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A Boy's Impression of Dayton 64 Years Ago



An exact copy of Ohmer's diary, written in 1901, in which he describes Dayton as it was in 1840




My Father with his family emigrated from France about 1831, landed in Cincinnati in 1832. Whilst there he run across some (Amish) or Dunkards from near Trenton, Butler County, Ohio, who induced him to go to Trenton, 0., he "being a tailor "by trade they would give him plenty of work. He did as requested. My first impression of his work was the hooks and eyes he put upon their (The Dunkards) clothes, instead of "buttons; - we remaining in Trenton five years, then moved to Dayton in the Spring of 1837.

My first view of Dayton was from the fair ground hill on South Main Street, it was then full height. Dayton looked large to me. Having been accustomed to see the village of Trenton, the contrast was great. The first building to attract my attention was the long frame building on the West Side of Main Street south of First Street; I learned later on that it was the Crawford Last and Peg Factory. It was run by horse power.

There were then a few more factories - the large frame building (recently torn down) on the corner of the Canal and Sixth Street. It was then a carpet factory. They used water power. There was also a foundry and soap works at the head of Madison on First Street. That location was the business part of the town (not a city at that time). The Canal ended of First Street.

Whiskey must have been the leading product of Dayton at that time, judging from the large number of barrels to be seen upon both sides of the Canal.

There was a red mill at the junction of Water St. and the river, also a brass works on the Race east of Madison St.

The Race furnished water for Richard's Cotton Factory where Chamber's Ware House is at this time; Saw Mill at Fifth Street; also the Saw Mill at the junction of Fifth and Canal Street, and the Carpet Factory First and Canal.

The land bounded North by the Race, East by the Canal, South to a point where the two Canals joined and West by the head of the basin branch, was called Buck Lot, because it was a place to kill deer and catch rabbits.

East of Buck Lot there was a French Settlement composed of about a dozen families. We, being of the same nationality, naturally became familiar with them. There was a high bridge to cross the Canal at Third Street, the grade was steep. One of the Frenchmen was coming to town one day in an open wagon. The steep grade threw him out of the wagon and broke his neck. A step-son of this same man went swimming at the same bridge and was drowned. Another Frenchman, a stone cutter, went swimming about one-half way between Third and Wayne Streets, and he was drowned. The French there did not prosper. One of them was totally blind. The boys left the Country, the old people died out, that was the end of Frenchtown.

There was a toll bridge at Main Street, also at Bridge Street; Main Cross Street as it was called (now Third Street) had no bridge across the river, it was only a ford.

Mad River at that time run along what is now First Street. The woods on the North Side of the River was full of drift logs and brush. We boys used to go over there and fish in holes among the logs and catch any amount of Sun Fish.

There was a large Sycamore tree about where the car works gate is now.  It was about ten feet across, had an opening upon the North and South side of it.  The tree being hollow afforded a good place for travelers to stop at.  The tree was a shelter  They made a fire on the ground in the center and could lie down all around it.

The first Railroad in this country was owned by Gilmore & Scott. They used it to haul stones from their quarry near the Shakers to Dayton   It was propelled by mule power and had wooden rails. We boys used to go out there on the cars and gather papaws and wild grapes in the woods and brush around the quarry.

The Negro Settlement was along Seeley's Ditch about that time. One night it was reported that they held a white woman there against her will. A lot of men went to take her away with the result that a white man, McLarey, was stabbed to death, the following night the Negro town was reduced to ashes, the murderer was captured and sent to the Pen for life. It was a pitiful sight the morning of the fire to see the Negroes carrying their belongings. The men and women had bundles and the children had chickens. They left the country. For a while negroes were scarce in Dayton.

The Slidertown boys and the Dayton boys were not friendly. I saw more than one with a black eye the result of their fights at night.

Those days in business places there were posts along the curb with rails to hitch horses to. The cross rails were a favorite place for a half witted fellow by name of John B. Hopkins to stand on and preach. One of his favorite arguments was they say the world is going to bum up. I would like to know what would hold the Ashes.


THE YEAR 1837 The first Catholics in Dayton:-

The Conway Family

John Stephens & Family

Mr. Wahl

Mr. Makeley & Family

Mr. Nalen & Family

Mr. Bailey & Family

Mr. Miller & Wife

Francis Ohmer & Family

Mr. Hall & Family

Mr. Shelhamer & Family


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How Dayton Looked from 1837 to 40 as reviewed by the writer: -


           The River had a wooden bridge at Main Street with a toll gate attachment. The same at Bridge Street. Third Street was a ford.

From Mad River dam there was a race that ran down along the south side of First Street to Sears, then turned to Monument Avenue to a red mill situated about where the Gas tank is today.  A branch from it ran to Madison Street then turned to Richard’s Cotton Factory which was situated where Chamber’s Ware House is today on the Canal, and continued down along the Canal to a Saw Mill on Fifth Street.  “The head of the basin” as called that day was the end of the Canal at First Street.  There was where all the heavy business was transacted in Dayton.

There were regular lines of boats leaving Dayton for Cincinnati nearly every day, also a line of packets would leave Dayton at 10:00 o'clock A.M. and arrive in Cincinnati at 5:00 o'clock the next morning, passengers eating dinner and lodging aboard. There was also a line of leather boot and leather spring stages to Cincinnati . They would make a little better time than the packets. They left at the same time but would reach Cincinnati about midnight by changing horses often.

There were but few factories at that date, Crawford's Last Factory situated on Main a little South of Sixth Street; Clegg's Foundry at the head of Madison Street, and a little brass factory on the race aboved named. Richard's Cotton Factory, Cooper Cotton Factory, and the frame (carpet at that time) mill South of the latter. Old market on Second Street as now called was about as far South as business houses reached, with a few scattering on Third and Fourth Streets. No business on Fifth Street at that time.

The East Side of the Canal on Fifth Street was called Oregon. There were a few dwellings and brick yards there at that time.

Seeley's Canal or ditch as now called was then being built. There were a few negro shanties along it until one night when one of the negroes killed a white man by the name of McLarey. Then they were burned out and many of the negroes left town.

On the River side of Monument Avenue between Main and Ludlow Streets Simon Snyder had his tan yard. The writer often looked in through an opening at the horses grinding bark.

On the corner of Wilkinson and the River Louis Reynold had a pork slaughter house.

The river overflowed the lowland on the West side of Perry Street and left a pond along the ridge. At Sixth Street the water was deep. We used to fish in it at that point.

There was a small clock factory at the foot of Ludlow Street also a distillery.

The Mayor of the town at that time was Mr. Wheelock. The Marshall was Mr. Brandwell. He and the Mayor were the whole police force.

The only grave yard at that time was bounded by Ludlow, Fifth, Sixth and the alley on the West.

Below Sixth Street, with a few exceptions was commons.

The public square was low ground. It was the dumping place for the Town's debris.

The brick Court House was the only hall for public meetings. The Abolitionists were often heard there. The writer once saw the Court House lit up for an Abolitionist speaker. He, the speaker saw the audience with their bad eggs, backed out, lights were put out and he left town.

Whigs and Democrats were the political parties. The Court House was used every night during the political campaigns, the winning party built great bonfires on the corners of the streets, principally Second and Main and Third and Main. Store boxes were then kept on the side walks, an invitation for the boys to help themselves and they did.

The market house was one story and on stilts. It ran half way between Main and Jefferson Streets. There were very few if any country wagons backed up around it those days. The market house was often used for political speech making. The writer heard Tom Corwin, R. C. Schenck, Chas. Andersen and others there.

The business houses on Second between Main and Jefferson were; North side corner Main Street Wm. Eaker Sr. Dry Goods & Groceries, next East, Dr. Koerner Drug Store next Thos. Casad hatter, next Henry Rhodes, groceries, next widow of John Mount, Groceries etc., next corner Jefferson Thos. Parrot Dry Goods. South side corner of Jefferson and Second Streets,  Rus. Fulkerth General Merchandise, next West Stephens, baker, next West Wm. Oblinger, tinner, next Bayer Coppersmith, next George McFarland, Shoemakers findings, next E. M. Burr, Sadlery, next Peter Bear, Merchant Tailor and County Treasurer, next Francis Ohmer, Ice cream & Confections, next Henry Stout, Iron Store, next corner Main & Second Horace Phillips residence and Dry goods store on the corner. Mr. Phillips had an apple and pear orchard on the side and rear of his residence extending to the alley on both South and East sides, we boys used to sample the fruit when ripe.

The post-office was on the corner of the alley, now new Court House. The jail was where the Sheriff's residence is today. John Hall was Sheriff at that time.

On the corner where the Phillips House is now there were groceries and queens-ware sold in a one story frame building.

Where the Callahan Bank Building is there was a two-story brick. On the S.E. corner of Main and Third Streets was about the same kind of a building.

Where the Huffman block is now there was a two story frame hotel with a bell on the roof to call the boarders. Many freight wagons with bells on the horses stopped there over night.

Henry Herman was the largest merchant of the day. He occupied the building on the East side of Main between First Street and alley. He kept dry goods, groceries, carpets, notions, etc. and bought grain of the fanners.

The Dayton Bank was in the Stone building just North of Herman's. It was closing out its business. It redeemed every dollar.

Mr. John W. Harries was probably the largest dealer in grain. His ale was of the best make. It had a great reputation. He did a large business. His brewery was on the West side of Jefferson Street between First and Monument Avenue. He was a whole souled gentleman, you would no more than enter his office when he would say "have a glass of ale", he was a Scotchman.

Alexander Swayney had the largest hotel of the day. It was situated of the S.W. corner of First and Madison Streets. He had the country and teamsters trade.

Conrad Smith had the best town trade. His hotel was on the S.W. corner of Main and Second Streets.

Smith's four-story building N.W. Corner of Main and Second Streets was the tallest building of that day in Dayton. The builder George W. Smith died soon after building it.


CHURCHES: - 1837 to 1840


The First Presbyterian N.W. corner of Second and Ludlow Streets.

German Reformed. It was where it now stands. (1901)

Grace Methodist, South side Third Street between Main and Jefferson Streets.

 Free Thinkers Baptist, West side of Main between Fourth and Fifth Streets. Reibold's ten story building occupies the spot today.

Canbelites Baptist Church was on the West side of Main Street between Monument Ave. and First Street on the South side of the alley.

The Emanuel Catholic Church on Sixth Street was then being built. The Episcopal Church was on the East side Jefferson Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets.


I recall only two men living today (1901) who were in business at that time.


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The North Side of the river was woods and farm land with the exception of a few houses near the Main Street bridge. Steels dam was there also the race that fed the grist mill at the junction of the Miami River, Dayton View, and Mexico or Miami City as it is now called was farm land and garden patches. Edgemont the same.

There was a little settlement South of Seeley's ditch that was called Slidertown. The boys living there would attack the Dayton boys when they crossed the line and vice versa when they showed in Dayton. Occasionally boys with black eyes were seen on the streets caused by their fighting.

There was no upper hydraulic at the East end at that time. There were a few French families in the low grounds, that part was called French Town. East of that was all farm lands. Grass was then growing on the principal streets of Dayton. I recollect the Marshall ordering the people to cut it or dig it out.

Dayton had a population of about six thousand at that time.


The End