in the Grand Opera House which at that time occupied the southeast corner of Main and First streets.
Interest In Music
The family of John a. Crebs, who came to Dayton in 1881, also holds a place in the boulevard story. His son, Walter D. Crebs, associated with the Beaver Soap company, married Miss Edith Currier, a skilled musician who became active in the early organization of the Dayton Music club and Civic Music league.
Among others whose names are linked with Dayton history were Mr. and Mrs. Virgil Brooks (his father was an Englishman) who were married in Connecticut and came here to make their home. Mr. Brooks was a master plumber--and in those days plumbing was an art.
Mrs. Brooks is well remembered for her published poetry and for her interest in music. For some time she was a member of the music committee at Linden Avenue Baptist church.
One of the imposing residences was for many years the home of Mrs. Stanley Westerman whose husband, a railroad contractor, is said to have built what is now the Pennsylvania RR. division from Dayton to the Indiana state line. When the Westermans’ daughter married William S. Edgar, the couple resided in that home. In later years their son, William Stanley Westerman Edgar, became a part of the family circle.
Mrs. Elizabeth A Johnson, widow of Samuel Johnson, lived for some time on the boulevard. She was the sister of Howard Friend Sr., owner of the Friend Paper Mill.
Other property owners identified with industry of the time were C. F. Snyder, secretary and treasurer of the Beaver Soap company established in 1879 by Frederick P. Beaver; and E. B. Solomon whose father, Charles A. Solomon, came to Dayton from New Jersey by wagon. E. B. Solomon was one of the incorporators of the Beaver Soap company.
The foregoing names represent only a small portion of all those Daytonians who were acquainted with Robert boulevard in its heyday. Some records—as well as houses—have disappeared in the swift march of progress.
Yet one of the remaining descendants of early residents of that thoroughfare recently remarked, “People had fun in those days; they had time to laugh and be gay; their faces showed no strain of the problems and worries that seem to be a part of life as it is today.”