DAYTON IN THE ‘EIGHTIES AND NINETIES
“Fin de Siècle”
The eighteen eighties were notable for several, if not ornamental, then excessive imperative, municipal improvements. In the preceding decade the Holly Company had supplied us with a most satisfactory system of water-works, still functioning acceptably. But for anything beyond that Dayton was a mud-be-splattered, garbage-ridden, rubbish-littered little town. The situation became as last so irritating to all concerned that in the years between 1880 and 1890 we achieved sewers, paved streets, electric lighting and a telephone system. It was high time for all four.
The first suggestion of the advantages of the telephone appeared in a local paper some time during 1878, but it was advanced more as a curiosity than as a practical possibility applicable to Dayton. Alexander Graham Bell, in an attic in Boston, had made his first audible communication with a person at a distance. George L. Phillips, a young business man of Dayton, read of it, was interested and investigated. He went to Boston, was struck with the enormous potentialities of the invention and came home to set the business world on fire. It was not easy. Everyone admitted the advantages, providing they could be put into application, but buying stock was a different matter.
By another year the papers were roused to deadly earnest as they depicted the necessity of getting the doctor or the fire department in a hurry and with no means of communication better than a horse and buggy or a firebell. They declared editorially that if people only grasped the convenience, to say nothing of the saving of time and labor, of conversing with their friends so easily the new contrivance would be quickly available. That it was, is due to the faith, industry and optimism of George L. Phillips. He talked of nothing, thought of nothing, occupied himself with nothing but the Bell telephone in Dayton, and in a second visit to Boston contracted for the necessary equipment and had it sent on.
The first telephone exchange was installed over the business house of Keifabers Brothers, at 118 East Third Street, with the Keifabers themselves as first subscribers. The earliest directory consisted of a single sheet headed: “Dayton Bell Telephone Company” and held the names of ten subscribers: the Keifabers, three Phillips’ – T. A., George L., and Charles A.; the American Express Company, the Beckel House, George F. Rohr, J. K. McIntire, William Sander and J. W. Johnston. Business in the new office did not exactly “boom.” Not more than a dozen calls went through the exchange in a day and they not by number but by name. Ten office employees carried all the traffic. The first woman operator was Lily Althoff (Mrs. Arnold Gwinner); the first chief operator, Minnie Glaser (Mrs. Nanendorf). By the fall of 1879 quite a list of subscribers had come in and the telephone system began to look like an enterprise to be reckoned with.
The equipment was primitive. In order to allow entrance and egress for service wires in this first exchange, augur holes had been bored in a wooden shutter. When the number of subscribers mounted up to sixty the attention of Mr. Phillips was called to the fact of the lack of more space. His answer was to ask if there was not another shutter, right there, in which could be bored another sixty holes and when that was used up would be time enough to worry. The wildest imagination could not, at that time, picture the possibility of a hundred and twenty subscribers in Dayton. At the present writing there are fifty thousand. Small hints here and there, in the papers of that day reveal the difference between then and now. It was some time in 1880 that we read that the telephone exchange would be closed on Thanksgiving afternoon from two until four, to enable the employees to eat “A fine Thanksgiving dinner.”
Of course the telephone system grew. It could do no less when once started. Soon the fire-engine houses were connected, then the police stations, the newspaper offices, the banks, the Soldiers’ Home, mercantile houses and finally private homes. In 1881 telephone connection was established between Dayton and West Milton, Piqua, Xenia and Miamisburg. The first long-distance call from Indianapolis was taken and answered one October day in 1881 from T. A. Phillips home, 24 West Fourth Street, in the room that is now the tea room of the Young Women’s League.
The telephone has become such an hourly necessity that it takes one’s breath away to read the objections against it, especially from those approached to become stockholders. It was “only an experiment after all”; their money was “safer in the bank than with the telephone company.” “Dayton would never be large enough to make it a really paying investment.” Boys raised a great outcry because the wire interfered with their kite flying. People were afraid to have wires installed on account of danger during thunder storms. All of which is the inevitable experience of every new invention.
It was in 1882 that that great servant of mankind (especially of his wife), electricity, came to Dayton. Up to that time our streets were lighted by dim and flickering gas lamps. Little boys with a ladder over their shoulders and a torch in their hands ran from one corner post to another, hooking the ladder on to a crosspiece in order to reach the next. In our homes we still scratched the immemorial match (on the box if we were well brought up – on the wall if we weren’t) and scorched our fingers in the process. The resulting illumination was weak, uncertain and malodorous.
Dayton had heard that other cities were using electricity; it seemed possible, but needed demonstration. On the “Commons” below the railroad some enterprising engineer had erected two dynamos with power obtained from engines of an obliging sawmill near by, and for the first time these unsightly wastes were brilliantly illuminated. The city fathers came and saw and were convinced. A company incorporated with a capital stock of one hundred thousand dollars soon followed and received orders for a few arc lamps. Merchants saw at once the advantages to their customers of well-lighted stores. Like the telephone, electricity grew under pressure of its own selling power. From small beginnings in 1882 electric power and light has developed into the present twenty-million dollar public utility, embracing seventeen private and municipal plants, serving some fifty-thousand customers in eleven counties in southern Ohio. The present power house stands on the river bank two miles and a half south of the center of the city where the C. C. C. and St. L. railway crosses the Miami and from which the power for all these stations is generated.
The list of users of the service in Dayton alone has increased five hundred and twenty-two per cent, in ten years, while the population increased twenty-eight per cent. Current is furnished to operate and light the city pumping station, the paint mill, amusement parks, and factories producing automobile starters, washing machines, fare-registers, and computing scales. Paper mills, rubber factories, bakeries, churches, theatres and schools are further large consumers. The domestic necessities for the “juice” increased with the magnifying imaginations of the manufacturers of accessories. Percolators, sweepers, cooking-ranges, irons, fans, heaters, hair-curlers, and dish-washers all testify that life could hardly go on without electricity in the home.
That it did go on in the ‘eighties meant unremitting labor for the housekeeper augmented by the entire absence of any public eating places except the hotels. If the cook left, as cooks had a habit of doing in other times besides our own, the head of the family and the empty-stomached school children appeared with rigorous punctually at meal time and had to be fed. Schools never imagined the noon lunch hour. The word “cafeteria” had not yet been coined. Tea rooms were unknown. The railroad station, the Phillips and the Beckel House and the free lunch at saloons were the only refuges for the business man. Hence, “Woman’s place was in the home” became an iron truth in those days. She was expected to and did employ the arts of a dozen or so trades and professions in her housekeeping but no one thought her capable of selling stockings or using a typewriter. Therefore she was only beginning to penetrate into the business world. In 1880 just six offices had girl stenographers and it is recorded that the head of one of them was seriously argued with by his fellow-lawyers for having yielded to the threatening tide that would surely end in disaster.
It seems incredible that in view of the earlier descriptions of mud in Dayton streets, we should have had to wait until 1889 for paving. The theory supporting us was our confidence in the filtering powers of the underlying bed of gravel through which the river swept at certain intervals. It was indeed a godsend in the beginning but in time the natural question arose: “Why put faith in gravel after eighty-eight thousand people have come to live over it?” The City Council was immovable, as councils are apt to be in those laissez faire days. It was criticized in the papers, petitioned, importuned and threatened. Twice, committees were appointed, but never a report offered or even, it is said, a meeting held. Quoting from the minutes of an organization of citizens we find this summing up of the city management of that day: “It is a political football, kicked hither and thither at every municipal election. The winning side is inevitably made the beneficiary of the victory until another election changes the political complexion, but not the character of the government. The Council, the Board of Education, Fire Board and Infirmary trustees are all under the control of the successful political leader designated and the ‘boss.’”
Patience under such conditions became a vice. At a meeting of exasperated citizens called by A. C. Marshall on November 11, 1889, A. A. Winters presided, H. E. Mead acted as secretary and A. C. Marshall made the opening remarks. A committee was appointed consisting of the following ten persons: A. C. Marshall, E. M. Thresher, Jacob Linxweiler, Jr., J. K. McIntire, Walter Worman, W. P. Callahan, W. D. McKemy, O. I. Gunckel, Jacob Decker and Samuel W. Davies. This preliminary committee sent out a call to other citizens from whom in turn was formed the Committee of One Hundred with A. C. Marshall as permanent chairman. Six sub-committees followed with chairmen: Executive, E. M. Thresher; city government, G. N. Bierce; legislation, W. D. McKemy; sewers, J. W. Stoddard; street improvement, D. E. Mead; parks and levees, Jacob Linxweiler, Jr.; finance, A. Bauman. The necessary legislation for accomplishment was secured by Hon. George W. Houk, Colonel D. B. Corwin and James Turner. How the work was accomplished by installing sewers, paving the streets and beautifying the parks is too long a story to tell here. Suffice it to say that these unsalaried private citizens gave their valuable time, held innumerable meetings and used their professional and business influence for the benefit of Dayton, and, as far as is known, there is not a public monument erected to any of them. As for the elected public officials, they sat in the City Hall and industriously drew their salaries.
The first results of the Committee of One Hundred was that when people drove out to East Fifth Street they found, between Wayne Avenue and McReynolds Street, a stretch of good, solid, smooth wood-block pavement. It seemed too good to be true. But that was indeed the beginning of what spread (in spite of complaints that it would impoverish property owners) to the year in 1930, when there are in Dayton over three hundred miles of paved streets (and a few less alleys) and more coming all the time. Mud, dust, chuck-holes and hog-wallows are forgotten. But it must be remembered that we, the citizens of Dayton, might still be wading ankle deep in the limestone soup of the ‘eighties if it had not been for the labors of the Committee of One Hundred. The next result was that in 1890 a complete system of sewers was begun in the center of town and from year to year carried out to the extreme limits of the city, delivering us at once from private property cesspools and of consequent sickness and pestilence. By 1909 there were one hundred and fifty miles of sanitary sewers in Dayton and ninety miles of storm sewers. Today (1930) there are two hundred and sixty-eight miles of sanitary sewers and 143 miles of storm sewers.
The eighteen eighties saw Dayton embellished by a number of notable public buildings among them the Public Library erected in Cooper Park, from plans by Peters and Burns. The architectural style is a free treatment of the southern French Gothic or Romanesque; the construction is of Dayton limestone with trimmings of Marquette red sandstone. Frederick Poole, the prominent Boston librarian, was consulted, and advised many of the details of the inside arrangement. For fifty years it has stood among the elms in Cooper Park, a handsome and sufficient building in which to house and from which to distribute books to the public.
In 1881 the so-called “new” courthouse was perpetrated, that anomaly of architecture labeled “Justiciae Dedicata.” This building is said to have cost Montgomery County $174,945 and it has been jocosely intimated that this sum was $174,940 more than it was worth.
In July, 1880, Myron T. Herrick, afterwards Governor of Ohio and later ambassador to France, came to Dayton and carried off as his bride, Miss Kitty Parmely from her home on East First Street.
In the middle ‘eighties a great addition to the western edge of town was constructed, then known as “Robert Fill.” Not many people, when they walk along that tree embowered parkway named Robert Boulevard, know to whom Dayton owes it. Names for its promoter it has become his noblest monument. The arched elms over head were the contribution of another of Dayton’s benefactors who has had mention in these pages – John Van Cleve, who planted them in the early ‘thirties and converted a bare embankment into a much-prized thoroughfare. Beyond the levee, between it and the river, there stretched in 1880 an area of pasture land on which the family cows of ancient Dayton were nourished; then an expanse of gravel, then the river, at most seasons of the year a thin and harmless stream, at others a raging torrent. Therefore it happened that the levee, supposed to be a promenade on the river bank, was so far from the water as to be a misnomer. This condition existed from Monument Avenue Bridge to Third Street Bridge.
The first to see the advantage of adding those wasted areas to the rapidly growing city was Mr. James A. Robert. He met at first the most violent and outspoken opposition, the public seeing only in the double plan of deepening the channel and adding available building sites, more danger than ever from floods. But Mr. Robert knew what he was about. He got his brother, a practical engineer, to come from the east and look over the situation. The two together worked out the plan but it was James Robert who accomplished the details. A steam-shovel was put in, excavating the gravel from the bed of the river and piling it on to the land, gradually bringing the level of the fill up to the top of the levee.
Thus the whole area now known as Robert Boulevard, and Sunset Avenue, together with the homes upon them, came into existence from the fertile brain of James A. Robert. At first glance it looked like a marvelous money-making scheme, for real-estate values were going up in the ‘eighties. It should have been, because human initiative means something and deserves a fair profit. It some hands it might have meant a profitable speculation but Daytonians may accept it on the best possible authority (A. D. Wilt) that James Robert “was not ten cents richer for all his labors of four long years.” The investment he put into it he got out of it and that was all, plus perhaps the personal satisfaction of seeing a much-needed improvement realize itself.
On July 30 and 31, 1884, there occurred in Dayton the third of the four biggest crowds in her history. The first was the Harrison campaign in 1840; the second when Goldsmith-Maid ran in 1860; the Wright celebration is yet to be told. The third occasion, of which we are now concerned, was the reunion of the national Grand Army of the Republic and the dedication of the soldier’s monument which still stands guard at the head of Main Street. Since the intention was to bring to Dayton as many people from outside as possible, the preparations consumed not only weeks but months. A list of the citizens instrumental in making the arrangements and heading the committees sounds like a roster of the social and business life of those Dayton years. Major W. D. Bickham, M. P. Nolan, A. A. Simonds, Harry Lowe, Hon. Samuel Craighead, A. J. Willioughby, Hon. George W. Houk, Col. E. A. Parrott, Hon. John F. Lowe, General Gates Thruston, Captain E. Morgan Wood, Col. W. J. White, General S. B. Smith, A. D. Wilt, E. Stowe Forgy, J. K. McIntire, Hon. J. A. McMahon, Charles E. Pease, Captain S. W. Davies, L. D. Reynolds, A. Newsalt, O. B. Brown, A. C. Marshal.
These were the leaders, and there were hundreds of helpers. To most of them, survivors as they were of the Civil War, this celebration was a vital and a personal matter. It began at daybreak of the 30thwith reveille and an artillery salute. First of order of the day was an inspection of the Soldiers’ Home by the visiting guests with Governor Brown and Chaplain Earnshaw as hosts. In the afternoon a parade formed on Main Street composed of survivors of the war on foot and in carriages, military companies in uniform, posts of the Grand Army of the Republic, children from the Soldier’s and Sailors’ Orphans Home at Xenia, veterans from the National Home, and the Old Guard Post. To the head of Main Street they marched amid the huzzas from a hundred thousand throats, past the grandstand where stood ex-President Hayes and Mrs. Hayes, General Joseph G. Hawley, General Rosecrans, Senator Sherman, General R. P. Kennedy with prominent Daytonians, and came to a halt where the veiled monument awaited its share in the ceremony. Following the usual flowery oratory suitable to the occasion, Hon. George W. Houk presented the monument to the city of Dayton, Governor Hoadly accepted in appropriate terms – then something went wrong. The monument seemed to not care to cooperate. It would not be presented, accepted nor unveiled. The ropes to release the enveloping sheet were pulled and – nothing happened. They were pulled again and yet again, with no perceivable effect. The shrouded figure stood immovable on top of its pillar careless of the agonizing emotions in the breasts of the Grand Army of the Republic and just as careless of the rain which took that opportunity to come down with such whole-souled vigor as rain can only do on occasions of public rejoicing. The crowds were packed so tight nobody could get away and there was no shelter to go to if they had. For one long-drawn-out hour, during which a chimney cleaner was sent for, “shinned” up the pillar, released the sheet and clambered down (to the quite genuine applause of the crowd) that rain continued. It even kept up while the massed choirs sang the anthem and then, having done all the harm possible to uniforms, feathers and patriotism, it ceased, and the sun came out bright and warm. The anthem was written by Mrs. John Hancock, the music composed by W. L. Blumenschein, “Peace to their ashes; their graves are our pride.
In the evening the scene of interest changed from the crowded streets to the equally crowded banks of the river. The thousands that had filled Main Street earlier in the day from curb to curb spread themselves along the north and south banks from the Main Street to the Dayton View Bridge and massed themselves on each. In the rear of the stately homes then fronting on Monument Avenue, the sloping lawns made a sort of dress circle for the honored guests, they being divided between the Bickham and the E. M. Thresher premises.
As the sun sank towards the West in the haze of that summer afternoon the spectators saw, majestically rounding the current of the river, what the papers announced as “The United States Fleet.” It consisted of two Mississippi River iron-clads, led by the flagship “Union” under command of (Admiral) E. B. Lyon. Historical accuracy demands the admission that the gunboats were cleverly constructed out of boards, painted black and propelled by side-wheel paddles worked by man-power at a crank on each side. These formidable vessels were each mounted with two field pieces and two mortars. Just below Main Street Bridge there opened up on the fleet a deadly fire from a rebel battery (two small brass cannon hidden in the fringe of tall sycamores that even then remained among the north bank). The fleet came to anchor and fired a broadside in return. Then the troops poured ashore, led by Captain A. D. Knecht. The rebel yell resounded on the air answered by the cheers of the brave Yankee boys. The crowds on the bridges encouraged the Union troops with answering cheers amid which the rebel stronghold was taken. It was an occasion to thrill even the most hard-boiled of observers. The boom of the cannon, the black smoke belching from the stacks of the gunboats, the cheers of the attacking troops made a never-to-be-forgotten scene. As for the flagship the records tell nothing of its ultimate end. Perhaps it did not hold together long enough to be described.
As the dusk fell and the stars came out the crowds still lingered, for was there not a superb display of fireworks announced? And who wants to miss anything like that? Memory tells us it was all the reporters said about it. The set pieces were sent for at large expense and set up on the very edge of the river so that each, as it came into blazing prominence was repeated in the glassy surface of the water. “The Coat-of-Arms of the United States” was the first to elicit the loyal cheers of the populace. Then came “On Guard” (a soldier on duty) “Aladdin’s Jeweled Trees,” “The Flowering Aloe Tree,” “The Star of America”; in addition there were of course rockets – forty-eight of them, with parachutes; aerial bouquets, showering golden rain and colored streamers and twelve pyrotechnic bombs, while all up and down the river on both banks were set off at intervals colored magnesium lights so that throughout the long evening’s program there was not a single moment of darkness. A “Journal” reporter, carried out of himself by the splendor of the spectacle wrote that the “grand Stoddard mansion on the hill, partially revealed by the glow of the rockets, was a fine embellishment of this novel nocturnal spectacle.”
No Stoddard home any more! No Bickham and Thresher lawns sloping to the river’s edge. Big buildings of the new Dayton have pushed the old homes into the past, and of the Daytonians who worked so hard to celebrate in 1884 how few there are left.
Booth Tarkington it was, if I am not mistaken, who first called the last decade of the century “The Gay ‘Nineties.” Richard Le Gallienne called them “The Romantic ‘Nineties” and Mencken the “Electric ‘Nineties.” All three were more or less right. The ‘nineties were gay, they were romantic and they were electric. But most of all the ‘nineties were sophisticated, with a sophistication that passes all description. An expression (never to be questioned since it was French) came into the vocabulary of those palpitating years. It was “Fin de Siècle” (called by the ignorant and ribald “Finn de Sickel”) It was used to characterize our clothes, books, manners, opinions, fashions, emotions. Everything was “Fin de Siècle.” It carried a sense of things having gotten to a state of perfection hitherto unknown. Some of it I suspect was due to the impact of new impressions brought in by the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
At any rate, the seriousness with which we took ourselves was not to be questioned. We felt that of all the other past and gone civilizations, we alone, and our new cultivation had now definitely “arrived.” We knew so much. We thought so deeply. Our taste was so unquestioned. It did not seem possible that there could be much ahead of us to learn. What would have been our sensations if we had been told that within a short thirty years a new vocabulary would come in of which there was not the slightest sign in the ‘nineties? To some of us the ‘eighties and ‘nineties do no seem so far away and yet our very speech would make us strangers in those years. Flapper, feminism, propaganda, percolator, traffic jam, radio, fundamentalism, chauffeur, aviator, birth-control, direct primaries, photo-gravure – a foreign language all of it to the ‘nineties! Prohibition and suffrage were just jokes. Nobody believed they would ever become realities. Art was just beginning to be spelled with a capital letter. We imagined that our taste in pictures could not be doubted, but if a present-day housekeeper should inherit the cherished parlor ornaments of the ‘nineties she would order each one deposited where the ash man could carry it into oblivion. Out would go the steel engravings of “Washington and his Family” or of “Lincoln and his Cabinet.” Lithographing in colors was just coming in and although our sophistication disdained the “Fruit Pieces” where watermelons and strawberries were grouped together we fell before the charms of the “Vestal Virgin” who, with lighted lamp and corrugated clothing looked down upon us from many a mantel on First Street. A slang phrase of the period expressing extreme disdain was “Pull down your vest” and some wag rechristened the popular chromo the “Pull-down-your-Vestal Virgin.”
What did we read in the ‘eighties and ‘nineties? Well, we had laid aside “Innocents Abroad,” “Lucile” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” but we were devoted to Howells, Mrs. Humphrey Ward and Bellamy’s “Looking Backward.” Trilby entranced us with its flavor of foreign life. A part of the Fin de Siècle atmosphere was to introduce French phrases into conversation, “de rigueur,” “savoir faire” and “au revoir.” We put “P. P. C.” on our visiting cards and “R.S.V.P.” on our invitations, with, it must be confessed, but a nebulous idea of what it all meant.
Artemus Ward as a comic satirist had long ago been pushed into a back place on the bookshelves, but Mr. Dooley was coming into his own with his daily comment on Congress. Some of our domestic contrivances would cause a smile now although to us they were quite acceptable. Electricity, having not yet come into common use, the doorbell of the end of the century should have honorable mention. A white china knob on the outside of the door frame was connected by wires and pulleys with a large brass bell somewhere in the back regions of the dwelling, which responded to a pull on the knob with reverberating clamor. Worse still were the metal handles of some front doors which when twisted resulted in the deafening explosion of a gong right under the visitor’s nose.
A sign of social prestige in those days was an iron stag to stand on the lawn under the trees. If we didn’t have a lawn and couldn’t afford the stag there was a substitute almost as good. It was an iron horse-jockey to stand at the curb with up-stretched hand to hold the hitching strap of the next visitor who came with a horse and buggy.
The 1890’s were the days of stiff shirtwaists for ladies and little sailor hats perched high upon their coiffures. The days also when at dinner parties the gentlemen guests looked wistfully out from a V-shaped opening formed by the immense sleeves on either side of him.
It was during these years that bicycling came in, and what a craze it was! The first machine to appear had one large wheel in front on which perched the acrobat rider, and a small one at the back. To fall of one of these contraptions was equivalent to an Alpine disaster. Sensible manufacturers, foreseeing the invasion of women into this recreation, invented the “Safety” in which the two wheels were nearer of a size and then everybody took to it. A wheel for each member of the family became the rule. Dignified matrons, mothers of grown children (and long before the fad of “reducing” came in) went pedaling solemnly along country roads and wiping their brows in the hot sun. The Soldiers’ Home was still a weekly resort, and on Saturday evenings the pike, from edge to edge, was filled with bicyclers of all ages and conditions. Wheeling became the absorbing topic of conversation, as motoring or flying is today. Dressmakers were in a panic because there was no more dressing for dinner. Ladies came to the table in their circular bicycle skirts and what was to become of the trade?
These wheeling skirts were the first intimation that women were entitled to the use of their legs and, I believe, the beginning of their emancipation in the matter of clothes. A double skirt, each cut on the circular, gave ease to pedaling, and the fullness was such that the bifurcation was not apparent. But its baleful influence could be felt and thundered at in all the citadels of “female” purity and decorum. The very word “divided skirt” was known to throw some ministers and editors into spasms of outraged virtue. The lowering of standards of “womanly behavior,” the “smothering of decency,” the “decline of the home” and the collapse of the universe were some of the things predicted by the Dayton “Journal” if these awful garments became universal. Freer dressing gave an impetus to sports for women never before enjoyed. That it came far short of what is known today as freedom may be seen if Charles Dana Gibson’s drawings of the ‘nineties should be disinterred from back numbers of illustrated magazines, drawings depicting girls playing tennis in “gored” skirts four yards in circumference, touching the ground at every point, and lined with a heavy crinoline “dust ruffle.” The sleeves fit with skin tightness on the lower arm where the muscles want free play and stuck out a third of a yard on either side of the wearer’s shoulders. And the hats of the period. Ah, who shall do them justice? It was if the milliners had designed them while suffering under an attack of delirium tremens. They mounted to undreamed-of-altitudes, sat high upon the head with a brim that dipped and soared, the crown topped with a veritable jungle of verdure and blossoms all united with cascades of lace, curling ostrich feathers and flamboyant ribbon bows. Fashion never could have conquered the hat of the period but the automobile did. When two decades later no amount of skillful pinning or veiling would keep it anchored to its placed while whipped with the wind of rapid transit, the small close hat came into its own.
One of the results of our new birth, so to speak, was the rise of a new community self-consciousness. If it were true that we had “arrived” it was well to know what we had arrived from. Our local historian, Mary Davies Steele, reminded us that it was in the spring of 1796 that occurred the stirring events that led to the settlement of Dayton. From her sick bed she wrote articles for the papers, telling again how the first settlers came from Cincinnati by river and by land, how they disembarked at the head of Main Street, how they built homes, planted corn, shot game, endured malaria and the rest of it. Now the calendar said eighteen ninety-six and time by the clock for a centennial birthday party. Some well-oiled memory disclosed that the fact that the shabby old grocery on the corner of Main and Monument Avenue was the original Newcom Tavern, the first real house built in Dayton. Through the generosity of citizens led by John H. Patterson and the impetus of the newly organized Historical Society under Hon. C. W. Dustin, this building was rescued just time from the hands of the wreckers, who were making place for an apartment house. Underneath the weather-beaten clapboards the original logs were found intact as well as much of the interior floors and finish. What better peg upon which to hang an historical celebration? A new place was found for the old resident on the edge of the river in Van Cleve Park where, stripped of its unsightly outer garment and restored with roof and chimney, it took on a new air of dignity and interest. Public-spirited citizens here and there in Montgomery county discovered that their attics held antiques, some of them the actual former furnishings of the cabin, and these they brought with outstretched hands, eager to restore the old building as near to possible to its original condition. The whole spring was a culminating apotheosis of the “old.” Spinning wheels were contributed by old ladies offering to use them – which they did during the three days of the celebration. Beds and cradles, Dutch ovens, candle molds, hominy mills, pewter candlesticks, cider presses were some of the mementoes of the housekeeping of a hundred years ago, which may still be seen, mute testimonials of the daily life of our pioneer ancestors. No other city, we believe, possesses such an historical relic – a museum in itself and our most dearly prized possession.
Not a citizen of any age or sex but had some part in the celebration of our birthday anniversary. Every school in the city held appropriate exercises. They “spoke pieces,” sang songs and told again the settlement story. A procession that started at the Newcom Cabin and came back to it, included floats bearing school children (ten thousand of them). Indians, pioneers in the garb of the early century. Dayton industries to serve as contrast, the fire department, with banners and bands and cheers and flag-waving and pleasant hysteria of all kinds. Across the groups of ringers working in relays so that not a minute, day or night, should lack its contribution of ear-splitting clamor. What with the procession, the crowds, the bells and guns and the shrieks of joy from the throats of thousands of small exuberant boys there was nobody, surely in the Dayton of those three days, but knew what our centennial meant.
The outstanding part of the celebration came in the evening with the performance of “Daytonia,” a pageant depicting a hundred years of community life in our city and given in the Grand Opera House under the personal direction of Harry E. Feight. Quoting from the pages of the Daytonia program we find a veritable orgy of melodrama. Act One – Newcom Tavern as it was first built, at the mouth of Mad River and surrounded with thick woods. Arrival of visiting settlers in Conestoga wagon; attack by Indians (here a deviation from history, since the worst the Indians ever did in Dayton was to get drunk and yell); arrival of soldiers; skirmish; repulse of savages. Moonlight scene showed a vision of the future Dayton, with trolley cars passing the new Steele High School. (Although this date was only four years before the appearance of the first “horseless carriage,” nobody on the staff of managers foresaw the automobile.)
Act Second – Dayton in 1841: Third and Main streets looking north (the setting being copied from an old water color by John Van Cleve, and loaned by Miss Martha Holt). There were one hundred and fifty players in this act, and they presented a May Day celebration in Steele’s Wood (in 1840 the popular place for picnics – being the hill behind the present Art Museum). A colonial minuet in Eighteenth Century costumes was danced, and a double quartette of singers finished the act.
Act Three brought the spectators to the opening days of the Civil War, and here a great chance for pathos and capital letters – “The Interior of a Dayton home in 1861.” “Breaking Home Ties,” “Drilling of the awkward Squad on Main Street.” “Off for the War!” “Troops Passing the old Court House.” (Of this scene the souvenir program declared it “the most thrilling and realistic stage effect ever presented.”) Apparently five thousand troops, including infantry, cavalry, artillery, together with numerous bands and drum corps passed in view of the spellbound audience.
Act Four depicted Chickamauga at sunset; “Where hundreds of our Dayton boys fought in defense of their country’s flag.: :Realistic and Sanguinary Battlefield”; “Exalted Bravery”; “The Hero’s Death”; “Visions of Mother”; “The Attack”; “Lincoln”; “Emancipation”; “Peace!”
Act Five consisted of four allegorical transformations, I. E., (1) the Landing, April 1, 1796; (2) Dayton in 1829, showing arrival of first canal boat from Cincinnati; (3) Dayton in 1865; (4) Dayton of Today – THE GEM CITY OF AMERICA!” All finishing in a burst of patriotic glory under the direction of the Dayton Guards, and such eminent civilians as Charles Wuichet, R. P. Burkhart, Harry Weidner, B. F. Hargrave, Alfred A. Thresher, Charles Harries Simms, Abe S. Bickham, John R. Tomlinson, Edward B. Grimes, Dan E. Kumler, Frank Conover, Chas. G. Bickham, Harvey C. Phelps, A. F. Thiele, Charles J. Geyer, Chas F. Knecht, Wood Patton, Wm. B. Sullivan, Albert J. Dwyer, Edward G. Pease, Chas. W. Beiser, Joseph W. Mead, Wm. H. Simms, Moses Wolf, P. A. McGowan, Daniel C. Larkin, B. B. Thresher, Chas. M. Wood, H. C. Graves.
The ladies who lent their efforts to make “Daytonia go” were Mesdames S. H. Carr, J. D. Platt, O. B. Brown, Wm. Craighead, W. F. Gebhart, Jos. H. Crane, Phillip Rotterman, F. J. Ach, Robert C. Schenck, J B. Thresher, and others.
Among the actors were Clement Herchelrode, J. Howard Davies, Harvey Conover, Thomas B. Herman, Dr. Fred C. Weaver, C. G. L. Breene, E. W. Hanley, Edward Pease, Perry Weidner, Harrie Pease Clegg, Carl Loy, Fred T. Darst, Louis Howard, Mary P. Davies, and others.
The singers were Mrs. H. H. Bimm, Mrs. Fred C. Weaver, Mrs. Herbert B. Brown, Miss Maud Reber, H. H. Bimm, Frank A. Palmer, Harry L. Munger, and Harry B. Turpin.
We cannot, even with the added wisdom of thirty-five years, look back with superiority upon the melodramatic extravaganzas of “Daytonia.” In the first place it was well done. Harry Feight saw to that and this was not his first dramatic experience. Then, whether they knew it or not, there was in the efforts of the promoters of Dayton a deeper purpose involved. What this purpose was may be seen by an analysis of the foregoing list of names. To one who knows the Dayton of the past as well as the Dayton of the present, those names represented all religions, all organizations, all affiliations. Catholics worked side by side with Protestants; Jews with Gentiles. In all other interests they were divided and separate. Here it was not a question of any one concern, but of a single common loyalty – Dayton. During this celebration one practical lesson was learned by those who took part in it – a lesson that was to serve them well on a future occasion of which not one of them dreamed – it was how to work together for the sake of the city.
Captain Sam. W. Davies, being asked to write a page for the souvenir program on “Dayton of the Present” (that is, 1896), thus delivered himself:
The Dayton of today is beautiful, rich, powerful and prosperous. We invite the stranger and sojourner to cast in his lot with us. We will help him if he is good, furnish him with a fine bed in a splendid hospital if he is sick, but him in the new station-house* if he is bad, and if he dies we will bury him in the most beautiful cemetery in the country. What reasonable man, alive or dead, could ask for more?
Thirty-five years later, Dayton with outstretched hands still says the same to the stranger within her gates.
*This is biting sarcasm. In 1896 we had nothing but a rat-infested barracks for a station house, good for nothing except to make jokes about.
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