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Dayton, Ohio - An Intimate History
Chapter Seven




 In 1840 Dayton boasted only a little over six thousand people. Considering the meager population they succeeded in getting a good deal of interest, not to say excitement, out of life. First there was the Harrison campaign, the story of which somehow wandered into a chapter previous to this. Then  the Clay campaign, more cholera, church revivals, and the deep and growing public occupation with the question of the abolition of slavery. Those who think that prohibition makes hot-headed adherents and the opposite, should read what they thought in the ‘forties about abolition. Even now, a ninety-year-old issue, the name has, to ears who must hear it, a sinister sound. A church in Dayton who brought an abolitionist from the east to preach on the sin of men keeping their brothers in bondage was as nearly wrecked as vigorous hands could do it. The stove was jerked out, the pulpit hacked and even the Bible torn to pieces. Threats were made that every speaker on that subject would receive the same treatment; notwithstanding which threat, or maybe on account of it, Rev Thomas E. Thomas came up from Hamilton and in the most prominent place Dayton offered him, the courthouse steps, denounced the sin of slavery. He was rotten-egged by the crowd and felt like what indeed he was, a modern martyr. It was the old conflict still going on under other names, the conflict between the rights of humanity and the rights of property. The slaves were property; to suggest freeing them was to interfere with personal possessions, which has always inflamed human passions.

Dr. Hibbard Jewett was one of the most uncompromising abolitionists of those heated years and in a letter to James Steele, then State Senator, he asks his assistance to obtain redress by an act of Legislature which would compel the corporation of Dayton to pay for the damage caused by the mob to his premises. He says:


I, for the sin of lodging Dr. Birney (a noted abolitionist speaker) had my house assailed, my windows broken, my family and furniture bespattered with rotten eggs and my life threatened in case I should ever shelter him again or any other lecturer.


One visitor whom they did not stone was the Honorable John Quincy Adams, a guest of Dayton in 1843 and welcomed by a committee to whom he replied in a speech of thanks from the balcony of the National Hotel on Third Street.

Small items in the press of that day reveal to us the smallness and frugality of the town. The mayor received a salary of a hundred and fifty dollars a year. The total amount of the school fund was $2,482; it was used for the upkeep of four schools, two in school buildings and two in rented rooms. The first school board was composed of four members, Robert W. Steele, E. W. Davies, Ebenezer Fowler and Wm. J. McKinney.

There was a flood in 1847. Of course there would be a flood. The river broke at Bridge Street (Stratford Avenue) where the levee that Cooper had constructed was weakened by the habit of the citizens of scraping dirt from its inner surface to fill up their lots or holes in the streets. It happened in the middle of the night, fortunately moonlight, and people opened their houses to receive those whom the water had rendered temporarily homeless. Following the catastrophe we read indignant denials in the papers that the damage had been anywhere near as great as was computed by ignorant and jealous outsiders; that whereas it had been put at a million dollars, it really would not exceed five thousand, all told, and that merely for spoiled carpets and furniture.

We read of a meeting in the City Hall which was “literally jammed,” the occasion being, according to the “Journal,” “to encourage the enrollment of volunteers for the war with Mexico.” For the politicians at Washington were at their old tricks of formenting trouble between us and our neighbors. Nine companies were formed in Dayton and started out for the scene of the fray in a canal boat, a large crowd being gathered at the Basin to see them off. It was an iniquitous war, if ever there was one, and is generally so conceded by all honest historians. Thomas H. Benton offered a resolution in Congress calling attention to the fact that the annexation of a certain portion of Mexican territory to the United States as contemplated by the treaty of Texas would be a “direct act of aggression on Mexico for all the consequences of which the United States would have to stand responsible” It is an honor to be remembered that our representatives both in the Senate and the House were opposed to the war and upheld the Benton bill. They were the Hon. Thomas Corwin and the Hon. Robert C. Schenck, the latter one of our bravest generals in the Civil War.

Once in a while we get, thanks to the painstaking care of family descendants, a personal account of an epoch which beats mere official history hollow. The present instance is that of an exuberant girl of seventeen who lived on Main Street on the present site of Rike’s store and whose brother was a student at Gambier College. He was Samuel Darst and she, Martha Jane Darst, afterwards became Mrs. George Dixon. She says she “loved to write” and it is fortunate for us that she did, because in her weekly letters to her brother we get a picture that it is to be surmised nowhere else exists of a cross section of life in Dayton. Public happenings, family news, the weather, the latest styles, what “gentlemen” called on her and how late he stayed, election returns, the Mexican War, rumors of engagements, picnics on the canal, all was grist to her facile mill. Her letters punctuated the months of 1844, 1845 and 1846, and she promises her brother that as soon as the postage gets down to five cents she will write him every day. Dayton was either very or dull according to how many days passed without a party.


Daytonis very gay but I don’t know how long it will last. On Tuesday was the grand Clifton picnic. Our streets were filled with buggies, carriages and rockaways from seven till nine. The National turned out its loafers by the dozen. All the First Street girls were there of course; the Misses Nesbit, Smith, Phillips, Morrison, Judkins and Miss Darst – Julia I mean. They stayed all night in Springfield and came home Wednesday morning at ten oclock. It was a great day and will long be remembered in the annals of Dayton.

Today the military companies have a grand parade. I hear them out in front of the house now. Oh. There they go! Oh, how beautiful Captain Bomberger’s company looks in its new uniforms of the “Blues” with their white pants and blue coats.


(By the kindness of Reuben Harshman:)


They are going to begin a new front to our bridge in a week or two and fix it so horses if they get frightened wont fall over the bank as a fine horse and wagon did last week.

We have a new regulation about our bell. I think the people must like to hear it ring for it rings at five and seven and at six and nine in the evening and twelve and one in the middle of the day. It rings in the morning for the benefit of the mechanics for they allwork on the ten hour system and the bell is to warn them when to commence and when to quit their work.

(Since she writes of the bridge and bell both in the singular it must mean that in the forties there was only one of each in Dayton – the Main Street river bridge and the First Presbyterian bell. – Ed.)


We are going to send you some pantaloons and some neck handkerchiefs. I suppose when you first see them you will not like them but I assure you they are the most fashionable goods worn this summer. Mother says you will have to get along without boots. We are also going to send you a pair of rubbers but they are not to be worn in the house, only for out of doors.

I never saw so much interest in any election before. The evening the returns came in there were bonfires at every corner and the street looked as bright as sunlight and the shouting and hurrahing from both parties made sleep impossible. . . . All the talk is of the war and there is nothing else to be heard. News came this morning to the companies that they much march right off. . . . A great many have volunteered, the fife and drum is heard from every quarter. I declare it makes one heart-sick to think how many young men must go and the anxiety that only half may return.


This philosophical remark did not prevent the next statement, which was:


Brother has just come home to say there will be war for certain. Hurrah for America! I say.

I suppose you have heard of all the fires we have been having. The latest was the ten-pin alley but the people are so much opposed to ten-pins that they would not turn out as they generally do at a fire.

The Whigs had quite a jollification last night. There were a thousand in the procession, marched over to French-town where they were addressed by Charles Anderson. They had splendid transparencies. One was a coon eating up a rooster with a motto “He crowed too soon.” Another, “Louisiana, Whig to the core.” You know all this fuss is about the Louisiana election. . . . They sent to Cincinnati for six hundred torches but were disappointed in getting them, but they had fire-balls flying in every direction, tar barrels burning at the corners of the streets and the Dayton band out. The Transcript and Journal offices splendidly illuminated. . . . The procession marched through the principal streets and stopped at the Court House where our white-headed senator (?Ed.) gave them a splendid speech. The whole concluded by some fine songs. The nearer election comes the more enthusiasm there is.

(This with a date in February.)The weather for the last three weeks has been delightful, the streets filled with ladies without shawls and carrying sunshades. The ladies look quite dashing these days in their cross-barred coats and white hats with feathers which are all the rage. . . . The ladies walk out without their shawls just as if it were springtime. The fashion is to have the bonnets very short and tipped over on the face and their hair in “coon tails” hanging out from under the bonnet. I have mine arranged so. But I supposed you wont care about this.

Yesterday a large picnic came off at Ludlow Falls attended by the “white hat gentry” as we call them, from the white fur hats they wear.

(Hoops! Tippets! Little bonnets and the men in white beaver hats! Oh! Shades of Godey’s Lady’s Book! Ed.)


We are sending you two pairs of pantaloons but cannot tell if they will fit. We hope the fine cashmere ones will. Mother says the laundress must not wash them in soft soap or they will shrink. . . .

Last night they had a leaned pig performance in the hall and I will send you a bill of the performance. The young folks talk of nothing else. Brother went to Yellow Springs yesterday. He thinks it must be nearly equal to Niagara Falls.

Parties given by the gentlemen are all the rage now. Several have been given under the title “Bachelors Ball.” . . . Alexander Gebhart went east last night to be married to a Miss Snyder of Somerset, Pa. It is also said that the great beau, Mr. Craighead is engaged to his cousin in Pa. What has got into the men of our city to get their wives in the East? It shows very bad taste I think for certainly the Dayton girls cannot be beat.

Went  down to the boat to meet sister and a party going from Toledo to Nashville.

Mr. Barney has begun his school; there are twelve scholars, eight of them boarders. . . . I have received two philopena presents, one of them Young’s Night Thoughts, beautifully bound. . . . We are having a great time about politics. The Whigs have a meeting to nominate a candidate for squire. I suppose you know the “Transcript” has come out Whig. Father would never look at it before but as soon as he saw it had changed he subscribed right off.


(The following passage shows what people went through in pre-vaccination days. Ed.)


I suppose you have heard of the melancholy death of P. B. in Cincinnati. He died of the small-pox, the worst case in the fifteen hundred that are down, the doctors said. His mother went down two weeks before he died and waited upon him. He was put in the third story of the house with no one near him but his mother and a colored man who had the small-pox. She had to pay three dollars a day for help and was not allowed to leave the room even after he died. She had to dress him put him in the coffin and screw the lid down herself.

He was blind and deaf all the time but when he could speak he implored his mother not to cease praying for him. He was buried two hours after he died.

An accident this morning created great excitement. A little boy, one of a party of movers was thrown off a cart full of things and the cart  ran over the boys chest in front of Smiths Tavern. He was badly hurt but his parents put him in the wagon and drove off.

Maria Demorest and Dan Mead “Launched their bark in the sea of matrimony” last Tuesday night. I was there. It was large and pleasant. The bride dressed in white satin and (as all brides do) looked lovely; her husband (as all husband do) not so well. They did not follow the usual custom but like sensible people stayed at home.

Bony (her brother Bonaparte Darst) was in Cincinnati last week and brought me a splendid silk dress for a present. He paid $19.75 for it.

Plenty of fun here as usual. We have in existence now a little one-horse theatre in the City Hall, admission twenty-five cents. It is crowded with the “lower crust” every night, . . . The Virginia Minstrels have been exciting our easily-excited community with their “Lucy Lang.” The elite of our city were there, all the ladies and gentlemen but sad to relate it proved to be so vulgar that it put all the ladies to the blush and some of them sneaked home, so I heard. I was not there myself.


May 9th, 1846: The river is higher than for ten or twelve years. About a thousand people have been watching it today (Sunday). McPhersontown (Riverdale) is almost completely covered so that all on that side of the river have moved out, some at two oclock in the morning. They take their things in canoes from their doors. Mr. Tate has had one hundred men working hard all day trying to keep the race bridge and head-gates from giving way. If they go his mill will be carried entirely off.(Junction  of Riverview and Forest avenues. Ed.)then he will be a ruined man. About an hour ago I heard it would be impossible to keep the head-gates from giving way (Steele’s Dam). I tell you it looks frightful up there. One of the long bridges this side of Troy had floated off. A stage with fourteen passengers was caught in fording Mill Creek all drowned. (This proved to be a mistake). Later – the river has fallen and Tate’s Mill is saved.

Great  excitement about the Millenium. They say tomorrow or the next day the world is to be destroyed. Well, if it is you will never get this letter. . . . They have immersed fifteen people since last week. They meet twice a day at the Campbellite church and pray. Mr. Butterfield is almost crazy about it. He has sold of his tools, given up his jobs, settled up all his business and is now ready to depart as the last trump sounds. . . . Mr. Barnes preached to a crowded house, a sermon to refute the Millerite but one of our physicians says if the world does not come to an end this week he will burn his Bible.

John (Darst) returned this morning from Cincinnati. He is perfectly delighted with the city, went to see everything that was to be seen. . . . He took five dollars with him besides paying his stage fare and spent every cent of it. He visited the theatre twice and the museum.

The case between Holt and Comly is still pending. Tom Corwin made a splendid speech today; the Court House is filled from morning till night.

Sophie (Smith) and I spent a few days in Piqua. She took her guitar and her grace hoops. Joe Weston came up for us.

All is excitement about the return of the volunteers (Mexican War).They are expected about three this afternoon. To look at the street is like a convention; hundreds of people in from the country. All the bells are to be rung, the cannon to be fired and McKinney to make a speech at the National; a splendid dinner to be served at the Market House on Main Street. Tonight every house will be illuminated; every window in “The Four-Story (the only four story building inDayton, site of Rike’s store)will shine. I do wish you were here.

There was a large party at the Phillips’ last week given for Mrs. Beckel and Mrs. Edgar. I was invited but could not go. Tableaux  at Ralph Hart’s tomorrow night and a large party at Dick Phillips tonight.

I am really going to Niagara Falls. We are getting ready as fast as we can, expect to start the first of next week. I can hardly realize it all and will not believe I am going until I am on the boat and feel it starting.


(In one of her not infrequent philosophical moments Martha Jane gets this off:“I think there is no greater accomplishment for a young lady or gentlemen than to be able to write and compose a good letter.” In which sentiment we heartily concur. Ed.)


Not all the letters of that era are fun-provoking and witty as Martha Dart’s. Here is one with a different note in it, from T. J. S. Smith, a lawyer (grandfather of Fowler Smith) to his brother, June, 1849.


You remember a case of cholera occurred in our city whilst you were here. After that we heard no more of it until about a week since when a man from Cincinnati with his wife stopping at one of our taverns had a severe attack but in a short time was considered convalescent. The next  day the landlord, Klein was taken with it and died in a few hours. The next day, Spohn, the undertaker who was a boarder at Klein’s and assisted in putting the corpse into the coffin and drove the hearse was taken and died in a few hours and last night the wife of the Cincinnatian first taken died after an illness of a few days. After Klein was buried his wife, taking it into her head that he had been buried alive, hired a couple of Germans to disinter his body and examine it. They did so and were both taken with the cholera but are supposed to be convalescent. And strange as it may appear, three countrymen, two from adjacent counties and one from our own, who stopped at this tavern, two of them overnight, the other only for dinner, went home, were taken with the cholera and died in a few hours. What wonderful fatality! And how clearly it indicates the strongly infectious character of the disease! The tavern is closed and the city council have been employing means to cleanse and disinfect it.

The country people have such a dread of the city that our markets are very poorly supplied and we shall probably have to live on short allowance.

The outstanding even of this period of Dayton’s history was the building of the courthouse. On that same corner had been a three-story brick building flush with the street, built in 1806 and used for both church and judicial purposes, where the furniture in the court room consisted of a few three-legged stools and a bench. This building was sold at auction in 1845 for eight hundred and sixty-four dollars.

In the spring of 1847 were laid the foundations of what Curwen in his first small history called “the most elegant and costly building of the kind in Ohio.” It is indeed a remarkable edifice and grows more remarkable as the citizens of Dayton have grown in appreciation of fine things. That a group of men at that distant day, when foreign travel was unheard of, when books on art were few and architecture as a profession was very rare, could evolve such a structure will always be one of Dayton’s sources of pride.

Its origin is somewhat obscure. Just who was mainly responsible its style is debatable, but it is certain that Horace Pease had in his library the book of steel engravings depicting the Acropolis of Athens. Just below the famous ruin of the Parathenon on the slope of the hill is a temple to Theseus, a hero king who lived about 400 B. C. In style this was a type of the peripheral Doric, built of Pentelic marble, and it was this temple which suggested to the county commissioners, through Mr. Pease, the type of building that the courthouse should be. It is not, of course, an exact replica of the Theseum but maintains throughout the same dignity of form and beauty of structure. Our white limestone was the material used to build up the imposing pillared façade. The building is fire-proof throughout, the only wood used in its construction being the inner doors, window sashes and furniture. It is of vaulted masonry throughout, with a self-supporting stone stairway winding up from the entrance hall to the second floor. The central apartment is the Probate Court room, elliptical in form, the shorter diameter being forty-two and the longer fifty-two feet in length. The whole is lighted by an elliptical dome, the eye of which is forty-three feet from the floor. Beneath the court room is an elliptical crypt supported by columns and arches. The design, together with the tentative sketches for ground plans was given to a Cincinnati architect, Mr. Howard Daniels, who prepared the working plans and specifications. The courthouse was conceived in 1847, begun in 1848, and finished in 1850. It cost one hundred thousand dollars, a great sum for those financially narrow days, stands as we now know it and please God will for many years to come, a monument not like its Grecian prototype to a long forgotten pagan king, but a monument to the public spirit, careful planning and artistic instincts of the men who built it.

The erection of so notable a building fixed the corner of Third and Main streets as definitely the center of the growing city. Increasing demand for a good hotel suggested that the proper site for such a building was across the street on the south side of Third. J. D. Phillips, who owned the corner, took the hint of circumstances and built a hotel which was known as a social center and the best place for a man and beast in southern Ohio. It was named the Phillips House after the father of the owner, and its familiar outline, now obliterated by time and increasing real estate values, was for eighty years, as much as the courthouse, the center of Dayton.

Old letters written in the fall of 1852 speak of the prestige that was coming to Dayton from the new hotel. Nothing evidently equaled it between the Gibson House in Cincinnati and the Forest City House in Cleveland. The opening ball on October 14, 1852, was a social event that thrilled the Miami Valley up and down its entire length. The “Daily Empire” said of the hotel that “the order and beauty of its arrangements, the courteous and liberal style in which it is conducted, were the subject of general remark among the strangers that were present from Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Columbus.”

“At the grand opening the three full stories of the Phillips House blazed with candles at every window. Carriages drawn by spans of horses deposited the guests at the Third Street entrance whence they mounted the stairs to the parlors on the second floor and then into the long dining room decorated as a ballroom.”

On both sides of the entrance and across the street at the courthouse uninvited outsiders watched with envy the girls tripping into the lobby with their escorts. The girls of those days, when they donned ball dresses, were worth looking at. No such skimpy outlines as the girls show now, but ample draperies and flowing skirts. They simply billowed and swam with the breadths of filmy material of their gowns. For the elderly ladies silks that “would stand along” were the de rigueur, both girls and matrons encased in outlines four or five yards in circumference at the hem, the hoops which distended them giving a swinging motion to the skirts which, I have been informed by the beaux of the period, was very fetching. The skirts of lace or tulle garlanded with festoons of fluttering ribbons or artificial flowers we may well believe were compelling. And the white shoulders that rose out of the bodices of these gowns were also worth looking at. Mind, I did not say necks or backs but shoulders, and there is a vast difference, all in favor of the early fashion. The coiffure of the day was low in the back with sometimes one curl escaping on one side and resting along one of those smooth shoulders emphasizing its smooth whiteness, while in front of the tresses were parted and drawn softly down each side of the cheeks. There were pearls of course and not a few diamonds, little fans and bead “reticules” to hold the handkerchief. The slippers were square-toed and without heels, held on by crossed straps of velvet over the ankle. But they shouldn’t be mentioned in the description of a toilet of eighty years ago, for only the tiniest tip was visible under the flounce of the skirt. No one ever saw as much of a girl’s foot as the ankle. It was not good form.

The men of the day deserve mention and they shall have it. Pomaded hair worn quite long, high collar wrapped with an immense stock that looked when unfolded like a small shawl, tight waists and full-skirted coats with flaring tails worn over “pantaloons” which, if one could change the first syllable to “bal,” would better describe them. These garments tapered suddenly to the feet and were strapped narrowly under the boots. So the beaux with their figured waistcoats, glued hair and little pointed boots were, as well as the belles, ravishing to the eye.

We investigate the columns of the daily papers of that day to find if society reporters practiced the same enthusiasms as they do today. The “Journal” editorialized on the Phillips House ball to this extent: “The ladies were elegantly and richly dressed and all (that word italicized – he had no mind to get into trouble) looked very beautiful.” Of the gentlemen he recorded that they were “polite and attentive and mirth, good cheer and good humor reigned supreme throughout the evening. The dancing was kept up until a late hour, or rather an early hour, in the morning and old and young participated in the festivities with a hearty good will. Five hundred guests filled the dining room and presented a most enlivening appearance as the gay company threaded the mazy measure of the dance.” (Oh, that reporter used the whole dictionary to tell the story of the Phillips House ball)  “and displayed the elegance and grace which lends attraction to such a scene” (not forgetting the caterer and the band, he sends two bouquets flying in their direction). “The supper arrangements exhibited a perfect acquaintance with all that was required and no expense was spared to make this part of the entertainment a fitting accompaniment to the other arrangements. The tables were loaded” (why not “groaned”? He must have forgotten himself) “with the choicest viands and delicacies. The cotillion band of Monsieur Ernest gave gayness to the fete.”

“Threading the mazy measure” meant something in those days when square dances were the vogue. The  cotillion first came and ten years later the quadrille. They were danced to four-step time and the leader “called the measures.” “Choose your partners,” caused some palpitations on the part of young ladies not so sure that a black coat would be seen coming their way. A square, two facing two both ways, was formed and repeated all around the room. “Salute your partners” (but he always said “pardners”) Extreme bows on the men’s part and low courtesies from the girls whose billowy skirts rose around them as they sank to the waxed floor. “Right and left” “Ladies chain” (but he meant ladies change) and each lady crossed over and swung the partner of the girl opposite. “Allemand left” meant to turn to the left and go hand over hand from one partner to the other until you came to your own partner and place again on the floor. It was a contraction of “A la main,” but the callers did not know it and the Phillips House dancers did not mind. “Chassez all,” when each couple joined hands and skipped to the measure of the violins until the called shouted “Places!” and it was all over until next time.

Of course there was the waltz but the less said about it the better, those days, for it had been imported from Paris and was considered “fast.” For thirty or forty years round dances were forbidden by proper minded parents and thundered at from pulpits, but it was evidently included at this festivity because the paper speaks of “the dance and the waltz.”

The list of managers and the executive committee* included the names of everybody, men that is (ladies’ names were not seen in print in the ‘fifties) who was socially eminent in the city. Merely to read the list recalls the Dayton of the past. At the time of the destruction of the Phillips House (1926) it was humorously suggested that another party should be held to commemorate the fall of that one-time popular hostelry and that the only guests should be descendants of those who attended the 1852 ball. Colonel Edwin A. Parrott’s name would be the card  of entrance, for all the Parrotts still form quite a numerous clan in Dayton. Henry Perrine was in the heyday of his society life at that time but he lasted full forty years afterwards and was always in indefatigable party-goer, the “perennial bachelor” of the smart set. He was, when I emerged from school into the social ring in the ‘seventies, much more solemn and ponderous but still dancing with every society bud that came out, for by that time he had learned to waltz – or thought he had. A part of his procedure was to get himself hopelessly entangled in his partner’s long train and have to stop in the middle of the floor and disentangle himself. I speak from personal and painful experience. The Perrine descendants are still numerous and would make a party in themselves.

Samuel Craighead was one of the beaux of the ‘fifties and, with his wife, led in much social gayety. They both lasted until my day, when Mrs. Craighead had become a


*See “Story of Dayton,” Conover.

Dowager  with a seat along the wall which she filled like a throne and kept the tone of the young people what it ought to be. Alas! There are no Mrs. Craigheads now and too few of her descendants.

Daniel Beckel was another gay young buck of the executive committee whose own home with its four daughters, when they came along a generation later, was a center for the club dances of the ‘seventies. The big house on lower Jefferson Street is empty of girls and dances and will soon go the way of all dignified old homes when business pushes on them.

John G. Lowe’s name as leader of ceremonies would let into the modern party several of the same name, all with the charm of manner which came as a heritage partly from him and partly from his wife who was Marianna Phillips. There seems to have been little going on in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties, either social, civic or military, that Colonel Lowe and his wife did not have a hand in. The same must certainly be said of one granddaughter now, Mrs. H. E. Talbott, who with her flock of children and grandchildren would make an overwhelming party if nobody else came.

Charles Harries and Daniel Mead were both active in the Phillips House opening, and many other things beside, at that day. The Mead House on First Street with its carved woodwork and spacious rooms has now given place to a four-story garage. The early Meads would not have known what a garage is, let alone a “ramp,” but the modern Meads do and drive up it too. The Meads, the Harries and the Lowes have all intermarried in the eighty years since the Phillips House party and their descendants would surely be in a festivity to continue the social life of Dayton.

Among the list of directors it is painful to observe, considering the strict principles which we have elsewhere chronicled, the names of some good and leading Presbyterian elders. I do not refer to the lighter and more worldly variety of church members represented by names like Valentine Winters, Peter P. Lowe, T. A. Phillips and William Harries, who valued their social obligations and observed them. But what about deacons like Henry L. Brown, William Barnett and Peter Odlin? What were they doing with such frivolities as “ladies to the right, gentlemen to the left” or “promenade all?” There seems a discrepancy somewhere. We can only account for such a lapse from grace by explaining that the Phillips House was a big municipal affair sure to reflect credit on Dayton and they felt it their duty to support such a worthy undertaking. I have frequently heard such special pleading and doubtless it has its logic. Anyway the deacons were there, all of them.

It is interesting to speculate upon where the things came from which made the Phillips House so “well-appointed and chastely elegant” or where the dresses were purchased that “graced the ladies’ fair forms.” Across the street was the dry goods store of Keifer and Conover. In the advertisements of the day we find they called attention to “rose-colored silk for the ball gowns, also taffetas and velvet ribbon.” Again we find this: “V. Winters is now receiving and opening the largest and best selected stock of dry-goods in the city.” (So the Keifers and Conovers had competition.)

Then Van Ausdal advertised “lace curtains, carpets and bedding”; G. W. McDaniel, “Fall and winter stocks of clothes, vestings, and cashmeres; also shirts and collars. Under the  Phillips House fourth door from Third.” Here, evidently, is where the showy and dashing young gentlemen – our grandfathers – got their frippery for the Phillips House ball. Now the store, after the vicissitudes of eighty years, is dust and bricks and mortar. So is the Phillips House and everything in it – gone into the past to made way for a modern Dayton which we fear will neither remember nor care about those lovely, leisurely, fastidious, courageous and friendly days that are gone.

It was on a Saturday afternoon in warm September, the 20th, 1858,*  that Abraham Lincoln stood on the steps of the courthouse and spoke to the citizens of Dayton. Slavery was his main topic and he kept a big crowd listening to him for fully two hours. The framers of our government, he said, found slavery existing but looked forward to the time when it should cease. The word slave is not found in the Constitution. He made an eloquent defense of the rights of free labor – no white laboring man should be compelled to toil in competition with a slave. (There were enough Abolitionists in the audience to greet this declaration with a cheer.)  The free white man had a right to claim that the new territories into which their children might go to seek a livelihood should be free from the incumbrance of slavery.

Hon. Lewis B. Gunckel wrote (in 1902) of this historical occasion:


In 1856 at the first Republican National Convention, an Illinois delegate nominated Lincoln for President. . . . Some two years after that Lincoln came to Dayton to speak. I was on the reception committee. When we called at his room in the Phillips House and knocked at the door there was a hearty western response. “Come in.” Opening the door we were surprised to find him in his shirt sleeves and his wife brushing his hair. She afterwards put on his collar and cravat, he talking to use meanwhile without any apology for his undignified appearance. His speech was a surprise to everybody; a close logical argument without anecdote or illustration and yet so clear and so intensely interesting that although the audience stood upon the Court House steps and pavement not one person left until he closed.


In commenting upon this occasion the newspapers differ slightly. The “Journal” reported that there were five thousand people to listen to him. “The “Empire” (Democrat) said editorially: “Instead of tens of thousands of persons being assembled in our city to hear Mr. Lincoln and the streets deluged with people as one of our morning contemporaries prophesied would be the case, a meager crowd of barely two hundred was all that could be drummed up. And they were half Democrats, who came out of curiosity. Mr. Lincoln is a seductive reasoner but his speech was a network of fallacies and false assumptions.”

It was during this, his only visit to Dayton, that the now famous Nickum portrait was painted. Photography had but lately come in and the one photographer in Dayton was Mr. Cridland who had a gallery on Main Street in the building with pillared gallery, the only one now standing in that block which was there in 1850. The business in hand being finished, Mr. Cridland bethought himself of two young artists who were working in a studio across the hall. The younger, Charles W. Nickum, he summoned to bring his brushes and paints and make a sketch of this stranger whose virile face so strongly moved him.

Mr. Samuel Craighead, who was present, told the artist that his subject was leaving for  Cincinnati  on  the  four o’clock  train so he must  work  fast.  So  it  was  begun.   


*Or the 19th, 1859; authorities differ. – Ed.



 Mr. Lincoln, amused that anyone should want to paint his portrait, remarked to the young man, “Keep on; you may make a good picture but you’ll never make  a pretty one.” The result shows a portrait with which we all are familiar, the one most often reproduced, and the only one without a beard.

In June the following year Mr. Craighead met Mr. Nickum on the street and asked if he had ever completed the picture of the friend whom he brought to the Cridland gallery. “Yes.” “Where is it?  I want it. That is the man nominated for President. That was Abraham Lincoln!”

“Then,” writes Mrs. Nickum, “the little portrait was hunted up, framed and carefully cherished ever since. It has many admirers. The first offer to purchase it came from the editor of the Philadelphia ‘Public Ledger.’ An article in the ‘Ledger’ bewailed the fact that so few good paintings from life were made of Lincoln. Mr. Nickum wrote to the editor of his portrait and was offered to name his price. But the portrait was not for sale.”
At an examination of the Lincoln portrait at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City one critic said he believed it recently done and mellowed by a new process. But when a revenue stamp was discovered on the back, put there when it was framed, in the ‘sixties, he was silenced.” It now hands in the Dayton museum in the same frame made for it in the ‘sixties by Mr. Cridland.


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