Architectural Ambler: Oregon Historic District

Dayton, Ohio

5th Street Commercial Corridor

5th Street Commercial Corridor

Nicknamed the “Gem City”, Dayton, Ohio, garners national recognition from its association with its most famous native sons—Orville and Wilbur Wright. The Wright Brothers were not only born in Dayton, but also grew up, lived, and worked there for most of their lives. As the accomplishments of these men and many other less famous citizens reflect, Dayton has had a rich history in innovation and creativity. With the construction of the Miami and Erie Canal in the 1830s, Dayton grew in wealth, people, and reputation. By 1870, Dayton ranked fifth in the nation, and in 1890, it ranked first, in the number of federally-granted patents.

Through the efforts of preservationists, architects, historians, and interested citizens, Dayton maintains multiple properties recognized by the National Park Service or listed in the National Register of Historic Places, including the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, ten historic districts, a carillon, cemeteries, and several National Historic Landmarks—including the only airplane to garner such a title.
The innovation-related growth of the city from the construction of the Miami and Erie Canal in the 1830s to its devastating, widespread destruction with the Great Flood of 1913, is perhaps best seen in Dayton’s oldest and first National Register District—the Oregon Historic District, listed in 1974.
A leisurely stroll through the tree-lined streets of Dayton’s Oregon District is like walking within a living timeline of Dayton’s social and economic development between 1830 and 1905. Though the provenance of the district’s name is not known with certainty, its character is unmistakable.
With a 75-year period of significance, the Oregon District is not noted for one style of architecture, but rather its incredible collection of several styles and decorative details. The most notable styles includeFederalGreek RevivalItalianate, and Queen Anne, with common details such as American-bond brick work, and metalwork and iron fencing from the local manufacturers McHose and Lyon Dayton Architectural Iron Works.
Though the land was divided and partially settled in the first decades of the 19th century, the development of the Miami and Erie Canal brought German immigrants to this area east of the canal and within blocks of the city’s downtown. These newcomers created a community abuzz with people and commerce. From the more humble beginnings in the 1830s through the early years of the twentieth century, Oregon District residents prospered—and the historic architecture reflects the changes.
24 Tecumseh Street

24 Tecumseh Street

Tecumseh Street, near the district’s west boundary, features some of the best examples of Dayton’s early-19th century residential architecture. Unpretentious two-story brick Federal and Greek Revival detached houses illustrate the modest lifestyles of the earliest residents. Hitching posts recall the days of simpler transportation. Tobacco dealer Salvatore Schaeffer built his brick house at 24 Tecumseh in 1842, with uniquely narrow 1/1 windows and a simple entablature door surround with a recessed transom.

Walking north and east from Tecumseh, one comes upon Fifth Street, the Oregon District’s main commercial artery. The architecture of Fifth Street progresses along the District’s timeline, to roughly mid-19th-century. Electric trolley lines still in operation suspended over the street signify the traffic pattern of the past and the present. As the main thoroughfare connecting the neighborhood with downtown, small warehouses, shops, and manufacturing enterprises situated themselves on Fifth Street, a location that even today continues to be advantageous for local business.
Moses Glas Building at the SE Corner of 5th and Jackson Streets

Moses Glas Building at the SE Corner of 5th and Jackson Streets

When facing east on Fifth, a mid-19th-century, 100-foot, two-story Greek Revival building dominates the block on the right, a former cracker factory that now houses a popular restaurant and small shops. Further down, at the southeast corner of Fifth and Jackson, stands the Moses Glas Building, a former wholesale tobacco dealership constructed in 1876. Three stories tall, the white brick, High Victorian Italianate Moses Glas building features a prominent corner entrance, embellished window lintels, highly decorated brackets, a paneled frieze, and a rounded-corner cornice.

Iron fencing at 134 Jackson Street

Iron fencing at 134 Jackson Street

Turning right from Fifth Street onto Jackson, a trio of houses exhibits the district’s architectural and economic progression. Constructed around 1864 for a prolific building contractor, the John Butt House at 126 Jackson has a distinctive cruciform plan and a graceful cornice with embellished brackets at the primary façade. Its Greek Revival style is evident with the pedimented door surround and recessed entry. Sandwiched between 126 and 134 Jackson is the 19-foot wide, high-style Italianate house of German-born Dr. Julius Maetke. Built in 1881, 132 Jackson showcases metalwork detailing at the cornice of both its first floor bay and its top floor, work attributed to the local McHose and Lyon factory. The Ann Wade House at 134 Jackson, built in 1850, features Greek Revival styling, seven bays, a porch with Doric columns, and a fine example of the iron fencing common in the District.

Near the intersection of Jackson and Van Buren streets stands one of the Oregon District’s most notable residences, a

23 Van Buren detail

23 Van Buren detail

Flemish-influenced Queen Anne built in 1899 for William Eckert, a founder of Eckert Brothers Meat and Grocery. The house features Flemish-bond, red brick walls, a corner porch with “Golden Oak”-detailed wood pilasters, and a shaped, parapeted front gable, bordered in limestone. At the gutter above the second floor, small, delightful animal-head-shaped gargoyles allow water to drain through their gaping mouths. For a fine example of the American-bond brickwork common in the Oregon District, see its next-door neighbor at 27 Van Buren Street.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church

In addition to these commercial and residential buildings, the Oregon District has four churches, all with ties to its historically German community. Perhaps the most recognizable is St. Paul’s Lutheran, located on Wayne Avenue, near Jackson Street. The congregation formed in 1852, and the church was constructed in 1869. In 1883, the distinctive spire and three bells were added, followed in 1909 by the stucco finish on the exterior walls. Together with the tall spire, the pointed arch art glass windows and the decorative frieze work emphasize the verticality of the structure, anchoring the building as an imposing landmark at the district’s east boundary.

The prosperity that marked the late-19th-century declined following the Great Flood of 1913, during which the Oregon District was submerged ten feet underwater. Deaths and upheaval resulting from the Great Depression and the World Wars further weakened the neighborhood. In the late-1960s, Bertrand-Goldberg and Associates proposed the preservation of much of the area’s historic stock. Local professionals and residents made efforts to recognize and preserve the unique and varied character of the Oregon District, first with its listing in the Dayton city register in 1972, then with its inclusion in the National Register in 1974. The recognition of its historical integrity prompted a revived interest in the area that has lasted for decades. In the 21st century, the Oregon District remains one of Dayton’s most cherished neighborhoods.
Due to the world-changing work of Orville and Wilbur Wright, Dayton, Ohio, became a place of innovation and creativity, attracting people and business to the area. While the city works to maintain the more famous legacies, it also recognizes the lesser-known events and people, preserving neighborhoods that can prosper in the future as they reflect the developments of the past.
Photography by Adam Ward

For more information:

Read Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Toast to Dayton”

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