Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Deindustrialization of West Dayton

The Origins of the Urban Crisis continues to inspire analyses of Dayton as a comparison. I think a key chapter in Sugrues books is Chapter 5, “The Damning Mark of False Prosperities: The Deindustrialization of Detroit" ( pages 125 through 177 of the first edition), which provides the economic context for the declining fortunes of the Detroits black community.

This chapter talks about automation and shifting business practices wiping out entire categories of jobs in the auto plants, and driving out independent suppliers and producers, changes which hit inner city Detroit particularly hard, and resulted in an increase in long-term unemployment, leading to widespread urban poverty, which also impacted neighborhood retail.

Dayton was a center for the auto sector, but was apparently much more economically diversified than Detroit, as we’ve seen by the previous discussion of unionization, which was directed at a variety of industry; from foundries to electrical equipment makers to machine builders and so forth.

Though I discussed Dayton's deindustrialization in a general sense in an earlier post I want to focus here on the west side.

As one can see by this map the west side was quite the manufacturing center, with plants mostly strung out along the rail lines radiating from the Great Miami railroad bridge.

The larger plants were associated with the auto industry: Delco, Inland, Dayton Tire. But also the large McCalls printing plant and a collection of mid-sized manufacturing establishments

Dayton industrial employment, starting in 1947, using census sources. The city was already was seeing a decline in factory work in the 1950s, which is consistent with Sugrue’s findings for inner city Detroit. Yet this was temporary, and manufacturing employment surged again in the 1960s.
The big drop happens after 1970, where there is a drastic slide into the 1980s, and then another drop into the 1990s. Though the stats don’t narrow it down to the west side, one can assume most of the manufacturing left in this era, which would correlate with an increase in long term unemployment and urban poverty. Presumably one could consult the city directories and find out when a plant closed (though employment decline could precede closure).

The fate of the labeled plants will be illustrated downthread.

By 2008 the west side was de-industrialized. Nearly all of the large manufacturing establishments are gone, and most of the mid-size ones as well. The last large auto industry plant, Inland, is threatened with closure.

Accompanying deindustrialization was the expansion of poverty across the west side. There were poor areas here in 1970 and before, but poverty expanded and deepened along with the loss of industry. One wonders if it would be possible to draw the same corellation that Sugrue did in Detroit about the connection between growth in poverty and loss of factory work?

By 2006, the west side is also experiencing large scale housing vacancy and abandonment: first the factorys go, then the people, then the houses and shops.

Though manufacturing has left there are not too many empty structures. Extensive square feet of abandoned factory like these are actually pretty rare (there was a 6 or 7 story loft building in the grassy area to the right of the Sunshine Biscuit plant):

Most of the really big plants are gone. Example is the old Moraine Products plant, which started as a munitions factory in WWI (closed in the 1990s)(Sanborn at top shows extent of the plant in 1950)

Kuhns (later Nibco) Foundry: from an extensive complex to a rubble strewn field (closed in the 1980s, I think)
Factories usually turn into vacant lots (McCall Printing, partially torn down in the 1990s or early 2000s)

….or in this case, a factory turned into a prairie (Dayton Tire closed in 1981).

The site of a big factory employing hundreds, perhaps over a thousand? Like it was never there.

Today there are few factories on the west side. A rare example is this plant on Mound Street. Interestingly, this is set in a former residential area cleared out by abandonment and urban renewal, not in an old industrial district:

Smokestack amidst a ruin field as headstone for the west side industrial graveyard.

...reminds me a bit of Si Kahns' Aragon Mill.

1. At the east end of town, at the foot of the hill
Stands a chimney so tall that says "Aragon Mill."
But there's no smoke at all coming out of the stack.
The mill has shut down and it ain't a-coming back.

2. Well, I'm too old to work, and I'm too young to die.
Tell me, where shall we go, My old gal and I?
There's no children at all in the narrow empty street.
The mill has closed down; it's so quiet I can't sleep.

3. Yes, the mill has shut down; it's the only life I know
Tell me, where will I go, Tell me, where will I go?
And the only tune I hear, is the sound of the wind
As it blows through the town,
Weave and spin, weave and spin.


ohdave said...

You're a fantastic historian.

Thanks for the link.

Hilary said...

I enjoy your blog! Your posts are very interesting and informative.

I'm currently researching deindustrialization in Dayton and its current redevelopment plans. If you would like to add to my research project, please contact me.

my blog, will detail my ideas and research progress.

TomGnau said...

Jeffrey, I'm the manufacturing writer at the Dayton Daily News. I'd love to talk to you. Call me at 225-2390 or shoot me an e-mail,

Take care.


Keith said...

Could i possibly get the addresses of the "Aetna paper" and "Sunshine Biscuits" buildings?

Keith said...