Sunday, February 24, 2008

Historical Geography of Black Dayton II: 19th Century West Side

Continuing to track the development of black Dayton via locations of churches, this time the formation of a community on the west side.


The black population increases to around 1000 in the 1870s, which is the decade we see the first black institutions on the west side

West Dayton was still sparsely settled in 1869, with quite a bit of open country and undeveloped plats. This map would be interesting to talk about just for the how the area was developing, but the point is that one year later, in 1870, the first black congregation, of the Baptist denomination, was formed in a private residence on Baxter Street. This would probably be the block of Baxter between 3rd & 5th, as the Baxter south of 5th was called Vantoyl Street at the time.

This congregation eventually met on the east side, in Mclauslands Hall on Wayne for a few years.

Sprague Street, which would eventually be the home of the church, was still a small plat, near the lands associated with the Sprague glue works on the river.

So one can assume, even at this very early date in the history of the neighborhood, when it was still suburban, black folks were living on the west side.

And they continued to move to this area as it was further subdivided and houses built. City directories show Joshua Dunbar living on Baxter, probably on the southern part (which was renamed from Vantoyl to Baxter in the 1870s) in 1874.

By 1875 there were enough black folk to petition for a school on the west side, which met at the fire house on Fifth & Baxter.

The Baptist congregation returned to the west side and built a wood frame church in 1876

These sites are noted on an 1875 map of the growing neighborhood

This congregation, Third Zion Baptist remained at Sprague Street , and built a larger building in 1908.

The congregation relocated elsewhere when Edwin C Moses Blvd. was built through the neighborhood, but this historic church (first black congregation on the west side) was recently remodeled as a community center.


The end of Reconstruction meant that conditions would start to deteriorate for blacks in the South, as white supremacy was enforced via violence and political actions. Push factors for migration to the north.

Dayton’s black population doubles in the 1880s, reaching over 2000.

Around 1880 a sizable block of property became the Southern Ohio Stockyards. One wonders if there was a connection between this business and attracting blacks, as its been said one of the occupations at this time for black men was “hostler”, which means animal handler, usually horse in livery stables, but perhaps also working in this stockyards?

Or it could be that the property around the stockyards became cheaper (stockyards are sort of a nuisance land use due to the smell and noise), so became a place for a fairly poor population to live.

The west side also becomes more accessible to Dayton proper during this decade via streetcar lines on 5th and Washington Street. Coincidentally, these lines pass through the black neighborhoods that were forming east of the river, so perhaps a reason the west side became an option for an growing black population.

In the 1880s one starts to see new congregations on the west side, in the vicinity of Baxter, Hawthorn and Fitch. Austin’s congregation table lists a Baptist congregation on Hawthorn in 1887, and then notes that the United Brethren mission on Buckeye Street relocates to the west side in 1889, first on Baxter Street…

…but then to a permanent church on Hawthorn. This congregation changes names to McKinley, and affiliates with the Methodists. This is the second oldest black congregation on the west side, and the oldest at more or less the same location (the original church was not on a corner, but a few doors to the north on Hawthorn)

Also note that the black school was closed and the black children reassigned to Garfield school (organized in 1871, and in this building by 1887).

But one wonders if the firehouse @ Baxter & Hawthorn was still the location of the school in 1887, as this pix shows a frame building behind the big brick school.

Lutzenberger says this was the original school and the brick building was built later (before 1887), but one wonders if this was also the colored school, and was used as such at the time of the photo, as there are those black kids in front?

One can speculate that if this school was indeed integrated and the neighborhood attracted more black residents with kids, if there was early white flight from the neighborhood as the African-American population increased. It would be interesting to study the school district boundaries for the Garfield district during this era.

In any case perhaps the vicinity of Hawthorne, Baxter, and Fitch, perhaps also Mound Street (facing the stockyards) might have been developing as the core of the west side black district, based on the church locations.


The South begins to implement de jure segregation in earnest via Jim Crow laws at the state and local levels.

Dayton’s black population continues to increase at the same rate as the 1880s, approaching 3500 by 1900.

During the 1890s one sees the black presence on the west side expand as congregations relocated from the old east side neighborhoods, as well as new congregations form. The area between Germantown and Fifth was apparently developing into a black neighborhood.

A bit of a closer look. Austin’s notes on his church table says Allen AME first met on the north side of Fitch. Perhaps this was in a house or they shared a church building with Bethel Baptist, as there is no church shown on this Sanborn from 1898.

But one can get a feel of the urban fabric of this neighborhood…the churches noted in red, and the large block of land for the stockyards.

Taking a closer look at Bethel. This Sanborn is of the same area, but in 1919. Bethel has expanded to the west, and the Sanborn has enough detail to ascertain the roof lines

Going on-site, one does find a church at the same location, corner of Fitch and Baxter (which was renamed Dunbar sometime before 1919), which does have the same characteristics as on the Sanborn.

Though it’s been heavily altered and no longer a Baptist congregation this is probably the oldest surviving structure associated with the Dayton black community, or built by a community institution.

Next, the third and final installment: Black Dayton to 1919.

1 comment:

kevin said...

Buckeye St. church is still there, called Bethany Baptist Church, 108 Buckeye St., at Pulaski. What they do there now, I haven't the foggiest. Great series, Jeff.