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The Story of Dayton View

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, October 22, 1933



By Howard Burba


Dayton View, long the garden spot of the city of Dayton lost a most interesting citizen and a real benefactor when J. O. Arnold answered the final call.  By many he has been referred to as the real “Daddy of Dayton View.”  He may or may not have been deserving of the title.  But as one who years ago visualized the possibilities of Dayton View as a marvelous residential district and one unsurpassed in beauty, he is entitled to all the credit that can be bestowed upon him.

            For long years J. O. Arnold resided in a home which stood at the northwest corner of what is now Superior av. And Arnold Place, the latter being named in his honor.  “I’ve often as a boy picked blackberries on the very spot where my home now stands,” he once told a Dayton View citizen.

            It was at the old Arnold home that Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, tarried over night as he went through the country seeking followers.  It was in this home that the first organization of United Brethren was formed.  It was here that farmers of the county gathered to gaze upon the first mowing machine ever brought to these parts.  It was in this house, and in its large Dutch over that the last deer to be killed on the site of Dayton View was prepared for a wonderful feast.  “Uncle Jimmie: Oliver, David Houk and Jeff McConnell killed the deer.  It was in this house that the first Bible Society in Dayton was formed.  It was in this house the Dayton Historical society was formed, with the late Judge C. W. Dustin as president.  It was on the Arnold farm that the first self-opening gate ever to be displayed in America was set up.

            Up to within recent years the Arnold homestead was the oldest house standing in Dayton View, having been built amid a dense forest of heavy timbers in 1838.  The lumber for it was sawed at Steele’s mill, which stood at what is now the south end of McKinley park, opposite the entrance to the Art Institute.  The weather-boarding was sawed out of walnut logs and dressed by hand with a jack plane.

            Just how long Dayton View would have remained in a state of rural simplicity had it not been for a few far-seeing pioneers must always be a matter of speculation.  Its development hinged wholly upon the construction of a bridge across the Miami.  So long as all of the high and wooded territory across the river was connected to the town proper by nothing more than a “ford,” no one visualized it as a future residential section.  It remained for a bridge, and that a crude one compared with modern structures, to give to Dayton its most attractive suburb.

            The first charter for a bridge across any stream coursing through Dayton was obtained by Daniel Cooper in 1814, and it was for a bridge over Mad river.  Nothing came of the matter, however, and it was not until Jan. 27, 1816, that a meeting was held at the tavern of Col. Grimes to take actual steps looking toward its erection.  But this plan fell through, and it was not until 1817 that it was built by the county.

            In the meantime a company for building the Bridge st. bridge which stood on the site of the present Dayton View bridge, was organized.  The incorporators were: Robert Patterson, Joseph Pierce, Daniel Reid, H. G. Phillips, James Steele, George S. Houston, William George and William King.  Nathan Hunt of Hamilton was the contractor.

            This first bridge, a toll structure, was covered, and consisted of two spans.  In 1852 it was washed away and in 1856 another wooden bridge took its place.  The toll was a marked reduction from ferry charges, with the following rates: Loaded wagon and team, 12 1/2c; empty wagon and team, 6 1/4c; two-wheeled carriage, 6 1/4c; man and horse, 3c; persons on foot, 2c.  Soon after the bridge was completed a road was laid out to the southwest, crossing Wolf creek and continuing to the old Eaton road in the neighborhood of Germantown st.  Thus it served as an outlet for travel from the west and south as well as the north.

            While this bridge marked the opening of what is now Dayton View, the road leading from it to the north was not over Salem av.  The old road continued west from the bridge along what is now Riverview until it reached Broadway.  Then it turned north and ran to the old town of Salem.  When Dayton View was opened Salem av. Was constructed, and for years it was known as the New Salem pike.

            When the forest was cleared off in front of the New Salem road, now Salem av., the Arnold farm presented a beautiful appearance.  The house, being painted white, with green shutters, offered a peculiar beauty.  Within the walls of this old homestead preaching, prayer service, pioneer meetings, husking bees, apple-cutting, caucuses, military elections, quilting, horticultural meetings were held for more than 50 years, dating from 1838.  The house was built by Gorton Arnold, a contractor and member of the pioneer building firm of Morrison & Arnold.  Their shop stood on the present site of Keith’s theater at Fourth and Ludlow.

            Following the erection of the Arnold home came Joseph Peters, who was the first to depart from the old custom of building square houses.  He was the father of Luther Peters, for years head of the architectural firm of Peters, Burns & Pretzinger.

            Close on his heels came Matthew Burrows to educate the people in the building of more attractive homes, and about the same time houses commenced to go up in Dayton View under the direction of John Rouzer, the man who built the old Turner Opera House.  About this time Benjamin Beaver and John Butt came into the field.  In 1869 George Lane and Joseph Matthews became interested in the new suburb, and there are quite a few residences still standing in the older part of Dayton View which were designed and built by these men.  They built the first house on what is now Central av. 

            When J. O. Arnold died a few years ago not only Dayton View but the city as a whole lost one of its greatest historians.  From youth this man found delight in a study of the settlement of this particular part of the old Northwest Territory.  To him the lore of Indian and Pioneer was most fascinating.  And long before the first modern streets and homes were made in Dayton View he knew the story of every trail which led through it.  Anxious to preserve such historical knowledge as he possessed for future generations, he began as a young man to write for local papers.  When he died there was to his credit enough matter of this kind to fill an extensive volume.

            While writing history was a hobby with J. O. Arnold, the fact must not be lost sight of that he also helped make it.  Go back through the files of newspapers for 20, 30 or 40 years and more and you will find his name connected with practically every forward step that his native city took during that time.  Yet he sought no special recognition for himself.  His one aim was to see Dayton View grown into a magnificent park set with happy homes and a contented people.  He realized his dream to the fullest before he passed on.

            In addition to leaving that greatest of worldly riches, a good name, J. O. Arnold left a scrapbook filled to the brim with rich historical lore.  I have been happily engrossed in its pages, and feel that a treasure like this is of too great interest to the general public to pass unnoticed in the public prints.  The whole story of Dayton is within the pages of this rare scrapbook; bits of romantic lore which J. O. Arnold knew should be all means be preserved.  From the pages of this old book we learn the real story, for instance, of the early settlement of Dayton View, beginning with the erection of the first bridge across the Great Miami river.

            Let us not mar his story by summarizing it.  Instead let us turn to one of the pages in his scrapbook and read the words he penned back in the year 1896 just 37 years ago.  Here is his word picture of the opening up of Dayton View:

            “If in your imagination you can extend First st. on a direct line westward from the boulevard across the Great Miami river to the western bank, you will there intersect a point known as “The Old Ford, “ and it is one of the most interesting places in and for the country north and west of Dayton.  It was the only reliable ford in the early days because of its solid gravel bottom, unchangeable by floods.  Midway when crossing it there could be seen a petrified tree, which created a riffle, and this guided the strangers to shallow water.  It must be remembered that in the early days the rivers during the entire year were more evenly supplied with water on account of the forests and fallen timber which retarded the flow.  It took a longer time for it to reach the large channels as there were no ditches or under-drains to carry the water off quickly.

            “The floods would often change the fords, but this old ford was known to the buffalo, deer, bear and smaller game, and the Indians after them could always rely upon a crossing here.  The military used it for the same reason and the pioneers laid out their thoroughfares to meet at this common point for the north and northwest territories.  It was known to those who came from Virginia and the east, and doubtless this was the reason that it became a central point of conflict between the whites and the Indians, as two battles were fought on the site of Dayton ere a settlement was made in 1796.

            “Out of sheer necessity three great highways diverged from this point-the one up the Wolf creek valley to Fort Greenville, the others toward Covington, Fort Recovery and Celina.  These highways, with lateral branches were located regardless of section lines, and made a network of roads, located upon the highest lands and hillsides.  Often great curves were made to avoid a pond or a swamp through a dense unbroken forest by the pioneers cutting their way erecting their cabins, clearing out the underbrush, deadening the timber to plant a patch of potatoes and corn.  This is the reason why so many of our beautiful macadamize pikes have great curves and sometimes abrupt ones.  Since the country has been cleared up there is surprise that they were ever made so.

            “When the engineers ran the section lines the patches made by these curves were afterward purchased or exchanged by the owners so that each farm would extend to the road, hence so many irregularly shaped farms and curves in the first located roads.

            “The road west, up the Wolf creek valley, commenced at the ford and extended to River st., to the incorporation line, then westwardly up Wolf creek, crossing and recrossing it many times.  The creek was a treacherous one, hence the name.  When the good wife would start on horseback to town with her basket of wild honey, eggs and maple sugar great anxiety would be felt for her safety, as thunder showers were frequent and the creek would be booming high ere her return.  Many times her horse would have to swim the creek.

            “Quite a number of influential families settled in this valley and on its hillsides, among them Daniel Oks, John Graybill, Samual Hager, Daniel Martin, Daniel Miller, Stephan Ullery, Jefferson McCouncil, James H. Oliver, Henry Bowser, Puterbaugh, Foglesong, Leslie, Resor, Kinsel, Wolf, Pfoutz, Weybright, Wogoman, Winters, Sloan Flora, Kinsey, Haines, Cunningham, Weaver, Emrick, Arnold, Smith and many more who were a thrifty and energetic people commanding the respect of all, and who have left many descendants.

            “This road began at “The Old Ford’ and followed west on River st. to Broadway, thence northward to Salem (the town) and the great Northwest.  It was settled by William Tyler, Levi Cottom, Ludy, Mumma, Kingery, Stutz, Smith, Henry, Flora and Haines, all men of enterprise.  Their descendants are thrifty people.

            “The mill road commenced at the ford and extended eastward along the river bank to Steele’s mill, at the foot of the old race known as the Dayton View hydraulic, from there it followed northward on Forest av. To the corporation line; thence up the Covington pike to Greenville Falls at Covington, and beyond to Versailles and Fort Recovery.

            “These highways were very properly called by that name, as they were located on the hillsides and over hills to avoid the low, wet lands which were impassable.  The timber was so large and thickets so dense with hazelnut bushes, pawpaws, hickory poles and undergrowth that time was only taken to cut out a width equal to the wagon tracks, and this made the wagon ruts so deep in places that poles and brush were thrown in the holes to enable teams to draw the loads.  The wagons were unusually heavy.  Many of the Conestoga type were made to cross the mountains, with heavy trucks and the body in the shape of a crescent, three and four feet deep.  The crescent-shaped body was designed to equalize the heavy loads on the trucks when ascending and descending heavy grades, and the deep bodies were made to protect against storms and to prevent the load from shifting its position on the hills.  These wagons were covered with canvas and offered the teamster or the man with his family comfortable quarters wherever they would have occasion to stop.

            “The dependence of the people one upon another in emergencies was always met with that cheerfulness and willingness that characterized the entire country as one hospitable camp.  House-raising, log-rollings, aiding each other with an extra team were always responded to with that heartiness that bordered on a privilege.  In fact, no one could refuse as no one knew how soon their turn would come to ask a request of a similar nature.

            “There was little currency and hooppoles, staves, charcoal, wild honey, wild turkey, game, coon skins, maple sugar and molasses were always bartered for at current rates by the traders at Dayton, and these in turn exchanged for calico, tar, hardware, groceries, etc., in lieu of cash.  Long credits were given and accounts would run three, four and five years before a final settlement was made.  As the people grew more prosperous and their farms were enlarged each year with a clearing ‘for a potato patch,’ and new improvements followed, small bridges were built over branches and finally a stock company was organized to build a wooden bridge across the Great Miami at Bridge st., in Dayton.

            “This was a necessity for the farmers as well as the merchants.  It took a week with a team from Greenville to Dayton, to come and return, and then if the river should be too high to ford a great camp of wagons would be held on each side of the river, some eager to get to Dayton, others to return home.  But they were compelled to wait until the water subsided.  Those who came to town on horseback could swim the river and go on home.  When they did they conveyed the intelligence that the ford was too high for passage with a vehicle, so others did not venture to town.  There were not daily paper nor telegraph to herald the latest, but when two persons would meet the horse of each would involuntarily stop stock still, so accustomed were they in the habit of usual greeting, and here the riders would exchange news.

            “When the bridge was built it gave a more steady trade to Dayton from the west and northwest and north, as the three highways were intersected just above the old ford.  It added a new growth to the region above mentioned as there was always an assurance that the river could be crossed either by the ford or bridge.  It proved a successful enterprise, and the building of the Third st. and Main s. bridges followed in due time.  Each of the last named took a certain amount of travel from Bridge st. bridge.  Yet the people were growing more numerous and more prosperous each year.  As the game diminished the corn cribs multiplied and the wheat bins were filled.  Long barns were constructed of two square pens made of logs with a space between.  This space was made into a threshing floor, the entire space being covered with thatched straw or split clapboards with poles to hold them down to save nails.  The houses were made of logs and roofed in the same manner, with lapboards and poles.

            “A chimney was built at the end of the cabin, made of sticks about an inch thick, three inches wide and seven to nine feet long.  These were laid up with clay, and a thick layer of clay on the inside to prevent the lath from burning.  The hearth was made of stone.  The fireplace was about four feet deep and six feet wide in the clear between the jambs.  A backlog, two feet in diameter of some kind of wood that would not burn easily was selected.  This was rolled in place and andirons, or two chunks, were placed endways, or at right angles, to the backlog, and a forestick of the same length of the backlog was placed in front on the andirons.  Then kindling was placed beneath and between.

            “There were no matches, and fire was either borrowed from a neighbor, a mile or more distant, or made with flint and steel and piece of punk.  The fire, when once started, was never permitted to ‘die out.’  If it did so it was by negligence.  The fire that was kept constantly burning wrought healthful conditions in the cabin by keeping it warm and dry day and night, and free ventilation through the crevices and roof made up many times for the absence of windows.  If the fire had been permitted to go out malaria and colds would have prevailed.  The families kept the fire going day and night in their cabins and the people who would take a strong cup of coffee before going out in the morning, and kept out of the night air, seldom suffered from malaria and ague.

            “When matches came into use they were very expensive and the habit of carrying fire remained long after their introduction.  The flint-lock musket was often used to light punk, or dried bark, by putting powder and punk in the pan and pulling the trigger.  A sun glass was often used, and more often than any other way was the deadening on fire which was in every neighborhood.  The odor of smoke, as well as the smoke itself, although disagreeable, doubtless proved a blessing in disguise, acting as a disinfectant and destroying malarial germs.

            “In the Miami valley lived a little child who had been stolen by the Indians and carried away from her home.  She was kept so long that she had forgotten her native language.  When returned to her home by a renegade white man, who sought a reward, and presented to her parents she could not understand a word they said.  One evening when they were singing their usual hymn she brightened up, for she knew it.  It struck a chord in her memory which responded to her changed condition.  The next day she accompanied her father to his work that of building a rail fence.  She would carry a rail to him, and then another, and finally a sentence of language returned and she said: “Shall I bring another rail?’  The descendants of this little girl, her name was Kinsey, are well known and are residing in the city of Dayton today.  The child was an ancestor of John Wolf, who resided on a farm on the west side of N. Main st. then located about a mile and a half north of the courthouse.

            “That part of Dayton View at the north end of the bridge (of which stands the Masonic Temple and Art Institute) was known in the earliest days as Steele’s Hill.  It was bounded by North av. on the north, Forest av. on the east and River st. on the south, and on the west by Peter C. Williams farm.

            “Judge Steele built a large comfortable house there and also a stable and set out an orchard that became one of the most noted in the valley.  It was made more famous by his son, Robert W. Steele, who was a distinguished pomologist.  The interest he took in fruits and trees was far-reaching in educating the country long before it became a special study.  Robert W. Steele took a decided interest in Mr. Jemison, a gentleman of culture who resided in the east end and whose floral garden and knowledge of the business created a great interest in this vicinity.

            “There are still living as I pen these lines men who can remember when they took a delight in attending picnics on Steele’s hill.  When Judge Steele built a frame house, which stood for many years on the hill overlooking the Bridge st. bridge, it presented a view of rare beauty to the east, south and west.  Upon this identical spot John W. Stoddard later erected his residence.  (Site of Masonic Temple.)

            “With the primitive forest yet standing as a background, the hillside sloping toward the river, the effect was worth traveling miles to see. John W. Stoddard, reared in luxury, set an example to the boys and companions of his generation to look ahead, instead of spending their time in idleness.  He planned for the skilled mechanic, the laboring man and the people of his city more wisely than thousands would have done under the same circumstances.  Honor to whom honor is due, and we owe it to just such men.

            “Upon this same hill to the west not more than 1000 feet is a tract of land containing 10 or 12 acres.  It is directly north of the Bridge st. bridge.  About the center is a line of the original forest trees which offered a beautiful background for a residence.  The front toward the river was devoid of trees.  About the center of this the Indians had a camp, and in our boyhood days the old people would tell us of the circle of green grass that grew annually upon the spot.  It was where the Indians danced.  Upon this spot stands the Van Ausdal home, built about 1858.  This was the first new house built with modern improvements in Dayton View.

            “The old wooden bridge, although picturesque yet when viewed from the Van Ausdal home, stood as a silent monster to frighten the timid boys and girls of that day. 



            Out from the old trails at the north end of “Bridge st.’ bridge later came those winding, tree-bordered boulevards as we know as Forest, Grafton, Central and Salem, to be intersected by such other beautiful home-bordered avenues as Superior and Grand.  These were the forerunners of a network of modern thoroughfares and a grouping of attractive homes which today make up Dayton View.

            In its making no man had a more prominent part than the man whose scrapbook tells its story so delightfully.  No man did more than J. O. Arnold to make Dayton View a residential district of which any city in the world could be proud.