Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Looking for the Dunbar House

Since this is Black History Month I am going to do some things on the black community here in Dayton. Let's start with the most famous black man from old Dayton, the poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

The Dunbar House is a state historic site (which is in itself historic as it was one of the first sites honoring a black person), and a contributing structure to the national historic site.

Dunbar only lived there a short time before he died of TB. His mother, Matilda, lived there until the 1930s, when she passed on.

Dunbar’s life began on the other side of the city, on the east side. Dunbar was born and spend his childhood in the old Haymarket area, across Wayne from the Oregon. He was born in 1871, but the city directories don’t start listing Matilda at 311 Howard Street until 1874. Apparently Matilda was living with her sister and brother-in-law at first, which is why they are not in the directory.

Here is the location on an 1880s Sanborn map

But what did this house look like?

Enlarging the Sanborn, we see it was a double, with the Dunbar’s in the northern half. The house has a 2 story front, 1 1/2 story addition, and a 1 story back. So, based on the heights and the proportions, here is what I suspect the house might have looked like (though the rear roof lines are really guesswork)

Since this was a fairly old neighborhood (platted before much of the Oregon) and this part was built on by 1869, I suspect it might have looked like some of these old Oregon houses

Or, as an alternative, other types of doubles, one with a different roof line.

But where was it? The Haymarket was torn down via urban renewal, and Wayne went through changes too. Fortunately one structure on Wayne that survives today, and is on the 1880s Sanborn, is the Dietz Block. We can use this building as a reference point to see where the Dunbar house was, a block way.

Knowing that the city block between Wayne and Howard had an alley, one can reconstruct the outline of the Howard side of the block, and then projecting from the Dietz Block, one can roughly locate the site of the Dunbar house, where it would have stood on Howard, as shown on this aerial.
…and here is the rough location. If I had a 100’ tape measure and some chalk I could probably chalk out the outline on the parking lot, just by eyeballing the Dietz Block corner through that little gangway, and scaling-off the house dimensions from the Sanborn.
This would be a good spot for a historical marker, as it is readily accessible and it is, after all, were Dunbar was born.

Paul Lawrence Dunbar lived most of his life with his mother, so one can follow him by following her, as she moved around the city. One can discover were he was living when he published various worker, went to high school, etc. I will be doing this in a later thread, locating the Dunbar home sites (and they are just sites by now), and by that, giving a tour of the world of black folk in late 19th century Dayton.


kevin said...

It breaks the heart, really. Good work, Jeff!

More were PLD lived.

He also briefly lived on Magnolia (MVH) and E Fifth St.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the Dunbar State Memorial, his final home, at 219 Paul Laurence St. See for more info.

kevin said...

Should be noted that this house on Howard is (or was) wood frame. The key for Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps indicates that a dashed line on the front side of a structure's footprint would be brick, and 311 Howard does not show this.

Foreverglow said...

I can't believe the history/achitecture that Dayton willing ripped out! I love Dayton but it seems stupider and stupider to me all the time when I see what it was compared to what it is now. Those tight old neighborhoods are what make a city feel like a city.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff, but one correction--his middle name is Laurence, not Lawrence.

James Michael Davis said...

Thanks for the excellent research, but Dunbar was born in 1872, not 1871. His middle name is spelled Laurence, not Lawrence. Aside from those typos, thanks again for the great detective work. J. M. Davis

James Michael Davis said...

Some afterhoughts: What is the name of the current closest intersection to the former 311 Howard Street? From the map, it appears that a street still exists on the old Howard Street and that the name changed. Is that accurate? The print is too small and blurred to make out the location, in fact , I don't see enough street names on the map section you've shown, to pinpoint the exact location. How many blocks is this from Fifth Street? When you reference the "Dietz Block", is that Dietz Street? If I come to Dayton, I need enough information to locate the site 311 Howard Street. MapQuest indicates that Howard Street no longer exists, is that accurate?

Anonymous said...

What remains of Howard Street is now called Bainbridge. If you go south from Fifth, you will notice on the east side what remains of Oregon Street that ran between Howard and Plum. On the opposite side is the remains of the Horstman Printing Company. The houses that would have stood on the other side would have been the odd numbers in the 300 block of Howard Street.