Community and Historical Nature of the Area

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Live the Legacy: Innovation and Creativity in the Wright-Dunbar Business Village

 

The Built Environment

The Wright Dunbar Business Village, also known as the West Third Street Historic District is a largely commercial district made up of two and three story brick buildings built between 1885 and 1924. As is typical of turn-of-the-century commercial districts, most of the buildings originally had stores on the ground level with offices and residences above. The style of the buildings is predominately Romanesque Revival, with several examples of Italianate and Classical Revival buildings enlivening the mix. This historic area is significant because of its association with three prominent Daytonians, Orville and Wilbur Wright and Paul Laurence Dunbar, all of who lived and worked in or near the corridor. It is also architecturally significant as a cohesive collection of late 19th and early 20th century buildings, which give people the opportunity to experience a virtually uninterrupted historic streetscape.

This neighborhood was one of Dayton's first streetcar suburbs, and owes its development to the building of the Dayton Street Railway by W. P. Huffman and H. S. Williams in 1869. Commercial ventures sprang up along the rail line and residential neighborhoods followed behind.

The People

An 1880 Census reveals that most of the residents were white, with the few black families residing south of Fifth Street. Most of the residents were natives of Ohio and Kentucky, and predominantly members of the middle working class. The population shifted in this area in the years around World War I. A widespread movement of African-Americans from the South to the industrial North coupled with housing segregation brought many black residents to West Dayton. Churches and other institutions were established to address this population's social and religious needs. The flood of 1913 also had an impact on the area as it reached beyond Broadway and heavily damaged both residential and commercial buildings along West Third Street. This area became the center of residential, commercial and social life for African Americans in Dayton beginning in the 1920s and through the early 1960s. The West Third Street commercial districts contained professional offices, shopping,

and services as well as theaters and other recreational facilities. This area of West Dayton was truly at the heart of black life in Dayton.

Invention and Creativity

The Wright Brothers lived near the district at 7 Hawthorne Street (moved to Greenfield Village, MI in 1936). Orville Wright (1871-1948) set up the brothers' first printing shop at home, but in 1889 moved the business to 1210 West Third Street (demolished) and in 1890 to the Hoover Block, which is now the home of the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center for the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) became interested in bicycles, and together with his brother Orville (1871-1948) in 1892 opened the Wright Cycle Exchange at 1005 West Third Street. In 1895, the printing and bicycle businesses were combined at 22 South Williams Street, where the brothers began to experiment with aviation. In 1897, the Wrights moved to 1127 West Third Street where the first powered airplane was invented in 1903. The printing business was sold in 1899, and the Wright Cycle Company closed in 1908 as the Wrights turned their full attention to aviation. However, the brothers retained an office at 1127 West Third Street until 1918. Henry Ford moved this building to Greenfield Village, Michigan in 1936. Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was the first African-American to gain international acclaim as a poet. He was born in Dayton and grew up in and around the historic district. Although both of Dunbar's parents were illiterate, the author was encouraged to get an education. He became the president of the literary society at Dayton Central High School and the editor of the school paper.  After graduation, Dunbar collaborated with his schoolmate Orville Wright on the Dayton Tattler, an African-American neighborhood newspaper. The Wright brothers printed some of Dunbar's early poetry on their presses in the Hoover Block. Over his tragically short lifetime, Dunbar produced a body of work that included novels, plays, short stories, newspaper articles, essays, and over 600 poems. He incorporated dialects in his work as well as standard English and won praise from literary critics and readers alike. His work often dealt with the hardships encountered by members of his race and the struggle for equality in America. Dunbar's work contributed to a growing social consciousness and cultural identity for African-Americans of the period. He is associated with the early civil rights leaders W. E. B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. Dunbar spent the last years of his life at 219 North Paul Laurence Dunbar Street, before his death from tuberculosis at the age of 33.

The rich cultural heritage combined with the historic significance of the West Third Street commercial corridor have led to the creation of the West Third Street Historic District and the Wright-Dunbar Business Village. The district includes the properties fronting on West Third Street from Shannon to Broadway Streets. This area is contiguous to the Wright Brothers Bicycle Shop venue of the National Park Service. West of this corridor and north of West Third Street on Paul Laurence Dunbar Street is the second of two National Park venues in the area and an Ohio State Historical site, the Paul Laurence Dunbar House. The above information has been adapted from the "West Third Street Historic District and Wright-Dunbar Village," a self-guided walking tour by Preservation Dayton, Inc.

Live the Legacy:
Revitalization Achievements in the Wright-Dunbar Business Village

It is a great time to become involved in the revitalization of the Wright-Dunbar Business Village. Since 1999, over $18M has been invested in Wright-Dunbar Business Village historic buildings. To date, there have been 12 completed construction projects, 18 new businesses recruited and over 72 new jobs brought to the area. The Wright-Dunbar Business Village has room for growth with six buildings available and 144,000 of available square footage.

Wright Dunbar, Inc. has received significant support from a variety of sources including federal and local government agencies and private foundations. Wright Dunbar, Inc. also raised substantial sponsorship support for its events. Wright-Dunbar Market Days, Urban Nights, and Christmas in the Village drew over 7,500 people to the Village over the last year. In addition to the continuation of these events, the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park attracts both local and international visitors to the Wright-Dunbar Business Village.

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park

 

Village Pioneer: Bing Davis Art Studio & Gallery

1135 West Third Street
937-223-2290
Hours: Monday - Saturday 11-5
Sunday 2-5, By appointment

The Bing Davis Art Studio provides opportunities for art lovers of all ages. Internationally acclaimed artist and educator, Willis "Bing" Davis uses mixed media including photography, drawing, painting, ceramics and sculpture. Davis' portfolio includes more than 60 one-man exhibits with works in both private and public collections throughout the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, West Africa, South America, England, Russia, and Italy. A portion of his artwork is available for viewing in the gallery portion of the building. Davis has also worked extensively training art instructors and also young people interested in art. The Bing Davis Studio will provide summer art camps, as well as a school year series for students. An outside drawing deck and classroom space will provide students with a unique learning experience. Davis located his studio in the Wright-Dunbar Business Village for a variety of different reasons. "First of all, I live nearby and there is nothing like living and working in the same neighborhood. But the main reason that I purchased a building in the Wright-Dunbar Business Village is for the chance to be in the center of rebuilding and reclaiming an urban area. There is a tremendous sense of energy and vitality here," Davis said.

The Bing Davis Art Studio contains classrooms, resource library, outside drawing deck, work rooms, and an art gallery. It is located in the historic Hale Building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hale Building was constructed in 1923 by Frank and Lura Hale on the site of their double house next to the Wright Cycle Company.