When Texas Was Just Across Mad River
by Howard Burba
[transcription of article]
(Editor's Note: For long years that part of Dayton originally known as "Texas," but now familiarly called "North Dayton," has been recognized as the industrial section of the city. But these vast industries have brought a home-making campaign that has been especially active within the past few years, and which still continues. It is with a view to emphasizing the residential growth and advantages of North Dayton that this, the fourth series of similar articles has been prepared.)
If a few of those old pioneers who looked after municipal affairs in this particular part of the Miami Valley along about the year 1800 could come back on earth for a visit now they would probably pause in the midst of their amazement to tell you that when North Dayton was laid out and settlement started a good hunting ground was spoiled.
For a number of years after the town of Dayton proper had been platted and streets made and houses erected and stores opened all the part of the present city lying east of the Miami and north of Mad rivers was virgin forest and "thickets" of underbrush and briar--and, if early records are to be depended upon fairly alive with deer. In fact, pioneer woodsmen and trappers for many miles around looked upon the territory at the junction of the Miami and Mad rivers as their hunting paradise. One old historian, commenting on the vast number of deer inhabiting the present site of North Dayton writes:
"Fire-hunting in those days was a favorite amusement. The deer came down to the river bank in the evening and sheltered themselves for the night under the bushes which grew along the shore. As soon as they were quiet, the hunters in pirogues paddled slowly up the stream, the steersman holding aloft a burning torch of dried hickory bark, by the light of which the deer were discovered and fired upon. If the shot was successful, the party landed, skinned the animal, hung the carcass upon a tree to be brought home in the morning, and then proceeded to hunt more game. Wolves and panthers, the persistent troublers of the settlers, were constantly shot and trapped in the low, marshy jungles around the mouth of Mad river. Skins of these animals were used for mats, clothing, blankets, etc., being tanned in the trough sunk into the ground, the bark for tanning purposes being easily procurable."
Mad river was pretty much of a stream in those days, its southern bank being the present route of E. Monument av. In fact, it was navigable for several miles above the town of Dayton, and grain grown by settlers 10 and 12 miles east was brought down on flatboats. One old pioneer, David Lowry, whose name occupies a conspicuous place in the early history of the Northwest Territory, operated a paying flatboat "line" from the mouth of Donnell's creek, on Mad river, down to the Miami, and on into Cincinnati. As early as 1800 he was sending to Cincinnati, and even on down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers as far as New Orleans, pork, venison hams, flour, pelts and whisky from this territory.
About where Taylor st. now intersects Monument av. was a "ford," the road leading to it having been laid out by Robert Edgar, a pioneer from Virginia. He was also among the first to plant the wilderness north of Mad river, erecting a home at the far side of the "ford" as soon as the road was constructed. Later a ferry was established near this point, and since the old Mad river road had been extended on out the present trail of Valley st. and settlers were fast coming into the territory around the present site of Brandt and Donnelsville, it did a flourishing business.
It is of interest in these days of modern transportation methods to ponder for a moment over the ferry rates paid by our pioneer residents--it enables one to understand why they often prayed for a low river stage so they could use the "fords." Seventy-five cents was the charge for ferrying a loaded wagon and team from one bank of Mad river to the other; empty wagon and team, 50 cents; two wheeled carriage, 37 1/2 cents; man and horse, 12 1/2 cents; persons on foot, 6 1/4 cents.
All of the ferries in this neighborhood prospered for many years at the rates, with the exception of the one across Mad river. It is reported that the stream had a habit of raising so rapidly following each heavy rain, and was even at normal times treacherous on account of cross-currents, that the operation of this ferry was considered dangerous business. So in 1814 Daniel Cooper secured a charter for the erection of a bridge across Mad river, the first across any river in this entire section of country. The charter was secured, but the proposition ended there. In January, 1816, a public meeting was held and it was decided to place a bridge at the Staunton ford road--a point about where Taylor st. now taps the river. But this plan also fell through, though the next year, in 1817, it was built by the county. It was not a covered bridge, and consisted of a single span 160 feet long. In 1828 it fell into the river, but was promptly rebuilt.
The opening of this bridge in 1817 brought many settlers to the north banks of Mad river. D. Z. Cooper had secured a tract along the north bank for a quarter of a mile above where it emptied into the Miami. Beyond Cooper's line the land was owned by John Cleve Short, and it was on the latter tract that the first platting was done, and recorded, in 1814. These town lots lay north of what is now Ohio st. The Harker plat, laid out in 1841, took in that part of the north bank now occupied by the Platt Iron Works buildings, and for several squares north of them.
In 1845 Shively and Trader opened more land, laid out several lots, and gave the entire new settlement the name of "Texas." In 1841, Henry Brown set up a rival hamlet, which he called "Palma," by platting that territory north of Valley st. and west of the canal. In 1856, Kenny & Sheets platted north of Ohio st. between Troy and Keowee and the same year William Huffman sold lots in this plat along Troy, Light, Dell and Valley sts. The name "Palma" was lost sight of, however, and everything north of Mad river was known as "Texas."
"Texas" grew and flourished. New settlers came from the north and east, and found the companionship of "Texas" citizens to their liking. Already a trail had been blazed north to Troy, now the route of Troy st. and the old Troy pike; another known as the Bellefontaine road has in later years been rechristened Brandt st. and the Brandt pike, while the original Mad river road to the east, for long years the favored route to Springfield, is today Valley st. and Valley Pike.
It was not until 1890 that this territory north of Mad river and east of the Miami shook off the name of "Texas" and became officially known to the map-makers as "North Dayton." "Texas" passed into history at about the same time that "Slidertown" disappeared and South Park came to replace it.
Mad river continued to "act up," however, following every heavy rainfall, so in 1840, E. W. Davies and Alexander Grimes as trustees of the estate of D. Z. Cooper caused a survey to be made for a new channel for the river, from the old canal aqueduct over the river, straight west to the Great Miami. The work of excavating the channel was finished in 1842 at the cost of $5000--the first conservancy work ever to be attempted in the valley. Along about this time a new bridge at the Troy ford road was constructed. It stands today at the Keowee st. bridge, the main entrance to all the vast territory we know as "North Dayton."
At the southern approach to the Keowee st. bridge the city established a waterworks; adjacent to this came the Corbin Screw corporation's plant and the once gigantic Barney & Smith car works, the latter serving more than any one agency to popularize North Dayton as a residential district. Here the finest of railroad coaches were turned out for service in every state in the union, here at one time was the largest manufacturing plant between Pittsburgh and Chicago.
It has passed into history, this pioneer car plant, but posterity will hold it in memory, along with the old Platt Iron Works, for its valuable service in giving to Dayton a nation-wide reputation as a industrial city, and for being largely instrumental in populating the territory north of Mad river.
Railroad cars were made in Dayton before Dayton had a railroad. The first ones had to be transported overland or by canal boat to the rails upon which they were to be operated. But the manufacture of railroad cars quickly brought railroads, and as the Barney & Smith plant grew, so North Dayton developed. From this parent industrial seed sprang a field of flourishing factories that sent North Dayton boundary lines far to the north and east of the original site at the Staunton ford until today it covers all that vast territory that was once a paradise for the deer hunter and across which the nightly shrieks of panther and wildcat sent terror into the hearts of pioneers.
If you have labored under the impression that North Dayton has been content to stand still while suburbs all around her grew, you are due for an agreeable surprise. Turn the wheels of your car to the northeast and cross either the Keowee, Webster st. or Herman av. bridges. Drive first to McCook field, and note the recently-made streets from old Phillips bath house south and east, now solidly built with the homes of happy workers. Here, on the site of the McCook field garage, was once a "roadhouse," where outbound travelers paused to stock up with wet goods for a journey to the north; where inbound visitors had an opportunity to drink their own welcome to Dayton.
Today all of that has been obliterated and on out across the bridge which spans the Miami are to be found modern and splendid homes--away on out the new Troy pike to Ebenezer and beyond. Off to the right lies Ome Gardens, with its pretty homes set in a park of virgin oaks; on the left fast-growing Fieldstone Downs; adjoining these two several other sub-divisions are being graded, and new homes are going up.
Return to McCook field, drive back to any street leading east, and signal for a left turn. Within a few minutes you are on streets laid out and paved within the past six years and along which have been erected modest yet modern and comfortable residences. Reading Troy st., turn north and visualize the remarkable transformation that has come with the automobile. But a few brief years ago Leo st., was the end of everything in North Dayton. Today North Dayton is built for more than a mile to the north along the old Troy pike, a much-traveled thoroughfare, with two rapid-growing sub-divisions, Sylvanhurst and Avondale Place, bidding for carpenters to erect houses for which plans are already drawn.
Cross over to North Dayton's price--the Stuart Patterson Park--and feel a lightening of the heart as the joyous shout of happy children at play is wafted to your ears; walk through this beauty spot wherein romp the coming men and women of this substantial section. Note the solid row of pretty new homes along Baltimore st., which bounds it on the north; pause to view the attractive surroundings of scores of other homes erected along streets that were but corn rows no later than Armistice Day.
Drive across to Valley st. and try to picture it as you first knew it, a rambling rural pike that tied the county-seat of Clark co. with your home town. Look at it now, and look at the new thoroughfares leading off from it to the north and south--Stegman, Bellefontaine, Bickmore, America, St. Adelbert, Ludwig, Rannells and many others. Gaze out across the Mad river valley toward East Dayton, or down the river toward the heart of Dayton; note the healthful elevation of those homes and the inspiring beauty that stretches before them.
I'm not trying to "sell" North Dayton. It has already been sold a thousand times over in the hearts of Daytonians, and yet this part of it is just beginning to grow.
"What'll you take for your home," I asked a Valley st. resident as she busied herself about beautiful flower beds on the front lawn.
"Just try to buy it," she said with a smile, "and you'll find how much we love North Dayton."
Show your visitor into every part of the city; the hills and dales of the south; the vast valleys that stretch before the eyes from the west and north; the rolling hills and tree-bordered streets of the south and east sections--and then take him into one part that is almost as old as the original settlement. Let him see from whence comes much of the manufactured products that not only make Dayton famous, but that make all other parts of Dayton financially comfortable. Let him see the well-kept homes of the industrial workers of your city, each home bespeaking the civic pride of those it shelters.
Here, then, is the "Texas" of olden days and the "North Dayton" of the map-makers.
To you and to me, it stands as the bone and sinew of the best city that has yet been--a city whose fame from a home-loving standpoint can only be bounded on the north by the pole, on the south by the anartic circle, on the east by the rising sun and on the west by the day of judgment.