This article appeared in the Journal Herald on July 23, 1960
The Story of Robert Boulevard
By Margaret Ann Ahlers
Progress is like a mighty giant who, in the course of his striding, must set his feet upon places holding much value and importance.
Since those earliest days when Dayton was no more than a cluster of log cabins, progress has been active—but that activity has increased so rapidly within the past two decades that many a fine old residence or landmark already has disappeared, or is in danger of annihilation.
Each year Dayton becomes more modern in the forward steps of progress. Handsome new buildings rise on the skyline and new plans for the city’s growth and improvement are being made.
One way to gain some measure, or realization, of this advancement is by a backward glance at history and by delving into the “pigeon holes” of memory.
Robert boulevard, once described as “one of the most beautiful residence streets and parks in the country,” already has felt the touch of time and change, and in the future may undergo still more severe treatment.
Now, however, the boulevard continues to hold an atmosphere of charm; fine old residences remain; if they could speak they would tell of prominent families identified with commerce, industry and culture.
In The Beginning
The story of Robert boulevard begins when E. R. Stilwell, who founded the Stilwell-Bierce company in 1866, conceived the idea of building up the Great Miami river levee from Monument avenue to First street. The project, known as “Stilwell fill, “ gained the attention of Prof. James A. Robert, principal of the old Cooper Seminary.
The professor believed that more valuable real estate could be gained by filling up and utilizing what had been pasture land and camping ground for gypsies. Eventually he called upon his brother, Gen. Henry M. Robert, West Point graduate and chief of U. S. Army engineers, who came from the East to help solve some of the problems.
In the early 1880s the entire project was complete with the further building up of the large area between the river and former levee, from Third street bridge to the Dayton View bridge.
Them called “Robert fill,” the entire operation was considered a remarkable feat of engineering. On that fill were constructed Robert boulevard (named to honor the civic-minded professor) and Sunset avenue.
E. R. Stilwell built the first house on the boulevard and Professor Robert’s residence was the first on Sunset avenue. Both homes still stand.
Later, General Robert won distinction for designing a sea wall at Galveston, Tex., following the tidal wave in 1900.
Too, the general gained fame as the author of “Robert’s Rules of Order” which continues to be considered the best book on parliamentary procedure. The first edition was published in 1876. While in Dayton to help his brother with the “fill” project, General Robert worked on a revision of the small volume which was to become of increasing usefulness and importance.
During his visit here, the general met the accomplished Miss Helen Thresher, daughter of Ebenezer Thresher, an early resident who came to Dayton by canal boat and later established the Thresher Paint company. Eventually the young couple’s romance blossomed into their wedding which was held here.
So the general married into a Dayton family—and into Dayton history.
Home Of Musician
Another one of the early houses on Robert boulevard was owned and occupied by the Misses Mary and Laura Thresher, half sisters, daughters of Ebenezer Thresher. (Miss Laura became the bride of B. F. McCann in 1900.) That residence still stands and is now the home of Miss Eleanor McCann, prominent Dayton musician and daughter of the late Judge B. F. McCann and Mrs. McCann.
The property extends to the retaining wall, part of the undertaking which brought the famous general-author to Dayton from the East—and to a charming young lady.
It is strange, now, to stand in the garden under tall trees, gaze across the river to beautiful modern buildings, glance at the “new” bridge, and try to visualize bygone days, even those beyond the “fill” when until 1819 the only way to get across the river was by fording—or by ferry.
It is also difficult to realize that the house beyond the garden was one of the first to be built on Robert boulevard. Gradually more fine residences came into being in that area and among the occupants were families destined to play important part in the history and growth of Dayton.
Who some of them were and what they did—well, that’s another story…