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A Steam Carriage on Rails - In A Church!


This article appeared in Journal Herald on October 17, 1961

A “Steam Carriage” On Rails. . . In A Church!
By Margaret Ann Ahlers

     When Dayton was very, very young, there were only three ways to get in and out of the village – by water, by walking, or by horse.

     After its beginning in 1796, the settlement grew rapidly. More and more people came from the South and from over the Allegheny mountains. And then there was the matter of supplies: buying, selling and trading. Travelling for any purpose was not easy.

     It is recorded that in 1807 Dayton merchants went to Philadelphia to buy goods. The journey was made on horseback and occupied a month. Merchandise was brought across the mountains to Pittsburgh by huge Conestoga wagons, drawn by horses rearing red yokes with jingling bells to warn travelers through narrow roads of their approach.

     At Pittsburgh the goods were loaded on flatboats, popularly known as “broad horns,” and floated down to Cincinnati from whence they were usually poled up the Miami river to Dayton in keel boats. The merchandise could be brought by pack horses more quickly than by water.

     It was a common sight to see those long “line trains,” often of a dozen horses tied together in a single file, the leader wearing a bell and each animal carrying 200 pounds, moving up Main street to unload at one of the four stores.

     A train of such length was accompanied by three or four men equipped with rifles, ammunition, axes and blankets.

     What excitement there must have been in the village when new merchandise arrived in such picturesque manner!

          Some measure of the settlement’s growth may be gained from an historian who said, “It was estimated that in the summer of 1815 there were about 100 dwellings in Dayton. There were more log cabins than any other kind of buildings. The lumber business was called ‘trade in planks.’ Sets of house logs were gotten out in winter, sledded to town and sold in the spring.”

          During the next 14 years, expansion demanded easier, shorter means of transportation. The canal between the Mad river and Cincinnati was opened. Then came improved roads, stagecoaches – and railroads, the latter overlapping the peak of the canal’s usefulness.

     It is said that as early as the 1700’s men in England worked on the idea of a locomotive. In 1804 Richard Trevithick ran one of his “road engines” on rails at Pen-y-darran, Wales, at the rate of five miles per hours.

     Various improvements were made until 1829 when the “Rocket” built by Robert Stephenson won the speed, pulling and endurance contest held by the Manchester and Liverpool Railway.

     That event is considered the birth of the modern railway.

     News of the great invention trickled to Dayton. In 1830 a miniature locomotive and car were exhibited here in the Methodist “meeting house.” The fact that the town council exempted the exhibition from a license fee and a church was use for the purpose was proof of “the deep interest felt by the public in the new and almost untried scheme to transport freight and passengers by steam over roads constructed for the purpose.”

     A track was run around the interior of the church and for a small fee parties were carried in the car. “A large part of the then citizens of Dayton took their first railroad ride in this way.”

     In July, 1831, a second exhibition of a miniature locomotive and car was heralded by the following announcement in the Dayton Journal:
     “A locomotive or steam carriage on a miniature railroad will be exhibited at Machir and Hardcastle’s warehouse, near the canal basin, on Friday and Saturday. The exhibition will be a rich treat to the friends of state and national improvement.

     “The locomotive works with great celerity and precision, drawing a splendid car in which two persons may ride at the same time. Both locomotive and car are constructed on the most improved principles and workmanship may be safely pronounced of the first order.

     “Ladies and gentlemen are respectfully invited to call and ride. Admittance 25; children half price.”

          Then – early in 1832 The Journal suggested the building of a railroad from Dayton to Cincinnati, giving as one urgent reason for the undertaking the fact that part of every year the canal was frozen over and, as there then was no sufficient connection with the Cincinnati market, “Dayton products fell to a ruinously low price.”

     In that same winter, legislature incorporated the Mad River and Erie Railroad.

     When eventually railroads threaded their way across the country, transportation changed again with advent of the airplane. Railroads hold their place, however, and the rumble of their wheels and the sound of their warning sirens are intermingled with the rush of modern traffic.

     Where heavily-laden pack horses once plodded toward the few stores of a village, huge jet planes now soar above tall buildings and broad streets, several of which follow the route of the old canal.

     Some of the old buildings in the area once occupied by Dayton’s first industries still stand and seem to huddle together, to shrink from the skyward rush of giant, bird-like planes with outspread wings.