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Young Dayton Was Industrious


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on July 4, 1976
Young Dayton was industrious
Early citizens’ ‘manufactories’ provided for county, pioneer nation’s needs
By Carl V. Roberts
            The Dayton area did not become a major industrial center by accident.  And the citizens of the early days were not disposed to wait for someone to invent a cash register or automobile self-starter. 
For example:  “Manufactories: May our exports exceed our imports.”  That was a toast offered at a community celebration on July 4, 1810.
            It might appear that industry actually got off to a slow start here.  It was a little over two years after the first settlers arrived in 1796 before the first one was established.
            BY THAT TIME, Daniel C. Cooper owned most of the plat of Dayton and another 1,000 acres south of town.  Preparing for the expansion he expected, he put a low dam in the Mad River and channeled water from back of it to a mill race he built north of First and Sears Sts.
            It was in that area that he started Dayton’s first industry, a water-powered mill to crack corn, which could then be pounded or ground by hand into meal.
            Shortly after that he built another corn cracker on the tract south of town that would later by known as Col. Robert Patterson’s farm.  There was a good, swift-running stream, fed by springs on what is now Dayton Mental Health center land, so he added a sawmill and stillhouse.
            Thus, in 1798, cracked corn, lumber and whiskey were being produced in the community.
            Although there were only a half dozen families inside the town, Cooper wanted Dayton to be the hub of the growing farming community around it and saw expansion of facilities as the way to make it happen.  So, the next year, in the same area as his first corn cracker and run by the same water wheel, he started building a grist mill, which would finish off the corn meal process, and a sawmill.
            COOPER KNEW WHAT he was doing.  By the time his new mills went into production in October 1801, Dayton still had the same half dozen families but there were 382 males over age 21 in what would now be Montgomery County.  Two years later the figure had humped to 526, which meant more corn was being grown and more houses being built.
            Cooper was a busy man, so he leased his city mills to Robert Edgar, who had been one of his surveyor’s chain carriers when Cooper came up from Cincinnati in November 1795 to lay out the town.  Edgar’s contract called for two-thirds of the profits from the mills to go to the owner.
            Cooper didn’t have a lock on industry, though.  Along about the same time another busy man, Dr. John Hole, the area’s only medical man, found time to put two sawmills into operation way down on Silver Creek – which, naturally, became Hole’s Creek.
            And sometime between 1800 and 1803, the Rev. William Robinson and his brother, Henry, built a flour mill way out in the country – on the Mad River just east of where Harshman Rd. crosses it now.
            Dispersal of industry caught on.  In the next couple of years, Philip Gunckel built mills at what was to become Germantown and John Rench did likewise out near Clayton.
            Edgar, meanwhile, had given up his lease on Cooper’s mills to buy a farm on the Wayne Ave. hill, which turned into another industry.  He found a limestone outcropping and started the first “Dayton marble” quarry.
            There was more than enough corn being grown for the needs of the people and their livestock, so in 1805 Jonathan Harshman built a stillhouse not far from Robinson’s flour mill.
            ONE INDUSTRY BEGETS another.  By 1809, whiskey and flour barrels no longer had to be imported.  Three skilled workmen – cabinet maker Mathew Patton, carpenter John Dodson and cooper David Steele – were turning them out in their factory on First near Sears.
            Edward Diehl had started making spinning wheels and chairs in 1806, but Cooper modernized things by adding a wool carding machine and fulling mill to his industrial complex.
            That begat a weaving mill operated by James Hanna on S. Main St., which begat, in turn, a nearby dye house at which James Beck, announced he would dye cloth “a deep blue” – at 75 cents a pound for cotton and 62-1/2 cents a pound for wool and linen.
            Pushing on toward 1810, John and Archibald Burns were making edge tools – axes, adzes and the like, and David Stuzman was making edge tools and sickles.
            With that kind of expansion, there was plenty of work for carpenters.  And, although logs – either round or hewn – were still the principal building material, those numerous sawmills were turning out large quantities of wooden planks for those with a taste and the money, for something fancier that logs inside and out.
SO, A MAN NAMEDWilson opened a nail factory on the north side of Cooper’s mill race, between Sears and Foundry Sts., and John Strain & Co. specialized in wrought iron nails in a factory on the west side of Main between First and Monument – was Water St. then.
            S. Main St., still considered a suburb of the town proper, got its third industry when a tanyard was built in 1810 between Fourth and Fifth Sts.
            “Every available mill site was taken,” wrote one historian of that year.  “Flatboats were moving out of Dayton for New Orleans, carry flour, whiskey, pork, grain and hides for the making of leather products.”
            There was a ready market in the South for everything and with prices up – whiskey to 37 cents a gallon over the 10 or 15 cents in the beginning – there was an unsuccessful push to have the channels of all three rivers declared public highways, to keep out commercial fishermen’s nets and the brush dams that were used to steer the perch and catfish into them.
            Even though Dayton’s population was up to 383 and the county’s to 7,722, industries were producing enough for local use and to live up to that July 4 toast about exports and imports.
            THE WATER WHEELS of industry not only kept turning, but multiplied.  Two new mill races were constructed after that 1810 notation about every mill site being taken, but the big move came in 1845, after years of plans and proposals.
            H. G. Phillips, J. G. Phillips, Daniel Beckel and Samuel Edgar formed the Dayton Hydraulic Co., and with some expert engineering, changed the channel of the Mad River, then tapped it for a powerful mill race.
            Something else happened in 1845 to give industry a boost, but there was a shadow hanging over it.
            Robert Fulton’s steamboat had been proved commercially successful in 1806 and he started pushing the idea of canals.  Gov. Dewitt Clinton of New York got involved and New York got an early start on its system of artificial waterways.
            Other parts of Ohio were having their fish net and brush dam troubles and by 1811 canals were being talked up all over the state.  The first Ohio canal opened at Newark on July 4, 1825 and local citizens, already agitating for one, worked harder after Clinton visited here on July 9, coming from the opening ceremonies at Newark.
            The Dayton-Cincinnati section of the Miami-Erie canal opened on Jan. 25, 1829.  That year canal boats carried out of Dayton 27,121 barrels of flour, 7,378 barrels of whiskey, 3,429 barrels of park and 423 barrels of linseed oil, in 1830, 56,364 barrels of flour were shipped and increases in other products were commensurate.  It all went south, or course.
            THE CANAL WAS complete in stages – to Piqua in 1837 and to Lake Erie in 1845.  Farmers and industry prospered.  By 1846, 70 canal boats a month were docking at Dayton.
            This area had been fighting for railroad lines, too.  Barney & Smith railroad cars had to be shipped by canal boat in 1849 or dragged to the nearest rail terminal well south of Dayton.
            Early in 1851 the fight was successful, but that was the shadow over the canal, a shadow that was to drop finally with its closing in 1927.  The Mad River & Lake Erie railroad was completed to Dayton from the north and before long it connected Sandusky, Dayton and Cincinnati.
            Once it started, it became an iron flood.  In September of the same year the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton line opened.  In 1852 a line was completed to Xenia and later that same year Dayton was linked with Greenville and Union City, Ind.
            The next year it was a line to Troy, which eventually went to Toledo and into Michigan.  That year of 1853 also saw the Dayton & Western open, a direct line to Indiana on the west.
            The peak year for tolls on the canal was, logically, 1851, when they hit $350,000.  One Barney & Smith railroad car would carry approximately the same amount of freight as one canal boat – faster and with more of them coupled together.  By the 1880s tolls were down to about $25,000 a year.
            BUT, AS THE industrial impact of the railroads a was to show up in the number and variety of factories within five years after the first freight train arrived, the influence of the completed canal and the hydraulic in 1845 were to be felt in an equally short time.
            By 1850 there were three substantial iron foundries, five machine shops, one gun barrel factory and several smaller metal working shops, along with one factory making scythes and another making “ploughs.”
            There were two paper mills, two flour mills, two woolen mills, three cotton mills and three mills extracting oil from flax, clover and timothy seeds.
            There were four carriage manufacturers, a coffin factory and a plant making sashes and doors, along with three shops making saddles and harness.
            Population of Montgomery County was about 40,000, one fourth of it in Dayton.
            Despite all this, the area’s industrial revolution was just about to get under way.  By 1856, with Dayton just 10 years past its 50th birthday and the nation 20 years short of its 100th, the Dayton edition of the Williams city directory showed 60 countable industries in its categorized section.  And, a glance through the entire book indicates that at least that many more had not bought advertisements or hadn’t filled out the forms to get the special section listed.
            ONE SIGNIFICANT listing was this:  Pease, Clegg & Co., Third and Wyandot Sts., manufacturers of mill machinery and steam engines.
            Indeed, steam had finally arrived to relieve some of the pressure on water power facilities and, before long, to render them obsolete.
            Montgomery County population in 1876 was estimated at 75,000 – 35,000 of it in Dayton.
            A lot of people were working at the "car works,” That was the Barney & Smith Manufacturing Co., which made all types of railroad cars.  Employment figures for that year were not listed, but the “car works” had to be pushing toward 1,000.
            The Stoddard Manufacturing Co., which made agricultural implements at that time, probably had on the order of 300.
            ANOTHER FARM equipment maker, the Farmers’ Friend Manufacturing Co., had about half that many.
            Another dozen were at or near 100 employees – Buckeye Iron & Brass Works, Dayton Malleable Iron Co., Mead & Nixon Paper Co., Globe Iron Works, G. Stomps & Co. chair factory, Pierce & Coleman woodworking factory, C. L. Hawes Co. straw board plant, and those who made machinery for industry, like Smith & Vaille Co., steam pumps and oil machinery; Brownel & Kielmeier, portable and stationary engines; William McHose & Co., machinery and iron work; Brownell & Co. and Leland & Daugherty Co., steam boilers, and Stilwell & Bierce Manufacturing Co., which made turbine water wheels.  Globe made those, too, along with mill machinery.
            But, those were just the big, big ones.  The Centennial edition of the Williams directory showed 392 “manufactories,” and there was no guarantee that that was all of them.
            Products ranged from awning to applejack, bank vaults to buggy whips, candy to candles, hair goods to hominy and on and on through mattresses and medicines, ice and ink, vinegar and varnish, pianos and putty, glue and grain drills and baby carriages and pleasure carriages.
            There were 10 breweries and 14 flour mills, two distilleries and 10 iron foundries, one washing machine plant and 10 wagon factories, 15 barrels factories and 17 carriage makers, two shirt factories and six making steam engines, not to mention makers of umbrellas, window shades, stocking, oil cloths, tarpaulins and ornamental iron work.
            EIGHT PLACES MADE “ladies hair goods” and another eight made jewelry for the same sex.  Two more didn’t discriminate – they just listed their products as “jewelry,” period.
            You could build a house with Dayton-made brick, its floors with Dayton-made carpet, finish it off with Dayton-made paint and varnish, furnish it with Dayton-made furniture, cook on Dayton-made stoves and season your food with Dayton-made spices.
            Not only that, but you could play a Dayton made piano or organ, ring a Dayton –made bell and finalize matters in a Dayton-made hearse and with the products of the Dayton Marble Works.
            But six factories, large and small, were in the steam engine business and three were making steam heating equipment.
            The Dayton Gas Light & Coke Co., was a recent addition, but there already was one firm listed itself as a “manufacturer of gas cooking and heating apparatus.”
            There wasn’t even a single listing that Centennial year for cash registers, automobile components or electrical appliances, but it would appear that the Dayton area, still 20 years away from its own 100th birthday, was ready for anything.