“Ugh, mom. Why do we have to live in Dayton, Ohio?”
This is a question I have gotten from my kids on multiple occasions. In fact, I asked the same thing to my parents when they chose Wright-Patterson as the final station for my dad before he retired. And to be perfectly honest, I never saw the beauty of Dayton, Ohio until I had kids of my own and started homeschooling. I wanted to leave here as soon as I could for college or career or vacation or whatever would get me out of here. But after I started attending some field trips with other homeschoolers I realized Dayton was actually a pretty amazing place. Here are just a few things I have learned that make Dayton unique.
Dayton is full of history. Part of the first settlement in the city, Newcom’s Tavern was built in 1796 and was pretty much the one-stop-shop. We learned while visiting Carillon Park that the building served as the city jail, church, and general store. I have trouble keeping my house organized for a family of four. I couldn’t imagine trying to maintain three community entities in one building!
While wandering around the park, we also got to see how Dayton was a major logistics center for the nation. Miami and Erie Canal Lock 17 is a reminder that Dayton was a major part in the canal system to move boats from Lake Erie to the Gulf. Before trains and semi-trucks, the canals were the best way to transport goods around the nation and to other countries via the Gulf of Mexico.
Even disaster cannot keep this city down. After the Great 1913 Flood, the city was pretty devastated. Instead of rebuilding and moving on, the founder of Carillon Park, Colonel Edward Deeds, helped to create the Miami Conservancy District. This program built a system of dams that helps ensure the city will not experience a flood like this again. Many of these dams can be seen in the Five Rivers Metroparks that are scattered around the Miami Valley, including Riverscape, a favorite park for our family.
From such a humble beginning of an all-in-one community building to import and export of goods between Lake Erie and the Gulf, to the creation of a system of dams that help to protect the city from flooding, Dayton is full of rich history. Carillon Historical Park is an excellent place to start when learning about the history of our city, but there is much more to explore in Dayton.
While learning about the history at Carillon Park, it’s a great idea to check out some exhibits Daytonians that invented some very novel creations in their time.
A quick trip around Carillon Park shows innovators like Charles Kettering who created the electric starter for cars. Thank goodness we don’t have to hand crank our car to drive around in our world of commuting today! We can thank John Patterson and NCR for our receipts when making purchases, and canned drinks are much easier to enjoy thanks to Ermal Fraze’s pop tops!
Two brothers top the list of innovators from Dayton and house their own exhibit at Carillon. Orville and Wilbur Wright are among the most famous people from the Dayton, Ohio area. These brothers are credited with developing the first practical, controlled, powered airplane. Dayton is full of historical sites that describe the brothers’ childhoods, their early careers in newspapers and bicycles, and, of course, their most famous adventure, flight.
A model of their Wright-B Flyer is available to view in a small hanger across from Austin Landing. We just happened to be visiting the hanger on a day when the replica took flight for a documentary. My son got to sit in the “cockpit” only moments before the machine roared to life and taxied down the runway! Talk about history coming to life! Along with this awesome gem of history, Wright-Patterson has the National Museum of the Air Force housing a replica of the brothers’ first craft and showcasing displays of the history of both the Air Force military branch and aviation. Some of our favorite exhibits include attempting to land a model plane on a carrier, sitting in the cockpit of a Thunderbird, and walking through a presidential plane. And space exploration probably deserves a whole article itself, but this museum is perfect for the budding astronaut. Huffman Prairie gives history buffs a chance to be in the field the Wright brothers used to test their craft as they designed and perfected their machine. And one of my kids’ favorite stops when learning about the Wright Brothers was the Wright Brothers Memorial where they got the chance to fly the Wright Flyer in a simulator. The best thing about visiting each of these historical places is the cost. The four mentioned above are all FREE!!
So far I have mentioned 5 of the 17 sites that are part of the history of flight and the Wright Brothers. With just three more, one can earn a free Wilbur Wright aviator bear. It just takes visits to the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center along with 7 other sites along The Aviation Trail to receive a bear. This was a huge thrill for my kids and they didn’t even realize it involved “learning.” Shhhh. Don’t tell them. So grab a passport and explore the history of aviation in our wonderful city.
Dayton is not just famous for scientific innovation. We also have a diverse community of historical figures laid to rest in Woodland Cemetery that have represented Dayton well. And this site, also free, is also a stop on the Aviation Trail since the Wright Brothers and their sister are all buried in the cemetery.
The Wright Brothers best friend growing up was a young African-American fellow by the name of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, who grew up to be a well-known poet. His house, which is another stop on the Aviation Trail, was down the road from the Wright Brothers. He is also buried right down the hill from them in the cemetery. It honestly just makes me smile that Dayton can connect these friends in life and in death!
In keeping with the literature theme, a large rock near the entrance of Woodland Cemetery marks the place where Miss Erma Bombeck now rests. Bombeck was an American humorist who wrote a newspaper column, “At Wit’s End” published in over 900 newspapers nationwide, contributed articles to a multitude of magazines, and authored 15 books, many of which were bestsellers. Daytonian talent can sometimes be hidden under a rock I guess.
And Dayton is even the final resting place for royalty. Levi and Matilda Stanley were considered the king and queen of the Gypsies. Wandering royalty chose Dayton as their home. One of the most interesting stories while touring the cemetery is how it is tradition for gypsies from all over the world to come and pay respects to the death of their beloved royals. Levi had a procession nine miles long when he died and twenty-thousand people came to pay their respects to Matilda after she was laid to rest. Our little city of Dayton welcomed people from all over the United States, Canada and England as they said goodbye to the gypsy royal family.
Dayton, Ohio definitely seems like it might be a place that is just boring and mundane. It might even seem to be just another middle-American town with little to do but “watch the corn grow.” However, by digging a little deeper and being open to a little wandering on the trail, you come to find that this little town really is a gem of a city.