If you’re a folk music fan you’ve probably heard the term “the folk process”. Coined (I think) by Pete Seeker all it means is that “the tale changes with the telling”. Songs and lyrics get changed by the singers, adapted to new situations and circumstances, but still retaining familiar elements or a basic structure.
I think this concept can be applied to vernacular or folk architecture, which is the anonymous construction by builders and contractors that is much of our built environment.
This thread will explore what I think might be the folk process in action in 19th century Dayton, in the Oregon District. My theory is that traditional rural houseforms of the mid-Atlantic and the Ohio Valley where adapted or modified for an urban setting, and one can sort of see this in action via old houses in the Oregon, as this is the oldest neighborhood in Dayton. In the Oregon, one can see the development of two urban
vernaculars common to Dayton; the Double and what I call the “Urban I-House”.
Starting off with a “cartographic essay”, sort of a “historical geography” on the development of the Oregon district…Cartographic EssayOregon Before the Canal
Dayton in 1820 showing the town plat and out-lots
…with the future Oregon district outlined in red.
The original town plat of 1796 and the three subsequent re-plats of Daniel Cooper, (the proprietor of Dayton) provided for out-lots running to the east (to about Tals Corner). This was a common practice in the Ohio Valley (Lexington also had an town lot/out-lot plat), where settlers would obtain an out-lot as well as a town lot.
Cooper continued to add out-lot plats around the original town plat. I don’t know if the out-lots where intended as farms or just as a land speculation. In Lexington the out-lots (today’s North Side) where used as “suburban” estates or for the local gentry, and there some evidence this happened in Dayton, too. In any case the pattern and orientation of the out-lots set the pattern for urban development in Dayton for the first half of the 19th century.-
Urban growth in Dayton remained within the original town plat for the first quarter of the 19th century as there was almost no new town lot plats until the arrival of the canal in 1829.
A close-up of the 1820 map of Dayton. Today’s 5th and Brown Streets appear as lanes providing access to the out-lots.
Cooper retained large blocks of land immediately east of the original town plat as a commons and as property for a saw mill. This was the route of a lowspot, slough or gully that connected between the Mad and Miami Rivers, probably an old floodway or river channel. During the War of 1812 Cooper put troops billeted in Dayton to work by excavating the mill race visible on the map, following the route of the low area. This mill race was to be the route of the future Miami & Erie canal The Canal Era
The Miami and Erie Canal arrived at 1829, which caused and economic, population and real-estate boom. The 10 years between the opening of the canal and the1839 map below saw Dayton’s population jump:
Development probably filled-in the original Dayton town plat and the out-lots started to be platted, including today’s Oregon district, in speculation and to respond to the population boom.
The following map illustrates how the out-lot configuration (shown in red) controlled the pattern of land development in the Oregon.
It was in the 1840s when “Oregon” was first recorded as referring to this neighborhood.
The canal formed the western boundary of the Oregon. The lock just north of the west side of the Oregon was determined by a change in slope, which also provided the opportunity for water power ed industrial development. The following maps show the route of the canals and hydraulic races, and early industrial development. None of the early factories noted here remain, t though the sites remained in industrial use into modern times.
The failed Seely's Basin is to the east of the Oregon. This extension to the canal was an impetus to real-estate development of the east side of Dayton. Some of this area was actually platted prior to the Oregon, and later became known as the Haymarket
The appearance of a school on one of the out-lots indicates that this area was populated enough in 1839 to require education facilities. This school site is now the location of the Oregon park & gazebo on Brown Street
This industrial development around the canal was key to the development of the area. As this was the era of the “walking city”, without mass transit for the working class, housing needed to be within walking distance of the factories and workshops. The result was an increasing density in development in era before cheap transit.Oregon in Mid-Century
The Oregon in 1868-69, a few years after the Civil War:
By this time the Oregon had been fully platted and mostly built-out. A map showing the plat history of the neighborhood shows that most of it had been developed by the Civil War. (color code is lighter= newer/darker =older)
Introducing the grid of out-lot boundaries…
…demonstrates how they generated the development pattern and street layout of the Oregon. In some cases, along Brown Street, the development seemed to be pretty granular, with out-lots split and quartered to form what might have been sort of a “large lot” development opportunity for suburban estates, which then themselves became subdivided.
Industrial development in the late 1860s.
This is an imperfect map as I don’t show all the varied industry here, just the larger plants. The “Joint Tracks” connecting railroads coming into Dayton from the east and north to those from the west and south appear, snaking their way around the factories, canals, and hydraulic races. This dense industrial development drove a residential density in the Oregon
As Dayton did not grow as fast as Cincinnati, nor did it have topographical limitations, yet still had the constraint of developing somewhat quickly during the era of the “walking city”, the areas near job concentrations developed somewhat densely via “doubling-up”, already evident in the 1860 from these enlargements of the map above:
This doubling-up phenomenon is evident in other Great Lakes cities, particularly Chicago, with its alley houses, and in Cleveland and Chicago with their two-flats or double-deckers (maybe Buffalo & Detroit too?). In Dayton it happened via squeezing two houses onto one lot, side-by-side, and by the “double” or duplex house (though alley houses are found here too).
From the 1890s, a close-up exploration doubling-up via Sanborn maps.
Early example of doubling, on Tecumseh Street, in one of the older parts of the Oregon, close to the industrial development along the canals.
And on the earliest Oregon plat, on 6th Street….
The original plat had lot frontages of 49’-6”. These lots where often split in half, and became the frame for a variety of ways of fitting the house to the site. Note also how the lots facing Brown where replatted to face Brown Street, as they would be worth more facing a main street into the city (later the route of a street car).
A close-up of 6th Street. The various ways of doubling up are shown here, including a double alley house on the “convenient alley”. Note also the working of small workshops into the neighborhood. Oregon as 20th century urban slum and dodging the urban renewal bullet
Oregon in 1940.
By 1940 Oregon was reaching its maximum build-out. Urban “recycling” was going on here through the 19th century as well as the 20th, with old houses being replaced by newer, or by apartments and commercial buildings. This was particularly the case on the busy streets on the boundaries of the neighborhood, Fifth and Wayne, and with the industrial buildings (for example the carpet mill of the 1830s was replaced by the Oregon four mill, which was replaced by an industrial building of the early 20th century, which still stands).
The following map shows the frequency of double houses or doubled-up houses in a portion of the neighborhood. This was not the only way density was being achieved. There where apartments on top of commercial buildings on Wayne and 5th, apartment buildings within the Oregon replacing older houses, and houses and doubles where split up into smaller apartments or rental rooms.
The neighborhood was considered a problem housing area, and, along with the neighboring Haymarket to the east of Wayne Avenue, was slated for demolition via urban renewal as early as the 1930s. At this time the neighborhood was referred to as “Burns-Jackson”, and actually extended further south into what is today South Park. (today the Burns and Jackson intersection is in South Park, south of the US 35 Expressway).
Freeway construction and urban renewal razed the southern part of the Oregon, as well as obliterating the Haymarket, resulting in an isolated pocket of some of the oldest housing in the city.
The rump Oregon was a bone of contention during the 1960s during a three way battle between the city planners, preservationists, and residents (this was sort of an Appalachian ghetto at the time), with the first proposal at preservation via wholesale restoration failing.
The future was bleak in the early 70s, but the neighborhood was restored during the 1970s, house by house, in some case using special loans by the then-new Citywide Development Corporation (this was apparently the first project of Citywide).The Folk Process
The above was to set the stage for what is more an “architectural” speculation or theory on the Oregon as a setting or laboratory for the working out of an urban vernacular for Dayton.Housing in Dayton…the pre-canal era
The oldest houses in Dayton are lost to us. One might catch glimpses of them in old photographs or Daguerreotypes, but the ongoing recycling of the original plat of Dayton, today’s downtown, has left few structures surviving from the 19th century, let along from the early pre-canal era. The original plat was probably “rebuilt” two or three times after the first construction before being slowly razed via urban renewal and parking lot construction in modern times.
Nevertheless three structures survive which appear to predate the canal. I can only verify the provenance of the last one as it has a 1827 date stone. The others are based on tradition and some notes I found in an old photo collection at WSU.
(heavily modified with the big window on the ground floor)
These three are the oldest town-houses in Dayton on their original sites (not counting Newcom Tavern here). All supposedly date from the 1820s…around the time of the first map on the thread.
All have a common feature of having the roof running parallel to the street. The last one is probably the oldest “double house” in Dayton. One can see versions of these in the Oregon. The other two are what could be called “half-I houses”.
The oldest house in Dayton is this old farm house in Westwood. This is what is called an “I-House” (a term coined by cultural geographer Fred Kniffen in his essay “Folk Housing a Key to Diffusion”). This type of house is what I think was the one of the sources for the urban vernacular of 19th century Dayton.The Urban I-House
Two other I-houses in Dayton (both probably old farmhouses that survived subdivision) and one in Portsmouth, Ohio. I will use the Portsmouth example as a “typical” example showing how this house form might have been modified for an urban site. One thing to note is that all these houses have the gable end perpendicular to the street and entry is mid-house.
The source for the drawings and pix is Portsmouth: Architecture in an Ohio River Town
,an exhibition catalogue published by the Miami University Art Museum
A typical I-house. The entry is mid house, from the front and rear. Usually with an el addition to the rear. Often these “additions” where built along with the original house. The gable end is perpendicular to the street. The house is always one room deep.
Adapting the house to an urban site by flipping the plan….
…and making some adjustments with the “kit of house parts”...windows, chimneys, etc. Entry remains mid-house though. The el is cropped to fit the site.
Some additional adjustments to the el, such as a second floor and extended porch, and possibly extensions to the rear, and one has an “urban I-house”, which is consistent with Dayton examples from the Oregon district.
Two interesting aspects is the relatively low slope on the roof in the Portsmouth example I am using is similar to the Dayton houses, and the retention of the mid-house entrance into the long part of the house or into the el, which is different from similar houses in other Great Lakes cities. There are examples, however, in Dayton of entrance directly at the gable end.
Another possible genisis of the urban I-house is from the half I-house.
A similar process of flipping the plan, moving windows to the gable end, extending the house deeper into the lot, and adding a side porch or el could be operating. Three ways to the Double
As can be seen unthread Doubles are probably a very old houseform in Dayton. The following is speculation on three sources for the Double, using diagrams and examples from the Oregon and rural SW Ohio.
1. The first seems to be the logical extension of squeezing the urban I-house on narrow city lots. Why not take the next step of merging two houses into one?
2. Another source for some of the Oregon doubles is the “double pile house”, which was a rural house from the mid-Atlantic. Unlike the I-house this house is two-rooms deep, and has a distinctive double chimney arrangement at the gable ends.
A rural example from Red Lion, south of Dayton, and a very similar house in Oregon in massing and gable end chimneys, except instead of one house it is a double. The double dropped the central door and window, but the window and door spacing wasn’t adjusted to the extra space on the façade, leaving a blank area where the central door and window would be.
3. A third way to the double. This uses a version of the I-house that we saw in 1820s Dayton: one room wide, gable parallel to the street, but have the door to one side. They come in 5 and 4 window versions.
This house can be joined into a double, and it could be that that just the roof changes, with the gable end facing instead of running perpendicular to the street. On the last pix in the series below the proportions of the roof and the house below it seems like this is what happened. The house seems to call for a roof running parallel to the street.
The above speculation is missing one key thing. I don’t have any floor plans of the Dayton examples to work with, which would really help with an analyses. So the above speculation is just working with exterior form, thus incomplete. Oregon Seriation…the first three decades of the Oregon
A series of Oregon examples by year and by typology from 1830-1860.
One of the neat things about the Oregon is that some of the homeowners have researched their houses and put date plaques on the outside, which really helps guys like me who don’t have the time to research property records to date houses. 1830s
This is supposed to be the earliest house in the Oregon, on the 1829 6th Street plat. As you can see it bears a family resemblance to the 1820s downtown Dayton plat houses upthread.
A substantial portion of the Oregon was platted prior to 1840. Interestingly most of the houses (that I can date) date after
1839. This when the city underwent considerable population growth between 1830 and 1840.
Perhaps the original houses built in the Oregon where replaced later? Perhaps there was enough open space left in the original Dayton plat and in other new plats so new construction was happening elsewhere? Perhaps these houses are misdated and are really earlier?
In any case the 1840s provides the first extant examples of Dayton housing:1840s
..an early example of the urban I-house.
Another early example of the urban I-house.
Interesting example of an el-plan.
An early double.
Now a look at old Oregon houses by typology. None of these are dated. Half I-HousesDoubles with the roof parallel to the street
This example has those impressive gable-end chimneys, which was also a popular construction detail for commercial buildings in Dayton, based on old photos and illustrations. Urban I-Houses & a Double
…and this is the double alley house on “Convenient Alley” behind 6th Street:
About that I-house term. If I recall right Kniffen says he called these houses that because he saw a lot of them in the “I-states”..Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. Also the houses are tall and thin, like the letter “I”.
One can visit the neighborhoods surrounding the Oregon and see these house types continue through the 19th century, with newer house forms appearing in the plats, like shotgun houses, one story houses, various Victorian styles, and, later four squares and bungalows.
Yet, for me, these early and mid-19th century areas are really precious, as they are a physical link to a time beyond all living memory. For example, some of these houses where built when California and the Southwest where still part of Mexico (Mexican war in 1846-47)
And Oregon. The UK/USA joint sovereignty over Oregon ended in 1846 after a near war with Britain over the territory, with the 1840s and 1850s the big era of settlement, the time of the Oregon Trail & “Oregon Fever”.
So the Oregon country was far away and at the edge of things in the 18302 &1840s, but in the news as a new frontier settlement area….so naturally Daytonians would call their “distant” new suburb that.