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Roads - Robert Blvd


This article appeared in the Dayton Journal Herald in July 1978
Roads—Robert Blvd
by Jeanne D. Walters
     Dayton once boasted a lovely boulevard that skirted the Miami River and was trimmed with the arching elms and silver maples that lined the expansive streets.  Robert Boulevard was more than a geographical site.  It personified a way of life that reflected charm, culture and luxury at the turn of the century in the Gem City.
     It was once described as one of the most beautiful residential streets and parks in the country and, until its demise in 1964, the fine old residences, the walks bordered by flower-filled urns and the carefully cultivated lawns mirrored the charm of a softer, slower life.
     The padding of horses hooves, as they pulled fashionable carriages and their passengers along the boulevard, mingled with the laughter and the conversations of the promenaders enjoying their daily strolls.  Gentlemen with high collars and jeweled stickpins escorted laughing young ladies dressed in long gowns with tight bodices and leg-of-mutton sleeves.
     It was a gentler time and a time when the fine houses facing the boulevard gave evidence of Dayton’s stability and progress.  The homes were built for gracious living and family life and, presumably, many generations would enjoy the life style of the original owners.
     The boulevard came into existence through the combined dreams of two brothers.  They contributed much to their own generation and were able to affect future generations, far into the 20th century.
     Born in Robertville, S.C., Henry M. Robert and James Robert were sons of the Rev. Joseph T. Robert, a Baptist minister.  Mr. Robert did not approve of slavery and before the Civil War became inevitable he had moved his family to Dayton where he accepted a college teaching post.
     James Robert followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a tutor at the elegant girls’ school, Vassar.
     Henry M. Robert entered West Point at the age of 16, destined to become a general in the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.
     James Robert returned to Dayton at the request of local educators and wealthy parents, to head the Cooper Female Seminary, which was located on W. First St., on the present site of Westminster Presbyterian Church and the Board of Education building.
     A plan by E. R. Stillwell to broaden the levee from Monument Ave. to First St. interested him, but he believed that more valuable real estate would be created by dredging the river basin and filling the land to the pasture that then served as a gypsy camp ground.  The plan for his development had the plat extending from First St. to Fourth St. and from the Third St. bridge to the Dayton View bridge.
     Robert sought technical advice from his brother, Henry, then a colonel in the engineers, who agreed to help.  The two brothers became so taken with the project that Henry was to make frequent trips to Dayton as the various phases were completed.
     On one such trip, he met the accomplished Helen Thresher, daughter of early settler Ebenezer Thresher, owner of the Thresher Paint Co.  The young couple’s romance culminated in a Christmas Eve wedding in 1860.  Thus, Henry M. Robert married into a Dayton family and Dayton history.
     By the early 1880s, Robert Blvd, as Daytonians were to know it, was completed and had gained national recognition as a remarkable feat of engineering.  Gen. Henry Robert was to use much of the technical knowledge he gained in the boulevard project when he engineered the great seawall in Galveston, Tex. after the disastrous tidal wave of 1900.
     Something else came out of an earlier experience.  He was called to New Bedford, Mass. in 1863 to develop protection from confederate raids for that city’s whaling fleet.  He was asked to chair a discussion at a church among the whalers and the townspeople. The meeting erupted violently and he was suddenly and rudely aware that there were no precise rules of procedure to follow in moments of hostility in such meetings.
     Henry Robert penned an outline for any future time that he might again be called upon to chair a meeting and this simple outline was to be the basis for his well read “Robert’s Rules of Order.”
     He contended that “…where there is no law but everyman does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of liberty:  And his rules of order, through five major editions, still contained his original premises.
  1. Abide by the will of the majority.
  2. Listen to the minority.
  3. Consider one thing at a time.
  4. Give everyone a chance to talk.
  5. Keep the discussion impersonal.
     Robert was to expand these simple rules from time to time for the remainder of his life and his Robert’s Rules of Order was to turn loud argument and chaos into peaceful discussion and order in legislatures and other government bodies, fraternal organizations, church groups and such divergent groups even as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Symbionese Liberation Army.
     Miss Eleanor McCann, Dayton View music teacher, still has the copy of his rules that Gen. Robert gave her parents Judge and Mrs. Benjamin McCann.  Mrs. McCann was a half-sister of Helen Thresher and the families enjoyed a close relationship.
     Miss McCann lived in her family’s Robert Blvd. Home until 1964, when the wrecking crew destroyed her childhood home, but not her memories—such as the many big social events on the boulevard attended by such people as Gov. James M. Cox, Charles F. Kettering, Col. E. A. Deeds and Orville and Wilbur Wright.
     In the 1900s Robert Blvd and Sunset Ave. continued to reflect the life style of an earlier Dayton and served well as a barometer of the city’s good times and bleak times.  During the 1913 flood, the homes were all but destroyed.  Panic hit the entire city and resulted in growth for Oakwood and Dayton View, which were high above the destructive waters.
     More decades passed then, with the bombs of Pearl Harbor still reverberating, Dayton was inundated with World War II military personnel and civilian workers.  The boulevard’s life style changed radically as most of the big homes were divided into apartments or used as boarding houses.
     After the war, progress dictated the disappearance of the fine old homes as new buildings rose on the skyline and plans for the city’s growth and improvement rushed on.  Thus, the death knell of Robert Blvd. Was sounded and the bulldozers wadded to the one-time romantic walks and leveled the battered but still proud old homes on the boulevard as part of the construction of I-75 through Dayton.