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Dayton Civic Leaders Take Matters Into Own Hands

These articles appeared in the Dayton Daily News
on June 18, June 24 and July 2, 1994



by Roz Young


Part 1

            On the morning of Nov. 10, 1889, Ambrose A. Winters stepped out of his law office at 26 N. Main St. to walk across the street to the courthouse. He stood for a long time on the curb looking for a dry place to cross the street, but there was none.

            Main Street was nothing but mud - sticky, brown, thick mud. There was no way he could get across the street and keep his shoes clean. He shrugged his shoulders and plunged into the morass and sloshed his way across. A horse pulling an ice truck slopped by and splashed mud on his trousers. Reaching the other side, he stamped on the sidewalk to get off some of the mud and scraped his soles on the courthouse steps.

            He was still fuming when he went to lunch at the Phillips House. In the lobby he met several of his friends, all with muddy boots.

            "This town is more than 199 years old , and we don't have one paved street in it. A disgrace. Something has to be done about it," Winters said.

            "I agree," said Benjamin Marott. "You're the president of the chamber of commerce. How about you?"

            "I think we should get a group together and meet with the mayor. How about tomorrow afternoon?"

            "What time?"

            "Four o'clock. We'll need some kind of resolution, and we'll present it tomorrow night at the council meeting."

            The others in the group agreed.

            The deplorable state of the streets in Dayton was due in part to the Dayton Gas and Coke Co., which had torn up the dirt and gravel streets that fall to lay new natural-gas mains. The company had not restored the surface of the streets, leaving the trenches for the mains open. In addition, the street railways laid double tracks that fall, and had not removed tons and tons of dirt scattered about the streets. When the fall rains came, the nearly impassable sloughs resulted. The city council seemed to be indifferent to the condition of the streets.

            The group met in the Board of Trade room the next afternoon. Winters called the meeting to order.

            "The first thing that must be done," he said, "is to afford immediate relief for the streets. The increased cost of traffic can scarcely be estimated. The people are to blame, but it is best not to cast stones. The fault is with the system of our city government and not with the city council or officials. The proper thing to do now is to devise a plan whereby the streets can be put in better condition and to raise the money to do it with. I now ask for a free and frank discussion."

            Ezra Bimm rose to his feet. Bimm was a wholesale grocer at 313-315 E. First St., and president of the Bimm Co., which operated an ice business.

            "It is a matter of scraping," he said. "I have tried a number of scrapers that would not do, but I tried scraping the mud from the streetcar lines with a snow scraper, and it worked well. I suggest that we try several kinds of scrapers, pick the best, scrape the mud into piles and haul it away. Then we can apply a layer of clean river gravel to the streets. I had trouble with a road leading to my ice houses, but after applying clean, coarse gravel to it, I had no trouble hauling three to five tons of ice over it at any time. We need to put in sewers and then a layer of gravel 18 inches deep in the streets. I have no doubt that we will then have clean, desirable streets."

            "I think if river gravel can be obtained at a reasonable cost," remarked William McHose, president of the McHose & Lyon Co., an architectural iron works at 908-930 S. Ludlow St., "that would be the best solution. Who owns the river gravel?"

            "The gravel in the Wolf Creek bed belongs to the city," Mayor Ira Crawford said. "I would like to say that there is no law that requires companies that tear up the streets to put them back in order, and the council has no money for street repair."

            Ebenezer Thresher rose. His company manufactured varnishes and boiled linseed oil at 863 E. Monument Ave.

            "Temporary relief can be found with the plan suggested," he said, "but a permanent solution is a different thing altogether. Our streets were built for a population of 40,000, but they will not do for a city of 60,000. It was a mistake to put Clinton limestone on the streets; heavy loads crush it into powder. A board must be appointed whose duty it is to look after the streets."

            Simon Gebhart was the next speaker. "I am here because the ladies in my family advised me to attend the meeting," he said. Gebhart was president of the City National Bank and of Simon Gebhart Sons Flour Co. He was also a trustee of the gas company.

            Gebhart continued, "Everybody is talking about the miserable condition of the streets. The turnpikes coming into Dayton are in much better shape than the thoroughfares throughout the city."

            Marott, general agent for the St. Paul's Fire & Marine Insurance Co, spoke next: "I think the double tracks of the streetcars have much to do with bringing about the present conditions, since the street surface is elevated on each side of the tracks. I think we should patch the streets until such time as finances will permit paved streets."

            "Before the streetcar tracks were laid," said J.U. Kreidler, secretary of the Dayton Board of Fire Underwriters, "the streets were made high in the middle and the water ran off into the gutters, keeping the streets dry and clean. Now it is different. Dayton has plenty of material available to make good streets."

            Next week: Harry E. Mead has an idea.





Part 2

            A number of concerned Dayton citizens met Nov. 11, 1889, to discuss what ought to be done about the miserable conditions of Dayton streets.

            "Something more than scraping and patching is required," said Harry E. Mead of the H.E. Mead Co, paper manufacturer. "We need to change the system. Somebody should appoint three men, and we should pay them enough to spend their whole time looking after the streets and sewers. Sewers are a necessity, and if we do not obtain them soon, the present conditions will decimate the city. The proper way is to pave the streets with granite and make grass plots 15 feet wide on either side and plant shade trees."

            "Temporary measures proposed are necessary," said attorney Lewis. B. Gunkel. "Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati have been through this matter. If the city council has no money, then they must borrow the money and go ahead. Life and death hang upon their action in cleaning up the streets, law or no law. Do the work first and find the law afterwards."

            He took from his briefcase a paper. "I offer the following proposal: Resolved, that the people of Dayton, in mass meeting assembled, ask the city council to take immediate measures to clean the streets by scrapers or otherwise, as may be determined best, and as a temporary measure applicable to the purpose, council be requested to borrow the money, and we hereby pledge ourselves to sustain council in any expenditures it may be necessary to make to meet the present emergency.

            "Resolved, that the chair appoint a committee of 12 to present the matter to council and also to consider what further measures shall be taken, looking to the more permanent paving in the near future with stone, firebrick, asphalt or other material, the principal thoroughfares of the city."

            The meeting unanimously adopted the proposal. Winters appointed Ezra Bimm, D.E. Mead, Thomas Weakley, William P, Callahan, C.T. Freeman, William McHose, John C. Temple, H.R. Parrott, J.C. Kreidler, Simon Gebhart, Robert T. Johnson, and Benjamin Marott.

            Mead was president of the Merchants National Bank, the Mead Paper Co. and Cooper Insurance Co. Weakley was a wholesale grocer, Callahan manufactured linseed and cottonseed oil and all kinds of manufacturing machinery, Freeman owned a large livery stable, John C. Temple was a partner in the Stout, Mills and Temple Co. and the Globe Iron Works, Parrott owned the Dayton Furniture Factory, and Robert T. Johnson, a printer, was president of the Johnson and Watson Co.

            A.C, Marshall. an attorney, then moved that a committee of 10 be appointed to select a committee of 100 to consider reform of the municipal government, the permanent improvement of the streets, sewage and street paving.

            He then spoke for some time in support of his motion.

            "The city has outgrown the present system of government," he said. "What was satisfactory 25 years ago when the duties devolving on the mayor and council members were comparatively insignificant is quite unsatisfactory at the present time. When an immense business is transacted by men having no qualifications resulting from careful training and long experience, there is something radically wrong."

            He reviewed the actions by former councils and the present ones that had resulted in waste of money because of the extravagance and incompetence of the council. He pointed out that organized efforts of the citizens, not the council, had brought the Davis Sewing Machine Works to Dayton, brought many state conventions here, settled the gas controversy and raised $16,000 for St. Elizabeth Hospital. A like organization, he said, will inaugurate a business system and purify the government.

            His resolution was adopted but not acted upon, as the group was eager to have the new committee meet with the council at its evening session.

            The committee of citizens appeared in the council meeting with the result that council voted $8,000, every dime of which was to be spent in pulling Dayton out of the mud.

            Next morning a two-horse scraper began work on Main Street and in a few hours the mud on the west half of the street between Third and Fifth was gather in two long rows. The mud was hauled to the city park east of the library. Loads of gravel were brought in and dumped, filling up the gas trenches. The council pledged the work would continue until all the money was used up and the mud crisis was temporarily solved.

            Next week: The Committee of 100.




Part 3

            In November 1889, the city council had done nothing to improve the miserable conditions of the city streets. A committee of public-spirited citizens forced the council to clear the mud left by the gas company and the street railway company.

            Such a speedy response of the city council to public demand encouraged A.C. Marshall, whose proposal of a Committee of 100 to revise the city government had been adopted but not acted upon. He called another citizen meeting and his plan was put into action.

            First George W. Houk, D.B. Corwin and James Turner formed a committee to secure from the state legislature a special act under which a bipartisan board of municipal affairs could be set up. When the legislature acted, Judge John A. Shauck appointed Samuel Bolton, David A. Houk, Samuel W. Davies and Samuel A. Herr to choose Dayton's first board of city affairs. The committee chose Henry C. Marshall, Philip E. Gilbert, John H. Weller and D.E. Wilcox.

            A.A. Winters appointed another committee to select the additional Committee of 100, consisting of A.C. Marshall, Ebenezer Thresher, Jacob Linxweiler, Jr., John K. McIntire, Walter Worman, William P. Callahan, W.D. McKemy, O.L. Gunckel, Jacob Decker and Samuel W. Davies.

            This committee sent out a letter to 65 Republicans and 65 Democrats explaining the purpose and duties of the Committee of 100 and asking the recipients if they would serve. From this list the committee chose the names of prominent business and professional men of the day, great grandfathers and grandfathers of many of Dayton families today:


            W.J.Aull, John E. Balsley, E.J. Barney, A.L. Bauman, Dr. J.S. Beck,  Albert Beebe, Fred W. Berk,  William Bickham,  G. N. Bierce,  John Birch,  James Bolan,  John W. Boren,  Josiah Boyer,  John L. Brenner,  O.B. Brown, C.V. Caborn, William P. Callahan, James Carberry, S.H. Carr, H.F. Cellarius, John S. Charch, Charles B. Clegg, M. Coleman, Dr. W.J. Conklin, Maurice Costello, William H. Crawford, Samuel W. Davies, O.F. Davisson, Thomas DeArmour, Jacob Decker, Robert W. Dickey, A.E. Estabrook, C.J. Ferneding, Simon Gebhart, John F. Gerber, Michael J. Gibbons, Philip Gilbert, J.E. Gimperling, William F. Gloyd, J.M. Gorman, M.C. Graves, Lewis B. Gunckel, O.L. Gunckel, T.B. Hannah, Samuel Herr, W.E. Hooven, William Hoskot, George W. Houk, George F. Huffman, William Huffman, Torrence Huffman, Dr. Andrew H. Iddings, Robert T. Johnson, Robert N. King, John U. Kreidler, T.A. Legler, Daniel Leonard, Adam Lessner, H. H. Loubach, Benjamin Marott, A.C. Marshall, John K. McIntire, W.D. McKemy, John A. McMahon, C.G. McMillen, D.E. Mead, Harry E. Mead, H.W. Meyer, Otto Moosbrugger, George Neder, C.B. Osborn, J.C. Paterson, Luther Peters, J.M. Phelps, J.D. Platt, Christian Poock, Louis Poock, David Pruden, David L. Rike, Herman Rogge, Edward Sachs, R.C. Schenck, Jr., B.F. Seitner, M.F. Sherer, Joel O. Shoup, Rev. W.J. Shuey, A.A. Simonds, Walter W. Smith, Peter J. Snyder, D.W. Sollenberger, J.W. Sortman, Robert Steele, John Stengel, John W. Stoddard, C.F. Sweetman, John Temple, Newton Thacker, Allen E. Thomas, Dr. F. W. Thomas, Ebenezer Thresher, H. A. Tietje, James C. Turner, Charles F. Ware, T. J. Weakley, Adam Weber, John H. Weller, Charles Whealen, A.D. Wilt, C.L. Williams, Ambrose A. Winters, D.C. Wogamon, J. F. Wolf, Morris Woodhull, Walter Worman


            "The organization of this committee is a movement of the people, by the people and for the people," said Marshall when he announced the list in a public meeting.

            The first result was that people driving into town down Wayne Avenue found the rutty gravel surface gone, replaced by neat, smooth wood block paving.

            "How the work was accomplished by installing sewers, paving streets and beautifying the parks," said Charlotte Reeve Conover in her history of Dayton, "is too long to tell here. Suffice it to say that these unsalaried and private citizens gave their valuable time, held innumerable meetings and used their professional and business influence for the benefit of Dayton, and as far as it is known, there is not a public monument erected to any of them. As for the elected public officials, they sat in the City Hall and drew their salaries."

            Somewhere in this fair city there ought to be a monument, it seems to me, a carved stone with the names of these men who saved Dayton from sinking into the Miami Valley mud and provided for us our beautiful parks. As it is, the list here will probably go out with tomorrow's trash and be lost forever.