Friday, February 29, 2008

Benn's Plat

Dayton is almost a textbook case study of the peripheral black communities discussed by Wiese in Places of Their Own:

Andrew Wiese begins Places of Their Own and his case for the importance of black suburbanization by pushing back the timeline of black suburbia to the early twentieth century. These early black suburbs shared much with white working-class streetcar suburbs but little with exclusive planned subdivisions; blacks clustered and were restricted to peripheral industrial suburbs, domestic service towns, or informal rural clusters. In some of these suburbs blacks slowly built their own homes, tended vegetable gardens, and raised chickens; almost all black suburbanites idealized rural life, thrift, church, and family

We’ll take a quick look at a few more of these, starting with Benn's Plat.
This is a familiar location to anyone going to the UD Arena or Welcome Stadium, or driving down Edwin Moses & I-75.

A map of the area sometime between the turn of the last century and WWI. One can see the unchannelized Great Miami and the little riverside plat out away from Edgemont. Presumably it was all low lying bottomland between Cincinnati Street and the river.

(I also located the Pontiac Street community mentioned in an earlier post, as another example of a suburban black settlement).

From the 1940 housing census, one can see both Pontiac Street and Benn’s Plat as developed black settlements (the xs mean 5 or fewer houses),

The large area of some of the census blocks mask how underdeveloped this area was

(One can see the diagonal of Cincinnati Street, the old power plant at Millers Ford, and the Stewart Street Bridge)

Here’s a close up: where you can just barley make out the houses. I think the channelization of the river might have eaten up a lot of the original plat:

In Dayton’s African American Heritage (a must-read for people interested in local history) Margaret E. Peters write in a caption of a group photo of the South Side Civic Association (SSCA):

….Benn’s plat, a half-square mile site now occupied by Welcom Stadium, lacked many basic services. By 1944, after organizing and going to the City Commission tweny-seven times, they had mail delivery, telephones, and hard surfaced streets.

When the land was condemned because the Miami Conservancy District planned to use it, the residents went to court and got a fair price for their homes….

Apparently sometime after this Miami University had considered this site as location for their Dayton branch campus (similar to their branch campus in Middletown or Hamilton), but instead co-located with the OSU branch campus as Wright State.

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