If Residents of "Mexico" Could See It Now!
by Howard Burba
[transcription of article]
(Editor's Note: All of that vast part of Dayton lying west of the Miami and south of Wolf Creek was originally known as "Mexico." Still later it assumed the dignity of a "railroad stop" and appeared on early time tables as "Miami City." Today it is charted as the West Side, and could easily stand as a city within itself. This vital part of Dayton has grown at a remarkable pace within the past few years, and it is the purpose of this, the third of a series of articles on the growth of Dayton to picture that growth to those who, unfortunately, have not taken the opportunity to make a personal investigation.)
There was wild excitement at the old ball park that afternoon--Jerry Lynch had just hit a home run into Prof. Brooks' watermelon patch--and there wasn't a member of either team brave enough to follow up the ball. They knew the wrath of the colored gentleman who owned that celebrated watermelon patch.
Losing a perfectly good baseball in this instance it precipitated a discussion that eventually called for a removal of the ball grounds from the old site at the west end of the present Fifth street bridge to one that later became incorporated into Fairview Park. Today Jerry Lynch and Policeman Tom McMahon and just a few others who made baseball history on that old West Side lot are left to recall when all that section at the end of the Fifth street bridge was commons. There are none here who remember when it was the heart of the hamlet of "Mexico," a rival of Dayton for a place on the map. But they've heard their grandfathers tell of the formation of a settlement west of the great Miami--so I'm going to tell you as they have told me.
Among the yellowest of musty papers in the archives of the Montgomery co. Court House you will find, under date of July 2, 1802, a land grant issued by the United States government to a section of territory in the northwestern part of the state of Virginia. This grant was made out to James Tatman, John Cox and Abel Crawford, and even before a new state had been carved out and called Ohio--the only state of the 48, by the way, that has never been officially admitted to the Union--the land had changed hands. Records show that on July 3, 1807, it was transferred to William King.
Tradition has it that King had been occupying the land as early as 1800. So, reading between the lines, one can but gather that Mr. King was what was commonly known in those days as a "squatter," and that he really came into possession of the land by right of eminent domain. At any rate--he secured title to a tract, then in Virginia--today familiarly called by all Daytonians "West Dayton."
Along about 1805 King, having sold small tracts from his holdings, established a ferry at the western end of what is now Fourth st. He constructed a broad, flat boat, capable of conveying an ordinary farm wagon across the stream. He attached a strong cable to upright posts set in each bank of the river, and as the boat was "poled" across a slip noose over this cable kept it from drifting and served to guide it on a straight course. A short way down the river, or about where the railroad bridge now spans it, the stream was considerably more shallow, and vehicles were able to "ford" it when the water was at a normal stage.
This "ford" enabled settlers living west of the river to get to and from the village of Dayton without difficulty, so a road was soon established on the west side of the river, a trail in those days but today known as the Germantown pike. Near the present site of the Kuhns factory the road forked, the right-hand branch leading off to a point about where Gettysburg av. now intersects the Eaton pike, at the north gate to the Soldiers' Home. After the Bridge street (Dayton View) bridge was erected, about 1819, still another trail was blazed, leading down along the west bank of the river to the present Williams st., and over to what is now Third st., thence on west to join the other highway.
About 1820 some lots were platted along the Germantown road, and a sub-division opened. It was given the name of "Greencastle," and lay principally around that part of the city now marking the intersection of Germantown st., with Greencastle and Summit sts. But it was not until 1840 that the trend of settlement on the West Side began to assume tangible form--and then it was toward Wolf creek.
The forties in Dayton might well be called the era of thick-headedness. It was in the early forties that the U.S. Government surveyed the first, and still the greatest, of transcontinental highways--the National Pike. That survey sent it eight miles north of Dayton. A plea was made to congress to change the route, to bring the pike far enough south to afford Dayton an east and west highway. But the plea was not marked by sufficient enthusiasm to bring about a change. Along about the same time a movement was started to construct a railroad between Cincinnati and Columbus, and Dayton citizens entered a protest. They argued that it couldn't do any more than injure the traffic of the canal and the stage coaches and besides, Dayton was getting along very well without any new-fangled method of transportation.
With the loss of the National pike and the railroad diverted to reach Columbus by way of Xenia and Springfield, an era of dirt-road building was inaugurated.
In 1845 Third st., was extended west of the river to tap the old Eaton-Richmond trail at the north gate of the Soldiers' Home, and on Feb. 24 of the same year H.S. Williams platted the town of "Mexico." It extended from what is now Williams st., eastward a couple of squares, and houses sprang up along both sides of Third st. By 1853 "Mexico" had grown to the west as far as the present side of the West End Malleable shops, and down to the river's edge on the east. Broadway was a principal thoroughfare in "Mexico," but it was then known as "Brown st."
Early in 1850, having long since realized that thick-headed tactics were blocking her progress, Dayton inaugurated a railroad-building campaign. And let it be said to the credit of the pioneers who were as quick to rectify an error as they were to make one, they out-distanced the nation in fast work. Within three years after the first railroad was in operation into Dayton she could boast six steam transportation lines.
One of the first of these was the Dayton & Western, later to be known as the Dayton & Union, and now operated as a part of the great Pennsylvania system. It crossed Third st., a little west of "Mexico," and afforded another opportunity for growth. "Mexico" was extended west on Third st., but when the railroad crossing was reached and a depot erected the transportation company preferred to do its own christening. So the railroad station was known as "Miami City."
All regular trains enroute to and from Dayton stopped at "Miami City." Today the site of the old depot is marked by a little watchman's shanty. But your grandfather can tell you when those not fortunate enough to possess a sidebar buggy or a phaeton took the train at "Miami City" for a day's shopping tour of Dayton. Not only did they consider themselves fortunate in having this means of transportation, but many actually counted it a blessing to be without a horse and buggy.
Dayton and Miami City had their traffic problems then, just as they have now. An old wooden, covered bridge had been erected across the river at Third st., and one of the chief farm products transported from the west side to the county seat was hay. Some days it seemed, according to pioneer residents, that hay wagons made up the bulk of eastbound traffic. And when a hay wagon entered that covered bridge all traffic ceased until it came out the other end. There was no czar in the form of a traffic cop to rule that part of the world. You didn't get through until the hay wagon emerged--and hay wagon drivers were immune to profanity.
During the war Miami City had its own postoffice. But in 1868 all that territory west of the river as far out as King st., was taken into the city of Dayton--and "Mexico" and "Miami City" became but memories.
The same year, to be exact, on Sept. 1, 1868, the National Military Home was opened on its present site. History tells you it was transferred from Columbus because of an unhealthy location near that city. "Al" Shartle, 73 years young, tells me it was brought here by the Republicans so they would have enough votes in this district to defeat Vallandingham for congress. I still have an abiding faith in "Al's" truthfulness. At any rate the Home came as a blessing to a struggling city that had given much of its best blood in behalf of the Union. From that moment the West Side became a vital, growing part of Dayton.
If you knew the West Side of early days when Sunday excursions arrived in Dayton from all parts of the state and carried the merrymakers over the old "dummy" railroad tracks directly into the Home grounds--drive over there and look at it now. If you knew West Dayton in later years, when there was little west of Western av., save pasture lands and cornfields--go in your car on excellent streets where cow-paths and corn rows once ran. If you knew West Dayton even as late as six brief years ago--take this afternoon to see it as it is today.
Pause at the most magnificent high school in all Ohio--the Roosevelt--and look at education's contribution to the New West Dayton. Then leave the old Eaton trail--now busy, bustling traffic jammed Third st., and drive north. Behold on Ardmore and Lorenz and Anna sts., running north and south, entire blocks of modern and beautiful homes erected within the past three years. Drive along Dakota st. extension, fast becoming a beautiful thoroughfare and eventually to lead, along with a half-dozen other streets, and on west as far as Gettysburg av.
Wind in and out on these streets--all smooth and well kept--up and down Charch, and Brooklyn, and Westwood, and Minerva and Walton sts., all now a vast grouping of attractive, comfortable homes, but two or three years ago in the heart of Westwood plat. Drive on along West Third st., on up the hill that affords the most magnificent vista of the downtown section and of Dayton View that can be had from any point. Look at homes built almost solidly along a street that six years ago was merely a highway that carried one from Third and Main to the Soldiers' home, three miles away. Notice house numbers in the "3000 block"--thirty squares from Main st.--two miles of homes on beyond long-forgotten "Miami City."
But don't pause here. Pass on out the Eaton pike to Residence Park, one of the city's newest, and soon to become one of her most attractive residential districts. See here home-building on a new and modern scale. Drive on to Crown Point, for Dayton has taken a far step toward the west. Here in happy homes live contented workers, more of the bone and sinew of a city that has never known a "slump."
All around Lakeside Park, once a rural amusement place, will be found homes but recently erected, while on scores of streets branching off of Third as tiny arteries from a parent vein are newly opened tracts and blueprints are being made here for future structures. But one unbroken plat remains--old McCabe park. Here, in the years to come will be an asset of untold value to West Siders, and it would be wise to have it forever remain unplatted, a breathingplace for a section of the city that will, and in a remarkable short time, be solidly studded with homes.
The new home of The McCall Publishing Co., an addition to Dayton industries of which every citizen is justly proud, is but a stone's throw from this old wooded tract. Already the demand for homes within easy access of the McCall plant has become insistent. Another two years cannot help but see a marvelous transformation in this territory.
Turn your machine onto the Germantown pike and you will find it but an extension of Germantown st., almost to the top of the hill at the southern boundary of the Soldiers' Home grounds. Diverging here and there are streets opened within the past three years--and dozens of homes either finished and inhabited or fast nearing completion. In fact, Dayton can boast another solidly built thoroughfare to the west fully as long as Third st. and that is Germantown.
Within the next few weeks Fifth st., still another main artery of travel, carrying the traffic of the lower West Side and Edgemont, will have been paved and reopened. Already the work is completed from the river to a point west of the Pennsylvania railroad crossing, and much traffic heretofore passing along W. Third st. is being diverted. This street, one of the oldest on the West Side, has also seen considerable improvement within the past few years, though it has long been so compactly built as to permit of but little expansion.
You will find West Siders fully as enthusiastic and just as strong in civic pride as their attractive and well-kept homes indicate. You will find them strong in their belief that each succeeding year is going to find Dayton growing broader and stronger and better. You may be sure of an atmosphere of progressiveness, and you will find a spirit of "Do It For Dayton" predominating every foot of space that even within the memory of many now living was once rolling cornfields, pasture lands and the humble homes of sturdy pioneers whose foresight still serves as an example well worthy of present-day emulation.