History

Old Montgomery County CourthouseMontgomery County was officially formed in 1803, but its history began more than a century earlier. The Miami and Shawnee were the earliest peoples here before the "Dayton" settlements of the late 1700's. The 1795 Treaty of Greenville ended warfare with the Native Americans in this area enabling southwest Ohio settlement patterns to progress north along the Great and Little Miami Rivers.

Judge John Cleves Symmes, a land speculator from New Jersey, initiated much of southwestern Ohio's settlement and in late 1795, he sold Arthur St. Clair, James Wilkinson, Israel Ludlow and New Jersey Congressman Jonathan Dayton the land that became known as the "Dayton Purchase". This tract included what is now eastern Montgomery and western Greene Counties. On April 1, 1796, settlers arrived at the Dayton town site.

When Symmes later failed to meet his financial obligations to the federal government, the region's 600+ settlers were forced to buy their land again - and at a higher price than they had already paid Symmes! Local benefactor Daniel Cooper saved the struggling community by purchasing many of the preemption rights and selling the land back to the settlers, many of whom could not afford to immediately repurchase.

Despite this early setback, the little village at the convergence of three rivers grew quickly. A population of 383 in 1810 supported five stores, three saddlers' shops, two cut-nail factories, a wagon maker, and six taverns. Twenty years later 2,954 people supported six schools, sixteen dry goods stores, thirty groceries, eight masons, seven doctors, and thirteen lawyers.

Among the young city's early achievements was the Miami-Erie Canal, which reached Dayton from Cincinnati in 1829. The canal fueled tremendous growth and stood as a symbol of Dayton's transformation from small pioneer town to important regional commerce center. Beyond Dayton proper, settlement blossomed as well. By 1841 Harrison, Mad River, and Van Buren Townships had formed and the entire population of Montgomery County stood at just over 30,000.

The end of the Civil War marked the beginning of a new era in Dayton. The railroad quickly made the canal obsolete, but helped make Dayton a national transportation crossroads. Dayton businessman John H. Patterson received a boost from the post-war boom and went on to found the hugely successful National Cash Register Company, in 1886, after purchasing the cash register patent from James Ritty. The company flourished, mainly the result of Patterson's innovative sales techniques and new concepts of employee welfare.

Patterson wasn't alone. In 1910, Edward Deeds and Charles F. Kettering formed the Dayton Engineering Laboratories, or Delco, to manufacture and market their new automobile starting and ignition systems. Their invention came right on the tail of fellow Dayton inventors Orville and Wilbur Wright. The brothers successfully tested their new flying machine at Kitty Hawks, North Carolina on December 17, 1903.

 
Centennial Parade, 1896, Second and Main Streets. Note that the parade went up one side of Main and down the other.
 
Centennial Parade, 1896, Second and Main Streets. Note that the parade went up one side of Main and down the other.If the early twentieth century belonged to technology, then the 1890s belonged to the arts, namely Paul Laurence Dunbar. In twenty-one volumes of poetry and stories he captured not only the voice of African-Americans, but of an entire generation of late nineteenth century Americans.

The entire Miami Valley faced its greatest challenge in March of 1913. Four days of pounding rain produced 3,000 square miles of flooding, twenty-nine feet deep in many places. Swift currents carried homes, livestock, automobiles, and in some cases, people, to untimely deaths. Despite countless acts of bravery and heroism, more than 300 lost their lives.

The city quickly set about rebuilding the over $100,000,000 in damages the flood left behind. A re-built Dayton was only one of the flood's legacies. In 1915 the Miami Conservancy District formed to oversee the building of a five dam system of flood control throughout the Valley.

World Wars I and II meant war shortages and a shift to wartime production became the way of life for Montgomery County. While NCR made airplane parts and the Colt .45 automatic pistol, and airplane gunsites, the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company built the DeHaviland-4 airplane, and General Motors made more than 2 million M-30 guns for the war efforts.

After the war, Dayton's post-war economy boomed. The late 1950's and 1960's saw the construction of US Route 35 and Interstate 75, fueling the growth of suburban communities. However, in the 1970's, the national decline in heavy industry hit the area as well and business giants like NCR & Frigidaire experienced "downsizing". During the 1980's the region experienced a brief recovery in the service industries assisted by the steady economic giants, General Motors and Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

Abundant resources have always played an important role in Montgomery County, from the rivers and fertile land to the ingenuity and innovative spirit of its people. As the county approaches the year 2000, it can be proud of more than 200 years of the rich and diverse history those resources have made possible. end here

Prepared by the Montgomery County Historical Society 4/97

SEE ALSO: Historical Records in the Records Center & Archives Department.