Saturday, October 6, 2007

South Park Urban Morphology

South Park is having the Rehabarama starting this weekend. So, a historical look at the development of the neighborhood.

Urban Morphology?

I discussed my interest in vernacular architecture and the urban fabric elsewhere on this blog. A related interest is urban morphology, the study of the development of city form, via analyses of street and lot patterns as well as how the city was built-out.

I only found out there was such a thing last year.

Urban morphology is an academic field of study in Europe, as there is long urban history there, going back to ancient time. Good USA works in this field are "Built for Change, Neighborhood Architecture in San Francisco", and St. Louis, The Evolution of an American Urban Landscape.

There is also a good PhD these on Over The Rhine urban morphology available via OhioLink.

USA town plans, however, are usually thought of as being pretty banal, some form of grid. Maybe not worth a second look?

Yet digging deeper, what seems obvious might not be so; analyses of platting and plan yields some history and permits a bit of speculation on how things came to be.

For Dayton, the story begins with the original town plat, including a town lot grid oriented to the Great Miami River, and an broader out lot grid extending east to about Tals Corner.

Out lots are found in the original plats of nearly every large city in the Ohio Valley; Louisville, Lexington, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Indianapolis all had out lot plats, which helped generated the street pattern of these cities. The concept apparently originated in the Mid Atlantic colonies, and was brought west with the initial post-Revolutionary War town plats in Kentucky and the Northwest Territory.

The Cooper Out Lots

Though Dayton was platted in 1795, title was uncertain. Surveyor Daniel N Cooper acquired pre-emption rights in 1801 from the Federal Government, and re-platted the town and eastern out lots in 1802.

Subsequent to the first plats Cooper platted three ranges of out lots extending south of the town to a east-west section line of the Federal rectangular coordinate survey system (later Stewart Street). Apparently Cooper owned all this property, possibly extending eastward to at least a north-south section line.

The fact that all this land was in private ownership is key, as that land subdivision did not have to follow the rectangular coordinate system, oriented to the four cardinal directions. Land could be platted via metes and bounds, with parcels in any shape.

This was the case with the Cooper out lots, which followed the lines of roads out of town to the south, and also the lay of the land, partially following a low bluff that marked the edge of the Miami river flood plain. Cooper may have thought of this rise as a good mill location,(which it was to be later). Lanes were included in the plats as access to the out lots, which later became Hickory and Brown Streets.

The topography probably drove the location of Warren Street, which is named as it led to Warren County to the south. The direct route out of Dayton, following Main Street, would have encountered Fair Grounds Hill, which would be a substantial grade to climb for freighter wagons and stages heading toward Cincinnati during the pre-canal era.

An alternative lower slope route out of the city lay to the east, between Fair Grounds Hill and what is now Woodland Cemetery. Warren Street angles southeast to take advantage of this gap.

There also was probably some sort of intermittent stream or watercourse that followed this route from the east, across today’s South Park.

Canal Era Plats and Out Lots

Though growing, Dayton did not grow beyond its original town plat until the arrival of the Miami and Erie Canal in 1829. The canal followed the route of an old tailrace, which followed the course of a slough or floodway between the Mad River and Great Miami. This tailrace was in existence as late as 1839, according to the map below.

The executors of Cooper’s estate platted additional out lots in 1827, possibly anticipating the canal, or in reaction to population growth in Dayton. These out lots cover much of present South Park. The out lots follow the orientation established by the Cooper plat along Hickory Street, but shift to an east-west orientation further south.

In 1832 Seelys Ditch was dug. Intended as a branch canal for commercial use, the ditch was the location of some early town lot plats, some of the first extensions of the city beyond the original town plat.

A close-up of the South Park area.

Based on an 1839 map. One can see the original streets of South Park here, as country lanes. The first town lot plat in the South Park area appears, showing how blocks of out lots could be bought by speculators and subdivided into town lots.

Though this map doesn’t show it, I speculate there still was a watercourse running through the southern part of the land, south of Oak Street. The line of Oak Street was to drive the orientation of the Park Drive plats:

Mid 19th Century South Park

30 years after the 1839 map, this 1869 map shows considerable extension of platting. Park Drive appears, as well as out lots platted into city lots along Hickory and especially along Warren and Brown.

Apparently (my speculation) the area to the east of the north-south section line was platted by the City of Dayton as out lots in the 1840s. I don’t know how extensive this was or the configuration, but it implies the city had some control over this land (perhaps acquiring it from the Cooper estate?)

Another key change was that between 1850 and 1869 Brown Street was cut through to make a more direct connection to Warren. Thus, Brown and “Old Brown” Streets. Warren south of Oak is renamed Brown.

The old out lots are outlined in red, showing how they generate the street system and lot division; the urban morphology palimpsest for this part of Dayton.

Taking a look at the urban fabric. Red boxes show a structure on a lot (sometimes more than one).
Removing the base map patterns emerge. Perhaps one can see “Slider town” (the old name for South Park), as sort of a suburban area, at the Brown/Warren/Oak intersection.? Note that this was the location of the infirmary or pest-house, where people with communicable diseases were quarantined.

In this pre-public transit era the outskirts of older Midwestern industrial cities like Dayton was often for the working class and poorer people, living in small houses. Country villas might be scattered in the fringe too, but for suburban town lots, it was for the less well-off.

A close –up of the “historic district” part of South Park. Note this map shows buildings on lots. A great resource for historic preservationists and vernacular architecture buffs. Note the streets west of Park Drive, between Park and Warren/Brown: lots of buildings shown. Are they still there? Or have they been replaced? Another interesting thing is that how much of this area was not built on yet. South Park is mostly a later 19th century neighborhood
Though some of the old out lots are shown vacant in 1869 they were subdivided in 1870, resulting in the more-or-less final form of South Park. Horse cars extended through the area in the early 1870s, first on Brown, then on Wayne.

The water course, from east Dayton is now the “city drain” , shown running down the middle of Park Drive, going underground (into a sewer?) at the west end of the drive.

I will take a closer look at the South Park platting history in a later post.

(and if you want a closer look at these maps, just mouse over them an click...they will enlarge)


kevin said...

Thank you so much, Jeff.

You may be interested to know that the name Slidertown could have very well been derogatory, as you once pointed out to me. I think that did morph from it's original name that I once suspected as a person's name, not the state of welfare.

Look at these from the an 1849 clippings of Dayton publication The B'Hoy:


The name was Slyder town. Interesting. But It should have been call Seely town due to the canal he built.

Where Emerson School sits (and sat), the hill was called Brabham Hill after a name of an early Daytonite that I believe was part of council. Which is the old name of Alberta Street.

I look forward to more of what you dig up!

Anonymous said...

Jeff/Kevin: this is excellent! I always wondered where the title "Slidertown" came from. Until John Patterson came into the picture, the area was a slum. I'm looking forward to future posts describing how the neighborhood developed as an NCR fiefdom with supervisors and workers living side by side. Who is Brown Street named after?

Matthew Sauer said...

Really interesting post. What's the story of Park Drive, beyond the stream burial? How did it come to be a boulevard?

Gary said...

I believe Brown Street is named after Thomas Brown who lived in a house where the Wayne Ave Kroger currently sits and that his son S.N. Brown modified in the 1880s to resemble a larger version of the Italianate at the corner of Waldo and Wayne. The Browns had a brick yard on Brown Street or so I believe. Thomas Brown acquired some of the land from the Cooper estate and Augustus George aquired much of what later became Woodland cemetery.

Jefferey said...

Folks, I really appreciate your comments here..thanks a bunch!. Here are some of what I know, piggybacking on y'alls remarks.


Fascinating stuff from The B' Where did you find that?

I see they also mention Greencastle. That was the first settlement in West Dayton, a country village on Germantown Street, platted in the 1820s.

Brabham. The 1829 plats I show on those three diagonal outlots off Hickory--the very first South Park town lot plats-- was by one E.Brabham, so he (partly?) owned the hill named after him.

Does anyone know how old Emerson School (the school, not the building) is? There was a school on the site in that 1869 map, so it is at least that old.


Brown Street is indeed named after Thomas Brown.

Thomas Brown came to Dayton in 1828, a year after the 1827 executors plats and a year before the canal opened, so he was in the right place at the right time at the start of the canal era boom, part of an increase in population here in the years just before the canal.

Brown was apparently a builder as well a a brickmaker. A guide to the Oregon notes he built the house at 134 Jackson Street in 1840. Not sure if he just built in it or lived in it, too.

"T & RP Brown" platted outlot 65 of the Cooper's Executors 1827 plat, into town lots in the 1840s. This is probably Thomas Brown. This outlot was between Alberta and what is now Brown Street, part of the area I circled in the 1869 map.

It's a good question as to how much of South Park Thomas Brown owned. He did plat a part of it, but did he own more outlots and sold them to other speculators, who appear as the platters in the plat book?

"RP Brown" is probably R Patterson Brown, who platted the part of West Dayton along Washington Street, where the US 35/I75 interchange is now, south to Albany. This was a suburb called "Patterson".


I really am not sure about the history of Park Drive...which is an unusual feature in Dayton. I think Kevin told me that that the park part was layed out by the Olmstead firm.

I know the stream was still open as late as 1889 from the Sanborn maps, so I would speculate it was put underground on Park Drive around the same time the Olmstead landscaping was done...early 1900s?

There could be a big storm sewer under one of the traffic lanes on Park Drive. I guess the public works department might know more about this?

kevin said...

Those clippings were sent to me by Larry Sizer. He's chasing down Bridgeport's history right now. It was an old town of 80 residents that sat across the Great Miami from Miamisburg, OH. He has a great collection of Dayton memorabilia.

Here's a couple of cool photos from the Lutzenburger collection:

Emerson from Burns Ave. with dates for you, Jeff.
St Andrew's Mission Chapel from Warren St. with Seeley's Ditch wrapping its backyard.

Olmsted right click and download 8.1 MB PDF of some cool readings on an Olmsted analysis of Dayton? I know it's hard to read, but I scanned it from a photo copy.

Why isn't Twin Towers a historic district!? They are older than most houses in South Park?

Anybody have a picture of that Brown Mansion Gary refered to?

kevin said...

Forgot to add about that mission chapel: that's the location where the VFW now sits.

Gary said...

Here is a picture of that Brown Mansion at 1577 wayne Ave. This picture was taken around 1895 and exists as a small 2" X 1" picture in a book in the local history collection at the library. I took a high resolution photo of the image and posted it here.

If you look at the Sanborne Fire Insurance maps from 1918 they verify this was the house located at the Wayne Ave. Kroger site.

Gary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kevin said...

Thanks for that post, Gary. At least we still have his son's house. I can see the simularities.

By Jeff's last map post of South Park (1875), there is a large structure on the north side of the east end of Oak St. I'm curious to what that was.