by Jennifer Sierra
Town Historian, Charlie Tharp gave a lecture many years ago to fellow Dayton, Kentuckians. In his speech he talked about how Dayton got its name from formerly being the 2 separate cities of Brooklyn and Jamestown. The cities of Brooklyn and Jamestown existed side-by-side until 1867 when Jamestown applied for post office and were rejected so the 2 cities voted to become one city called Dayton, Kentucky.
He spoke of 3 hotels in Dayton, during the heyday of the Ohio River. Dayton was quite active furnishing hotels for steam boat passengers. Charlie Tharpe pointed out that back then, there were no bathrooms and showers on steamboats and travelers needed a place to sleep and bathe along their voyage. According to Tharpe, “The first public enterprise the city of Dayton ever engaged in was a ferry boat called the John Hastings.” This ferry boat took workers across the river to work in Cincinnati every day. It was parked at the foot of Berry Avenue and everyone that worked on the shipyards would take that mode of transportation to work.
Many of the historic homes in Dayton had widows walks. River walks are towers surrounded by metal fencing at the tops of the homes. If a woman was married to someone that worked in the shipping industry, she could keep a watch out for her husband’s boat and know when he was returning.
The first train came through Dayton in 1888 and the first streetcar was in Dayton in 1891. Buses replaced the streetcars in 1939. Some of the businesses that thrived in Dayton were tailor shops and hemp fields. Hemp was grown on the hillsides in Dayton and used for making rope.
“In 1897 there were 991 children enrolled in the Dayton schools, 2/3rd of which were in the 4th grade. The high school had 35 students at the time. Back then, high school was only 3 years,” Tharpe added. I am sure many Dayton high school students wish this was still the case. Dayton even had a night high school with over 100 pupils.
Dayton used to have beaches along the waterfront. Dayton and Bellevue were known for having the finest beaches in the Midwest. They would have as many as 4 and 5 thousand people come to the beaches in Dayton and Bellevue during the week and 7 or 8 thousand on the weekend. The last surviving beach was Tacoma Beach. Bellevue had a big pavilion that was 2 stories high overlooking Queen City Beach. The Pavilion housed canoe and bathing suit rentals as well as a dance hall on the second floor. According to Tharpe, “3 things killed the beaches. cities began dumping pollution into the river, beaches were privately owned and the law suits got too awful for the beach owners and finally, the Army Corps of Engineers raised the river level by adding dams.”
His lecture had photos from Tharpe’s extensive collection. One photo is of the Rayme building on 6th and Berry across from Memorial park. Tharpe has the original contract to build that building for $14,500.00. This building housed the city council meetings on the 2nd floor in 1989. There was a grocery and dry-cleaning shop in the bottom of the building as well. He had a photo of Speers Hospital in 1898 when it was brand new. He even had a photo of an operation in progress at the hospital before doctors and nurses wore gloves in surgery. There were photos of all of the schools throughout the years, the football field from 1934, early sports teams from the schools, the floods and much more. This was a small portion of the collection of photographs, documents and other memorabilia that one can view at the Dayton History Museum in Charlie Tharp’s old office building on 6th Avenue next to Kate’s Catering.
While many of the buildings and people are no longer in town, the video gives you an idea of how grand these towns once were. Perhaps by looking into the past, we can make the commitment to preserve the remainder of these cherished buildings and restore the former glory of these towns.
A special thank you to Elmer Perry for providing the video which the Bellevue Dayton Sun had converted to DVD and uploaded to this site for your enjoyment and thank you to Charlie Tharpe. Without Mr. Tharpe’s knowledge and collection, much of the history would have been lost. Take an hour of your time to watch the video with your family. It is time well spent..