A settling party from Cincinnati came here in 1796, seven years before Ohio achieved statehood. The names of the original owners of the land resonate on the town’s streets today: Arthur St. Clair, James Wilkinson, Israel Ludlow and the name-giver, Johnathan Dayton. Dayton, a New Jersey politician and major land speculator in Ohio, never set foot in the area but Ludlow laid out the new town. He is credited with surveying more land in Ohio than any early settler and Ludlow got his share of towns and streams named for him as well.

Dayton’s location at the forks of the Great Miami River where the Mad River joined and streams drained from the surrounding hills foretold a future as a shipping center for the rich surrounding farmland. Town pioneers pursued that course early on with the construction of the Dayton-Cincinnati Canal in 1827. The complexion of the community began to change with John Patterson, who once collected tolls on the Miami and Erie Canal. In 1884 Patterson and his brother bought James Riddy’s small business where he manufactured “incorruptible” cash registers. To mass produce the machines for his newly named National Cash Register (NCR) company Patterson needed to recruit highly skilled workers capable of precision workmanship. The term wasn’t in use 125 years ago but Dayton became one of the first high-tech centers in the United States.

There was no higher technology in the waning days of the 19th century than man’s quest for flight and it took two Dayton bicycle machinists, whose only training in aerodynamics came from reading everything they could find on the subject in the Dayton public library, to conquer the skies. Orville and Wilbur Wright established an experimental airplane factory in town, joining a handful of automobile pioneers already operating in Dayton. One mechanic, Charles F. Kettering came to link Dayton’s high-tech industries when he built a quick-starting electric motor for the cash register and then quit his job at NCR to adapt the invention as an automobile self-starter. Kettering went on to found the influential Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company known world-wide as Delco.

While Dayton engineers were busy toppling the barriers of physics they received a reminder of the power of the natural world in 1913 when a four-day downpour sent the muddy waters of the Great Miami roiling over protective levees with the most disastrous flooding in the town’s history. The levees were raised and the Miami subdued but the impact on Dayton remains nearly a century later. Many buildings were lost forever, some companies remained and rebuilt in the downtown core and others abandoned the floodplain for other areas, stimulating growth in suburban communities. Our walking tour of “Gem City” will start by the banks of the Great Miami where the river today looks tame and docile... 

RiverScape MetroPark
111 East Monument Avenue

Benjamin Van Cleve was born in New Jersey in 1773 and was a young man when his father brought the family west to Cincinnati. The elder Van Cleve was killed on his farm by Indians in 1791 and Benjamin went to work with the nascent American army. Van Cleve was present when Colonel Israel Ludlow surveyed Dayton on April 1, 1796. He served as village’s first postmaster, librarian, and schoolteacher. The Van Cleve home was a block from the Great Miami River at Jefferson and 1st streets; he taught here in the historic Newcom Tavern, a log structure that stood at Main and Monument streets and was moved here as a history museum until 1964 when it was hauled to Carillon Historical Park. Benjamin’s son John served as mayor and doggedly worked to beautify the town. This park took sixteen years to go from drawing board to reality and when it was finished in 1892 with manicured walking paths and landscaped gardens it was named in John Van Cleve’s honor. Dayton was in full Van Cleve reverence at the time - Orville and Wilbur Wright, who were descended through Benjamin Van Cleve’ s mother, named one of their bicycles the “Van Cleve.” If you look up on the pillars you can see the high water mark of the Great Flood of 1913. Dayton had seen the river overflow its banks before but nothing like what happened when four days of rain pelted frozen ground on the first days of spring in 1913. An estimated four trillion gallons of water poured into the city, triggering fires that wreaked additional havoc. Reports placed the toll in human lives at 361 and the damage to property at ver $100,000,000.


1905 Wright Flyer III Plaza
Monument Avenue

On December 17, 1903 two Dayton brothers, self-taught bicycle mechanics and aeronauts, flew the first heavier-than-air self-propelled craft at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. This sculpture depicts the third Flyer constructed by Orville and Wilbur Wright which they tested east of Dayton in what is today the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The brothers alternated piloting their airplanes during tests; in sculptor Larry Godwin’s vision here Wilbur is doing the flying and Orville observes from the ground. The Wrights considered this version of the Flyer their most important invention as they learned to control the craft in the air for the first time. In 1947 Orville Wright assisted in the salvage and reconstruction of the original Wright Flyer III, which is on display at the Carillon Historical Park.


Engineers Club
110 East Monument Avenue

The Engineers Club began informally with a group of scientists calling themselves the Barn Gang when they got together on the property of Edward Andrew Deeds, a wizard with electrical motors, to toss around scientific issues. Deeds spearheaded a formal organization of the Engineers Club of Dayton on February 20, 1914 and he was elected first president among the 16 charter members. When it came time to create a clubhouse for the rapidly expanding club Deeds and his partner at the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, better known by its acronym Delco, Charles F. Kettering, spent a year traveling the country inspecting similar clubs for ideas. They were not impressed with what they saw leaving a big job for Dayton architects Harry J. Williams and Harry I. Schenck. Their Georgian-inspired creation was a collaboration of the architects and the engineers and dedicated on February 2, 1918 with a rare public speech by aviation pioneer and Dayton native Orville Wright. 


Memorial Hall
125 East First Street at northwest corner of St. Clair Street

Memorial Hall was built in 1910 to honor the town’s Civil War and Spanish-American War soldiers. After a design competition, Dayton architects William Earl Russ and Albert Pretzinger were selected to deliver the French Renaissance building with twinned Corinthian columns. Beyond the entranceflanked with soldier-statues are memorial bronze plaques, bas relief sculptures and paintings that tell the story of Montgomery County’s military heritage.

James Brooks House
41 East 1st Street at northwest corner of Jefferson Street

This Greek Revival townhouse has graced the Dayton streetscape since the 1830s. The two-story structure marches towards its 200th birthday as three residential units.

Walters House
35 East 1st Street

Jefferson A. Walters, on coming to Ohio in 1830, was the first student to enter the Eclectic Medical college, just organized at Worthington, and from this institution he graduated in 1834. His material success came not from his doctoring but from the drug store he opened in 1841 and his wholesale liquor business. Walters constructed this three-story brick townhouse in 1865 that blends elements of the Classical Revival style (window pediments, rusticated entrance portico) and the Italianate (narrow windows and corner quoins).

Biltmore Hotel
210 North Main Street at northeast corner of 1st Street

The Biltmore was the kind of urban hotel where John F. Kennedy and Elvis Presley would sign the guest register. The brown brick and white terra-cotta guest house was constructed in 1929 in the exuberant Beaux Arts style on plans drawn by Frederick Hughes. When it opened Dayton’s largest hotel boasted 500 rooms with private baths and “circulating ice water.” The Kitty Hawk Room became the final word in elegance in Dayton, where the bread at breakfast was toasted precisely 12 seconds - the elapsed time of the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Like many of its faded big-city hotel cousins the Biltmore survives as senior housing.


Victoria Theatre
138 North Main Street at southeast corner of 1st Street 

It is a toss-up whether this theater has undergone more rebuilds or name changes. It began life in 1866 as the Turner Opera House. A fire consumed the hall in 1869 and it took two years to rebuild. There was flood damage in 1913 and another fire in 1918. By then it was operating as the Victoria Theatre although stars such as Edwin Forrest, Lillie Langtry, Harry Houdini, Sarah Bernhardt and Mark Twain knew it as the Grand Opera House. The historic entertainment venue was going to be dismantled on purpose in the 1970s but dodged the wrecking ball. A $17.5 million renovation spruced up the French Second Empire structure that retains its original facade. 

Kettering Tower
40 North Main Street at southeast corner of 2nd Street

Here is Dayton’s tallest and largest building and has been since the steel and glass tower opened in 1972. The project was funded by Eugene W. Kettering, son of inventor and businessman Charles Franklin Kettering. The elder Kettering was the holder of 140 patents, founder of Delco Electronics, and head of research for General Motors for 27 years. Among the everyday products Kettering was involved in developing were the electrical starting motor, leaded gasoline, the first practical colored automotive paints, Freon refrigerant for air conditioning, two-stroke diesel engines and enamel paint. In addition to the building’s striking exterior design, the Kettering Tower features an expansive lobby with high ceilings, rich teak wood, natural stone finishes and original artwork. 

Key Bank Building
34 North Main Street

This Neoclassical office building was raised in 1924 for the Third National Bank, designed by the firm of Schenck & Williams. The top and bottom floors of the 15-story tower boast arched portals. Peek around the corner and look up to see how plain the facade is that doesn’t face Courthouse Plaza. 

Montgomery County Courthouse
Courthouse Square
Third and Main streets

This government temple has been hailed as one of the best surviving examples of a Greek Revival courthouse in America, which is exactly what county commissioners intended. The design was suggested by Dayton citizen Horace Pease from a book of sketches of the Acropolis in Athens which included the Temple of Theseus. Howard Daniels, an architect and landscape gardener noted for his classic cemeteries in Ohio and New York, was recruited to replicate the design for the building, crafted from locally quarriedlimestone in 1850. It became known as the “Old Courthouse” when a newer house of justice was constructed next door in 1881. When the county’s legal needs expanded still further it was the newer and architecturally undistinguished building that was torn down in the urban plaza called Courthouse Square today.

Conover Building
4 South Main Street at southeast corner of 3rd Street

This ornate tower was designed in the Beaux Arts style by Frank Mills Andrews,  a specialty of his. Andrews was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1867 and studied architecture at Cornell University. He traveled in Europe and embraced the Beaux Arts classical style which became prominent in America at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Andrews opened a practice in Dayton in 1894 with the National Cash Register Company (NCR)as his biggest client. At the time NCR and John Patterson was pioneering the “daylight factory” buildings with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that let in light and could be opened to let in fresh air as well. Patterson was also landscaping his plants for what today is known as the corporate campus. In addition to buildings like this one in 1902, Andrews also contributed designs for state capitols in Montana and Kentucky. The Conover Building was adapted for use as a transit terminal and retail shops in the 1990s. In its makeover the Dayton Regional Transit Authority used the facades of two heritage structures that had been demolished. On the 3rd Street side is the Cooper Block and on the Main Street side is the exuberant remains of the Lafee Building. 

Lindsey Building
25 South Main Street

After being captured three times during the Civil War, Theodore C. Lindsey returned to Dayton and established a jewelry and general merchandise trade. His son Theodore Jr., an attorney, bankrolled the construction of this 12-story Chicago-style office building in 1916. Harry J. Williams and Harry I. Schenck were long-time architects in Dayton and contributed the clean, modern design here. The principle early tenant was the First Savings and Banking Company but the bank shuttered after a few years.

Centre City Building
36-44 South Main Street at northeast corner of 4th Street

English-born Charles Herby grew up on a farm seven miles west of Dayton and apprenticed as a carpenter. He worked as a contractor and builder for some twenty years before turning to architectural work in his mid-40s in 1890. This 14-story building was his masterwork, completed in 1904 for the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, an evangelical Christian denomination based in Huntington, Indiana. It was organized in 1800 by Martin Boehm and Philip William Otterbein and was the first American denomination that was not transplanted from Europe. This was the tallest building in town until 1931; the tower portion was added in 1927, making it one of the tallest reinforced concrete buildings in the world at that time. 

Benjamin F. Kuhns Building
43 South Main Street at northwest corner of 4th Street

Luther Peters and Silas Burns collaborated on a number of important civic and commercial buildings in Dayton from 1881 until 1907 when Burns left for California. This Romanesque-flavored structure was one of their earliest creations, completed in 1883, and survives as a rare standard-bearer in Dayton of 19th century brick commercial architecture.

Reibold Building
117 South Main Street at southwest corner of 4th Street 

Considered Dayton’s second skyscraper after the now departed Callahan Bank building, the Reibold Building was the town’s Sky King from its creation in 1896 until 1904. As seen today, the structure picked up a South annex in 1904 and a North annex in 1914 that is larger than its predecessors combined. The moneyman for the project was Louis Napoleon Reibold who emigrated from Germany and became a Dayton developer. The first major tenant was the Elder & Johnston Company department store on the ground level; upstairs were offices for doctors and lawyers. The Reibold Building was the site of several “firsts.” In the early 1900s the first hot air balloon ever launched from the roof of an office building took place here and in 1934 four of the first six escalators were installed in the Reibold Building by the Otis Elevator Company. They are still in working order. One of the other existing pioneer escalators is in Connecticut and the other is housed at the Smithsonian Institute.


Dayton Arcade
between Third, Fourth, Ludlow and Main streets

America has had enclosed shopping arcades ever since the Providence Arcade in Rhode Island in the early 1800s. Dayton’s indoor shopping experience was provided in 1902 by Eugene J. Barney who made his money manufacturing passenger rail cars for the Barney & Smith Car Company. The ambitious complex, executed by architect Frank Andrews consisted of five interconnected buildings under a massive glass dome 70 feet high and 90 feet in diameter. Andrews designed Italian Renaissance entrances on Ludlow street and Fourth Street but gave the Third Street facade a non-traditional appearance with a Flemish Revival design that calls to mind an Amsterdam guild hall. The Arcade operated initially as a farmer’s market where Dayton could fin fresh meats and vegetables for many years. After World War II attempts were made to convert the space into retail shopping space but the public never embraced the change.

Commercial Building
44 South Ludlow Street at northeast corner of 4th Street

Adam Schantz consolidated Dayton’s five breweries into Dayton Breweries in 1904 with a capital stock of $2.5 million. This brewing industry became one of the extensive industrial interests in the city. Dayton architect Albert A. Pretzinger designed this Beaux Arts 10-story office building for Schantz in 1908. 

Dayton Daily News Building
northwest corner of 4th & Ludlow streets

Albert A. Pretzinger, perhaps the greatest native-born Dayton architect, designed this headquarters for the 12-year old newspaper in 1910. If it looks more like a banking temple than a newspaper office there’s a reason for that. Publisher James M. Cox is said to have told Pretzinger to “build me a damn bank” after local bankers turned down his application for a loan. So the architect modeled the classical building after the landmark Knickerbocker Trust bank in New York City. The bank has expanded several times into less glamorous quarters on the block and remains the Daily News headquarters today. Cox was a United States Congressman when this building was constructed and two years later would be elected Ohio’s governor. In 1920 Cox ran unsuccessfully for President of the United States as the Democratic Party candidate with his running mate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Sacred Heart Church
217 West 4th Street at northwest corner of Wilkinson Street

Charles Insco Williams, the leading Victorian architect in Dayton, unleashed his bag of tricks for this three-story Romanesque Revival church in 1887. The eye-catching structure is constructed of Dayton limestone and trimmed with Berea brownstone. The Church of Sacred Heart was established in 1883 by a break-away congregation from St. Joseph’s Church.    


141 West 3rd Street at northeast corner of Wilkinson Street

Founded in 1870, the Dayton YWCA’s stated mission was “for the support of widows and destitute women, and for the spiritual, moral, mental and social welfare of women in our midst.” This classically inspired brick building with stone trim has served as headquarters for nearly 100 years. It was completed in 1914 and an additional two floors were added in 1920. 

United States Post Office
southeast corner of Wilkinson and 3rd streets 

The first post office in Dayton opened in 1803, operating from rented facilities around town until 1891 when they set up shop here. This new Neoclassical federal building was constructed in 1915 and was home to the post office until 1969.

Dayton Bicycle Club
131 West 3rd Street

Edwin Smith constructed this Italianate home which became the headquarters of the Dayton Bicycle Club that organized in 1884. The Club was one of the country’s most prominent, thanks in part to the racing exploits of Earl Kiser, the “Little Dayton Demon.” Kiser was a leading rider on the professional bicycle circuit, at one time holding the world speed record for both the half-mile and the mile. Kiser later became a World Champion auto racer before losing a leg in a crack-up.

City Hall
101 West 3rd Street at northwest corner

When this red brick and marble Neoclassical building was constructed in 1908 it was the second largest YMCA in the world. Even so, within twenty years the Dayton branch had outgrown the facility and moved up by the river. Eventually the building was purchased by the City of Dayton for municipal offices. 

Doubletree Hotel
11 South Ludlow Street at southwest corner of 3rd Street

This hotel was the town’s leading guest house when it opened at the turn of the 20th century. it was known as the Algonquin Hotel back then. When Michael J. Gibbons acquired the property he re-named it the Gibbons Hotel. In 1963 it became the Dayton Inn. It then became the Stanton Hilton Inn, then the Daytonian in 1977, then the Radisson Inn & Suites, then became the Doubletree in 1998. It also started out with eight floors and picked up a modern parking garage to the south with four more floors of hotel rooms. Other than that not much has changed since its construction more than 100 years ago.


Liberty Tower
120 West 2nd Street

At 295 feet this tower was the tallest building in Dayton from 1931 until 1969. Local architects Harry J. Williams and Harry I. Schenck provided the Art Deco styling as the headquarters for the Mutual Home Savings Association Building. At one point it was the property of the owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ― the Hulman Family of Terre Haute, Indiana.

Ohio Bell Telephone Building
201 West 2nd Street at northwest corner of Wilkinson Street

Bell Telephone favored large Art Deco buildings for its operating and switching offices in the 1920s and 1930s and this one in Dayton was fashioned by the firm of Schenck & Williams. Dayton’s first phone directory was issued in 1878 - it had 10 subscribers listed.


First Lutheran Church
138 West 1st Street at southeast corner of Wilkinson Street

Dayton’s oldest Lutheran church began in a store room on Main Street in the summer of 1839. These were “American” Lutherans, mostly settlers from Pennsylvania, not German-speakers like their Old World brethren. This is the congregation’s third church building, a Gothic vision in stone, erected in 1906. The bells are souvenirs from the first church building that hung in a 154-foot tower there. 

Westminster Presbyterian Church
125 North Wilkinson Street at southwest corner of 1st Street

Westminster is the present day descendant of Dayton’s first church, organized in 1799 by the Washington Presbytery of the Synod of Kentucky. That congregation, ten strong, gathered in a small log cabin. The current meetinghouse, designed by Ralph Adams Cram, arrived in 1926.

Dayton International Peace Museum
208 West Monument Avenue at southwest corner of Wilkinson Street

This French Second Empire villa has led an interesting life since it was constructed in 1876 by alcoholic spirits dealer Isaac Pollock. It originally stood closer to downtown on 3rd Street and operated as a dance studio from 1913 to 1941 and then housed the Board of Elections for a couple of decades. In 1979 the picturesque house was moved here and became the second peace museum to be created in the United States where visitors can discover positive, nonviolent alternatives to a culture of violence.


Landing Apartments
117 West Monument Street

This building became the new central branch of the Dayton YMCA in 1929. The Dayton YMCA sold it in 1988, and in the same year the facility was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building is a 13-story tower that runs east-to-west, and has two 12-story wings projecting to the south over a 2-story base. It became the first Spanish Revival building in downtown Dayton when completed.

First Baptist Church
111 West Monument Avenue

This is the fourth church for the congregation that organized in 1824. It was completed - free of debt - in 1918. The funeral for Orville Wright took place here in 1947.


Dayton Woman’s Club
225 North Ludlow Street

In the late 1840s Robert W. Steele, for whom Dayton’s first high school was named, built a classically-styled home here. Napoleon Bonaparte Darst purchased the house in the 1860s and began extensive renovation and enrichment and the house emerged in a French Second Empire style. In 1916 the Woman’s Club organized, in part, to save the historic home.


Insco Apartments Building
255 North Main Street at southwest corner of Monument Avenue

Charles Insco Williams, a native of Dayton, began his working career in 1873 as a civil engineer on the Northern Pacific Railroad. He later returned to Dayton and worked as an artist for seven years and then worked in his brother-in-law William H Best’s jewelry shop. Then he worked for John Rouzer Co., a lumber dealer for two years. Williams opened his architectural office in 1882 and almost immediately began capturing large commissions for churches, clubs, hotels and schools. In 1892 he designed the town’s first skyscraper, the Callahan Bank Building. He evolved into a developer which is why this apartment building carried his name. Williams earned a substantial fortune in Dayton but his real estate empire crumbled when a the Great Flood of 1913 damaged many of his buildings. The banks took his investment properties and his home and he died in 1923, living his final years with his wife in his sister’s house.