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History of Dayton, Ohio 1889
Chapter Two

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Natural Advantages-Fertility and Beauty of the Miami Valley-Kentuckians Long to Dispossess the Indians-Gist's Visit in 1751-Valuable Timber-Well Watered Wild Animals-Natural Meadows-"A Most Delightful Country"-Kentuckians Visit It with Clarke and Logan-Describe the Country as an Earthly Paradise Major Sites Surveys Symmes' Purchase in 1787-Wishes to Buy Land in Miami and Mad River Valleys-Symmes Explores the Valleys-Indians Camped on Site of Dayton-Land Worth One Dollar an Acre-Tropical Luxuriance of Vegetation Kentuckians Come to View the Country in 1795-Land Concealed by Vines and Weeds-Kentuckians Discouraged and Turn Back-Rich Farming Lands Near Dayton-Fortunate Location of Town-Confluence of Four Rivers-Value of Farm Products-Four River Valleys Afford Facilities for Construction of Railroads- Dayton Center of Ten Railroads-Superabundance of Game and Fish- Natural Fruits, Nuts, and Wild Honey-Mr. Forrer's Account of Hunting in 1818-Abundance of Wild Animals and Fish in 1530 and 1840-Flights of Pigeons-Migrations of Squirrels-Fish Baskets-Wagon Loads of Fish-Temperate Climate - Mean Temperature of the Year-A Healthy City-Four Streams Furnish Water Power - Value of the Rivers to Manufacturers-Timber-Fuel-Hard Woods-Building Stone-Prof. Orton Describes the Quarries-Excellent Lime-Brick Clay-Sand - Abundance of Granitic Gravel-Prof. Orton on the Value of Gravel-Excellent Turnpikes and Streets Due to Gravel-Natural Drainage-Pure Water-Inexhaustible Wells


            LONG before any permanent settlement was made in the Miami valley, its beauty and fertility were known by the inhabitants of Kentucky and the people beyond the Alleghenies, and repeated efforts were made to get possession of it. These efforts led to retaliation on the part of the Indians, who resented the attempt to dispossess them of their lands, and the continuous raids back and forth across the Ohio River, to gain or keep possession of this beautiful valley, caused it to be called, until the close of the eighteenth century, the " Miami slaughter house." The report of the French Major Celoron de Bienville, who, in August, 1749, ascended the La Roche or Big Miami River in bateaux to visit the Twightwee villages at Piqua, has been preserved, but Gist, the agent of the Virginians, who formed the Ohio Land Company, was probably the first person who wrote a description in English of the region surrounding Dayton. Gist visited the Twightwee or Miami villages in 1751. He was delighted with the fertile and well-watered land, with its large oak, walnut, maple, ash, wild cherry, and other trees. The country, be says, abounded "with turkeys, deer, elk, and most sorts of game, particularly buffaloes, thirty or forty of which are frequently seen feeding in one meadow; in short, it wants nothing but cultivation to make it a most (page 28)

delightful country. The land upon the Great Miami River is very rich, level, and well timbered, some of the finest meadows that can be. The grass here grows to a great height on the clear fields, of which there are a great number, and the bottoms are full of white clover, wild rye, and blue grass." A number of traders were living at the Miami villages, and in one of their houses Gist lodged during his visit., It is stated by pioneer writers that the buffalo and elk disappeared from Ohio about the year 1795.

            The Kentuckians who accompanied the expeditions of Clarke and Logan against the Indians in 1780, 1782, and 1786, carried back the most enthusiastic reports of the value of the land at the mouth of Mad River. They described the valley as an earthly paradise, and longed to drive out the " Indian fiends" who excluded them from its fair fields and groves. In the fall of 1787, Major Stites, one of the surveyors of the Symmes purchase, visited the valley of the Miami and Mad rivers, and. was so delighted with it, that he began, on his return, negotiations for its purchase. John Cleves Symmes, inspired by the account given by Major Stites, was curious to see the land, and anxious to learn its real value before setting a price on it. Accompanied by an armed escort, he examined the land on the Miami and in the Stillwater and Mad River valleys without molestation from the Indians. White visitors to the mouth of Mad River 'seem always to have found a party of Indians encamped there. Those that Symmes encountered proved friendly, and they took supper together. Symmes' party reported, when they got back to Cincinnati, that some of the laud they examined was worth one dollar an acre, which was considered a large price for unimproved land in the Indian country.

            On the rich bottom lands vegetation grew with almost tropical luxuriance. Benjamin Van Cleve records in his journal of September 28, 1795, that "some men from Kentucky, who had come with Mr. Cooper to view the country, went up the Miami bottom a mile or two above the mouth of Mad River, and found the vines and weeds so thick that they could not see the land, and became discouraged and returned to Kentucky." Such a proof of the fatness of the land was a strange reason for discouragement.

            The development of the Miami valley has shown that the glowing accounts of the early explorers as to the fertility of the soil were not too highly colored. Beautiful and fertile as the Miami valley is, no part of it surpasses, if it equals, the region immediately surrounding Dayton. The "Mad River country," as this region was called by the first pioneers, was the synonym for all that was desirable in farming lands.

            (page 29) Dayton is fortunate in its location at the confluence of four important streams-the Miami, Mad River, Stillwater, and Wolf Creek. Each of these streams has its valley of great beauty and fertility, and these valleys produce large and profitable crops of every variety. As reported in the United States census report of 1880, the total value of farm products in Montgomery County in 1879 was three million, two hundred and eighty-eight thousand, four hundred and forty-nine dollars, a greater amount than was produced by any other county in Ohio. The rich neighboring farming community contributes largely to the growth and prosperity of the city. Dayton is noted for its excellent markets. The river valleys furnish the warns soil needed for market gardens, and the elevated ground is adapted to fruit of all kinds. An incidental advantage, resulting from the four river valleys, is the facilities they afford for the construction of railroads, which, through them, may reach Dayton on easy 'grades, and at comparatively small cost. No doubt to this cause may be partly attributed the fact that, with Dayton as a center, ten railroads radiate in every direction.

            Now that the forests have been nearly swept away, the game almost exterminated, and the rivers cleared of all fine fish, it is difficult, even in imagination, to realize the magnificence of the forests and the super abundance of the game and fish, when this region was in its natural state. The products of the forest and the river, the game and fsh, the peltry, the wild honey, the natural fruit and nuts, were not unimportant elements in the prosperity of Dayton at its founding. Mr. Samuel Forrer, so prominent in the early history of Ohio and of Dayton, in. some reminiscences of a visit to Dayton as late as 1818, published in the Dayton Journal in 1863, says: "I remember that I killed three pheasants on the present site of Mr. Van Ausdal's house in Dayton View. Quails, rabbits, etc., were found in plenty in ' Buck Pasture,' immediately east of the canal basin, between First and Second streets. Wild ducks came in large flocks to the ponds within the present city limits, but which have since been mainly wiped out by drainage. And the fox hunters had a great time on occasion by visiting the ' Brush Prairie,' within two miles of the court house. Deer, wild turkeys, and other game were killed in the neighborhood, and venison and wild meat were easily obtainable in Dayton." Within the writer's recollection, between 1830 and 1840, game and fish were still abundant. An occasional deer could be found, and wild turkeys and pheasants were often shot by hunters. Squirrels and quails were thick in the woods and fields, and in the fall immense fights of wild pigeons alighted in the woods to feed on the mast. At irregular intervals one of these strange migrations of squirrels would occur, for which no (page 30) satisfactory cause has been given by naturalists. Starting from the remote northwest, they would come in countless numbers, and nothing could turn them from their course. Rivers were no impediment to them, and boys would stand on the shore of the Miami and kill them with clubs, as they emerged from the water.

            The rivers were still full of fish. No more delicious 'table fish could be found anywhere than the bass, when taken from the pure, clear water of the Miami and Mad River of that day. On the mill race, which has since been converted into the Dayton View Hydraulic, stood a saw mill, which only ran in the daytime. At night the water was passed through a fish basket, and each morning, during the fish season, it was found filled with bass of the largest size. In 1835, one Saturday afternoon a seine was drawn in the Miami, between the Main Street and Bridge Street bridges, and two large wagon loads of fine fish caught. This may suffice to show the great abundance of fish as late as 1835. Whatever hardships the pioneers of Dayton may have endured, they were in the enjoyment of luxuries that would have tickled the palate of an epicure. Climate exerts a decided influence on the character and prosperity of a community. In its climate Dayton is fortunate, as its people are not exposed to the extreme rigor of the North, nor the enervating heat of the South. M. E. Curwen makes this statement in his "History of Dayton," published in 1850. "Dayton is in latitude 39° 47', and in longitude west from Washington 7° 6'. This parallel of latitude passes through the center of Spain, southern Italy, northern Greece, and Asia Minor. In regard to climatology, there are yet no sufficient data to form a correct estimate. The mean temperature of the year may, however, be set down as not far from 53.78° Fahrenheit. The mean temperature of spring at 54.14°; of summer at 72.86°; of autumn at 54.86°; and of winter at 32.90°. The mean temperature of the warmest months does not probably exceed 74.30°, nor does that of the coldest mouths fall below 30.20°. This corresponds very nearly with the climate of the Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom." The following table, taken from the records of the Ohio Meteorological Bureau, differs somewhat from the above, but it may be that if a series of years were taken, instead of a single one, the diference would not be great. The mean temperature of the year 1887 was 53° 5'; of the year 1888, 52° 1'. The mean temperature of spring, 1888, 50° 6'; of summer 74° 5'; of autumn 51° 9'; of winter 50° 6'. That the climate of Dayton is favorable to health is shown by the reports of the board of health. Statistics prove Dayton to be one of the healthiest cities in the United States.

            The four streams that converge at Dayton furnish a large amount (page 31) of water power to propel mills and factories. This is especially true of Mad River. It was the water power that gave the greatest impulse of growth to the town, and Dayton at an early day became a manufacturing point of considerable importance. Although the needs of our factories have now outgrown the water power, and steam has to be resorted to, it still remains an important factor in the prosperity of the city. The manufacturer esteems himself fortunate who possesses this reliable and comparatively inexpensive power.

            For many years the town was dependent on the forests in the vicinity for timber for building purposes and for fuel, and it was furnished in abundance and of the greatest excellence. The cheapness and excellent quality of the hard woods led at an early day to the establishment here of factories that use wood for material. Now that the forests have largely disappeared from the surrounding country, the canal and railroads bring the hard woods of northern Ohio and the pine of Michigan cheaply and abundantly to our builders and manufacturers. The comparative proximity of these lumber regions is of no small advantage. One of nature's chief gifts to Dayton is the building stone that underlies a large part of Montgomery County. Of especial value is the Niagara or, as it is commonly called, the Dayton stone. So extensive are the beds of this stone, that Prof. Orton, the State geologist, pronounces it inexhaustible. Prof. Orton describes the different kinds of stone found in this region as follows: "The blue limestone affords in numberless.. exposures a building stone that is accessible, easily quarried, even bedded, of convenient thickness, and very durable: It possesses, however, but little susceptibility of ornamentation. The thinness of its beds, its hardness and brittleness, stand in the way of its improvement by dressing, and its color is too dark to please the eye when it is exposed in large surfaces of masonry. The Clinton rock in all its beds-but especially in its upper ones-affords a building stone that would be highly valued, were it not for the close proximity, in most instances, of the quarries of the Niagara group. A similar statement may be made in regard to the products of the blue limestone quarries of the county. When the Clinton stone is first raised from the quarry, it is frequently so soft as to be easily worked; but when the water has escaped from it, it becomes a measurably firm and enduring stone. Some of its beds, indeed, are crystalline or semi-crystalline in structure, and leave nothing to be desired so far as durability is concerned. The Clinton group exhibits a great variety of colors, and some of these shades are very pleasing to the eye-a fact which makes this stone susceptible of fine architectural effects. The greatest objection to this series is that it is not generally even bedded.  (page 32) The lower strata, are very seldom so. The Niagara group, however, furnishes the best building stone, not only in Montgomery County, but of the whole Miami valley as well. Indeed, for many purposes it is inferior to none. Occurring as it does in even-bedded layers of from four to twenty inches in thickness, it is adapted to the purpose of both light and heavy masonry. It is homogeneous in structure, has a beautiful color, takes ornamentation quite kindly, and is durable to any required degree. The value that is attached to it can be judged from the fact that in some of the quarries nearest Dayton the stone sells in the ground for $17.50 per rod or $2,800 per acre, the title to the land not being alienated."

            These quarries have been a mine of wealth to their owners and to Dayton. These stones may all be burned into excellent lime, and lime is indispensable, as it is "the great cement employed alike in nature and by human art." The building stones produce a lime that slakes easily, and in slaking evolves a great degree of heat, and is called hot or fiery lime. It sets or hardens very soon, and for this reason is not liked by masons. A stone is found at Wilson's quarries, north of Dayton, from which a lime is obtained that is free from these objections, and from this source Dayton is largely supplied. Excellent brick clay exists in many localities, and nearly all the brick used in Dayton is burned in the immediate vicinity. Sand in unlimited quantity may be found in the river bed, and an abundance of superior quality in many of the surrounding hills. Thus these essential articles are easily and cheaply obtained, and help to constitute the sum of things that make Dayton what it is. Another article, which at first thought may be considered of little value, is of the greatest importance. Gravel is so abundant and so cheap that we seldom reflect what an important part it has played in the development of the country. Prof. Orton says: "It is not easy to set a, proper estimate upon the beds of sand and gravel of Montgomery County, until a comparison is instituted between a region well supplied with such accumulations and another that is destitute of them. The gravel knolls and ridges with which, in the southern and eastern portions of the county, almost every farm abounds, afford very desirable building sites, and are generally selected for such purposes. Sand of the best quality for mortar, cement, and brick-making is everywhere within easy access. An inexhaustible supply of excellent materials for road-making--vdhat is frequently designated the lime stone gravel, though in reality largely composed of granitic pebbles-is found in the drift deposits, from which hundreds of miles of turnpikes have been already constructed in the county, thus affording free communication between farm and market at all seasons of the year. The smaller bowlders of Canadian origin are (page 33) selected from the gravel banks for paving stones and transported to the neighboring cities. In regions where stone suitable for macadamized pikes can be obtained, good roads can be had, even though gravel is wanting, but at largely increased expense above that of gravel turnpikes. The districts which are supplied with neither can certainly never compete in desirability with these gravel-strewn regions."

            In 1838 the legislature passed an act extending state aid in the construction of turnpikes. Dayton promptly availed itself of the beneft to be derived from the law, and on account of the abundance and            cheapness of gravel soon had several turnpikes under way. So manifest was the advantage gained by sections of the State having cheap material for the construction of roads over other portions less favored, that the legislature hastened in 1840 to repeal the law. Before its repeal, however, Dayton had reaped substantial and great benefts from the aid extended by the State. Dayton is also indebted to the gravel beds for the beauty and cleanliness of the streets of which for many years the citizens were so justly proud. It is true that of late the careless digging of trenches for gas and water, and the use of broken limestone instead of gravel for repairs, has put them in bad condition, but there can be no doubt that except on our most travelled business thoroughfares, pure gravel, such as may be obtained from the surrounding hills, if properly applied, would make perfectly satisfactory streets.

            But not the least of the advantages derived from the gravelly subsoil that underlies Dayton, is the drainage it affords. It almost obviates the necessity of sewerage, and but for it we should certainly have been visited with the evil consequences that have fallen on other cities which have failed to provide means for carrying off refuse matter. Underneath the city, at a depth of a few feet, runs a constant stream of water, removing impurities of all kinds and preventing disease. In the less densely populous parts of the city it acts as an admirable filter, and carries into wells pure and cold water for drinking and culinary purposes. Now that in parts of the city well water is no longer considered wholesome, the city is indebted to this same gravelly subsoil for the wells at the water works. Probably no city in the country is more highly favored than Dayton with an abundant supply of pure and delicious water. The wells are practically inexhaustible and have borne the drafts made upon them by large fires without a sign of failure. Subjected to the test of chemical analysis, the water has been pronounced free from all impurities, and no citizen of Dayton need be told how cold, sparkling, and refreshing it is as a beverage. Certainly no greater boon can be conferred on a city than an abundant supply of good water.

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