To tour the Oregon Historic District is to relive the history of Dayton through the evidence of its architectural heritage. In 1810, Dayton was a small community of 383 persons living on the banks of the Great Miami River. There was no Oregon, no Miami-Erie Canal, just a meandering gully to the east where the canal would eventually be constructed. This gully flowed south from the Mad River to a point just below the town where it joined the Great Miami. The only establishment east of here was a sawmill located near East Fifth and Wyandot Streets. South of this, near East Sixth Street, was a sawmill ground.
In May, 1815, Daniel C. Cooper, the proprietor of Dayton, laid out the original outlots to the east including the area which would become Oregon. On July 8, 1829, the first Oregon plat was recorded by Brainard Smith et al for 27 building lots bounded by East Fifth, Jackson and sides of East Sixth Street. John Van Cleve., local resident, wrote that that property in Dayton was selling “very high” – noting that these 27 building lots had sold for the grand total of $2,200.
January 1829 marked the eagerly anticipated opening of the Miami Canal and industrial development began along its banks.Though originally platted and settled by Anglo-Saxons, Oregon was to a large extent appropriated by German ethnics who began arriving by canal boat about 1832. At one time, German was the predominant language east of the canal – this is evidence by several of the area churches, all founded by German group. Of special interest is the Tecumseh Street plat of 1839. The earliest houses in the district are here – the most complete grouping of early Dayton buildings in the city. The simple architecture points up the frugality of the middle class merchants and artisans who settled here. Brown Street, the natural entrance to the District was, until the construction of Route 35, one of the main thoroughfares of the city. It was named for Thomas Brown, who arrived in Dayton in 1828 and established a brickyard and contracting business. Several of the early houses on Tecumseh Street are examples of his work which “brought Dayton out of the log cabin era and into a period of substantial dwellings and public buildings”. On Jackson Street are the homes of prosperous business and professional men built after the Civil War. Here lived prominent Daytonians who were active in the social and cultural life of the community.
This wide diversification of architectural styles and life styles in such a small area is one of the most intriguing aspects of Oregon. The origin of the name Oregon is remote and uncertain. It appears in local histories and early newspapers, as of March 11, 1845, when David Z. Pierce placed an ad in the Dayton Journal & Advertiser which read in part “I have laid out and offered for sale on terms to suit purchasers, 80 desirable building lots on that part of the city known as Oregon”. This seems an excellent indication that the area had been known as Oregon for some time before this date.
Businesses and organizations used the name for many years, among them the Oregon Mills of Joseph Kratochwill located on the canal north of East Sixth and Michael Schiml’s Oregon Brewery on Wayne Avenue. The Oregon Fire Company was organized in 1840 – their first fire house was on Sixth and Tecumseh Streets. They later built an engine house on East Fifth Street opposite Brown, a local landmark for many years. Shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War, in May of 1861, a volunteer unit known as the Oregon Guards was formed and they offered their services to President Lincoln. David L. Rike and James R. Hoglen, early residents of the area, organized the Oregon Aid Society about this same time. In 1889, Oregon Lodge #351 of the Knights of Pythias held meetings in the Dover Block at East Fifth and Wayne Avenue. There was an Oregon Boot and Shoe Store at 510 E. Fifth Street.
The last half of the 19th Century was a prosperous era for Oregon. It witnessed commercial and residential development by such men as William McHose, John Balsley, Dr. Julius Maetke, Dennis Ensey, Daniel McSherry and Allen Fauver. They left us an architectural legacy that has no equal in the city of Dayton today. Here, in Dayton’s oldest surviving neighborhood, the mansions of the wealthy still stand among the plainer dwellings of the laborer and craftsman, reflecting vividly the life style of the inhabitants.
The Great Flood of 1913, a disaster for the City of Dayton, started the area on an inevitable decline. During this flood, Oregon was covered by ten feet of water and after this many of the residents began to move out to higher ground. World War I and II accelerated the decline and nearly all of the old established families abandoned the area to absentee ownership.
By the 1960’s, urban blight had become so intolerable that the city began to consider clearance and redevelopment as the only answer. In June of 1966, the Chicago firm of Bertrand Goldberg Associates was hired to do a site-plan and economic feasibility study. Their recommendations to save approximately 125 structures and to raze the reminder as part of an elaborate restoration scheme failed due to lack of funding. However, their study did focus attention on the area and served to reinforce the belief of some interested citizens that the area possessed something of intangible and irreplaceable value.
In 1972, the city created the Burns-Jackson Historic District to preserve the area. The name was later changed to the Oregon Historic District. Oregon was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The District today consists of twelve city blocks bounded on the north by Fifth Street, on the east by Wayne Avenue, on the south by the Route 35 Expressway and on the west by Patterson Boulevard, once the site of part of the Miami-Erie Canal. The construction of the expressway established the final definitive boundary of Dayton’s oldest neighborhood as it exists today.
Dayton’s history is here in the homes of some of its first residents. We hope the evidences of the rebirth of the area are as exciting to you as they are to those of us who are new to the District. We are proud of our efforts and welcome this opportunity to share them with you.
Oct. 1982 – Memorandum from Mayor Paul Leonard