Friday, February 15, 2008

Mother Dunbar's Moves

Tracking the moves of “Mother Dunbar”,(as she was called), and by default the moves of her son, Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

We already looked at the site of the birthplace and boyhood home. Now lets track where else Matilda and Paul lived.

These sites are all based on the city directory, and I was able to locate all but one, the one up in Riverdale, 818 N Linden, where the Dunbar’s lived for one year 1891-1892. This was the year that Dunbar published Oak and Ivy, his first poetry book.

First location from the Howard Street house was on Magnolia, which is today part of the Miami Valley Hospital complex

The Dunbars then moved to Sycamore Street just west of downtown, but then moved a year later to the neighborhood Dunbar would spend 15 years in, the area south of downtown between Ludlow and the river.

First location was 121 Short Wilkinson, then a series of moves on Washington Street,, then the move to Riverdale, and back to the neighborhood, on 140 W Ziegler. Dunbar was also a member of an early black church, the Eaker Street AME (later renamed Wayman Chapel).

The neighborhood today, mostly obliterated via freeway construction and commercial expansion:
The Zeigler Street house was where Dunbar was living when he published “Majors and Minors” and “Lyrics of Lowly Life”, the books that made his national reputation.

The Short Wilkinson house was Dunbars first home in this neighborhood.
The Washington Street houses: Dunbar was in high school while living here, where he met the Wrights. He was writing The Tatler newspaper while at 315 & 317 Washington, published by the Wrights.
Dunbar’s church: Eaker Street AME. This is a good before and after pix as you can see the back of Emmanuel church, and the commercial building down the street a bit, in both pix.
After 1897 Matilda and Paul disappear from the city directories. The biography at the NPS website says the Dunbars were moving around a lot, including Paul moving to Washington DC, and some time in Chicago, too. It seems there is a Chicago-Dayton connection with the Dunbars as Dunbar went to Chicago to work at the Worlds Columbia Exhibition, and that his half-brothers also moved to the Windy City around this time.

But Paul and Matilda did return to Dayton.

The Sycamore street house. This is an interesting location, as the Dunbars moved into this brick double on the south side of the street after their brief stay at Magnolia, and rented here briefly when they returned to Dayton in 1903..renting the adjoining half of the double, before they moved to West Dayton. Today the site is a plaza to the west of the Ponitz Center.

And the final move. The Dunbar house on what used to be Summit Street. The Dunbars moved here in 1903, and Paul died here in 1906, in the upper front corner bedroom. The second story room facing the street in front was Pails study and library.

Matilda kept Paul’s’ rooms intact, and when she passed in 1934 the state acquired the property in 1936 and opened it as a house museum in 1938. This was one of the first state historic sites related to black history in the entire US. A famous visitor to the site was (at that time) first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

For the National Park Service web page with more detail on Dunbar, click here.

For a digital collection of Dunbars’ works (from WSU) click here.


ohdave said...

Jeffrey, terrific work.

I mention you in my latest post on Turner. Go to my site and check it out and let me know when you have more on Turner.

kevin said...

Unreal. Like a vagabond. Well done, Jeff.

Foreverglow said...

Interesting that those houses were in such rough condition so long ago. The picture of Eaker St. even has a boarded up house on it.

Jefferey said...

Eaker Street was directly across from the railroad yard & roundhouse for Union Station, so it was noisy, smokey, and not particularly desirable. Neighborhoods like this were relegated to African Americans...good example being Federal Street in Chicago, on the main rail lines in from the East Cost.

The church moved in 1922 to W Dayton, so I suspect the neighborhood was being vacated even in the 1920s.

For kevin, yes he moved a lot, but note that the Dunbars pretty much lived in that same neighborhood, which was, historically, the first permanent black district (but shared with Germans in the ealry years) in the city.

More on 19th Cenutry black Dayton later.

Jefferey said...

"..let me know when you have more on Turner."

I dont want to write more on Turner. Maybe one more on the DDC.

Jefferey said...

I think that house that looks like it might be boarded up has the shutters closed on the upper floors? Back in the old days houses had working shutters.