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Dayton's First City Directory

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, June 4, 1933


Dayton’s First City Directory

By Howard Burba


            There was no such thing as a street number, and house-to-house mail delivery was something undreamed of when James Odell, jr., got into his head that there was a crying need for a “city directory” in the town of Dayton.

            Houses and business blocks had not been dignified with street numbers, so locating the individual resident in that manner was out of the questions.  Yet Odell sensed a need for something that would dignify the town, and also possibly felt the need of the few dollars such an enterprise would wring from business-seeking merchants and professional men.  So early in the year 1850, just 83 years ago, he turned over to N. Sullivan, then operating the town’s most pretentious printing office, the “copy” for “Odell’s Dayton Directory and Business Advertiser.”

            Precious few copies of this pioneer directory, the first publication of its kind in the city’s history, are now in existence.  In size and appearance it very much resembled what older residents will recall as “McGuffey’s First Reader.”  It measured five inches in width by either inches in length, contained 120 pages of reading matter and an advertising supplement of 26 pages.  But 65 pages were required for listing the town’s population, a single line extending the entire width of the page being devoted to each name.  The streets, listed in like manner, required a space of less than four pages.

            The first name in the first city directory is listed in this way:

            ABBOTT, JOHN, farmer, Slidertown.

            Slidertown was in reality a suburb of Dayton at the time the directory was issued in 1850.  It was a settlement lying just north of the original N. C. R. building, and north of what is now Stewart st.  The final name in the listing is that of John Zigler, molder, whose address is given as “Second bet. Main and Seares.”

            Names of streets long changed, their original place on the town plat forgotten, are noted as one scans the directory.  How many of the present generation of Daytonians can recall when the city boasted such street names as Water, Lodwick, Blind, Dock, Hope, Ophelia, Newcom, Roe, Spratt or Zigzag?  Yet they were prominently mentioned, and quite often, in the first city directory.

            Among its advertisers, who are there today to recal when theese substantial old business houses made up the city’s chief merchandising and manufacturing establishments: D. Beckel’s Family Flour Store, Drs. Shulek & Edgar’s Drug Store, Ebbell’s & Co.’s Family Grocery, H. D. Silver’s Bakery, George Nauerth’s Confectionery, J. M. Clegg’s Grocery, Hiestand & Moler’s Dry Goods Store, Roger & Fowler’s Hardware Store, Munday & Long’s Tobacco Store, J. R. Waggoner, Coffinmaker; Cahrles Ells, Pianofortes: Allen Jeffers’ Ladies Exchange, Childs & Hahn, House, Sign and Ornamental Painters, Brice Dille’g Livery, Feed and Sales Stable; Perrine & Darst, Dry Goods; John Green’s City Bath House, Conover & Smith, Carriage-makers; D. M. Curtis’ Woolen Factory, H. Kimes’ Plough Manufactory, Parrott & Clegg, Linseed Oil Makers, N. S. Lockwood & Co.’s Stove Store, or James Bracelin’s Copper and Carpenter Tool Store “at the sign of the mammoth plane, on Main bet.  First and Second.”

            Odell may or may not have prospered financially from his venture.  But there is this much to say for his directory in the light of similar volumes of which it was the forerunner-nothing to approach it in interest ever has been published before or since in Dayton.  Here was a town history in addition to a town directory, a sort of intimate picture of Dayton that no other historian seems to have been able to supply.

            “The rapid increase in the size and business of the city,” says the author in a brief preface to his little volume. “Renders it daily more difficult and more important to find the residence and place of business of the citizens; and believing that such a work as the present, the first of the kind ever attempted here, would meet with that encouragement which its merit and usefulness may be found to deserve, I have ventured on the experiment.  The first compilation of such a book must, or course, be attended with considerable labor, and not entirely free from all errors; but I believe it will be found as accurate as could, under the circumstances, be expected.  The Directory has been prepared by myself.  For the list of Post Offices I am indebted to Mr. Sprice; for the Sketch of the History of Dayton, I am under obligation to Mr. Curwen.”

Then follows page after page of the story of the settlement of Dayton, and its rise to a place in the sun.  And well into the sketch we find these interesting paragraphs:

            “Dayton is the seat of justice for Montgomery co.  This county is 22 ½ miles long from north to south, and 20 miles wide from east to west, including an area of 450 square miles, and divided into 15 townships.  It is well watered, and abounds in mill seats.  The principal settlements are Salem, in Randolph tp.” Little York and Chambersburg, in Butler; Farmersville in Jackson; Liberty in Jefferson; Sunbury in German; Bridgeport, on the western bank of the Miami opposite Miamisburg; Alexandersville, on the southern bank of the Miami river and Carrollton a mile westward, in Miami tp.” Woodbourn and Centerville, in Washington tp. Germantown in German tp. Contains five churches, an academy, a brewery, a woolen factory and about 1200 inhabitants.  The Western Emporium is a weekly gazette published in this place.  Miamisburg contains three churches, two of which worship in the German language; a high school, 12 stores, a woolen and a cotton factory, a grist mill and a foundry.  The population is about 1100.  About a mile and a quarter southeast of this town is the next largest Indian mound in all the northern states, being 800 feet in circumference at the base and 67 feet high.

            “The dignity of history thinks itself compromised by descending to minute and apparently trivial details.  The reader has already seen that no such scruples have entered into the composition of these pages.  Whatever tends to show the condition of a people is legitimate topic in their history.  So it is of interest to note that the number of marriages performed in the eight-year period ending in 1849 was 2958.  At the close of 1849 the average number of persons married to the whole population was one in 49.

            “Radiating from Dayton in every direction go numerous graveled or macadamized turnpikes, by which the wealth and produce of this rich valley are poured into the city.  The Dayton and Springfield turnpike, 22 miles long, was constructed at a total cost of $118,000; the Great Miami turnpike, from Dayton to Sharon, is 38 miles long and cost $202,000; the Miami and Montgomery turnpike to Troy, built in 1842 at a cost of $34,000, is 18 miles long; the Dayton and Salem pike, chartered but not yet constructed, will be 12 miles in length.  The Dayton and Brandt turnpike, extending from Dayton to Brandt, in Miami co., is now under construction.  It will be 12 miles long.

            “Montgomery co. in the last 10 years has been the scene of the most hotly contested elections in Ohio.  It has for some years been Whig, but it remains so only by force of the most active electioneering and through party organization.  The following gentlemen have represented it in the past 20 years: 1830, Alexander Grimes, Whig; William Smith, Whig.  Mr. Smith died and was succeeded Dec. 7 by Henry Stoddard, Whig; 1831, Henry Sheidler and William Sawyer, Democrats; 1833, Geo. C. Davis, Whig, and William Sawyer, Democrat; 1834, Horace Pease, Whig, and William Sawyer, Democrat; 1835, Fielding Lowery, Democrat; 1836 and 1837, Robert A. Thruston, Whig; 1838, Edwin Smith and Peter P. Lowe, Democrats; 1839 Edwin Smith, Democrat; 1840 David Lamme, Whig; 1841, Robert C. Schenck and Silas H. Smith, Whigs; 1842 Robert C.Schenck, Whig; 1843 and 1844, Henry S. Gunkel, Whig; 1844, W. J. McKinney, Whig; 1845, Thomas Brown and James F. Hibbard, Whigs; 1847, Daniel A. Haynes and Thomas Dodds, Whigs; 1848, Luther Giddings and Richard Green, Whigs; 1849, Richard Green and John Furnas, Whigs.

            “Nothing in modern times has so near equaled the horrors of that appalling visitation of Heaven pictured in the Revelations of St. John, when he saw a gray horse and the name that sat upon him was Death, as the visitation of the Asiatic cholera in Dayton.  The disease made its appearance in this place in June, 1849, continuing until the first of September.  During that period business was almost entirely suspended; the markets were deserted, except by a few wagons, and the streets almost whitened by the quantity of lime scattered in the gutters.  The number of deaths, as near as could be ascertained, was 225.  During its continuance a board of health, at the head of whom was Hon. George B. Hold, and a cholera hospital under the management of Dr. Edmund Smith, was established, and every attention shown to the sick and dead that humanity demanded.

The report which obtained extensively through the country by being copied from a Cincinnati paper into the National Intelligencer, that the panic occasioned by the disease here had destroyed all the ties of social sympathy and family affections, was altogether untrue, and was publicly refuted by the mayor and city authorities.  The most liberal contributions were made in all the churches, and from the public treasury, to relieve distress.  This fund was not exhausted, though liberally disbursed, and the surplus was devoted to charitable purposes, through the medium of the Relief Union of Dayton, which was organized at the time for that purpose.  A similar charity- the Orphan Asylum-has for five or six years been struggling into existence, and has now some prospect of a permanent foundation.  A neat brick building, on the brow of the hill, about a mile south of the courthouse, is devoted to that purpose.  It was used in 1849 for the cholera hospital.”

            Railroads were just beginning to penetrate this territory about the time Odell issued his directory, and of such paramount importance was this subject that he devoted several pages to it.  His enthusiasm is expressed in these brief extracts from his writings:

            “Dayton is on the natural route of the great chain of railroads that will some day connect the extreme west with the Atlantic cities.  A glance at the map will show that the nearest way for western men to those cities is through Terre Haute, Indianapolis, Dayton and Columbus.  The surface of the country, level as the palm of one’s hand; The plentiful supply of wood and stone for building the roads and bridges; the large towns upon the line, whose local travel will be so lucrative; and the rich and populous country seeking an outlet for its which it will pass; all indicate this is the natural and preferable route.

            “What has already been done may be briefly stated.  The Lake Erie & Mad River railroad terminates here.  Over this road there passed during the last year (1849), notwithstanding the great decrease of travel occasioned by the cholera, 108,000 people.  Much of the travel will, in future, pass through Dayton.  By this route we will be, in November, 1850, 10 hours from Lake Erie.  The road follows the beautiful valley of Mad river to Springfield, 23 miles, and thence to Urbana, Tiffin and Sandusky.

            “The Dayton & Western railroad crosses the Miami river at Dayton and proceeds thence in a straight line, 15 miles, to The Junction, in the northwestern part of the county.  From that point it runs due west to the Indiana state line, near Richmond, a distance of 21 miles.  When completed it will be one of the best roads in the country.  Measures are now being taken to build a railroad from Springfield to Columbus.  There is no doubt that it will be pushed forward with the zeal its importance demands.

            “The Greenville & Miami railroad is now under contract and rapidly progressing.  Connecting with the Dayton & Western road at The Junction, it proceeds in a straight line 19 miles to Greenville, in the midst of a great grain-growing and grazing country, which finds its outlet through Dayton.  The road is now -July, 1850-graded and ready for the superstructure.  The timber is prepared and measures are in progress for the purchase of the iron.  From Greenville to The Junction the road is a perfectly straight line, and in no place does the grade exceed 20 feet to the mile.  When the Dayton & Western road shall have been finished to The Junction, and the Greenville & Miami road from that point to Greenville, the two will present the fact-unprecedented, it is believed, in the history of railroads-of a continuous line 34 miles long, with but one curve in its whole length and the entire line upon a grade not exceeding 30 feet to the mile.  The roads are expected to be in operation early in 2851.”

            Odell proved himself not alone an interesting writer a and a promising publisher but a prophet as well, for all through the little directory we find him “calling the turn” on the wheel of progress.  Today, as we glance back over the years that followed the publication of his first directory of Dayton the fulfillment of his every prophecy is apparent.  A new era was being ushered in along with that little old pioneer directory.  Dayton was, after being on the map for 46 years, commencing to strike her stride.  That she had laid well the foundation is indicated by these other paragraphs culled from the pioneer directory:

            “A few prominent items may serve to show the importance of Dayton as a manufacturing city.  The Oil Mills are the most extensive of any in the west, Cincinnati not excepted.  They consumed in 1849 about 100,000 bushels of flax seed, and produced 200,000 gallons of oil and 2200 tons of oil cakes.  The cakes are shipped to Europe where they are used as feed for cattle.  In these mills are invested $100,000.  They employ 40 men, and are capable of crushing 200,000 bushels of seed annually.  The Cincinnati mills produce only 186,000.

            “The Dayton breweries are also extensive.  The paper mills, with a capital of about $80,000, employ from 30 to 45 hands and consume about 500 tons of rags a year.  This paper is in good repute in the market and extensively used by publishers.  About $88,000 are invested in foundries, which give employment to about 120 men.  A shoe last and peg factory, with a capital of $12,000, and employing from 20 to 30 people does an extensive business.  The manufacture of flax has lately been commenced and promises to be successful.  In addition to five machine shops now in operation there is one being erected which, together with the car manufactory attached, will employ a capital of $20,000 to $30,000.  Of the flour mills, cotton and woolen mills, flooring machines, gun barrel factory, turning lathes, bobbin factory, file making, portable horse powers, burr mill stones, capital invested and hands employed by several carriage makers who do a considerable business, and of many other branches of mechanical industry, no accurate information could be collected.

            The population of Dayton is today estimated at 14,000.  In November, 1848, the number- of dwellings was 1887, of which 962 were of brick and 925 frame.  The aggregate population of the townships is 46,800.  Ten years ago the census showed that in that year (1840) there was raised in Montgomery co. 365,939 bushels of wheat, 4727 of barley, 374,481 of oats, 54,227 of rye, 3359 of buckwheat, 814,707 of Indian corn and 34,098 of potatoes.  In the same period there was produced in the county 53,867 pounds of wool, 237 of hops, 122,394 of sugar, 1977 of wax, 130 pounds of silk coccoons, 15,734 tons of hay, 57 tons of hemp and flax, and 9648 cords of wood sold.  The value of the products of the dairy was $27,156; of the orchard, $1062; of home-made goods, $22,238; of market gardens, $4003, and of nurseries and florists, $1125.  The livestock consisted of 8896 horses and mules, 16,245 neat cattle, 29,631 sheep, 39,298 swine and poultry to the value of $9743.  The principal items of the domestic commerce were 130 retail stores, with a capital of $426,800; two lumber yards, with a capital of $65,000, and $78,000 invested in butchering and packing.”

            There was poetry in the soul of this pioneer directory publisher, too.  Poetry and prophecy combine to make his publication a treasured volume, and stamp him as a genius.  There can be no more fitting conclusion to this sketch of Dayton’s first city directory than to close it with the self-same words he penned as finis to his little book;

            “A hundred years since, “ he wrote in 1950, “no white man had ever resided in Ohio, and the Shawnee warrior, as he paddled his canoe along the Miami, half a century ago, little dreamed that in fifty years this basin would contain the most beautiful city of a great state- the residence of 14,000 people-the seat of a county more densely populated than Switzerland, over whose pastures roamed 14,000 cattle, 30,000 sheep and 35,000 swine.  His arithmetic could not number up the ten millions of dollars which express the value of its landed estates, and the 180,000 people who, in a year when a terrible pestilence was scourging the whole country, passed over the Lake Erie & Mad River railroad, he could have compared to nothing but the stars of the sky for multitude, or the countless leaves of his native forest.  And here, at the terminus of the road, he would have looked with horror on that terrible engine-that pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night-that flies screaming over the prairies and through the woods, in whose solitude he once stealthily crept upon the deer.

            “The wilderness and the solitary place have become glad in the sunshine of peaceful homes; children play in the streets, where the wolf once ravened his prey; the desert rejoices and blossoms as the rose.  The Shawnee no longer tells of the ancient home of his tribe among the everglades of Florida.  The memory of it has perished, and they are forgotten on the banks of the Auglaize.  The swelling tide of civilization has borne the miserable remnants of that once powerful race beyond the Missouri.  Could the future have been unfolded to him, and he have seen and heard the dense smoke of foundries and breweries; the ringing of anvils and the clangor of machinery; the hum of flour and of oil mills; the whirring of planing mills and turning lathes; the flying of shuttles in cotton and woolen factories; the piles of rags and straw being converted into wrapping, printing and writing papers; the manufactories of plows and wagons, horsepower and railroad cars, pleasure carriages and threshing machines, and all the endless bustle of a manufacturing town-he would have been filled with overwhelming astonishment.

            “A river turned out of its course by the hand of a white man, its bed filled up and overlaid by a railroad, might well lead him to despair of checking the progress of that race before which his own has melted away like the spring snows upon the prairies.  Standing alone on the hill at Woodland cemetery, and stretching his view over the city lying in the bosom of the valley, fair “as the Garden of the Lord,” he could find no consolation in beholding prosperity of which he could not partake, which was at war with all of his modes of thought and habits of life, and which only boded the total extinction of his people, but in the melancholy reflection, suggested by the dead that lie around him, that in one event the white man and the red were alike the victims of an exorable destine, which neither the refinements of civilized life, nor the wilder freedom of his own, can soften or delay-

“One common end o’ertakes life’s idle dreaming; Dust, Darkness, Tears!”